Russia in Review, Aug. 18-25, 2023

3 Things to Know

  1. PMC Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, his top military commander Dmitry Utkin and eight other people were on board an Embraer passenger plane when it crashed on Aug. 24 in Russia’s Tver region en route from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. As of Aug. 25, Russian investigators remained mum on potential causes of the crash, amid speculation on whether the downing was premeditated, with proponents of this theory blaming the crash on either an onboard bomb or a surface-to-air missile. Whatever brought the plane down, U.S. officials told FT they assumed it had been carried out on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin’s press secretary denied that the Russian president—who has been described as the “apostle of payback”—had any role in the death of the man who led Wagner troops on a mutinous march toward Moscow in June. Speaking on Aug. 24, Putin said Wagner had “made a significant contribution to our common cause,” but also that Prigozhin had “made serious mistakes.” Alternatively, Prigozhin’s rivals in the Russian military could have had him killed without a direct order from Putin, a person familiar with Prigozhin’s operations speculated in an interview with FT. Whether or not it was ordered by Putin, the fiery downing of Prigozhin’s plane has strengthened the Russian autocrat’s ruthless reputation and his grip on power after it was undermined by Prigozhin’s mutiny.*
  2. Though Ukraine’s armed forces (ZSU) have made incremental advances, these gains were matched by the Russian military over the past month, fueling debates between Kyiv and Washington on what strategy the former should pursue in its counteroffensive, which has failed to gain momentum so far. The counteroffensive is progressing slowly because the ZSU has spread its troops out instead of concentrating them for the push toward Melitopol on the Azov Sea, U.S. officials told NYT. Both ZSU commander Valery Zaluzhny and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rebuffed these suggestions, however, with the president arguing that concentrating troops in a single direction would leave multiple Ukrainian cities vulnerable, according to Bloomberg. Off the record, Washington is experiencing “serious frustration” with Ukraine’s strategy, one U.S. official said. On the record, the Biden administration denies the existence of a “stalemate” on the battleground, even as champions of Kyiv’s cause like Congressman Andy Harris—who co-chairs the House of Representatives’ Ukraine Caucus—admits that the counteroffensive has “failed” and that he is not sure the war “is winnable anymore.”
  3. At their summit this week, BRICS member states agreed to bring Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to their group—a move that “puts the G-7 … into the shade” in terms of economic output, according to FT editor James Kynge. The enlargement will see the BRICS grouping rise to account for 36% of global GDP at purchasing power parity and 46% of the world’s population, according to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. China’s Xi Jinping hailed the expansion as “historic,” though India’s Narendra Modi stressed that any enlargement should be based on “consensus.Vladimir Putin (who addressed the summit via a video link) did not miss the opportunity to harangue the West and call for a de-dollarization of trade. The participants in the summit adopted a joint statement on Aug. 23 that said: “we express concern about the use of unilateral coercive measures” and called for a “comprehensive reform of the U.N., including its Security Council.”


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Defueling of the second of two shut-down RBMK reactors at the Leningrad nuclear power plant in Russia has now been completed, an important step in the process to decommission the units. Leningrad 1 and 2 were shut down in 2018 and 2020, respectively, after 45 years of operation. All 3361 fuel assemblies - 1693 from unit 1 and 1668 unit 2 - have now been unloaded into special storage pools. (WNN, 08.23.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • The participants of the BRICS summit  in South Africa adopted a joint statement on Aug. 23 that said: “We reiterate the need to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through peaceful and diplomatic means in accordance with the international law, and stress the importance of preserving the JCPOA and the UNSCR 2231 to international non-proliferation as well as wider peace and stability and hope for relevant parties to restore the full and effective implementation of the JCPOA at an early date.” (RM, 08.23.23)
  • An Iranian military delegation visited Russia on Aug. 21. Gen. Oleg Salyukov, the head of Russia’s land forces, welcomed his Iranian counterpart, Brig. Gen. Kioumars Heydari, to Moscow. The two top military officials also held talks Aug. 21 about military cooperation and efforts to increase combat readiness. “Iran is considered by the Russian Federation to be one of the key countries in the Middle East. It is a strategic partner of Russia,” Salyukov said. (NYT, 08.21.23)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • On Aug. 18 five people were injured after a drone attack on a train station in Russia’s Kursk region not far from the Ukrainian border. The Russian Defense Ministry said it foiled planned drone strikes on the border region of Belgorod. (WP, 08.19.23)
  • On Aug. 19 at least seven people, including a child, were killed and 129 were wounded in a Russian missile strike on the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, Ukraine's Interior Ministry said, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a "terrorist state" had carried out the attack and caused "a day of pain and loss." (RFE/RL, 08.19.23)
  • On Aug. 21 Russia said it had thwarted two Ukrainian drone attacks in the Moscow region, with at least two people injured due to falling debris. (MT/AFP, 08.21.23)
  • On Aug. 22 Zelensky said he told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that he wants to normalize his country’s grain exports by next month after several member states were allowed to block purchases. Zelensky also sought help from Balkan leaders to ensure his country’s access to the Black Sea and protect grain shipments blockaded by Moscow. (Bloomberg, 08.22.23)
    • Kyiv is devising a plan with global insurers to reopen a crucial grain-export route for vessels navigating the Black Sea, a shipping lane blockaded by Russia for the past month. Ukrainian officials are now in discussions with global insurance firms and commodity traders to create a government-backed program to enable ships to travel to Ukraine's ports, according to Marcus Baker, head of marine, cargo and logistics at brokerage Marsh, and other people who participated in the talks. (WSJ, 08.23.23)
  • On Aug. 23 Romny, a town in the northeastern Sumy region bordering Russia, two employees of a local school were killed in a Russian attack, Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko wrote on X. (RFE/RL, 08.23.23)
  • On Aug. 23 Russian drones struck a Ukrainian grain storage warehouse on the Danube River overnight, a senior regional official said, in another attack on an export route that has become increasingly important to Ukraine in recent weeks. Ukraine’s air defenses shot down nine drones during the attack, which lasted for three hours, Oleh Kiper, the head of the military administration of the Odesa region, said. Several crop terminals at the Izmail port on the Danube were damaged overnight, curbing its export capacity by 15%, according to Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov. Some 13,000 tons of grain bound for Romania and Egypt were ruined, he said. (NYT, 08.23.23, Bloomberg, 08.23.23)
    • The Kremlin’s efforts to paralyze Ukrainian food shipments are succeeding, with a third of the country’s crop exports wiped out since its Black Sea ports were effectively blocked last month. (Bloomberg, 08.19.23)
  • On Aug. 23 Russian officials said Ukrainian forces dropped explosives on Lavy, a village in the Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine, killing three. Also drones damaged a building under construction in the Russian capital’s district Moscow City. Two other drones were shot down in suburban districts of the Moscow region. (NYT, 08.23.23)
  • On Aug. 24 Russia launched more strikes on Ukrainian regions on Independence Day as Zelensky hailed the contribution of his compatriots in defending the country's freedom in the face of Moscow's full-scale invasion. (RFE/RL, 08.24.23)
  • More than 2,000 children have been brought by rail from Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine to Belarus as part of an agreement between Russia and Belarus. (WSJ, 08.21.23)
  • Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chatted with Pope Francis on Aug. 21 about the war in Ukraine, fighting in Sudan and other topics. They discussed the pope’s work on behalf of Ukrainian children who were taken by Russia. (NYT, 08.22.23)
  • The Russian investigative group Proyekt (Project) said on Aug. 21 that an organization led by Yelena Milskaya, the wife of Emergency Minister Alexander Kurenkov, was involved in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia last year. (RFE/RL, 08.21.23)
  • Russian-installed courts in Ukraine's eastern regions sentenced five Ukrainian soldiers to lengthy prison terms, Russia's Investigative Committee said Aug. 21. (MT/AFP, 08.21.23)
  • The World Court will hear Russia's objections to its jurisdiction in a genocide case brought by Ukraine in hearings starting on Sept. 18. (Reuters, 08.22.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

·  In the past month of fighting Russian forces have gained 38 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukraine has also gained 38 square miles, according to the Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. (Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, 08.22.23) For an informative account of daily combat as seen through the eyes of Ukrainian soldiers, see this WSJ piece.

  • On Aug. 18 a Ukrainian drone reached a Russian air base hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border in the Novgorod region, sparking a fire and damaging one Tu-22 bomber, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. There were no casualties, the ministry said. Tu-22s are Soviet-designed long-range bombers capable of carrying and launching nuclear weapons. (NYT, 08.18.23, RM, 08.18.23)
  • On Aug. 18 Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with the top military commanders at an army headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. (MT/AFP, 08.19.23)
  • On Aug. 22 Ukrainian forces said they had seized the town of Robotyne, taking another small step in Kyiv's efforts to cut through Russian defenses in southern Ukraine. About 9 miles south of Orikhiv, where Ukrainian forces began their march south, Robotyne is within about 14 miles of Tokmak, a key crossroads on the way south toward Melitopol, which is the biggest Russian-occupied city in the Zaporizhzhia region. Kyiv is hoping its troops can reach the Sea of Azov during the counteroffensive and bisect Russian forces. (WSJ, 08.22.23)
  • On Aug. 22 the Russian Defense Ministry said one of its fighter jets had “successfully hit” a high-speed Ukrainian military boat carrying troops around 26 miles east of Snake Island. It published a video that appeared to show a vessel trying to perform sharp S-shaped turns to evade fire from an aircraft overhead. On Aug. 23, Ukraine’s military intelligence service acknowledged the attack but said that it had failed. (NYT, 08.23.23)
  • On Aug. 22 Russian forces repelled an attempt by Ukrainian "saboteurs" to break into the western border region of Bryansk, the region's local governor said. (MT/AFP, 08.22.23)
  • Kyiv said on Aug. 23 that Ukrainian forces have destroyed a Russian S-400 missile defense system on the Tarkhankut Peninsula of western Crimea. (MT/AFP, 08.23.23)
  • On Aug. 24 Ukraine said one of its elite squads raided the western coast of the Crimean peninsula and killed Russian soldiers. The night-time raid in the early hours of Aug. 24 involved a speed boat crossing the Black Sea and landing on the peninsula. "Special units reached the shores on watercrafts near settlements of Olenivka and Mayak," the HUR statement said. (FT, 08.24.23, RFE/RL, 08.24.23)
  • On Aug. 25 Russia's Defense Ministry said its air defenses neutralized a total of 73 drones over the past 24 hours, 42 of them over Crimea. (RFE/RL, 08.25.23)
  • On Aug. 25 Gen. Oleksandr Syrskiy, commander of Ukraine's ground forces, said Russian forces are regrouping and sending in reinforcements in preparation of resuming their offensive in the east of Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 08.25.23)
  • Ukraine's grinding counteroffensive is struggling to break through entrenched Russian defenses in large part because it has too many troops in the wrong places, American and other Western officials say. The main goal of the counteroffensive is to cut off Russian supply lines in southern Ukraine by severing the land bridge between Russia and Crimea. But instead of focusing on that, Ukrainian commanders have divided troops and firepower roughly equally between the east and the south, the U.S. officials said. As a result, more Ukrainian forces are in the east than are near Melitopol and Berdiansk in the south, both far more strategically significant fronts, officials say. American planners have advised Ukraine to concentrate on the front driving toward Melitopol. One U.S. official said the Ukrainians were too spread out and needed to consolidate their combat power in one place. (NYT, 08.23.23)
    • In a video teleconference on Aug. 10, U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, his British counterpart Adm. Sir Tony Radakin and Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the top U.S. commander in Europe, urged Ukraine's most senior military commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny, to focus on one main front. And, according to two officials briefed on the call, Zaluzhny agreed. (NYT, 08.23.23)
    • American officials said Ukraine has another month to six weeks before rainy conditions force a pause in the counteroffensive. ''Terrain conditions are always fundamental drivers'' of military operations, Milley said. ''Fall and spring are not optimal for combined arms operations.'' More important than the weather, some analysts say, is that Ukraine's main assault forces may run out of steam by mid- to late September. Several U.S. officials said they expect Ukraine to make it about halfway to the Sea of Azov by winter. (NYT, 08.23.23)
    • Zelensky rebuffed criticism that Ukraine’s military is too thinly stretched and should be massed for a single attack to achieve a breakthrough of Russian lines. Responding to a question about a report in the New York Times, the president said doing so could leave other cities vulnerable. (Bloomberg, 08.23.23)
  • American military officials have been urging the Ukrainians to return to the combined arms training they received at allied bases in Europe by concentrating their forces to try to bust through Russia defenses in an area north of Tokmak and push to the Sea of Azov. Kyiv has made some adjustments in recent weeks, but the two sides are still at odds. (WSJ, 08.24.23)
    • "You don't understand the nature of this conflict," Zaluzhny responded in one interaction with the Americans, a U.S. official recounted. "This is not counterinsurgency. This is Kursk," the commander added, referring to the major World War II battle between Germany and the Soviet Union. (WSJ, 08.24.23)
    • Washington has conveyed "serious frustration" with Ukraine's strategy, one U.S. official said. The U.S. has funneled to Ukraine more than $43 billion in weaponry over the years—which is enough for this offensive and is unlikely to be repeated at anywhere near the same level in 2024. "We built up this mountain of steel for the counteroffensive. We can't do that again," one former U.S. official said. "It doesn't exist." (WSJ, 08.24.23)
  • ''We do not assess that the conflict is a stalemate,'' Jake Sullivan, the White House's national security adviser, said Aug. 22. ''We continue to support Ukraine in its effort to take territory as part of this counteroffensive, and we are seeing it continue to take territory on a methodical systematic basis.'' (NYT, 08.23.23)
  • Republican congressman Andy Harris, a co-chair of the Ukraine Caucus, had been a steadfast supporter of Kyiv’s effort, but told a town-hall meeting in Maryland this week that the counteroffensive had “failed,” saying aid for Ukraine should now be unwound. “Is this more [of] a stalemate? Should we be realistic about it? I think we probably should,” Harris told constituents in Maryland. “I’ll be blunt, it’s failed.” He was also pessimistic about the course of the war, saying, “I’m not sure it’s winnable anymore.”  (FT, 08.20.23)
  • The money Congress initially approved is now down to the single digits at an estimated $6 billion. It's enough to further provide Ukraine with munitions for Patriot air-defense systems, 155 mm artillery rounds, Javelin anti-tank missiles and spare parts to fix broken-down equipment. U.S. officials say it's not sufficient, even as the Pentagon finds more dollars in the proverbial couch, to sustain Ukraine for the long haul. (Politico, 08.18.23)
  • The hard-right House Freedom Caucus announced Aug. 21 that its members will not support a stopgap funding bill to keep the government running past the end of next month unless several of its conservative policy priorities on immigration and other issues are attached. In its Aug. 21 statement, the group said it will also oppose "any blank check for Ukraine in any supplemental appropriations bill." (WP, 08.22.23)
  • The Biden administration's sprint to supply Ukraine with weapons central to its military success against Russia has yielded a promising acceleration of arms production, including the standard NATO artillery round, output of which is expected soon to reach double its prewar U.S. rate of 14,000 a month. (WP, 08.21.23)
  • Ukraine will get F-16 fighter jets from the Netherlands and Denmark, the Dutch prime minister and Danish Defense Ministry confirmed Aug. 20. The announcement came during a visit to the Netherlands by Zelensky. (WP, 08.20.23)
    • The United States said it will begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 warplanes in October. (RFE/RL, 08.24.23)
    • The U.S. would be willing to participate in the training of Ukrainian pilots if there were more Ukrainian pilots in need of training than what the Europeans are able to handle, said Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh. (, 08.21.23)
  • While in Sweden Zelensky discussed the possible production of Sweden's powerful CV-90 combat vehicles in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 08.19.23)
  • Norway has decided to donate F-16 combat aircraft to Ukraine, Norwegian broadcaster TV2 reported Aug. 24. (RFE/RL, 08.24.23)
  • Switzerland will probe state-owned arms maker Ruag AG after its failed attempt to sell almost 100 tanks that would eventually have been used by Ukraine in its war against Russia. (Bloomberg, 08.21.23)
  • The start of the latest campaign in early June saw a dramatic increase in Ukrainian artillery fire, to 8,000 rounds per day from approximately 3,000 to 5,000, military analysts said. (WP, 08.21.23)
  • The head of Ukraine's security services revealed details of the country's first successful attack on the only bridge linking occupied Crimea with Russia, saying that its operatives loaded a truck with 21 tons of explosives wrapped in packing film to detonate the vehicle in the middle of the bridge. Vasyl Malyuk released photos of preparations for the attack on Oct. 8, 2022. (NYT, 08.17.23)

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

  • Russia is offering to swap Western investors’ stranded assets in the country for some Russian assets frozen by the West. Under the proposal, Moscow would give interested Western investors the opportunity to buy the assets of Russian companies that have been immobilized in Europe by using their own funds held in restricted accounts in Russia that cannot be spent outside the country, the central bank said Aug. 23. Western officials told the Financial Times that they were not aware of the proposal and that no talks were taking place on a potential asset swap. (FT, 08.23.23)
    • Russia is lifting restrictions on dividend payments for foreigners investing into the country’s economy. Companies can now return profit to non-resident investors without restrictions, but the volume of those payments shouldn’t exceed the amount of the investment into Russia, the Finance Ministry said in a statement Aug. 23. (Bloomberg, 08.23.23)
  • Despite Western sanctions designed to stop Russian carriers from procuring parts for their Airbus and Boeing jets, Ural Airlines has imported over 20 of the U.S.-made devices since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the customs data show. All told, at least $1.2 billion worth of aircraft parts flowed to Russian airlines from May last year - when most U.S. and European trade curbs and export bans over Ukraine were in force - to the end of June this year. (Reuters, 08.23.23)
  • The U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on Aug. 24 on 11 people and two entities it identified as being connected to the forcible deportation of Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied areas to Russia for adoption or their transferal to Russian-controlled camps for “reeducation” and sometimes military training. One of the individuals is Aymani Nesievna Kadyrova, the mother of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. (NYT, 08.24.23)
  • Canadian authorities have updated their sanctions list to include another 29 Russian companies. The restrictions were imposed against several banks and financial institutions, as well as research centers and some other design and construction organizations. The updated sanctions list also targets subsidiaries of Rosatom. (RFE/RL, 08.24.23)
  • The U.K. will proscribe the Wagner group as a terrorist organization “within weeks” as part of a fresh crackdown on the Russian mercenary network, according to British government insiders. (FT, 08.23.23)
  • Russian health-care watchdog Roszdravnadzor told the daily Kommersant on Aug. 22 that U.S pharmaceutical company MSD (Merck Corporation) will stop supplying Russia with the popular Zepatier hepatitis C medicine after its planned deliveries end in late 2024. (RFE/RL, 08.22.23)
  • The franchise operator of Domino’s Pizza in Russia said Aug. 21 that its Russian business will file for bankruptcy after reportedly failing to sell off its assets. “A bankruptcy petition of DPRussia will be filed in accordance with the relevant statutory requirements in due course,” DP Eurasia said in a statement. The process “will bring about the termination of the attempted sale process of DPRussia,” it added without stating the reason for the failed sale. (MT/AFP, 08.21.23)
  • Dutch brewer Heineken said on Aug. 25 it had completed its exit from Russia by selling its operations there to Russia's Arnest Group for a symbolic one euro. (Reuters, 08.25.23)
  • Binance is helping Russians move money abroad, potentially adding to its sprawling legal problems in the U.S. After Russia invaded Ukraine, Binance said it had stopped working there and was implementing Western sanctions requirements. It restricted trading on its platform in Russia. (WSJ, 08.23.23)
  • Czech authorities have seized property in Prague belonging to the daughter and son-in-law of Boris Obnosov, CEO of the Russian defense company Tactical Missiles Corporation and the country’s chief rocket scientist, over Ukraine-linked sanctions. (Current Time, 08.23.23)
  • Latvia’s government signaled it would back away from a plan to strip permanent residency from Russian citizens after as many as 10,000 people risked expulsion from the Baltic nation for not meeting a language requirement. Interior Minister Maris Kucinskis announced legislative changes that would extend a deadline by two years. (Bloomberg, 08.23.23)
  • The Russian division of Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank will start charging 50% commission on all incoming U.S. dollar transfers, the bank announced Aug. 21 in a statement, citing unspecified “market conditions.” (MT/AFP, 08.21.23)
  • KAMAZ, the largest Russian manufacturer of trucks, buses and vehicle engines, banned its employees from using Apple products for work-related tasks on Aug. 21. (RFE/RL, 08.22.23)
  • Ukraine's Security Service has announced the seizure of assets estimated to be worth more than 1 billion hryvnias ($25 million) that are owned by Russian Col. Gen. Valery Kapashin, the head of Russia’s chemical weapons disposal agency. (RFE/RL, 08.21.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • In November, Milley said Ukraine’s strong military position and upcoming winter season combined to make a good time to consider peace talks. While the U.S. still backs Ukraine’s fight, one U.S. official said, “We may have missed a window to push for earlier talks.” The official also stressed, however, that few believe Moscow has been at all serious about negotiations since the war’s start. And no senior leader felt then, or feels now, that the counteroffensive was a mistaken play, considering how Ukraine maintains full support from the West and has had remarkable success throughout the war. Still, the official declared: “Milley had a point.” (Politico, 08.18.23)
  • The participants of the BRICS summit in South Africa adopted a joint statement on Aug. 23 that said: “We stress our commitment to the peaceful resolution of differences and disputes through dialogue and inclusive consultations in a coordinated and cooperative manner and support all efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of crises. ... We recall our national positions concerning the conflict in and around Ukraine as expressed at the appropriate fora, including the UNSC and UNGA. We note with appreciation relevant proposals of mediation and good offices aimed at peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, including the African Leaders Peace Mission and the proposed path for peace.” (RM, 08.23.23)
  • In his speech to the BRICS summit on Aug. 23, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil said the war in Ukraine had exposed “the limitations” of the U.N. Security Council and distracted from other crises deserving of global attention. At the same time, BRICS countries had risen to the challenge of seeking to bring peace in Ukraine, Lula said, singling out efforts by Brazil, China and South Africa. (NYT, 08.23.23)

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

  • In his summit with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, U.S. President Joe Biden commended Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan for his country's support of Ukraine. ''Imagine if we had done nothing?'' the president said. If the world had not come to Kyiv's aid, Biden added, hinting at U.S. officials' concern about China taking military action against Taiwan, ''What signal would that send to China?'' (NYT, 08.17.23)
  • The U.S. intelligence community is warning the domestic space industry of the growing risk of espionage and satellite attacks from China, Russia and other adversaries. (Bloomberg, 08.19.23)
  • Hungary and Turkey will continue to coordinate their policy on Sweden’s bid to join the NATO military alliance, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said, after the two nations’ leaders met. (Bloomberg, 08.20.23)
  • Germany’s deputy chancellor Robert Habeck has joined a growing chorus of criticism of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, accusing it of failing to foresee last year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine. (FT, 08.24.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • The BRICS grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will add six nations to its ranks next year. Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will join as members in January, the summit host, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, said Aug. 24. The announcement at the BRICS summit in South Africa marked the first expansion since South Africa joined in 2010 at the invitation of China. (WP, 08.24.23)
    • The size of the new 11-country grouping puts the G-7—which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., U.S. and EU—into the shade. Excluding the EU—which is classified as a G-7 “non-enumerated” member—the group of advanced democracies accounts for just 9.8% of the world’s population and 29.8% of global gross domestic product, calculated by purchasing power parity (PPP). The new BRICS group, by contrast, will account for 47% of the world’s population and 37% of its GDP by PPP. (FT, 08.24.23)
    • The enlargement will see BRICS gross domestic product rise to 36% of global GDP at purchasing power parity and 46% of the world’s population, said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. (Bloomberg, 08.24.23)
      • Adding countries to the BRICS bloc will matter economically if Saudi Arabia is one of them but otherwise it’s hard to see the point, said Jim O’Neill, a prominent economist and veteran of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (Bloomberg, 08.21.23)
    • Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Aug. 24 hailed the "historic" expansion, which he said would be a "new starting point for BRICS cooperation." “We should let more countries join the BRICS family and pool wisdom to make global governance more fair and reasonable,” he said. (WP, 08.24.23, FT, 08.23.23)
    • India’s prime minister Narendra Modi told the gathering that India “fully supports the expansion of BRICS membership” but also stressed that “we welcome moving forward on this based on consensus,” reflecting New Delhi’s counter-push for a more phased and gradual enlistment of members. (FT, 08.23.23)
    • South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa said that “South Africa and China have similar views on the expansion of BRICS membership” as he hosted Xi for a state visit on Aug. 22, ahead of the gathering where Beijing is pushing to add weight to the BRICS as a rival to the G-7. (FT, 08.23.23)
    • Some 20 nations have formally applied to join the grouping. (Bloomberg, 08.23.23)
    • The summit was to have been attended by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and more than 30 African heads of state, as well as others from the Global South. (Bloomberg, 08.21.23)
  • The participants of the BRICS summit in South Africa adopted a joint statement on Aug. 23 that said: “We express concern about the use of unilateral coercive measures, which are incompatible with the principles of the Charter of the U.N. and produce negative effects notably in the developing world.” It also said, “We support a comprehensive reform of the U.N., including its Security Council, with a view to making it more democratic, representative, effective and efficient, and to increase the representation of developing countries in the Council’s memberships.” (RM, 08.23.23)
  • Putin addressed the summit by video link on Aug. 22, saying that de-dollarization was an “irreversible process,” as he attacked Western sanctions and asset freezes targeting Russia.  Putin said that BRICS should increase its internal coordination and move to decouple its economies from the dollar to facilitate trade among members and other non-Western countries. Putin also said, “Our actions in Ukraine are dictated by only one thing, to bring an end to the war that was unleashed by the West.” Putin said the 2024 BRICS summit would be held in the Russian city of Kazan. (WSJ, 08.23.23, FT, 08.23.23)
  • The development bank set up by the BRICS nations plans to begin lending in the South African and Brazilian currencies as part of a plan to reduce reliance on the dollar and promote a more multipolar international financial system, according to its president Dilma Rousseff. (FT, 08.22.23)
  • For the first time ever, China exported more in the early part of this year to the developing world—as represented by the countries that make up the Belt and Road Initiative—than it exported to the U.S., EU and Japan combined, according to data collected by Dongwu Securities, a Chinese brokerage. (FT, 08.22.23)
  • China's total trade with Russia in the first seven months of this year jumped 36% from the same period a year earlier, to $134 billion, putting Moscow just behind Australia and Taiwan on the list of China's biggest trading partners. (WSJ, 09.22.23)
  • China sold Russia nearly twice as many front-end shovel loaders and more than three times as many excavators in the first seven months of 2023 as it did over the same period a year prior. The sharp increase suggests Russia put some of them to use building barriers to resist Ukrainian counterattacks. (WSJ, 09.22.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Aug. 22 that Russia is already in the process of shifting some short-range nuclear weapons to neighboring Belarus, a move that Duda said will shift the security architecture of the region and the entire NATO military alliance. The United States and NATO haven’t confirmed the move. (AP, 08.22.23)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • U.S. federal authorities on Aug. 23 charged two men with running a massive money-laundering scheme that allegedly handled more than $1 billion in illegal transactions, including moving hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency for North Korean hackers linked to that country’s government. The charges filed in Manhattan federal court accuse Roman Storm of Washington state and his business partner Roman Semenov, a Russian citizen, of laundering money and violating sanctions through their business Tornado Cash, a cryptocurrency “mixer” that allegedly moved money for the Lazarus Group, a sanctioned North Korean cybercrime organization. (WP, 08.23.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • The price of Russia’s flagship oil may have jumped above a G-7 imposed cap but that has done little to impede the provision of Western services for the trade. The number of ships calling at the nation’s ports that are either Western owned or insured has fallen slightly since early July—before Urals rose above $60—but they still represent a vital part of Moscow’s petroleum supply chain. About 40% of vessels lifting crude from Russia’s Baltic and Black Sea ports were owned by companies based in countries signed up to the cap. (Bloomberg, 08.21.23)
  • Russia’s refined fuel exports are on course to slump to a 15-month low, amid strong domestic demand for road fuels and as some products exceeded G-7 price caps. The country shipped 2.24 million barrels of oil products a day in the first 20 days in August, down 14% from July’s total, according to Vortexa Ltd. data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the lowest since May 2022 and about 5% below year-earlier levels, when Europe was still the biggest market for Russian fuels. (Bloomberg, 08.25.23)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • The FBI and German investigators are probing the possible poisoning of two Russian journalists and a Russian activist based in the U.S. and Europe and critical of the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the investigations. Natalia Arno, Elena Kostyuchenko and Irina Babloyan have produced work critical of Putin and the war in Ukraine. They described a sudden onset of symptoms including abdominal pain, headaches and fatigue. (WSJ, 08.25.23)
  • The pretrial detention of U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is accused of espionage—a charge he, his employer, The Wall Street Journal, and the U.S. government reject—has been extended by a Moscow court for another three months. The Lefortovo district court ruled on Aug. 24 that the 32-year-old journalist must stay in custody until at least Nov. 30. The hearing was held behind closed doors as the case materials have been deemed classified. The Wall Street Journal issued a statement shortly after the decision that once again called Gershkovich's detention "improper" and the charges against him "baseless." (RFE/RL, 08.24.23)
  • Elon Musk told Pentagon officials during a call about the satellite-based internet that SpaceX supplies to Ukraine’s military that he’d spoken personally with Putin. Musk volunteered the information during an October conversation with Colin Kahl about Ukrainian forces losing connection to the Starlink service as they entered territory contested by Russia, the magazine said Aug. 21. “My inference was that he was getting nervous that Starlink’s involvement was increasingly seen in Russia as enabling the Ukrainian war effort, and was looking for a way to placate Russian concerns,” Kahl told the New Yorker. (Bloomberg, 08.21.23)
  • Russia is intensifying its efforts to spread pro-Russia and anti-Ukraine messages in the United States and the West, using influence-laundering techniques to hide the efforts of its intelligence agencies to manipulate public opinion, according to a newly declassified American intelligence analysis. (NYT, 08.25.23)
  • In his interview with Tucker Carlson, former U.S. President Donald Trump said, “He’s supposed to be working. He’s supposed to be getting us out of that horrible, horrible war that we’re very much in involved with Russia and Ukraine. You could do that, you could do that very easily, I believe you could do that. … [T]hat’s a war that should end immediately, not because of one side or the other, because hundreds of thousands of people are being killed. … it’s gotta be stopped. And it can be stopped very easily. This would have never started if I were president. It would have never started.” (Tucker Carlson’s Twitter, 08.23.23)
  • During the GOP primary debate on Aug. 23, the candidates split on their commitment to more funding for the war to push back Russia's invasion. Pence, Haley and Christie firmly sided with further support, while Ramaswamy objected and DeSantis called for European countries to pick up more of the bill. "The reality is that today Ukraine is not a priority for the United States of America," Ramaswamy said. "You cannot start another no-win war." Haley responded sharply. "Ukraine is the first line of defense for us, and the problem that Vivek doesn't understand is he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia, he wants to let China eat Taiwan, he wants to go and stop funding Israel," she said. "You don't do that to friends."  (WP, 08.23.23)
  • During the first GOP primary debate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “As President of the United States, your first obligation is to protect our country and its people. And that means, you’re sending all this money but you’re not doing what we need to do to secure our own border. … I’m not going to send troops to Ukraine, but I am going to send them to our southern border.” (Fox News, 08.23.23)
  • During the first GOP primary debate, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said, “We are driving Russia further into China’s hands. The Russia-China alliance is the single greatest threat we face, and I find it offensive that we have professional politicians who will make a pilgrimage to Kyiv—to their pope, Zelensky—without doing the same thing for the people in Maui or the south side of Chicago or Kensington. I think we have to put the interests of Americans first, secure our own border instead of somebody else’s. And the reality is, this is also how we project strength, by making America strong at home.”  (Fox News, 08.23.23)
  • During the first GOP primary debate, former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said, “Vivek [Ramaswamy], if we do the giveaway that you want to do, to give him [Putin] his [annexed] land [in Ukraine], it’s not going to be too long before he rolls across a NATO border, and frankly our men and women of our armed forces are going to have to go and fight him. I want to let the Ukrainians fight and drive him and the Russians back out into Russia, so our troops don’t have to make that fight.” (Fox News, 08.23.23)
  • During the first GOP primary debate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “When you look at the situation with Russia and Ukraine, here you have a pro-American country that was invaded by a thug. … But what’s really important is go back to when China and Russia held hands, shook hands before the Olympics and named themselves unlimited partners. A win for Russia is a win for China, we have to know that. … Ukraine is the front line of defense. Putin has said, once Russia takes Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics are next. That’s a world war, we’re trying to prevent war. Look at what Putin did today—he killed Prigozhin. When I was at the U.N., the Russian ambassador suddenly died. This guy is a murderer, and you are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country.” (Fox News, 08.23.23)
  • During the first GOP primary debate, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said, “I did go to Ukraine, and I went to Ukraine because I wanted to see for myself what Vladimir Putin’s army was doing to the free Ukrainian people. … This is the Vladimir Putin who Donald Trump called brilliant and a genius. If we don’t stand up against this type of autocratic killing, we will be next.” (Fox News, 08.23.23)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Details of the last flight of Prigozhin and his top aides:

  • Yevgeny Prigozhin and nine other people were on board the Embraer passenger plane when it crashed en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, near Kuzhenkino in Tver Oblast on Aug. 23. They included Dmitry Utkin, who is also known by his nom de guerre “Wagner,” after whom PMC Wagner is named. In addition to Utkin, who was the PMC’s military leader and Prigozhin’s deputy, the plane also carried another of Prigozhin’s deputies, Valeriy Chekalov, who is believed to have been crucial to the group's finances and logistics. Three crew members were also on board alongside the Wagner members. (BBC, 08.24.23, RM, 08.24.23, Reuters, 08.24.23)
  • According to flight tracking data from FlightRadar24, the jet had leveled off at approximately 28,000 feet when it suddenly began making erratic climbs and descents. At 6:19 p.m. local time, data showed the descent rate of the plane neared 8,000 feet per minute before the transmission of altitude data stopped, an extremely fast descent that is well outside of normal parameters for an aircraft. The aircraft remained in the air for several more minutes and traveled about 30 miles, then fell from the sky. Soon after, video on social media appeared to show a plane falling from the sky in an area about 300 kilometers north of Moscow that coincided with the location of the aircraft's disappearance. The videos showed the plane rapidly descending from the sky, accompanied by a plume resembling shots fired from anti-aircraft defenses, before crashing to the ground in a ball of flame. The RIA state news agency reported that the plane’s tail was found 3.5 kilometers from the crash site. (FT, 08.24.23, RFE/RL, 08.24.23, NYT, 08.24.23, CNN, 08.24.23)
  • When the Embraer jet last broadcast its position, it was flying at 28,000 feet near Tver and moving at a ground speed of 513 knots. The route appears to be the aircraft’s normal flight path to St. Petersburg, a run it last made on July 6. (FT, 08.25.23)
  • Russian news agency RIA cited local residents saying they had heard an explosion before they saw the plane plummeting to earth. The agency said one part of the plane had landed 2 miles from the main crash site. (WSJ, 08.24.23)
  • The aircraft, an Embraer Legacy, was the same plane that Prigozhin had regularly used to travel around Russia and as far away as Africa. (FT, 08.25.23)
  • The crash took place exactly two months after Prigozhin’s rebellion. (Bloomberg, 08.23.23)

Who could have ordered the crash of Prigozhin’s plane and why:

  • U.S. officials are working on the assumption that the plane was brought down on the orders of Putin. The apparent move to decapitate Wagner signaled Putin’s intention to shore up the position of Russia’s armed forces and the return to favor of uniformed generals over the mercenary group’s leaders and officials close to them, Western officials said. “It shows Putin’s focus on revenge,” said one of the officials. (FT, 08.25.23, FT, 08.24.23)
  • The Kremlin has denied Putin had any role in the presumed death of Prigozhin, “These are all total lies,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Aug. 25, adding that the Kremlin could not confirm that Prigozhin had died until DNA and other tests were complete. Peskov also denied that Putin met with Prigozhin shortly before the Wagner chief’s presumed death. (FT, 08.25.23, WP, 08.25.23)
  • In his conversation with journalists on Aug. 25, Lukashenko said he had warned Prigozhin, via Putin, of an assassination plot against him, Meduza reported.  Lukashenko claimed to have received information on the plot while on his way to the UAE and that he related that information to Putin and the FSB’s Alexander Bortnikov via the Russian ambassador to the UAE. He claimed that Prigozhin confirmed having received this information from Putin. “I can’t say who did it . . . But I know Putin. He is a prudent, very calm and even slow-paced person,” Lukashenko said. The presumed assassination was “too rough, unprofessional work” to be the Russian president’s, the Belarussian leader said. (FT, 08.24.23, RM, 08.25.23)
  • Russian military figures keen to avenge the servicemen killed by Wagner during their mutiny “decided it was worth the risk,” a person familiar with the warlord’s operations said. “Now they’re just going to explain to Putin after the fact why it happened.” (FT, 08.25.23)
  • “Obviously this was ordered,” a person close to the Russian Defense Ministry said. “It was his people who killed the airmen, after all. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. It was totally unclear for two months why he was travelling the world . . . now they’ve liquidated him and it all makes sense.” (FT, 08.23.23)
  • “I thought they’d use Novichok,” said a former senior Kremlin official, referring to the nerve agent used to poison Kremlin opponents such as ex-spy Sergei Skripal and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny. “They’ve added something new to the menu.” (FT, 08.23.23)

What could have caused the crash of Prigozhin’s plane:

  • Analysis by The New York Times of flight data and videos from the plane crash shows there was likely at least one catastrophic midair event several minutes before the private jet crashed. The precipitous drop and widespread debris, experts say, point to an explosion or sudden breaking apart of the aircraft rather than a mechanical failure. Videos posted to the messaging app Telegram show debris from the aircraft in three locations that span roughly two miles. One site contains the main fuselage of the aircraft, an Embraer Legacy 600; one contains the tail section; and a third contains a smaller piece of debris. (NYT, 08.24.23)
  • Aviation experts broadly agreed Aug. 24 that the business jet experienced a catastrophic structural failure when it crashed Aug. 23 and evidence points away from a simple mechanical problem or human error. (WP, 08.24.23)
  • Mash, a news outlet on social media app Telegram, reported that security services were investigating the possibility of a “terrorist attack on board” as another potential cause of the blast. (FT, 08.25.23)
  • The Russian government has said it is investigating the cause of the crash, but hasn’t offered an explanation. Russia’s Investigative Committee announced on Aug. 25 that its investigators found 10 bodies at the crash site. They have also retrieved the plane’s flight data recorders. (RM, 08.25.23, WSJ, 08.24.23)

 Explosion on board theory:

  • U.S. and other Western officials said Aug. 24 that preliminary intelligence reports led them to believe that an explosion on board likely brought down the aircraft in Russia, killing all the passengers aboard. Two U.S. officials said Aug. 24 that early intelligence pointed to the possibility of an onboard explosion. They said there is no indication so far that the aircraft was downed by a missile. (NYT, 08.24.23, WP, 08.24.23)
  • Initial U.S. intelligence reports suggest there could have been an explosion on board but officials cautioned that they have come to no firm conclusions. (FT, 08.25.23)
  • The Shot Telegram channel claimed that one of the leads pursued by Russian investigators of the crash is that a bomb had been planted in the landing gear compartment. The channel, however, did not specify who was the source of this claim. (RM, 08.25.23)

 Surface-to-air missile theory:

  • The United States is looking at a number of theories over what brought down the plane presumed to be carrying Prigozhin, including a surface-to-air missile hitting it, U.S. officials told Reuters on Aug. 24. (Reuters, 08.25.23)
    • Video of the crash and its aftermath posted by social media with ties to Russian security services showed the plane rapidly descending from the sky, accompanied by a plume resembling shots fired from anti-aircraft defenses, before crashing to the ground in a ball of flame. (FT, 08.25.23)
    • The U.S. Department of Defense on Aug. 24 said there was currently no information to suggest that a surface-to-air missile took down the plane presumed to be carrying Prigozhin. (Reuters, 08.24.23)
    • U.S. officials said early intelligence indicated Prigozhin was assassinated, but dismissed reports that a missile shot down his plane. (WSJ, 08.24.23)
  • Grey Zone, a Telegram channel associated with Wagner, claimed Aug. 23 that “various sources of information state” that the plane had been shot down by “the means of air defense.” The channel claimed Russian anti-aircraft defenses had shot down the plane. It said that residents heard “two bursts of characteristic air defense fire” before the crash. “This is confirmed by inversion traces in the sky in one of the videos,” it added. Mash, a news outlet on social media app Telegram, said locals had heard two loud bangs before the crash. (FT, RM, 08.25.23)
    • Russian Telegram outlet E112News, that focuses mainly on crime and accidents, aired video of members of the Russian investigation team attaching chains to a wing of the downed jet. The wing appeared to have little or no shrapnel damage. (WP, 08.25.23)

Impact of the demise of Prigozhin and his top aides:

  • The downing of Prigozhin’s plane has bolstered Putin’s hold on power, at least in the short term, officials and analysts said, restoring a reputation for a ruthlessness that had been undermined by his hesitant response to the Wagner mutiny in June and puzzling truce with the renegade warlord. (WP, 08.24.23)
    • “I don’t think anyone wants to speak out against the war after this,” said one Russian billionaire. “Anyone who displays disloyalty will be seen by the state as an enemy that needs to be liquidated,” one well-connected Moscow businessman said. “Everyone will believe that this was carried out on the orders of the czar. We may never know whether this is true or not. But it has frightened everyone.” (WP, 08.24.23)
    • “Everyone’s afraid,” Konstantin Remchukov, a Moscow newspaper editor with ties to the Kremlin, said of the reaction among the Russian elite to the plane crash Aug. 23 that Western officials theorize was caused by an explosion on board. “It’s just that everyone sees that anything is possible.” (NYT, 08.25.23)
  • Asked about Wagner’s future on Aug. 25, the Kremlin’s spokesman said it was “important not to forget that no such organization exists . . . de jure,” and dismissed questions about a potential replacement for Prigozhin at the helm of Wagner. (FT, 08.25.23)
  • The apparent death of Prigozhin cut short an international contest that had been quietly playing out for two months as both the Kremlin and he vied for influence in the countries that once sourced their mercenaries from Wagner in Africa. New mercenary companies, run by Russia’s GRU military-intelligence agency, were competing to take over Wagner’s contracts. Putin had personally told Touadera, the Central African Republic president, that the time had come to distance himself from Prigozhin. (WSJ, 08.24.23)
  • The U.K. Defense Ministry on Aug. 25 said, “The demise of Prigozhin would almost certainly have a deeply destabilizing effect on the Wagner group,” the ministry added in a post on social media platform X. “His personal attributes of hyper-activity, exceptional audacity, a drive for results and extreme brutality permeated Wagner and are unlikely to be matched by any successor.” (FT, 08.25.23)
  • “Africa’s all going to go to shit,” said a longtime Prigozhin acquaintance briefed on and referring to Wagner’s operations there. “They wouldn’t let him do any operations anymore and nobody’s going to take them over, because you need Zhenya for that,” he added, using Prigozhin’s nickname. “He was the only one crazy enough to make it work.” (FT, 08.25.23)
    • Prigozhin’s empire had come to include some 5,000 men deployed across the African continent. (WSJ, 08.24.23)
  • “Taking Utkin off the board, if you will, is going to have a serious setback for Wagner in its operations,” said Jason Blazakis, a former U.S. state department official. “He has these military bona fides that don’t exist in the same way within the organization.” (FT, 08.24.23)
  • Lukashenko said the mercenaries would stay in his country despite Prigozhin’s death. He expected 10,000 members of the group “within a few days.” “Prigozhin and I have built a system, and we will have Wagner,” he said. (WP, 08.25.23)
  • Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of Germany noted that, although the situation was still unclear, the world could not trust official Russian sources. (NYT, 08.24.23)
  • Olivier Véran, the French government spokesman, said on Aug. 24 that there were “reasonable doubts” about what led to the crash. (NYT, 08.24.23)
  • Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland said that the Wagner group would continue to be used as an extension of Russia’s military strategy. (NYT, 08.24.23)
  • Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister and one of Ukraine’s staunchest backers, told CNN that if Prigozhin’s death were to be confirmed, “it shows Putin will eliminate opponents and that scares anyone who is thinking of expressing opinion different than his.” (NYT, 08.24.23)
  • Russian assets traded steady on Aug. 24 as the world digested news of a plane crash that killed Prigozhin. The ruble declined 0.1% to 94.3650 to the dollar as of 12:40 p.m. in Moscow. The Russian government bond index also slipped 0.1% to 124.46. The benchmark stock index was down 0.7% to 3,125.71 points. (Bloomberg, 08.24.23)
  • After the crash, Russian police raided the families of Wagner Group members, asking questions about possible unrest as a result of the crash, according to Baza media outlet, a Telegram channel close to Russian law enforcement. (WP, 08.25.23)

Reaction to the demise of Prigozhin and his top aides:

  • Putin was speaking at a concert to commemorate the second world war in the Kursk region near the border with Ukraine when the crash was reported on Aug. 23. He broke his silence on the crash on Aug. 24 to laud Prigozhin’s record as leader of the Wagner paramilitary group. Putin said Wagner had “made a significant contribution to our common cause, the fight against Nazism in Ukraine.” “I knew Prigozhin from a long time, from the early 1990s. He had a difficult path and made serious mistakes in his life. But he got results—for himself, and for the common cause when I asked him, like in the last few months,” Putin added. Russia’s president said “initial data” indicated figures from Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary group were on board and expressed his condolences to the families of all 10 people who died. (FT, 08.25.23)
  • Biden told reporters he did not “know for a fact what happened” but was “not surprised.” He added: “Not much happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind.” (FT, 08.25.23)
  • It may be some time before Western intelligence agencies can say with certainty whether Prigozhin was aboard the plane that crashed, Milley said on Aug. 24. “Even on things like this, eventually you figure it out,” he told reporters, adding, “I can assure you that, to my knowledge, the United States had nothing to do with any of this whatsoever.” “Prigozhin was probably at some degree of risk because of the mutiny that occurred two months ago,” Milley said. (NYT,  08.24.23)
  • A spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council said: “If confirmed, no one should be surprised. The disastrous war in Ukraine led to a private army marching on Moscow, and now—it would seem—to this.” (FT, 08.25.23)
  • A Western official said, “Putin doesn’t take prisoners.” (FT, 08.25.23)
  • A former senior Kremlin official told the FT: “I thought they were definitely going to rub him out. And so they did. Things like that can’t be forgiven. Everyone understands that the response to treason will be irreversible and swift. It’s a signal for the whole elite.” (FT, 08.23.23)
  • Fellow hardliners dubbed Prigozhin the leader of a “party of victory” encompassing ultranationalists, Chechen militants and shadowy security service figures who wanted Russia to conquer Ukraine entirely. “I’m the only leader [of the ‘party of victory’] left,” Konstantin Malofeyev, a nationalist tycoon and patron of a militia that has fought alongside Wagner in Ukraine, told the Financial Times. “We want to fight to a victorious end,” he said. (FT, 08.25.23)
  • On Aug. 25, another longtime confidant of Putin, Aleksei Dyumin, issued a statement that made the message a little clearer. Dyumin, who is now the governor of a region south of Moscow, said he had known Prigozhin “as a true patriot, a decisive and fearless man.” He said he mourned all Wagner fighters who had died in Ukraine, and added: “You can forgive mistakes and even cowardice, but never betrayal. They were not traitors.” (NYT, 08.25.23)
  • “Yevgeny Prigozhin was a nuisance to too many people. The number of enemies reached a critical point,” Sergei Mironov, the outspoken, pro-war leader of a Kremlin-controlled opposition party, wrote on X. (FT, 08.24.23)

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Preparations are already underway for Putin to secure a fifth term in March 2024 elections, even as anxiety about the future spreads among senior officials and business tycoons, according to four people close to the Kremlin. (Bloomberg, 08.20.23)
  • The governor of the Moscow region, Andrei Vorobyov, is expected to secure an overwhelming majority during his re-election bid in next month’s gubernatorial elections by manipulating voter turnout, the independent news website Novaya Gazeta Europe. (MT/AFP, 08.22.23)
  • Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged his supporters on Aug. 21 to oust Kremlin-backed candidates in next month's regional polls, calling on voters to adopt new "Smart Voting" tactics. Supporters of Navalny around the world marked the third anniversary of his near-fatal poisoning with demonstrations against Putin. Dozens of protesters took to the streets in cities in Australia, Switzerland, Georgia, France, Estonia, New Zealand and other countries on Aug. 20. (MT/AFP, 08.21.23, RFE/RL, 08.20.23)
  • A Moscow court on Aug. 23 sentenced in absentia Maksim Kats, a self-exiled opposition activist, to eight years in prison on a charge of distributing "fake news" about Russia's armed forces. (RFE/RL, 08.24.23)
  • A court in Russia's Urals city of Yekaterinburg on Aug. 24 fined the local branch of the Memorial human rights group 350,000 rubles ($3,700) for "failure to properly report its activities as a foreign agent." (Current Time, 08.24.23)
  • A Moscow court has ordered a transgender woman, Katerina Maiyers, to pay 300,000 rubles ($3,170) for attempting to violate an order forbidding her to leave Russia over a case involving the possession of classified information. The ban was imposed before Maiyers changed her gender. Maiyers was previously a captain in the Federal Security Service in Siberia. (RFE/RL, 08.21.23)
  • Russian prosecutors asked a court in the Siberian city of Abakan on Aug. 22 to sentence the award-winning editor in chief of the Novy fokus (New Focus) online newspaper, Mikhail Afanasyev, to six years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia's armed forces. (RFE/RL, 08.22.23)
  • The Supreme Court of Russia's Mari El Republic ruled on Aug. 21 to shut down the Man and the Law rights group citing the nongovernmental organization’s 'involvement in political activities." (RFE/RL, 08.21.23)
  • Russian officials announced on Aug. 23 that self-exiled Chechen opposition activist Abubakar Yangulbayev has been placed on the wanted list. Yangulbayev fled Russia due to persecution by Chechen authorities for alleged actions linked to the opposition movement 1ADAT. (RFE/RL, 08.23.23)
  • Russian authorities have filed a lawsuit against billionaire oligarch Andrey Melnichenkol as they seek to seize and nationalise one of the companies in his metals and mining empire, claiming its purchase five years ago was a corrupt deal. According to the lawsuit against Melnichenko, who has described the invasion of Ukraine as “tragic,” state prosecutors aim to seize Sibeco, which runs several thermal power plants in western Siberia. Melnichenko bought the company in 2018 from Mikhail Abyzov, who was then a government minister. A few months later, in the spring of 2019, Abyzov was arrested, accused of embezzlement and of defrauding the shareholders of Sibeco. (FT, 08.21.23)
  • Russia’s second-largest oil producer Lukoil PJSC aims to buy out as much as 25% of its shares from foreign investors, using funds accumulated on its bank accounts abroad. (Bloomberg, 08.22.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia’s army has dismissed Sergei Surovikin, a prominent general, as head of its aerospace forces amid a crackdown on potential Wagner sympathizers following the paramilitary group’s failed mutiny in June. State newswire RIA Novosti cited an “informed source” on Aug. 23 saying Surovikin had been “relieved of his post” and replaced by Viktor Afzalov, Afzalov, has been chief of the Air Force’s general staff since 2018, according to Russian state media, having risen through the ranks (FT, 08.23.23, NYT, 08.23.23)
  • Russian paramilitary fighters will have to swear an oath to the Russian flag, according to a decree signed by Putin on Aug. 25, two days after the presumed death of Prigozhin. (MT/AFP, 08.25.23)
  • The main cause of the crash of the Luna-25 spacecraft on the surface of the moon over the weekend was that its propulsion system worked for 43 seconds longer than it was supposed to during a correction of its orbit, said Yury Borisov, the director of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos. The propulsion system worked for 127 seconds instead of the planned 84, Borisov said. (RFE/RL, 08.21.23)
  • See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A 32-year-old postgraduate student from Gabon has been stabbed to death in a cafe in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg, with witnesses calling it "a racially motivated attack." (RFE/RL, 08.21.23)
  • Five former officials at a Siberian penitentiary have been handed prison terms in a high-profile case involving the torture and rape of an inmate from the Republic of Tyva. (RFE/RL, 08.21.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Putin won’t attend the Group of 20 summit in India next month, forgoing another gathering of international leaders after he also skipped the meeting of BRICS emerging economies in South Africa this week. Putin has a “busy schedule,” and his main focus at the moment is prosecuting Russia’s war in neighboring Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Aug. 25. (Bloomberg, 08.25.23)
  • On Aug. 22, a delegation from the Russian Defense Ministry landed in Libya at the invitation of Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan warlord who had paid Wagner for securing its oil wells and territory. Prigozhin’s mutiny had left Haftar’s close circle nervous about Wagner’s presence in Libya, said Mohamed Eljarh, a managing director at security consulting firm Libya Desk with connections in Haftar’s camp. "This is the first official visit of a Russian military delegation to Libya," Moscow's Defense Ministry said. The high-powered delegation from the Russian army included deputy defense minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. (MT/AFP, 08.22.23, WSJ, 08.24.23, FT, 05.25.23)
  • UAE imports of Russian crude oil tripled in 2022 to a record 60 million barrels, according to commodity-data provider Kpler. (WSJ, 09.22.23)
  • In the second quarter of 2023, Russians became the third-largest property buyers in Dubai, compared with the ninth biggest in 2021, according to data from real-estate agent Betterhomes. (WSJ, 09.22.23).
  • MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC has established an office in Dubai, becoming the largest Russian metals and mining firm to set up in the United Arab Emirates following the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 08.23.23)


  • Ukraine’s anti-graft bodies are investigating senior government officials they suspect of purchasing food for war-hit regions at inflated prices as Zelensky’s administration intensifies a crackdown on corruption. The procurement contracts under scrutiny led to 62.5 million hryvnia ($1.7 million) in losses to the state, Ukraine’s Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau said in a statement. The purchases involved humanitarian aid for regions most affected by the war including Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia in the east and south as well as the capital Kyiv. (Bloomberg, 08.25.23)
  • Hungary’s president took the lead in trying to reset relations with Ukraine, meeting her counterpart Zelensky in a bid to push past Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Kremlin-friendly rhetoric. (Bloomberg, 08.24.23)
  • Zelensky says he had "an open, honest, and fruitful meeting" in Athens with his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic. (RFE/RL, 08.22.23)
  • Serhiy Kruk, the head of Ukraine's State Emergency Service, has been dismissed, Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko announced on Aug. 25 on Telegram, without giving a reason for the move. The move appears to be connected to a helicopter crash in January that killed Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy, his deputy Yevhen Yenin and state secretary Yuriy Lubkovich, plus 11 other people, including a child. Kruk and three other officials from the Emergency Service were accused of negligence and violating flight safety rules in approving the flight in bad weather conditions. (RFE/RL, 08.25.23)
  • Finnish media reports on Aug. 25 said police have detained Yan Petrovsky, a Russian ultra-nationalist and former commander of the Rusich saboteur group that fights alongside of Russia's armed forces against Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 08.25.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The next summit of the United States and five Central Asian presidents, known as C5+1, will be held next month in New York. Earlier reports said Biden had proposed the summit be held either on Sept. 19 or 20 within the framework of the U.N. General Assembly. The C5+1 diplomatic summit has been held several times since 2015. (RFE/RL, 08.23.23)
  • Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security has detained Mansur Movlayev, a Russian citizen renowned as both an athlete and an outspoken critic of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed authoritarian ruler of the North Caucasus region of Chechnya. (RFE/RL, 08.21.23)
  • The United States is urging Americans in Belarus to leave the country "immediately," citing spillover risks from the war in Ukraine, including a buildup of Russian troops in Belarus. Any Americans in Belarus should leave immediately, the embassy said, either through "the remaining border crossings" with Lithuania or Latvia, or by plane. It noted that U.S. citizens were unable to cross into Poland by land from Belarus. (WP, 08.22.23)
  • Images obtained by RFE/RL show that a suspected tent camp thought to be occupied by troops from Russia's Wagner mercenary group near the Belarusian village of Tsel is being dismantled  Last week, journalists from the independent Belarusian Hajun project, which tracks military activity, estimated that there are 4,000 to 5,000 Wagner fighters stationed in the country, most of them in the village of Tsel.  (WP, 08.22.23, RFE/RL, 08.24.23)
  • Latvia's State Security Service (VDD) said on Aug. 25 that it had detained four Latvian nationals on suspicion of spying for Russia's Federal Security Service. (RFE/RL, 08.25.23)
  • The Estonian transport company Stark Logistics, about 25% of which belongs to the husband of the country’s Prime Minister Kai Kallas, has received more than 1.5 million euros from transportation to Russia since 2022. The CEO of the company, Kristjan Kraag, told Eesti Päevaleht about this. (Media Zone, 08.25.23)
    • Kallas, who has called for the Kremlin’s economic isolation, said she had “nothing to hide” as she sought to contain mounting criticism over the presence of her husband’s company in Russia. (Bloomberg, 08.24.23)
  • Tbilisi condemned as "completely unacceptable" comments by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the two Georgian breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could be formally annexed by Moscow "if there are good reasons." (RFE/RL, 08.23.23)
  • Georgian officials say rescue teams have found another body near the site of an Aug. 3 landslide in the resort town of Shovi, bringing the confirmed death toll to 29. (RFE/RL, 08.22.23)


IV. Quotable and notable

  • “Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold,” William Burns, CIA director, said while speaking at the Aspen Security Forum last month. “Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback so I would be surprised if Prigozhin escapes further retribution.” (FT, 08.23.23)
  • “On average, a 10% increase in voting alignment with China in the U.N. General Assembly yields a 276% increase in aid and credit from Beijing,” says Bradley Parks, executive director of AidData, quoting research on voting patterns from a new book by Axel Dreher and colleagues called Banking on Beijing. (FT, 08.22.23)
  • “Had decisions been taken faster and with more anticipation on some of the weapons systems which we ended up sending, then probably the war would have taken a different path, and, in any case, we would have saved lives," Josep Borrell, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said this week. (WP, 08.23.23)
  • ''The sun is shining, the scenery is beautiful and absolutely nothing is happening,'' Polish news portal Wojciech Drazba said last week in Suwalki, the sleepy town that serves as the administrative center of a border area that Polish state television, recycling overwrought foreign media reports, describes as the ''most dangerous place on earth.'' (NYT, 08.22.23)
  • Those keen to fight volunteered long ago; Ukraine is now recruiting mostly among the unwilling. “It makes the air so thick that you can actually feel it,” says Anastasia Zamula. Everyone knows that the cost of regained territory is dead soldiers. “Even hoping for success in the counter-offensive has become an act of self-destruction.” (The Economist, 08.20.23)

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2:00pm Eastern 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 Russian presidential press service ( under a CC BY 4.0 license.