Russia in Review, Dec. 15-21, 2023

6 Things to Know

  1. Vladimir Putin used his address to the annual meeting of the Russian defense ministry’s top brass to proclaim that Russian forces are “holding the initiative” in the war against Ukraine, and to dismiss claims that Russia would attack a NATO country if and when it wins that war. In his address, Putin also touted the modernization of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad, noting the latter’s role in ensuring “the strategic balance of power in the world” has increased due to the “changing nature of military threats and the emergence of new military and political risks.” Putin said “the level of modern weapons and equipment in the strategic nuclear forces as a whole has reached 95 percent.” The Russian president’s comments appeared to come as part of a coordinated communications campaign; the commanders of two elements of the triad— those of air and land—had touted the procurement and testing of new systems shortly before Putin’s address. The latter was followed by Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who in a meeting with foreign military attachés, also put the share of modern weapons in the triad at 95%.
  2. Ukraine’s civil and military leaders continued to debate the urgency and possible means of replenishing the ranks of the units of Ukrainian armed forces (ZSU) currently engaged in combat. President Volodymyr Zelensky told his annual press conference on Dec. 19 that he would not approve the Ukrainian general staff’s recommendation that to mobilize up to 500,000 troops until the ZSU clarifies how it plans to ensure the rotations of personnel in and out of combat zones, according to Meduza. In turn, ZSU Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny criticized the pace of conscription as too slow, while the head of military intelligence Kyrylo Budanov said Ukraine had already recruited all the volunteers it could find, and now needed to use more compulsion, according to Bloomberg and FT. Meanwhile, more media outlets ran stories this week on the ZSU’s personnel shortages, as evidenced by reports the military had been forced to recruit men in their 40s and 50s.  One ZSU serviceman told WSJ that the new recruits are typically older, “rural guys,” while a “combination of corruption, exemptions and political caution has protected much of Ukraine’s urban middle class” from recruitment.1
  3. In the past month, Russian forces have gained 22 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukrainian forces have regained two square miles, according to the 12.20.22 issue of the Belfer Center’s Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. In the latest developments, Russian pro-war Telegram channels acknowledged on Dec. 21 that Ukrainian forces continued to maintain a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Dnieper reiver in the area surrounding the Kherson region village of Krynky, while a Ukrainian OSINT project acknowledged that the Russian offensive in the area—where the Donetsk region settlements of Ivanivske and Khromove are located—was succeeding as of Dec. 20.
  4. The Pentagon said it will run out of money to replace weapons sent to Ukraine by Dec. 30 as it has become clear that the Congress will not approve new funding for Kyiv this year. The Defense Department is spending its last $1.07 billion to replace the weapons shipped to Kyiv, Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord said. The Senate left town until Jan. 3 for the year after having failed to reach a deal on the southern border, which Republicans had demanded as a condition for backing Democrats' security package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine, according to WSJ. Pushing negotiations on this deal into next month could collide with congressional deadlines on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 to avoid shutdowns of various government agencies, according to FT.
  5. The number of Ukrainian citizens who believe the country and its war effort are moving in the right direction fell to 54% this month, as compared with 68% in May 2022, according to a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and reported by Bloomberg. In contrast, the share of Russians who think Russia is headed in the right direction increased from 67% in November to 69% in December, according to the country's leading independent pollster the Levada Center.2 Zelensky’s approval ratings have slipped, too, NYT reported. A poll released this month by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology showed 62 percent of Ukrainians trusted Zelensky, down from 84 percent last December, according to NYT. In contrast, the share of Russians who approve of Putin’s presidential conduct stayed above 80% in 2023, according to Levada.
  6. Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov touted Russia’s active military cooperation with North Korea during a meeting with military attachés of foreign countries’ embassies to Russia this week. "The focus on developing a comprehensive strategic partnership with China and India persists. Active multilateral cooperation with North Korea has been established," Gerasimov was quoted by TASS as telling the attachés on Dec. 21. This week has also seen Russia, which has been getting ammunition from DPRK for its war against Ukraine in exchange for reportedly assisting the Hermit Kingdom’s space program, take North Korea’s side at a UNSC meeting convened to discuss Pyongyang’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch, AP reported.

Dear readers: Please be advised that Russia in Review will resume publication on Jan. 5 due to Harvard’s winter recess. We wish you all happy holidays and the best in the New Year!


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • "Ukraine is not abandoning attempts of nuclear terrorism and is systematically launching unmanned aerial vehicles with explosives to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and the town of Energodar,” Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov claimed during a briefing for foreign military attachés, according to TASS. Gerasimov presented no evidence to back his claim, and the meeting and his allegations contrast with those of senior Ukrainian energy and government officials who have accused Russia of creating unsafe conditions at ZNPP, which Russia seized from Ukraine. (RM, 12.21.23)
  • Last February, engineers at Rosatom were preparing a new 1,200-megawatt reactor to generate electricity at the Astravets Nuclear Power Plant in Belarus when they detected that resin was seeping into the primary circuit. In the worst case, according to people familiar with the issue, accumulation of so-called ion-exchange resin could impede reactor control, elevating the risk of a meltdown if something went wrong once it was online. So on Feb. 25, 2022, Rosatom pulled the plug temporarily on the unit, delaying its launch. The unit in Belarus is now online and was commissioned last month. (Bloomberg, 12.18.23)
    • The Bloomberg article drew sharp critical reactions from officials, including Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, as well as Mikhail Mikhadyuk, the Belarusian deputy minister of energy, according to Bellona. (RM, 12.21.23)
  • The launch of Akkuyu NPP’s first unit, which Rosatom is building, was up to 323 days behind schedule as of late this summer, an internal audit shows. Under a best-case scenario, it’s six months behind schedule, according to the audit. (Bloomberg, 12.18.23)
  • Energoatom and Holtec have announced that Ukraine's new Centralized Spent Fuel Storage Facility is up and running receiving used nuclear fuel from the country's nuclear power plants. It is designed to have a total storage capacity of 16,530 used fuel assemblies. Energoatom said that the new facility will save USD 200 million a year which it previously had to pay for the used fuel to be transported and stored in Russia. (WNN, 12.20.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • North Korea and Russia clashed with the United States, South Korea and their allies at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Dec. 19 on Pyongyang’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch, which it called “a warning counter-measure” to threats from the U.S. and other hostile forces. Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Anna Evstigneeva called attempts to condemn Pyongyang “a one-sided approach.” (AP/Bloomberg, 12.19.23)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • On Dec. 17, Ukrainian prosecutors reported that Russian troops shelled Ukraine’s Kherson and Sumy regions, killing two people. At least one person was killed in Ukraine’s coastal Odesa region overnight. Overall, Ukraine’s air force said Russia fired at least one Iskander ballistic missile and one cruise missile along with 20 kamikaze drones. (RFE/RL, 12.17.23)
  • On Dec. 19, a Russian drone attack in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and Russian shelling in the eastern region of Sumy injured at least four people. (RFE/RL, 12.20.23)
  • On Dec. 20, Ukraine said nine people, including four children, were wounded by Russian shelling in the southern city of Kherson as drones also targeted the capital Kyiv and the second-largest city Kharkiv. (MT/AFP, 12.20.23)
  • In the 24 hour-period from 8pm on Dec. 20 to 8pm on Dec. 21, one person died in the Ukrainian-controlled Kherson region, three people died in the Donetsk region’s Ukrainian—controlled town of Toretsk and two people died in the Ukrainian-controlled Dnieper region’s city of Nikopol as a result of military strikes, according to the Conflict Intelligence Team. One person died in a military strike on the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region. (RM, 12.21.23)
  • “I don’t think people fully realize what Ukraine’s fall would actually mean,” said a European diplomat. “We would see horrible things: ethnic cleansing and total destruction of Ukraine. … And that is why we must carry on.” (CNN, 12.15.23)
  • Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria plan a joint force to clear mines drifting into their areas of the Black Sea as part of the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 12.16.23)
  • A former officer for the Russian military intelligence service GRU who says he fought with the Wagner mercenary group has defected and has vowed to testify in the Hague about alleged Russian war crimes. Igor Salikov, 60, arrived in the Netherlands on Dec. 18 as Russian dissident-in-exile Vladimir Osechkin published an affidavit that he had submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC), asking for "international protection and political asylum" for himself and his family. (Newsweek, 12.19.23)
  • A special team, known as the Joint Investigation Team and established to investigate the MH17 shoot-down, officially concluded its work in February 2023. At the final public presentation, investigators played intercepted conversations featuring Mr. Putin which suggested he might have personally approved the Buk’s transfer to eastern Ukraine in 2014. But the evidence needed to prosecute remains out of reach. (The Economist, 12.20.23)
  • Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the IMF has urged Ukraine’s allies to rapidly unlock tens of billions of dollars for Ukraine, which. needs $41 billion in budgetary support from its allies next year. It is counting on $18 billion from the EU, $8.5 billion from the U.S., $5.4 billion from the IMF, $1.5 billion from other development banks and $1 billion from the U.K. (FT, 12.17.23)
    • “Ukraine has liquidity through January, but it gets a little tight after that. We need to move quickly,” said an EU official. “Ukraine is right to be nervous. It’s not a comfortable situation at all.” (FT, 12.16.23)
  • The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said on Dec. 19 its board has approved a 4 billion-euro ($4.3 billion) capital increase that will enable the bank to double its Ukraine investments once reconstruction there begins. (Reuters, 12.19.23)
  • The European Union should prepare to tap a little-used €80 billion ($88 billion) rescue fund to support Ukraine, according to Finland’s Olli Rehn. (Bloomberg, 12.21.23)
  • Germany will provide an additional 88.5 million euros ($96.89 million) to help strengthen the resilience of the Ukrainian energy system as Russia targets its infrastructure. (RFE/RL, 12.21.23)
  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal says Kyiv has received the last 1.5 billion euro ($1.7 billion) tranche of the 18 billion euro package from the European Union. (RFE/RL, 12.21.23)
  • The European Union can bypass Hungary’s opposition to joint aid for Ukraine by striking a separate deal among the 26 other member states at a summit early next year, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Dec. 21. In Europe, a $54 billion European Union financial assistance package for Ukraine has also been held up due to Hungarian objections, scuttling the needed unanimous decision by the 27-member organization. (Politico, 12.21.23, Bloomberg, 12.21.23)
  • Ukraine’s Black Sea grain corridor is performing better than expected, but stronger air defense is needed to quicken ship loading times and better shield ports, according to Kyiv’s top infrastructure official Oleksandr Kubrakov. The war-hit nation has exported almost 10 million tons of commodities, mostly grains, through the passage since August. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23)
    • Russia has no interest in extending the Black Sea grain deal, said Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev. He added that to a large extent this is a political decision, but Russia will continue to export its grain, as it has its buyers. (Reuters,12.17.23)
  • The NASA Harvest research also shows that about 7% of Ukraine’s farmland was abandoned this year, mostly along the front lines. Russia’s total harvest would include 5 million to 6 million tons of grain from Kremlin-controlled regions of Ukraine, according to Interfax. (Bloomberg, 12.21.23)
  • Polish truckers on Dec. 18 resumed their blockade of the main crossing at the Ukrainian border, a week after it was lifted, Ukraine's border service said. (RFE/RL, 12.18.23) 

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • In the past month, Russian forces have gained 22 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukrainian forces have re-gained two square miles, according to the 12.19.23 issue of the Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. (Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, 12.20.22)
  • On Dec. 16, the Russian Defense Ministry reported 32 drones shot down over Crimea, the peninsula illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014. Six drones were shot down in the Kursk region and another in the Belgorod region, both to Ukraine’s north. The drone swarm was the largest since late November, when UAVs were launched by Ukraine across four Russian regions, including Moscow. In that instance, a source at Ukraine’s military intelligence said 35 drones were launched while Russia reported 24. (Bloomberg, 12.16.23)
  • On Dec.17, "The Russian occupying forces attacked with the Iskander-K cruise missile, the Kh-59 guided air missile … as well as 20 Shahed-type strike drones,” the Ukrainian air force said in a statement. Ukraine forces shot down the drones and the Kh-59 missile, while the “Iskander-K cruise missile did not reach its goal,” the air force said. (MT/AFP, 12.17.23)
  • On Dec. 17, Ukraine targeted an air base in the area of the Rostov region’s town of Morozovsk, where an air base hosts Russia’s 559th Bomber Aviation Regiment and where Su-24, Su-24M, and Su-34 bombers used against Ukrainian sites are based. (RFE/RL, 12.17.23)
  • On Dec. 17, Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, wrote on Telegram that “Terebreno, Krasnoyaruzsky District, is under fire from the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” referring to the village some 5 kilometers from the border. (RFE/RL, 12.17.23)
    • The Freedom of Russia Legion claimed responsibility for the raid. The fighters—who are Russian nationals—claim that during the raid they “destroyed a platoon stronghold of Russian troops” near the village of Terebreno. (Istories, 12.18.23)
  • On Dec. 19, Ukraine said its military was outgunned in the eastern Kharkiv region, where Russian forces have been pushing for months to capture the regional hub of Kupiansk. “The situation is complicated. We have to fight in conditions of the superiority of the enemy both in weapons and in the number of personnel,” said Oleksandr Syrsky, the head of Ukraine’s ground forces. (MT/AFP 12.19.23)
    • ISW reported that Russian forces have this week made confirmed advances northeast of Kupyansk, north of Bakhmut, and southwest of Avdiivka, and continued positional meeting engagements along the entire line of contact. (RM, 12.20.23)
  • On Dec. 19, Putin told a meeting of the Defense Ministry’s board in Moscow that Russian troops were “holding the initiative” in Ukraine. “We are effectively doing what we think is needed, doing what we want,” Putin said. “Where our commanders consider it necessary to stick to active defenses they are doing so, and we are improving our positions where it’s needed.” Putin said: “We are not going to give up the goals of our special military operation.” He also said: “The enemy is suffering heavy losses and has largely squandered their reserves trying to show their real bosses at least some progress in their much-hyped operation they call a counter-offensive.” (, 12.19.23, RFE/RL, 12.19.23)
  • On Dec. 19, Russian air defense systems downed a Ukrainian drone in Odintsovo, outside Moscow. (MT/AFP 12.19.23)
  • Early on Dec. 20, Russia fired drones at targets across Ukraine. The Ukrainian Air Force said 18 of 19 drones launched at Kyiv, Odesa, Kherson, and other regions of Ukraine had been destroyed. (RFE/RL, 12.20.23)
  • As of Dec. 20, Russia continued local offensive options in several sectors, but individual attacks are rarely above platoon size. (U.K. Ministry of Defense’s via X (Twitter), 12.20.23)
  • On the night of Dec. 19 to 20, Russian forces conducted another series of drone and missile strikes against Ukraine military sources reported that Russian forces launched 19 Shahed-131/136 drones at Ukraine, and that Ukrainian forces shot down 18 of the drones over Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Vinnytsia, Khmelnytskyi, Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Kirovohrad oblasts. The Ukrainian Air Force also reported that Russian forces launched two S-300 missiles at Kharkiv Oblast. (ISW, 12.20.23)
  • As of Dec. 21, Ukrainian forces continued to maintain a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Dnieper reiver in the area surrounding the Kherson region village of Krynky, according to Russian pro-war Telegram channels Rybar and WarGonzo. (RM, 12.21.23)
    • For two months, Ukraine’s Marine Corps has been spearheading an assault across the Dnipro River in the southern region of Kherson to recapture territory from Russian troops. Some of the heaviest fighting has been in the village of Krynky, on the east bank 20 miles upriver from Kherson city, Soldiers and marines who have taken part in the river crossings described the offensive as brutalizing and futile, as waves of Ukrainian troops have been struck down on the river banks or in the water, even before they reach the other side. (NYT, 12.16.23)
  • In its analysis of fighting on Dec. 20, Ukrainian OSINT project DeepState acknowledged in its Telegram channel that the Russian offensive in the area where Donetsk region settlements of Ivanivske and Khromove are located was succeeding. (RM, 12.21.23)
  • When asked when the war would end, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at his end-of-the-year press conference: “I think no one knows the answer, even our commanders or Western partners. They don’t know.” Zelensky said this in response to a question about whether he agrees with Western leaders that the war could go on for a long time and that it won’t end in 2024. (Meduza, 12.19.23)
  • Zelensky said at his press conference that he had not yet approved the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ General Staff suggestion of mobilizing another 400,000-500,000 people, since they don’t yet have a clear picture of the rotations and leaves of absence for active military This is a “very sensitive issue,” he said. He added that “if it is needed,” he would sign legislation that would reduce the age at which men can be compelled to join the military from 27 to 25. Zelensky has calculated one soldier requires six civilians to make up the expense, which he put at an additional 500 billion hryvnia ($13 billion). (FT, 12.19.23, Bloomberg, 12.19.23, Meduza, 12.19.23) 
    • Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s military chief, this week criticized the pace of conscription as too slow. He also issued his strongest criticism to date of a previous presidential decision to fire regional military draft office chiefs, Interfax Ukraine reported. Asked by reporters on the sidelines of an event on Dec. 18 about whether the decision affected mobilization levels, Zaluzhny bemoaned the recruitment chiefs' sacking. "These were professionals, they knew how to do this, and they are gone," Interfax Ukraine cited him as saying. (Reuters, 12.18.23, Bloomberg, 12.19.23)
    • “We’re seeing 45- to 47-year-olds,”one Ukrainian senior officer said in reference to recruits. “They are out of breath by the time they reach the front line.” One older recruit didn’t even have the chance to pick up his false teeth. After less than a week in the trenches of the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, a platoon of 20 had been reduced by six. Three had been killed in action, three seriously wounded. We’re seeing 45- to 47-year-olds,” complains one senior officer. (The Economist, 12.17.23)

    • General Kyrylo Budanov, head of military intelligence, said on Dec. 17 that Ukraine had already recruited all the volunteers it could find and now needed to use more compulsion. (FT, 12.19.23)

    • Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov has told foreign media that Ukraine next year plans to mobilize Ukrainian men between 25 and 60 who reside abroad. (RFE/RL, 12.21.23)
    • A rickety draft system isn't mobilizing Ukraine's manpower effectively, providing the quantity and quality of troops needed, or sharing the burden fairly across Ukrainian society, say many soldiers and military analysts. A combination of corruption, exemptions and political caution has protected much of Ukraine's urban middle class against having to fight in the cold and muddy trenches. "The quality of the replacements is not good. They're rural guys aged 43 to 50, sometimes with health problems," said an experienced infantryman fighting near Avdiivka. (WSJ, 12.20.23)3
      • In half a year, Ukraine lost in all directions close to 160 thousand men, over 3,000 tanks and armored vehicles, and nearly 150 airplanes and helicopters, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov claimed a briefing for foreign military attachés, according to TASS. "The widely advertised counteroffensive by Ukraine and NATO allies has failed,” he said. (RM, 12.21.23)
  • Frontline Ukrainian troops face shortages of artillery shells and have scaled back some military operations because of a shortfall of foreign assistance, Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of the Tavria operational group, told Reuters. Ukrainian forces are rationing ammunition, U.S. and Ukrainian officials told CNN, as Russian forces fire back at a ratio of five to seven times greater than Ukrainian forces are able to.  (Reuters, 12.18.23, CNN, 12.15.23)
  • It follows from a Dec. 20 post in Ukrainian OSINT Telegram channel DeepState that the Ukrainian authorities are threatening to bring criminal charges against Ukrainian soldiers who “abandon their positions.” Such “intimidation” causes Ukrainian units to withhold information on loss of positions in what causes neighboring Ukrainian units to “lose understanding of the real situation,” according to DeepState. (RM, 12.21.23)
  • One Western official described how in the case a Russian victory the Ukrainian resistance would switch to guerrilla tactics meaning that the fighting would continue at a lower level. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23)
  • The Russian Navy has transferred at least 21 of the Black Sea Fleet’s ships and boats to the port of Novorossiysk. This is evidenced by satellite images, which drew the attention of the American OSINT researcher MT Anderson. (Istories, 12.18.23)

Military aid to Ukraine: 

  • The Pentagon said it will run out of money to replace weapons sent to Ukraine by Dec. 30 unless Congress approves new funding, for the first time giving a precise date for when it will have exhausted its cash. The Defense Department is spending its last $1.07 billion to buy new weapons and equipment that will replace those drawn down from stockpiles and sent to Ukraine, Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord said. (Bloomberg, 12.18.23)
  • The Senate left town on Dec. 19 for the year without reaching an agreement on border policy, even as party leaders said the talks remain on the right track. Their reason: Any deal is just too complicated to hash out quickly. A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators has been working for weeks to strike a deal on the southern border, demanded by Republicans as a condition for backing Democrats' $110.5 billion security package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Leaders of both parties said on Dec. 19 that they would aim to vote on a deal early in the new year. (WSJ, 12.20.23)
    • The decision to push more talks into next month means negotiations could collide with congressional deadlines on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 to avoid shutdowns of various government agencies. (FT, 12.19.23)
      • The 118th Congress is on track to make the "do nothing" Congresses of the past look like juggernauts. Axios reports on Quorum data showing that just 20 bills were passed by both chambers and signed into law in 2023. (WP, 12.21.23)
    • When asked what a Donald Trump presidency would mean for Ukraine, Zelensky said at his end-of-the-year press conference: “I think that America as a whole will not change its mind. But a leader obviously has influence over society. The first signals from the next U.S. president, whoever it may be, will have an impact. These signals will have a very strong influence on the course of the war in Ukraine.” (Meduza, 12.19.23)
  • As a Ukraine aid package continues to stall in the U.S. Congress, America and its allies are assessing what they describe as the potentially debilitating impact on Ukraine’s defense and longer-term prospects of losing the war, multiple U.S. and European officials told CNN. (CNN, 12.15.23)
    • “There is no guarantee of success with us, but they are certain to fail without us,” a senior U.S. military official said. (CNN, 12.15.23)
    • Russia is likely to push to take more territory and destroy more infrastructure if Ukraine doesn’t get the weapons it needs to defend itself, according to European officials. Unable to defend itself, Ukraine might be forced to accept a cease-fire deal on Russia’s terms, they said. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23)
    • "We need help from the United States right now. We need assistance from the European Union," Zelensky said at his annual press conference. He announced on Dec. 19 at the year-end news conference in Kyiv that an unspecified number of U.S.-provided air defense systems are on the way and said European allies also continue to provide help, but he stressed that Ukraine needs immediate assistance to continue the fight. (RFE/RL, 12.19.23)
  • Japan is expected this week to formalize a change in policy that will enable it to export several dozen Patriot missiles to the United States, a move that would backfill Washington's stockpiles. That would give Washington flexibility to send more of the sophisticated air defenses to Ukraine. (WP, 12.19.23)
  • Ukraine’s domestic arms makers have provided about 20 percent of the Ukrainian Army’s needs since Russia’s invasion. Ukraine makes armored vehicles and tanks, a self-propelled howitzer, artillery shells and laser-guided anti-tank missiles. Its greatest potential, however, is seen in battle testing innovative systems, such as exploding sea drones, which were first deployed in combat in defending against Russia’s assault on Ukraine. (NYT, 12.20.23)
  • Since February 2022, Kyiv has received over 5.2 thousand tanks and armored vehicles, close to 1.5 thousand artillery guns and multiple launch rocket systems, 1.3 thousand antiaircraft missile complexes, over 23 thousand antitank missile complexes, over a hundred airplanes and helicopters, and 23 thousand drone, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov told a briefing for foreign military attaches. Close to 100,000 Ukrainian military were trained in the West. Besides, Ukraine received over 200 long-range cruise missiles, Gerasimov claimed. (TASS, 12.21.23)

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

  • The European Union has enacted its 12th package of economic sanctions against Russia. Key measures include a ban on importing, purchasing, and transferring both natural and synthetic diamonds from Russia, including diamond jewelry, effective Jan. 1, 2024. From Mar. 1 to Sept. 1, 2024, the E.U. will gradually introduce a ban on the import of Russian diamonds processed in third countries, including jewelry with diamonds of Russian origin. (Meduza, 12.19.23)
    • The Kremlin vowed to circumvent the ban on Russian diamonds, part of another sanctions package brought by the West over Moscow's large-scale military operation in Ukraine. (MT/AFP 12.19.23)
    • More than 90 percent of Russia's diamonds come from Alrosa, a state-controlled mining company. The United States banned the import of Russian diamonds and imposed sanctions on Alrosa in response to the invasion of Ukraine. But sales have remained strong. The company's revenue was $1.9 billion in the first half of this year. (WP, 12.21.23)
  • The Biden administration is quietly signaling new support for seizing more than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets stashed in Western nations, and has begun urgent discussions with allies about using the funds to aid Ukraine’s war effort at a moment when financial support is waning, according to senior American and European officials. Officials are aiming for a consensus among G7 countries to seize the assets, but France, Germany and Italy remain extremely cautious. (FT, 12.20.23, NYT, 12.21.23)
    • Russia on Dec. 21 promised to respond in kind should the European Union go ahead with a plan to ring-fence profits generated from Russia's frozen assets in the EU and hand them to Ukraine. "We also have enough assets that are frozen here, in type-C accounts," Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said.(RFE/RL, 12.21.23)
  • Russian authorities and companies have united to take advantage of cracks in the global sanctions against Russia. They have also turned to countries that have staked out neutral positions in the conflict, such as Morocco and Turkey. The prohibited tech products were then made available to buy from well-known suppliers and on easy-to-use e-commerce sites like Nag. Their success shows how difficult it is to stop the global movement of commercial technology, raising questions about the effectiveness of Western trade restrictions and whether tech giants should better control the destinations of their products—and if it is even possible to do so. (NYT, 12.20.23)
  • Western companies that have announced departures from Russia have declared more than $103 billion in losses since the start of the war, according to a Times analysis of financial reports. Mr. Putin has squeezed companies for as much of that wealth as possible by dictating the terms of their departure. He has also subjected those exits to ever-increasing taxes, generating at least $1.25 billion in the past year for Russia’s war chest. (NYT, 12,17,23)
  • Austria has given its approval to a 12th package of EU sanctions on Russia after Ukraine removed Raiffeisen Bank International (RBIV.VI) from a blacklist, Ukraine's government website and an EU diplomat said on  Dec. 16. Austria had been pushing to remove the bank from a Ukrainian list dubbed "international sponsors of war," which sets out to shame companies doing business in Russia and supporting the war effort by, for instance, paying taxes. (Reuters, 12.16.23)
    • Raiffeisen has concluded a complex asset swap arrangement with Oleg Deripaska that skirts EU sanctions restrictions to hand the Russian oligarch rubles worth €1.5 billion. In a statement on Dec. 19, RBI said its Russian subsidiary would make the cash payment to Deripaska in exchange for his 28 per cent shareholding in Austria’s Strabag, one of the largest construction companies in Europe. (FT, 12.19.23)
  • The EU's top court on Dec. 20 dismissed Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich's request to be removed from the bloc's sanctions list. (RFE/RL, 12.20.23) 
    • Two weeks after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich said he would sell his soccer club Chelsea FC and donate the billions of dollars in proceeds to the victims of the war in Ukraine. Yet more than a year and a half later, the $3 billion donation is sitting frozen in a U.K. bank account amid a long-running dispute with the British government over how the vast sum should be spent. (WSJ, 12.16.23)
  • The EU banned imports of rolled, semi-finished steel products from Russia in Oct. 2022, but granted a grace period for shipping some goods through Oct 1, 2024. That period would be extended through Oct. 2028, the documents show. (Bloomberg, 12.18.23)
  • German prosecutors have filed a motion to seize more than €720 million held in the Frankfurt bank account of a Russian financial institution under sanctions, the first time they have moved to confiscate Russian assets rather than just freeze them. "The aim of these proceedings is to seize more than 720 million euros ($789 million) deposited by a Russian financial institution in a bank account in Frankfurt am Main due to a suspected attempt to violate embargo regulations" under German law, they said. (MT/AFP, 12.20.23, FT, 12.20.23)
  • South Korean automaker Hyundai announced on Dec. 19 it will sell its St. Petersburg plant, which suspended operation in March 2022 amid an exodus of foreign companies from Russia. Art-Finance, which is owned by the auto dealership group Avilon, in May bought the Russian assets of German carmaker Volkswagen, including its flagship Kaluga factory near Moscow. (MT/AFP 12.19.23)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered that Germany's Wintershall Dea and Austria's OMV be stripped of multibillion-dollar stakes in gas extraction projects in Russia's Arctic. Under the presidential, stakes held by OMV and Wintershall Dea in the Yuzhno-Russkoye field and in the Achimov projects are to revert to newly created Russian companies. (Reuters, 12.20.23)
  • Turkish brewer Anadolu Efes has agreed to acquire AB InBev’s stake in a $1.3 billion Russian joint venture in a sign of Turkey’s continued close corporate ties to Russia, as Western companies struggle to offload their assets in the country. The regulatory filing on Dec. 19 said KPMG assessed the Russian joint venture to be worth $1.1-1.3 billion. (FT, 12.19.23)
  • The Kyiv School of Economics said 12 foreign companies had left Russia in October and seven in November compared with an average of 14.2 per month earlier in 2023. (FT, 12.21.23)
  • A Moscow court on Dec. 20 fined Alphabet's Google more than 4.6 billion rubles ($50.8 million) for the "systemic failure" to delete from YouTube what the court said was false information about Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.20.23) 
  • As it raised its key interest rate to 16 per cent last week—a higher rate even than in Ukraine—the Russian central bank named Western sanctions as a key factor driving inflation that now stands at 7.5 per cent in annual terms. (FT, 12.21.23)
  • Russia has handed out more than $12 billion in state subsidies and loans to keep its aviation sector afloat since Western sanctions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine cut off supplies of key parts and maintenance services, a Reuters analysis shows. (Reuters, 12.21.23)
  • From the review of Russian court cases of money laundering between the U.K. and Russia, Transparency International Russia in Exile found that two main approaches to money laundering through trade are (1) overcharging for the commodities delivered, and (2) forging the documents for the deliveries which in fact never happened. (Transparency International, Dec. 2023)
  • In response to the war in Ukraine, Latvia has ordered that thousands of Russian citizens who have lived in the country for decades be screened for their loyalty and ability to speak at least rudimentary Latvian if they want to stay. As a result, around half of the roughly 50,000 Russian citizens living in Latvia have to pass a language test and undergo security checks if they want to stay. Officials insist that this will not lead to mass expulsions and that only 3,500 Russian citizens registered as residents have failed to submit the necessary paperwork. It is unclear how many still live in Latvia. (NYT, 12.18.23)
  • A court in Helsinki on Dec. 18 ordered pretrial detention for a Russian ultranationalist and former commander of the Rusich saboteur group, Voislav Torden (aka Yan Petrovsky) that fights alongside Russia's armed forces against Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.19.23)
  • The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) has put sanctioned Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman on the wanted list. Fridman is wanted on charges under the article "Financing of actions committed with the aim of forcibly changing or overthrowing the constitutional order or seizing state power, or changing the borders of the territory or state border of Ukraine.” (Ukrainska Pravda, 12.20.23)
  • Ukraine's Interior Ministry on Dec. 15 placed head of Russia's Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, a backer of the Kremlin's 21-month-old war against Kyiv, on a wanted list after security services accused him of abetting the conflict. (Reuters, 12.16.23)

For sanctions on the energy sector, please see section “Energy exports from CIS” below.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

  • Ukraine has been rallying international support for its own 10-point peace formula, and Mr. Zelensky reiterated at his annual press conference that he is willing to negotiate on those terms. He said Russia did not seem inclined to negotiate now. (NYT, 12.19.23)
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Dec. 20 that there is no current basis for talks between Moscow and Kyiv. "We really consider that the topic of negotiations is not relevant right now," Peskov said, adding that Kyiv’s proposed peace formula was absurd as it excluded Russia. (RFE/RL, 12.20.23)
  • “This is a bloody stalemate,” Ron Johnson, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, told Fox News after Zelensky’s visit. “This war should be brought to an end, the sooner the better.” (FT, 12.16.23)

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

  • Vladimir Putin dismissed as “complete nonsense” remarks from U.S. President Joe Biden, who earlier this month warned that Putin would “keep going” if he takes Ukraine The Russian leader said Russia “has no reason, no interest, no geopolitical interest, neither economic, nor political, nor military, to fight with NATO countries,” adding Moscow does not have any territorial claims in NATO countries. “There is no desire to spoil relations with them (NATO countries), we are interested in developing relations,” Putin added. (CNN, 12.17.23)
  • Putin said at the MoD board meeting on Dec. 19: “We realize that Russia is not going to fight Europe. We are not going to fight against them today either. U.S. and NATO leaders keep saying, if Russia wins in Ukraine now, the NATO countries will be next in line. Why do we need these NATO countries?” (, 12.19.23)
    • In the Baltic states, officials are already telling the public to be ready for the next war because Putin’s forces aren’t going to be destroyed in Ukraine. “Russia is not scared of NATO,” Estonia’s military chief Martin Herem said in an interview with a local TV station, estimating that the Russian military could be ready to attack NATO within a year once the conflict in Ukraine—not a member of the alliance—was over. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23)
    • Belgian Defense Chief Michel Hofman, while visiting Belgian soldiers stationed in Romania this week, warned that Russia has “already shown that they have the will to attack a neighbor,” and “it is absolutely possible that they will also have other ideas later. Either in the south in Moldova or the Baltic states.” (Politico, 12.21.23)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned there will be “problems” with neighboring Finland after it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) earlier this year. “There were no problems, but now there will be, because we will now create the Leningrad military district there and definitely concentrate military units there,” Putin added in the interview by Russian state broadcaster Russia 1. (CNN, 12.17.23)
    • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reiterated during the Russian MoD board meeting that the Russian military is forming the Leningrad Military District (LMD) and Moscow Military District (MMD) in connection with Finland’s accession to NATO and the upcoming accession of Sweden. Shoigu also announced that Russia will prioritize implementing operational and combat training measures to combat the “threats of further NATO expansion east” in 2024. (ISW, 12.19.23)
  • Beyond the potentially catastrophic consequences for Ukraine, some European allies have begun to quietly consider the impact of a failure for North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II. They’re reassessing the risks an emboldened Russia would pose to alliance members in the east, according to people familiar with the internal conversations who asked for anonymity to discuss matters that aren’t public. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23)
  • Europe must race to ensure it can better defend itself as new military threats could emerge by the end of the decade even as the focus of security ally the United States shifts toward the Indo-Pacific, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said. Russia is hiking its weapons production considerably to sustain its invasion of Ukraine, while also threatening the Baltic states, Georgia, and Moldova, Pistorius told Welt am Sonntag. (Reuters, 12.16.23)
  • U.S. Congress has approved a measure aimed at preventing any U.S. president from unilaterally withdrawing the United States from NATO without congressional approval. (WP, 12.16.23)
  • The U.S. will be able to base soldiers and equipment permanently in Denmark after the Scandinavian country reversed decades of foreign policy to become the last nation in the region to sign a defense cooperation agreement with Washington. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year has pushed Sweden, Finland and Denmark all to sign such deals with the U.S. in recent days, a way of deepening security ties with the main military force in the West. (FT, 12.19.23)
  • Germany and Lithuania signed off on a plan for stationing a permanent brigade of some 4,800 German troops in the Baltic nation over the next four years to reinforce NATO’s defenses on the alliance’s eastern flank. (Bloomberg, 12.18.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to “amplify” ties with Moscow during a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. He also said that China supports the Russian people in their chosen path of development. “Maintaining and developing China-Russian relations well is a strategic choice made by both sides on the basis of the fundamental interests of the two peoples,” Xi said during the Dec. 20 meeting in Beijing. Russia and China have achieved good results in investments, and 80 joint projects totaling almost 20 trillion rubles are underway, Mishustin said at negotiations with Xi. Both nations agreed to expand agricultural cooperation and jointly safeguard energy security when Mishustin met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang. (Bloomberg, 12.20.23 Interfax, 12.20.23, TASS, 12.20.23)
    • Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng on Dec. 18 co-chaired the 27th session of the committee for regular meetings between Chinese and Russian heads of government, together with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko in Beijing. (Xinhua, 12.19.23)
  • "The focus on developing a comprehensive strategic partnership with China and India persists. Active multilateral cooperation with North Korea has been established," General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, told a news briefing for foreign military attaches. (TASS, 12.21.23)
  • 22nd round r round of strategic consultations between the Chinese and Russian armed forces took place in Beijing, the Chinese Defense Ministry said in a statement. "The parties stated that they would work together to implement the important consensus that was reached by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President [Vladimir] Putin, further increase the level of strategic cooperation between the two armies, making a new contribution to strengthening regional and global peace and security and facilitating efforts to build a community with a shared future for humanity," the Chinese Defense Ministry said. (TASS, 12.21.23)
    • In a videoconference on Dec. 21, U.S. Air Force Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke with Gen. Liu Zhenli of the People's Liberation Gen. CQ Brown Army's Joint Staff Department, restoring dialogue between the militaries after a 16-month rupture during which the U.S. said China's forces conducted dangerous intercepts of American and allied planes and ships. (WSJ, 12.21.23)
  • Russia’s Gazprom PJSC said on Dec. 17 that it set a new daily record for gas deliveries to China on the previous day. While it didn’t disclose the volume of gas sent to China, Gazprom said last week it’s working to ramp up supplies to Beijing via the Power of Siberia pipeline. Russia’s Energy Ministry estimated in September that gas exports to China would be 22 bcm this year, rising to 30 bcm in 2024. (Bloomberg, 12.17.23)
  • Shipments of Russian oil to China totaled around 100 million tons in 2023, while supplies to India roughly amounted to 70 million tons, Chief Executive Officer of Transneft Nikolay Tokarev said. (TASS, 12.20.23)
  • Chinese carmakers have grabbed 55 percent of the Russian market, according to GlobalData Automotive. They had 8 percent in 2021. (NYT, 12.21.23)

Nuclear arms:

  • Speaking at the meeting of the Russian MoD’s board, Putin said Russia has modernized nearly its entire strategic nuclear arsenal. “Given the changing nature of military threats and the emergence of new military and political risks, the role of the nuclear triad, which ensures the balance of power, the strategic balance of power in the world, has significantly increased,” Putin said. “This year, thanks to the consistent implementation of the state armament program and the efficient operation of the defense industry enterprises, the level of modern weapons and equipment in the strategic nuclear forces as a whole has reached 95 percent, and the naval component—almost 100 percent,” he said. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23,, 12.19.23)
    • The share of modern weapons in Russia’s nuclear triad has reached 95%, chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov told a briefing for foreign military attaches. (TASS, 12.21.23)
  • Russia plans to test-launch seven intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2024, Sergei Karakayev, the commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, has said, the Interfax news agency reported on Dec. 16. Russia has given the United States at least 24 hours’ notice of such launches and Washington has afforded Moscow the same courtesy, Interfax cited Karakayev as telling the Russian Army's official Red Star newspaper. (Reuters, 12.16.23)
  • Russia’s long-range aviation will receive completely new combat aircraft next year, t its commander Sergei Kobylash told reporters on Dec. 19. “These will be completely new aircraft, based on new principles, with new aerodynamic and combat qualities,” he said. (, 12.19.23)
    • Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told the MoD board meeting that Russia completed the introduction of the Avangard hypersonic nuclear missile to its strategic forces and is continuing to bring the Yars intercontinental ballistic missile into service. Russia is also adding four new Tu-160 strategic bomber aircraft, he said. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments. 


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

  • The U.S. Justice Department seized websites belonging to a notorious Russian-speaking ransomware group, upending hackers that have extorted millions of dollars from victims around the world. The website for the extortion group BlackCat, also known as ALPHV or Noberus, on Dec. 19 broadcast a message stating that U.S. officials had taken control of the page. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23)
  • Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office said on Dec. 21 that the Kazakh authorities would extradite Russian cybersecurity expert Nikita Kislitsin to Moscow, although he is also wanted in the United States for allegedly buying illegally obtained personal data. (RFE/RL, 12.21.23)
  • Ukraine's biggest mobile operator, Kyivstar, which was hit by a massive cyberattack earlier this month, said on Dec. 20 it had restored services after difficulties with voice communications in some Ukrainian regions. (RFE/RL, 12.20.23

Energy exports from CIS:

  • The U.S.-led coalition imposing a price cap on seaborne Russian oil announced changes on Dec. 20 to its compliance regime that the Treasury Department said will make it harder for Russian exporters to bypass the cap. The coalition will soon require Western maritime-service providers to get "attestations" from other businesses that the Russian oil was sold under the cap each time they lift or load the oil, the Treasury said. Under the new rules, when oil is sold at a price that includes other costs, such as insurance and freight, the insurers and other service providers will be able to demand cost information about how the contract was priced. (Reuters, 12.20.23 FT, 12.20.23)
  • The U.S. took some of its strongest steps yet to enforce a price cap on Russian oil, targeting for the first time crude traders. The U.S. Treasury Department announced the steps on Dec. 20, including sanctions on Bellatrix Energy Ltd., a Hong Kong-based firm among the shadowy traders that emerged to help Russia keep its oil exports flowing. Essentially unheard of before the war, it has handled about 20% of shipments during the first nine-months of this year from the country’s third-largest exporter, Surgutneftegas PJSC. Sanctions were also placed on UAE-based SUN Ship Management D Ltd., a company owned by Russia’s state-backed shipping company Sovcomflot PJSC and manages its ships. (Bloomberg, 12.20.23)
  • Almost five million barrels of Russia’s Sokol grade crude should have reached Indian refiners over the past four weeks. None of it has got there. It’s unclear what’s holding the vessels up, but U.S. sanctions on tankers hauling Russian crude in breach of a price cap imposed by the Group of Seven nations might be part of the cause. (Bloomberg, 12.20.23)
  • Russia’s oil product exports have surged this month, buoyed by higher diesel and naphtha outflows as local refiners scale up operations. Shipments from Russia averaged 2.4 million barrels a day in the four weeks through Dec. 17. That’s the highest volume since mid-September. (Bloomberg, 12.20.23)
  • Under a new deadline, Bulgaria—one of the few countries that was exempt from an EU-wide ban on Russian crude imports until the end of 2024—will end imports of Russian oil from March on the grounds that the exemption might be used to bypass sanctions. (Bloomberg, 12.18.23)
  • Russia’s Novatek PJSC, which leads the Arctic LNG 2 project, sent force majeure notices to some of the facility’s buyers, said people familiar with the matter who declined to be named as details are private. Sanctions that the U.S. imposed on the project in November are making it impossible to make shipments for the time being, they said. (Bloomberg, 12.21.23)
  • Hungary on Dec. 16 threatened to veto Bulgaria’s entry into the passport-free Schengen zone unless it abolishes the transit fee for Russian gas. (RFE/RL, 12.16.23)

Climate change:

  • Last week, world leaders celebrated a climate first: a call by nearly 200 countries to "transition away" from fossil fuels. But beneath the United Nations agreement lies a darker truth: No fossil fuel company or country has a real plan for phasing out fossil fuels. On the contrary, almost all expect to continue extracting coal, oil and gas far into the future—far beyond what is needed to cut emissions in line with climate goals of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), or even 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). (WP, 12.21.23)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Putin said at the MoD board meeting on Dec. 19: “ Having reached its current goals, having torn Ukraine away, as they saw it, and having severed Russian-European relations, the United States has achieved what it was after, unfortunately.” (, 12.19.23)
  • Russian government and its proxies attempted to denigrate the Democratic Party and undermine voter confidence ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, an operation that most likely sought to weaken U.S. support for Ukraine, U.S. intelligence agencies said in a report. The report, which is was written last December, though only declassified on Dec. 18, contains few specifics about the influence attempts conducted leading up to the 2022 midterms, but what is generally described appears to be unsophisticated, scattered and unlikely to have been meaningfully effective. (WSJ, 12.19.23)
  • Republican polling leader Donald Trump approvingly quoted Putin as part of an ongoing effort to deflect from his criminal prosecutions and spin alarms about eroding democracy against President Biden. "It shows the rottenness of the American political system, which cannot pretend to teach others about democracy," Trump quoted Putin saying. (WP, 12.16.23)
  • The U.S. is looking for the "right way" to work with Russia for the return of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and another American held in Russia, Paul Whelan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Dec. 20. President Biden, in announcing a prisoner exchange with Venezuela, said: "We also remain deeply focused on securing the release of the hostages in Gaza and wrongfully detained Americans around the world, including Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan.” The White House said on Dec. 21 it is "very concerned" about reports that Whelan, a former U.S. Marine convicted of espionage in Russia, feels physically threatened. (RFE/RL, 12.21.23, WSJ, 12.21.23)
  • Former U.S. Marine Whelan says he feels "abandoned" and betrayed by his country after being imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges, the BBC said in an interview published on Dec. 20. Whelan, 53, has been behind bars since 2018 and is serving a 16-year sentence for spying, a charge the U.S. government says is without merit. (MT/AFP, 12.20.23)
  • The Apr. 27, 2022, handover of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko and former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed was the first of several hostage exchanges that Turkey has hosted—among them a prisoner-of-war swap between Ukraine and Russia in September of last year which was the most important and sensitive since Moscow’s invasion. Last year, when Russian and U.S. intelligence officials discussed which country could host a prisoner trade given many countries’ travel restrictions on Russian officials, both sides agreed they could trust Turkey. (WSJ, 12.19.23)
  • In 2017, American Eric Thomas Creamer, who lived and worked in Russia, was accused of drug possession. The police detained him and released him only a day later without any status. Creamer then left the country. In 2021, he travelled to Armenia, but already at the border he was warned that he would not be able to go back. The restrictions, as it turned out, were due to the fact that Creamer was arrested in absentia in Russia and placed on the interstate wanted list. (Meduza, 12.20.23)


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Sixteen candidates have filed to run for Russia's presidency next year, officials said on Dec. 20, in a March 2024 election that is expected to easily hand Putin a fifth term. (MT/AFP, 12.20.23)
    • Putin’s 2024 campaign headquarters has opened its doors in Moscow. The chairmen of Putin's election headquarters were actor Vladimir Mashkov, head physician of Moscow hospital No. 52 Maryana Lysenko and speaker of the parliament of the self-proclaimed DPR Artem Zhoga, TASS reports. (Meduza, 12.21.23, MT/AFP, 12.21.23)
    • Putin promised to make Russia a "sovereign, self-sufficient" power in the face of the West, in his first campaign speech before running again for president in a March election. "We must remember and never forget and tell our children: Russia will be either a sovereign, self-sufficient state, or it will not be there at all," Putin said during a congress of the ruling United Russia party. (MT/AFP, 12.17.23)
    • Putin will run for president again as an independent candidate. An initiative group made up of over 700 politicians and figures from the sporting and cultural worlds met in Moscow and unanimously endorsed Putin's nomination as an independent candidate, Russian news agencies said. (Reuters, 12.16.23)
    • Putin’s bid for reelection was unanimously endorsed at the United Russia party congress in Moscow. During a speech at the event, Putin said that the plans of the “Western elite” to destabilize Russia through “so-called ‘color revolutions’” have not worked and will not work. (Meduza, 12.17.23)
    • The leadership of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation recommended nominating deputy Nikolai Kharitonov as a presidential candidate. In the 2004 presidential elections he received 13.69% of votes. (Meduza, 12.21.23)
    • Russia's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party on Dec. 19 proposed its leader, lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, as a candidate in the presidential election scheduled for March 17. (RFE/RL, 12.19.23)
    • Yekaterina Duntsova, a Russian politician calling for peace, presented documents on Dec. 20 to Russia's Central Election Commission to register as a candidate for the 2024 presidential election. (AP, 12.21.23)
  • In a video address to Russian security forces who mark their day on Dec. 20, Putin said, "foreign special agents' attempts to destabilize the political and social situation in Russia must be severely stopped." “We must thwart any attempts by foreign intelligence services to destabilize the social and political situation in Russia, to undermine civil peace and interethnic accord, to interfere in our internal affairs and to violate the sovereign and unshakable right of the Russian people to determine their own future,” he said. (RFE/RL, 12.20.23, RFE/RL, 12.20.23,, 12.20.23)
  • Russian authorities have opened a record number of treason cases in 2023, the human rights project Perviy Otde said. A historical maximum of 70 cases have been submitted to courts, 63 of which were for high treason. Seven others were for "confidential cooperation with a foreign state or organization." The courts have reportedly handed down 37 verdicts, all of them guilty. (MT/AFP, 12.21.23) 
  • Russia’s Federal Tax Service (FNS) has begun asking Russian citizens for copies of documents confirming dual citizenship or residence permits in other countries, as well as statements from accounts in foreign banks, reports Vedomosti. (Meduza, 12.21.23)
  • Government and Kremlin officials, as well as senior United Russia members and working political strategists are actively discussing personnel changes that could occur in the Kremlin staff after the presidential elections in March 2024. Four sources close to the Kremlin and United Russia say there is a widespread opinion that Sergei Kiriyenko, deputy head of the presidential administration “has overstayed his welcome.” (Meduza, 12.19.23)
  • Alexei Navalny, the imprisoned opposition leader, did not appear at a court hearing two weeks ago and has not been heard from since. His allies are trying desperately to find him. (NYT, 12.20.23)
  • Russian authorities have issued arrest warrants for two exiled associates of Navalny. The Interior Ministry’s database of wanted persons lists investigator Maria Pevchikh and Navalny YouTube channel host Dmitry Nizovtsev, both of whom live outside Russia. (MT/AFP, 12.21.23)
  • Russian authorities on Dec. 18 added popular detective novelist and dissident Grigory Chkhartishvili – known under the pen name Boris Akunin – to its register of “extremists and terrorists." Russian law requires that individuals added to the list have their bank accounts frozen. (BG, 12.19.23, Meduza, 12.18.23)
    • The Moscow-based Zakharov Publishing House, which has published books by Akunin, said on Dec. 19 that police had searched its offices. (RFE/RL, 12.19.23)
  • Russia's Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant for the chief editor of the Pskovskaya Guberniya newspaper in the northwestern Pskov region, just days after banning him from leaving the country despite him having fled Russia over a year ago. Journalist Denis Kamalyagin, who serves as editor-in-chief of the newspaper, was charged last month under wartime censorship laws that ban “discrediting” Russia's Armed Forces.  (MT/AFP, 12.19.23) 
  • The press service of the Moscow criminal courts said on Dec. 19 that the Meshchansky district court sentenced human rights activist Alyona Krylova, who was earlier extradited from Kyrgyzstan, to two years in prison on a charge of organizing an extremist group. (RFE/RL, 12.20.23)
  • Andrey Khudoleev, a member of Putin’s Interethnic Relations Council, has expressed concern about young people’s apparent interest in studying the “Elvish language,” which he described as a “serious threat.” Khudoleev says more than 12,000 Russians now self-identify as Elves and study the Elvish languages constructed by English writer J. R. R. Tolkien. (Meduza, 12.16.23)
  •, the nonprofit organization that supports the Russian segment of Wikipedia, announced its dissolution on Dec. 19, after its director Stanislav Kozlovsky was forced to resign from his job at the Moscow State University (MGU) due to Russian officials' plans to label him a "foreign agent." (RFE/RL, 12.19.23)
  • Head of the Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill made a series of anti-migrant and xenophobic remarks. On Dec. 20, Kirill blamed migrants for increasingly threatening interreligious and interethnic peace in Russia. (ISW, 12.20.23)
  • The share of Russians who think Russia is headed in the right direction increased from 67% in November to 69% in December, according to the Levada Center. During the same period, the share of Russians who approve of Putin’s presidential conduct declined from 85% to 83%. When asked to name several politicians that they trusted most in December, 48% named Putin, while 18% named premier Mikhail Mishustin, 12% named Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and 7% named Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. (RM, 12.21.23)
  • Some 67% of Russians oppose a ban on abortion in the country, according to a Russian Field opinion poll. (Istories, 12.19.23)
  • Over the past five years, the number of Russian respondents whose lives, according to their own answers, have remained virtually unchanged has increased noticeably from 24% to 40%. The number of those who have come to terms with their cramped situation decreased from 21% to 15% over five years. (Levada, 12.20.23)
  • As of Dec. 21, a new record for cargo transportation along the Northern Sea Route in the modern history of Russia was recorded: 35 million tons of cargo were transported (for comparison, in 2022, this figure was 34.117 million tons). (Rosatom, 12.21.23)
  • Russian mortgage volumes have soared 72% this year to nearly $70 billion and have already set a new annual record, according to data from the Russian central bank through October. The majority of those have been offered at interest rates far below market rate thanks to government support. (WSJ, 12.21.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Putin said at the Defense Ministry board meeting on Dec. 19: “This year, the volume of supplies of armored vehicles has increased threefold, and other vehicles by 4.5 times thanks to the effort of the defense industry. In general, the number of purchased basic weapons has increased by 2.7 times.” Putin said Russian military technology had demonstrated its "superiority" over Western weapons, pointing to Kyiv's failure to liberate large swathes of its territory during a counteroffensive launched in the summer. (, 12.19.23, MT/AFP, 12.19.23)
  • In 2023 the Russian military received over 1,500 new and upgraded tanks, close to 3,000 armored vehicles, over 230 airplanes and helicopters and over 20,000 drones. Four submarines and eight warships joined the Navy, chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov told a briefing for foreign military attaches. (TASS, 12.21.23)
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at the Defense Ministry board meeting on Dec. 19 that the Russian military intends to recruit up to 745,000 contract personnel by the end of 2024. (ISW, 12.19.23)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry should carry out the October–December 2024 military conscription using a unified registry of citizens eligible for military service and a publicly accessible summons registry, according to an order from Putin. (Meduza, 12.21.23)
  • Due to the recruitment of contract soldiers and conscripts, the number of military personnel in the Russian army and navy will be increased to 1.5 million in the first half of 2024, according to Viktor Sobolev, a member of the State Duma Defense Committee. (, 12.19.23)
  • The Russian military will not impose a one-year service limit for mobilized soldiers despite requests from the soldiers’ families, St. Petersburg opposition politician Boris Vishnevsky said, quoting a letter dated Dec. 5 and signed by S. Drozdov, the acting head of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff mobilization unit. (MT/AFP, 12.20.23)
  • Russia’s PMC "Redut," which reports to Russian military intelligence, began recruiting HIV-positive mercenaries for the war in Ukraine. (Istories, 12.18.23)
  • Over 4,000 Russian university students have taken academic leave to fight in Ukraine as volunteers, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at an end-of-year military meeting on Dec. 19. (MT/AFP, 12.19.23)
  • A member of the Russian military’s Storm-Z penal unit has alleged widespread corruption among commanders in the Ukraine war, Novaya Gazeta Europe reported. Officers regularly extort up to 20,000 rubles ($220) in exchange for releasing troops from so-called “punishment pits.” Novaya Gazeta Europe previously reported that soldiers could pay bribes to secure transfers to a different unit, vacations and hospitalizations for up to $50,000. (MT, 12.20.23)
  • Five current and former Russian soldiers have received varying sentences at the Volgograd Garrison Military Court for bribing a superior officer in exchange for avoiding a second deployment in Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 12.18.23)
  • See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • The FSB said it arrested Magomed Ibragim, an ex-fighter of the slain Chechen guerilla leader Shamil Basayev, who was accused of launching attacks on Russian soldiers that precipitated the Second Chechen War in 1999. (MT/AFP, 12.19.23)
  • A court in Russia's Rostov region sentenced a former fighter of the Wagner mercenary group, Pavel Nikolin, to six years and 11 months in prison on Dec. 18 for opening fire with an automatic weapon on a group of police officers in December of last year, wounding one of them. (RFE/RL, 12.18.23)
  • The Preobrazhensky Court of Moscow sentenced former Minister for Open Government Russia Mikhail Abyzov, accused in the case of creating a criminal community, to 12 years in prison. He was detained in 2019 on charges of establishing criminal community that allegedly stole four billion rubles from Siberian energy companies. (Meduza, 12.21.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • The Russian Defense Ministry-controlled Africa Corps announced a recruitment campaign targeting former and current Wagner Group personnel and people with combat experience in the war in Ukraine. (ISW, 12.20.23)
  • A Polish court on Dec. 19 convicted 14 citizens of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine for planning to carry out acts of sabotage on behalf of Moscow. (MT/AFP, 12.19.23)
  • The European Union's chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, has called on Russia to "immediately release" Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran journalist of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir Service who has been held in Russia for two months. (RFE/RL, 12.18.23)


  • The number of Ukrainian citizens who see the country and its war effort going in the right direction has fallen to 54% this month from 68% in May 2022, according to a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. Ukrainians living in eastern regions showed a higher level of discontent, according to the Dec. 4-10 poll, which surveyed 1,200 respondents in regions controlled by Kyiv. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23)
  • Zelensky’s once sky-high approval ratings have slipped. A poll released this month by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology showed 62% of Ukrainians trusted Zelensky, down from 84% last December. Trust in Gen. Zaluzhny, meanwhile, is at 88%, the poll found. (NYT, 12.19.23)
    • Zaluzhny is “responsible for the results on the battlefield as Commander-in-Chief.” “Zaluzhny is my representative, just like everyone who I appointed. I’m proud of some people on my team, and ashamed of others,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at the end of the year press conference.  (Meduza, 12.19.23)
  • According to survey data from the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIS), over half of Ukrainians (55%) advocate for the prompt punishment of corrupt officials, even if it involves violating the law by expediting unspecified punishments without due process for the accused. Meanwhile, 42% of respondents believe that punishment should be in accordance with the law, even if it takes an extended period. The remaining 3% of respondents remained undecided. (Kyiv Post, 12.20.23)
  • An inoperative listening device has been found in a room where Zaluzhny could conduct future work, says Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU). (Meduza, 12.18.23)
  • Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar became the latest world leader to fall victim to Russian pranksters, who tricked him into a call during which he said there isn’t a prospect of Ukraine joining the European Union soon. (Bloomberg, 12.19.23)
  • FBI agents scrutinizing Rudolph Giuliani’s efforts to oust the American ambassador to Ukraine thought financial problems might be motivating his actions. (NYT, 12.19.23)
  • Ukraine’s GDP jumped 9% in the third quarter from a year earlier after almost 20% growth in the second, defying all expectations. GDP might even reach its prewar level of $200 billion next year, investment bank Dragon Capital said on Dec. 4. (Bloomberg, 12.21.23)
  • Since Putin failed to capture Ukraine’s capital in March 2022 and his army fell back to pillaging the east of the country, life in Kyiv has all but resumed its normal rhythm. The economy is recovering. Cafés are full. Rents are rising. (The Economist, 12.20.23)
  • Ukraine’s parliament approved the legalization of medical cannabis as the nation responds to the growing ranks of war veterans requiring treatment for injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Bloomberg, 12.21.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Uzbekistan's Labor Migration Agency said on Dec. 21 that 119 Uzbek nationals who had illegally entered the United States, mostly via Mexico, had been flown back to Tashkent. (RFE/RL, 12.21.23)
  • Pro-Western Moldova on Dec. 17 launched military exercises near the Russia-backed breakaway region of Transdniester, the Defense Ministry said, adding that the maneuvers were to run through Dec. 22. (RFE/RL, 12.17.23)
  • Moldova has received an airspace-monitoring system bought from a French company as part of a larger effort to modernize the country's armed forces amid the war in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.21.23)
  • Alyaksandra Kasko, a Belarusian rights activist who was arrested in early February right after she returned from Poland, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges related to her protesting the official results of a widely disputed presidential election in 2020. (RFE/RL, 12.19.23)
  • Putin signed a decree on Dec. 18 simplifying naturalization of Belarusian, Kazakh and Moldovan citizens. (RFE/RL, 12.18.23)
  • A Russian soldier who was detained by Russian troops in Armenia on desertion charges last week has been forcibly returned to his home country, a project that helps Russians avoid military service in Ukraine said Dec. 19. (MT/AFP, 12.19.23)


IV. Quotable and notable

  • “The left bank was like purgatory,” said Ukrainian marine Maksym, who was recovering in the hospital after being wounded in Krynky in November. “You are not dead yet, but you don’t feel alive.” ''It is impossible to gain a foothold there. It's impossible to move equipment there,” said Oleksiy, an experienced soldier who fought in Krynky in October. ''It's not even a fight for survival,'' he added. ''It's a suicide mission.'' (NYT, 12.16.23)
  • Putin said at Defense Ministry meeting: “Only Russia could be the guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. If they do not want it, so be it.” (, 12.19.23)
  • Russian Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina likened the Russian economy to a car trying to drive too fast. “It can go, it might even be quick, but not for long,” she warned. (The Bell, 12.16.23)
  • “The anticipation that Trump’s going to come back is something for Putin of a boon … he can play with that. He can use it as kind of a warning … scare the Ukrainians, the Europeans, the rest of the world.," Fiona Hill said. (The Guardian, 12.21.23)



  1. Read a recent RM take on the age problem in the Ukrainian army here.
  2. As usual with polls in Russia, at least two mitigating factors are important to note: the power of state-run propaganda and respondents’ wariness about speaking with pollsters, both heightened by increasingly harsh laws restricting freedom of speech and punishing dissent.  
  3. Read a recent RM take on the age problem in the Ukrainian army here.


The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2:00pm East Coast time on the day it was distributed.

Italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute RM editorial policy.