Russia in Review, Dec. 16-22, 2022

4 Things to Know

  1. Zelensky is welcomed in the U.S. with the Biden administration announcing a $1.8 billion package of military aid, including Patriots, and Congress advancing a bill that would give Ukraine $45 billion in aid. A recent version of the omnibus spending bill contains $9 billion to arm, equip and train Ukrainian forces, $7 billion for the Pentagon to fund the surge of U.S. troops and gear to Europe and millions to monitor Ukraine’s use of U.S. funds. During his Dec. 21 visit to Washington, Zelensky also presented Biden with a 10-point peace plan. He also pressed Congress for tanks and planes, but the U.S. president indicated reluctance to give Ukraine “fundamentally different” weaponry, as it “would have a prospect of breaking up NATO.”
  2. Xi tells Medvedev he is hoping for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine and is willing to mediate. Xi hosted Medvedev in Beijing on Dec. 21, reportedly telling the deputy chairman of Putin’s Security Council that China is willing to play a role to mediate an end to the war in Ukraine. “China hopes relevant parties can stay rational and restrained, conduct comprehensive talks and resolve mutual concerns on security via political methods,” Xi said.  In his response, Medvedev said the Ukraine crisis “has its causes and is very complex,” and that Russia is willing to resolve the problems it faces through peace talks.
  3. Putin vowed to further strengthen Russia’s nuclear forces as his defense minister unveils a major reinforcement of conventional forces. “We will continue to … improve the combat readiness of the nuclear triad,” Putin told the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry’s top brass on Dec. 21. The triad is to commission 22 ICBMs (one more than in 2022) and an SSBN in 2023, Shoigu told the meeting. The ministry’s plans for 2023 also include establishing at least 22 divisions, as well as multiple smaller units, according to Shoigu. The personnel of the Russian armed forces will increase from 1.15 million to 1.5 million, even as Putin vowed in his address to the top brass to “avoid militarization of the country.” The planned re-establishment of two military districts and the establishment of divisions on the basis of existing brigades signals the dismantling of two more signature reforms introduced by Shoigu's predecessor, Serdyukov.  
  4. Putin admitted an error in judgement regarding his war against Ukraine early on but vowed to persist with the aggression. During a meeting in March, Putin told Israeli PM Bennett that the Ukrainians were tougher “than I was told.” “This will probably be much more difficult than we thought. … [But] we are a big country and we have patience,” Putin told Bennett, according to NYT’s deep dive into the war in Ukraine. Andriy Zagorodnyuk, an adviser to the Zelensky government, told NYT that Putin plans another “offensive in the first quarter of 2023,” but many American officials think that Putin is in no shape to risk another major military operation.  

Dear readers: Please be advised that Russia in Review will resume publication on Jan. 6 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:

  • Alexei Likhachev, director general of Russia's Rosatom, and IAEA head Rafael Grossi held a new round of consultations in Moscow on Dec. 22 on cooperation in ensuring the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Rosatom described the talks on measures needed as “substantive, useful and frank.” Grossi indicated that more negotiations were needed after “another round of necessary discussions." (ABC, 12.22.22, Xinhua, 12.22.22)
  • In his address to the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry on Dec. 21 Sergei Shoigu claimed that Ukraine is preparing “a dirty bomb scenario,” but provided no evidence to back his claim. Both Ukraine and Western countries have repeatedly dismissed Russia’s dirty bomb claims. (RM, 12.21.22)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • North Korea has delivered arms to Russia's Wagner mercenary group, the White House said Dec. 22, calling Wagner a "rival" to other ministries in Moscow for power in the Kremlin. (AFP, 12.22.22)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • EU top diplomat Josep Borrell reprimanded Iran over its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the repression of protests at home, telling its foreign minister that the nuclear deal can only be restored under the terms negotiated by world powers in August. Borrell met Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Jordan on Dec. 20 to discuss the accord. (Bloomberg, 12.20.22)
  • In a wartime address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Iran had essentially allied with Russia, selling hundreds of deadly kamikaze drones to Moscow. “It is just a matter of time when they will strike against your other allies,” Zelensky said in a clear reference to Israel. With that one line, he married Ukraine’s recent confrontation with Iran over drones to Washington’s longstanding one over the Iranian nuclear program. (RFE/RL, 12.22.22, NYT, 12.22.22)
  • At a contentious Security Council meeting Dec. 19, the United States and its allies clashed with Iran and Russia over Western claims that Tehran is supplying Moscow with drones that have been attacking Ukraine—and the U.S. accused the U.N. secretary-general of “yielding to Russian threats” and failing to launch an investigation. (AP, 12.20.22)
  • Russia intends to give Iran advanced military components in exchange for hundreds of drones, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Dec. 20. (RFE/RL, 12.20.22)
  • U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is poised to announce new export controls targeting Iranian drones and drone parts that Russia has used in Ukraine since its invasion. (Bloomberg, 12.21.22)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said late on Dec. 20 that nine waves of large-scale missile bombardments and near-daily attacks have left the energy grid in a precarious state, with emergency blackouts needed across the country. (NYT, 12.21.22)
  • In Kyiv almost two-thirds of transformers aren’t working, and the city can’t get the electricity from the national grid, according to Ukrainian officials. (Bloomberg, 12.22.22)
  • Strikes on the Russian region of Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, killed one person and injured five others Dec. 18, the regional governor said. (MT/AFP, 12.18.22)
  • WHO has verified 715 attacks on health-care facilities and providers since Russia invaded Ukraine. Approximately 100 people have died because of the attacks, and 129 have been injured. (WP, 12.15.22)
  • Ukraine’s 2023 external fiscal needs will be at least $39.5 billion, and as much as $57 billion in a worst-case scenario, IMF said in a joint memorandum with the Ukrainian government published on its website. (Bloomberg, 12.22.22)
  • The IMF says it has approved Program Monitoring with Board Involvement (PMB) for Ukraine that is "designed to help Ukraine maintain stability and catalyze donor financing" as it struggles to meet its financial needs amid Russia's invasion. The PMB seeks to promote transparency and preserve hard-won gains from past fund-supported programs, including in the areas of independence of the National Bank of Ukraine and, more broadly, governance and anti-corruption, according to the IMF. (RFE/RL, 12.20.22, IMF, 12.20.22)
    • Ukraine’s government committed to steps to take in the coming weeks to access billions of dollars in loans from the IMF Fund, according to a memorandum signed by both sides. (Bloomberg, 12.22.22)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • Zelensky enjoyed a hero's welcome in Washington where Biden approved another $1.85 billion from previously budgeted funds for Ukraine, including a Patriot battery which can shoot down cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles. "You will never stand alone," Biden told him at a joint news conference. Zelensky had not left his country since Russia’s invasion in late February. (FT, 12.22.22, MT/AFP, 12.22.22)
    • In addition to Patriots, the U.S. will provide Ukraine with GMLRS guided rockets missiles, AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles, mortar weapons and ammunition, armored vehicles as part of the $1.85 billion package, according to a statement by the State Department. A senior U.S. defense official said training of Ukrainian crew for the Patriot system would begin soon and last several months. The funds will also buy ammunition for Soviet-era weapons, including 65,000 artillery shells, 50,000 Grad artillery rockets and 100,000 rounds of 125-millimeter tank ammunition. (NYT, 12.21.22)
    • Biden defended his reluctance to give Ukraine all of the advanced weaponry. “The idea that we would give Ukraine material that is fundamentally different than is already going there would have a prospect of breaking up NATO and breaking up the European Union, and the rest of the world,” Biden said at a White House news conference with Zelensky. (Bloomberg, 12.22.22)
    • Putin said on Dec. 22 that delivery of the Patriot battery will prolong the war. He also said it is “quite an old system,” and vowed to find an “antidote” to it. “Let them deliver, we will knock them out,” he said. (RM, 12.22.22)
    • Putin’s spokesman Peskov said: “We can say with regret that so far neither President Biden nor President Zelensky have said even a few words that could be perceived as potential readiness to listen to Russia’s concerns.” Peskov said that new weapons deliveries would lead to an “aggravation of the conflict” and do not “bode well for Ukraine.” (MT/AFP, 12.22.22, MT/AFP, 12.22.22)
  • In a wartime address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Zelensky urged lawmakers and all Americans to continue supporting his country with military and financial aid, warning that anything short of victory would threaten the free world. Zelensky also pressed Congress for tanks, planes and other weapons to help repel Russia’s invasion. Zelensky said Ukraine doesn’t need U.S. troops on the ground because his soldiers can “perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves.” (Bloomberg, 12.22.22, RFE/RL, 12.22.22)
    • Some Republicans did not show up for Zelensky’s speech, including lawmakers close to Donald Trump such as Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. Rep. Ralph Norman said Zelensky’s words would not change his opposition to additional spending for Ukraine and decided not to attend. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, said Zelensky’s speech was “good” even though he would not give Ukraine a “blank check.” (FT, 12.22.22) 
  • The Senate has reached a deal to hold votes on a $1.7 trillion government spending package, paving the way for passage as early as Dec. 22. The bill would provide more than $45 billion to aid Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion. This aid may be the last for Ukraine for a while given significant House Republican skepticism about the war effort. A recent version of the bill, which U.S. lawmakers have until the end of Dec. 23 to approve and which Biden is “looking forward to signing,” would include:
    • $9 billion to arm, equip and train Ukrainian forces;
    • $7 billion for the Pentagon to fund the surge of U.S. troops and gear to Europe
    • $687 million for Army ammunition plants;
    • $300 million for Ukrainian police and border guard;
    • $13 billion in economic assistance to Kyiv;
    • $4 billion to aid Ukrainian refugees.
    • Millions to the Accountability Office and the State Department’s Office of Inspector General to track the spending and monitor Ukraine’s use of U.S. funds. (Bloomberg, 12.20.22, WSJ, 12.20.22, Bloomberg, 12.22.22)
  • With Congress on track to hit $100 billion in aid this year to help Ukraine repel Russia, the Pentagon’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service is watching for signs of fraud and abuse in the contracts being awarded. No contracting fraud has become public so far. NBC reported the Defense Department is working to pick up the pace of weapons checks before January, when there will be more pressure from the incoming House Republican majority about how U.S. weapons are distributed and used. (Defense News, 12.21.22)
  • Lockheed Martin had booked more than $950 million worth of its own missile military orders from the Pentagon in part to refill stockpiles being used in Ukraine. The Army has awarded Raytheon Technologies more than $2 billion in contracts to deliver missile systems to expand or replenish weapons used to help Ukraine. (NYT, 12.19.22)
  • Ukraine reached a deal with Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to receive more than 10,000 additional Starlink antennas to help counter Russian air attacks. (Bloomberg, 12.20.22)
  • U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has asked for an assessment of the progress of the war in Ukraine. One Whitehall source likened the exercise to a "Goldman Sachs dashboard" examination of the war and how U.K. military supplies are used. (BBC, 12.17.22)
  • Ukraine uses up to 40,000 artillery shells of the NATO caliber 155mm each month, while the entire annual production of such projectiles in Europe is around 300,000, according to Michal Strnad, owner of Czechoslovak Group AS, a Czech company that produces around 30% of Europe's output of such munitions. (WSJ, 12.22.22)
    • No country in NATO other than the U.S. has either a sufficient stock of weapons to fight a major artillery war or the industrial capacity to create such reserves, said Nico Lange, a former top official at the German MoD. This means that NATO wouldn't be able to defend its territory against major adversaries if it were to be attacked now, he said. (WSJ, 12.22.22)
  • The Ukrainian Air Force said that it had shot down 20 of 35 drones that Russia had launched, though those that evaded air defenses had hit power plants, electrical systems and other civilian targets. (NYT, 12.19.22)
  • For all the repeated talk of “victory,” Zelensky and his top military officials doubt that the Russian forces can be vanquished anytime soon. American military commanders worry that the 300,000 Russian conscripts, even if quickly and poorly trained, will form a bigger enemy force than any thrown at Ukraine yet. The Russian leadership has conflicting views on whether to launch a winter offensive in Ukraine, which has warned of a fresh Russian attempt to seize Kyiv, a senior U.S. official claimed Dec. 20.  (NYT, 12.22.22, MT/AFP, 12.20.22)
  • Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister who is now an adviser to the Zelensky government, said Putin “plans new mobilization and another offensive in the first quarter of 2023.” Many American officials disagree, and think that Putin is in no shape to risk another major military operation. (NYT, 12.22.22)
  • Zelensky’s unannounced visit on Dec. 20 to Bakhmut to rally the soldiers there was perhaps his most daring visit to the front lines since Russia invaded Ukraine. (NYT, 12.20.22)
  • In his address to the FSB, Putin has called the situation in occupied parts of Ukraine “extremely complicated” in an apparent attempt to prepare Russia’s population for a long-lasting war. (FT, 12.20.22)
  • Putin made a surprise visit to a command post coordinating the Russian war effort in Ukraine on Dec. 16. In his opening remarks, Putin said he had come to listen to his commanders’ proposals about the Russian military’s “short- and medium-term movements.” Putin then said on Dec. 22 that he meets Russian military leaders every day. (NYT, 12.17.22, RM, 12.22.22)
  • In his address to the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry on Dec. 21, Shogi claimed that NATO staff officers, artillerists and other specialists are operating in the “combat zone” on the Ukrainian side, but provided no evidence to back his claim. (RM, 12.21.22)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry said on Dec. 22 that Shoigu has visited army units fighting in Ukraine for a second time. According to Meduza, however, during his first inspection on Dec. 15, Shoigu’s helicopters flew 80 kilometers away from the frontline. (RM, 12.22.22)
  • The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has released a new estimate of Russian casualties, putting them at 100,000, according to Meduza. (RM, 12.22.2)
  • Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov told foreign attaches on Dec. 22 that “currently, the line of contact has stretched for 815 kilometers [and] the situation on the front line has stabilized.” He said “the main efforts of the Russian troops are being concentrated on taking control of the territory of the DPR.” (RM, 12.22.22)
  • Gerasimov told foreign attaches on Dec. 22 that Russia had to withdraw from the right bank of the Dnipro because Ukraine had acquired long-range high-precision weapons from the West. (RM, 12.22.22)
  • Insights from NYT’s recent deep dive into Russia’s invasion:
    • When CIA director William Burns warned Russian officials during his visit to Moscow in November not to invade Ukraine, Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev said Russia’s military was strong enough to stand up even to the Americans. (NYT, 12.17.22)
    • Early into the invasion, a Russian hacking unit, known as Sandworm, went after the Ukrainian military’s satellite communications, used by soldiers in the field. It worked, and by 6:15 a.m. on Feb. 24, the system went down, right at Ukraine’s most vulnerable moment. But the Ukrainian government had a backup plan: a separate satellite communications system. (NYT, 12.16.22)
    • On Feb. 22, two days before the invasion, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, went to the Pentagon only to hear Gen. Mark Milley give what a senior American defense official described as a “‘you’re going to die’ speech.” “They’re going to roll into Kyiv in a few days,” Milley said. (NYT, 12.16.22)
    • Russian invasion plans, obtained by The New York Times, show that the military expected to sprint hundreds of miles across Ukraine and triumph within days. A Russian soldier stationed in Belarus said he found out he was going to war only an hour before his unit began to march. The orders, for a unit of the 26th Tank Regiment, laid out a mostly uninhibited, 24-hour dash from Ukraine’s border with Russia to a point across the Dnipro River, about 250 miles away. (NYT, 12.16.22)
    • During the battle for the Antonov Airport outside Kyiv shortly after the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukrainians shot down Russian aircraft and killed as many as 300 Russian paratroopers, according to senior American and Ukrainian officials and the captured Russian logbook. (NYT, 12.16.22)
    • During a meeting in March with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel, Putin admitted that the Ukrainians were tougher “than I was told,” according to two people familiar with the exchange. “This will probably be much more difficult than we thought. But the war is on their territory, not ours. We are a big country and we have patience.” (NYT, 12.16.22)
      • Several people who have known him for decades rejected any notion that Putin had grown irrational. “He’s not crazy and he’s not sick,” a person who has known Putin since the 1990s said. “He’s an absolute dictator who made a wrong decision—a smart dictator who made a wrong decision.” (NYT, 12.16.22)
    • American officials found out that Gen. Valery Gerasimov was planning a trip to the front lines, but withheld the information from the Ukrainians, worried that an attempt on his life could lead to a war between the United States and Russia. Washington took the extraordinary step of asking Ukraine to call off an attack—only to be told that the Ukrainians had already launched it and while dozens of Russian soldiers were killed, Gerasimov wasn’t one of them. (NYT, 12.17.22)
    • In a rare face-to-face meeting with the Americans last month, the Russians wanted to deliver a stark message to Biden: No matter how many Russian soldiers are killed or wounded on the battlefield, Russia will not give up. (NYT, 12.16.22)
      • One NATO member is warning allies that Putin is ready to accept the deaths or injuries of as many as 300,000 Russian troops—roughly three times his estimated losses so far. (NYT, 12.16.22)

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

  • The version of the omnibus spending bill, which the Senate passed on Dec. 22, allows the seizure of Russian assets to be used as Ukraine aid. (Politico, 12.22.22)
  • The Biden administration on Dec. 21 unveiled new curbs on technology exports to Russia’s Wagner military group, in a bid to further choke off supplies to the contractor over its role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. government also added 10 more Russian companies to its blacklist on Dec. 22. (RFE/RL, 12.22.22, RM,12.22.22)
  • U.K. Business Secretary Grant Shapps ordered LetterOne Holdings, founded by billionaires Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan, to sell its entire stake in U.K. broadband company Upp Corp. (Bloomberg, 12.20.22)
  • Canada’s government on Dec. 19 announced the start of a process to seize $26 million in assets from a company owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. (MT/AFP, 12.19.22)
  • Despite Western sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus continue to ship timber to the EU by labeling the products as coming from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, a report by the Belarusian Investigative Center, Lithuanian Siena group and the OCCRP says. (RFE/RL, 12.21.22)
  • Bulgaria’s state-owned nuclear power plant Kozloduy signed a deal with Westinghouse Electric Sweden on Dec. 22 to supply it with nuclear fuel for its 1,000 megawatt Russian-built Unit 5, a first step to diversify away from Russian supplies. (RFE/RL, 12.22.22)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • Zelensky told the U.S. Congress that he had presented Biden with a 10-point peace plan but did not disclose its contents. (RFE/RL, 12.22.22)
  • Putin claimed on Dec. 22 that “our goal is ... to end this war, and we will strive for that.”  He also insisted that Russia is not refusing to hold peace talks with Ukraine. “All armed conflicts end with talks on the diplomatic track one way or another,” he said. (Meduza, 12.22.22)
  • U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he is "not optimistic" about the possibility of effective Ukraine peace talks in the immediate future and believes the military confrontation will go on. But the U.N. chief said he will not relent in pursuit of peace in Ukraine in line with international law and the U.N. Charter. (RFE/RL, 12.19.22)

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

  • British PM Rishi Sunak said Dec. 19 that the West should work to degrade "Russia’s capability to regroup" as it continues its war of aggression in Ukraine, citing the drones that Iran has been providing to Moscow. (AP/RFE/RL, 12.19.22)
  • “It is well known that today the military potential and capabilities of almost all major NATO countries are being actively used against Russia,” Putin told the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry on Dec. 21, comparing Russian soldiers in his war to heroes of the 1812 war against Napoleon, WWI and WWII. (RM, 12.21.22)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping told visiting former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in Beijing that China is willing to play a role to mediate with Russia to end the war in Ukraine. “China hopes relevant parties can stay rational and restrained, conduct comprehensive talks and resolve mutual concerns on security via political methods,” Xi said. In his response, Medvedev said the Ukraine crisis “has its causes and is very complex,” and that Russia is willing to resolve the problems it faces through peace talks. Xi also told Medvedev that their partnership was a “long-term strategic choice made by both sides,” according to CCT. In his turn, Medvedev passed on a message from Putin to Xi, which discusses the two countries’ strategic partnership, according to Xinhua. (SCMP, 12.21.22, Bloomberg, 12.21.22, TASS, 12.21.22, FT, 12.21.22, NYT, 12.21.22, Xinhua, 12.22.22)
  • Naval groups of the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Chinese navy met in the waters of the East China Sea to commence the Joint Sea 2022 naval maneuvers, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported Dec. 22. The Russian warships participating in the exercise include the Pacific Fleet flagship, Order of Nakhimov Guards missile cruiser Varyag, the frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov, the Project 20380 corvettes Aldar Tsydenzhapov and Sovershenny. The Chinese naval taskforce is represented by the destroyers Jinan and Baotou, the frigates Binzhou and Yancheng, a comprehensive supply ship and a diesel submarine. (TASS, 12.22.22)
  • Putin on Dec. 21 inaugurated the Kovykta natural gas field of 1.8 trillion cubic meters of gas in eastern Siberia, which will allow Russia to increase its gas exports to China. (MT/AFP, 12.21.22)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • “We will continue to maintain the combat readiness and improve the combat readiness of the nuclear triad. This is the main guarantee of preserving our sovereignty and territorial integrity, strategic parity and the overall balance of power in the world. This year, the level of modern weapons in the strategic nuclear forces has already exceeded 91%,” Putin told the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry on Dec. 21. “We know our advantages: the nuclear triad, the space forces, the navy in separate segments and so on,” he said. Putin also told the top brass that Russia will continue deploying missiles with the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles as well as Yars and Sarmat ICBMs. (RM 12.21.22) See RM’s timeline of Putin’s statements on nuclear weapons here.
    • “Our nuclear triad is being maintained at a level that guarantees strategic deterrence, Shoigu told the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry on Dec. 21. “Strategic nuclear forces have successfully practiced the task of delivering a massive nuclear strike in response to enemy use of weapons of mass destruction during a special exercise,” he said. (RM, 12.21.22)
    • This year has seen the Russian defense ministry’s construction projects focus on the development of infrastructure for the strategic nuclear forces, Shoigu told the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry on Dec. 21. This year, 650 high-tech facilities have been built for these forces, including facilities for deployment of the Avangard, Yars and Sarmat missile systems, he said. The Russian armed forces plan to put 22 launchers with intercontinental ballistic missiles, including Yars, Sarmats and ICBMs with Avangard gliding vehicles; three Tu-160 strategic bombers; and a nuclear submarine of the Borey-A project on combat duty in 2023. In 2021, the Defense Ministry planned to put 21 ICBM launchers on combat duty in 2022. (RM, 12.21.22)
  • When hosting Putin in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko hinted at potential deployment of new weaponry in his country. Belarus has been testing aircraft in Russia that are “capable of carrying special weapons.” “We are now, together with the Russians, preparing crews capable of operating these aircraft, supporting specific armaments,” he said. Putin said Moscow would continue to fulfill Lukashenko’s proposal to train pilots who are able to operate planes carrying what he described as “a special warhead.” (Bloomberg, 12.19.22, WSJ, 12.20.22) Hosting Lukashenko on June 25, Putin announced that Russia would help modernize some of Belarus’s warplanes to enable them to carry nuclear weapons. Russian weapons specialists then reportedly did so in August.1 
  • See more details in the defense section below.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • The Pentagon’s Cyber National Mission Force has been supporting Ukraine’s digital defense with daily consultations, a collaboration that has helped unearth thousands of warning indicators of potentially compromised Ukrainian computer networks, a top U.S. cybercommander said Dec. 19. The United States had a team of nearly 40 people from the force in Ukraine to help the country shore up its defenses before all U.S. troops were withdrawn from the country before the Russian invasion. (NYT, 12.20.22)
  • U.S. Cyber Command has begun to make routine use of offensive cyber actions to defend the nation, taking aim this fall at Russian and Iranian hackers before they had a chance to disrupt the midterm elections, according to three U.S. officials. (WP, 12.22.22)
    • Russia’s war in Ukraine and anti-regime protests in Iran limited both Moscow and Tehran’s ability to try to influence or interfere in the recent U.S. midterm elections, said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Hartman, who leads the U.S. Cyber National Mission Force. (WP, 12.19.22)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia’s seaborne crude shipments collapsed in the first full week of G-7 sanctions targeting Moscow’s petroleum revenues, a potential source of alarm for governments around the world seeking to avoid disruption to the nation’s giant export program. In the first full week after the EU ban on seaborne Russian crude imports came into effect, total volumes shipped from the nation dropped by 1.86 million barrels a day, or 54%, to 1.6 million. (Bloomberg, 12.20.22)  Does this estimate account for volumes shipped by a fleet of “shadow tankers Russia had purchased ahead of the cap?
    • Putin said on Dec. 22 that he will sign a decree on Russia’s response to the oil price cap Dec. 26 or 27. (RM, 12.22.22)
  • After months of investigation, numerous officials privately say that Russia may not be to blame after all for the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines. "There is no evidence at this point that Russia was behind the sabotage," said one European official, echoing the assessment of 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine countries interviewed in recent weeks. Some went so far as to say they didn't think Russia was responsible. (WP, 12.21.22)
  • EU energy ministers have agreed on a natural gas price cap after weeks of talks on the emergency measure as the EU seeks to tame an energy crisis. The cap is the EU's latest attempt to lower gas prices after Russia cut off most of its gas deliveries to Europe. Ministers agreed to trigger a cap if prices exceed 180 euros per megawatt hour for three days on the Dutch Title Transfer Facility gas hub's front-month. (Reuters, 12.19.22)
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has presided over the opening of his country’s first floating LNG terminal in the North Sea town of Wilhelmshaven. The project opened on Dec. 17 was part of Germany’s effort to replace lost supplies of Russian gas following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. (Reuters/RFE/RL, 12.19.22)
  • The leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary signed an agreement on laying an underwater electric cable under the Black Sea to provide Azerbaijani energy to Europe at a meeting in Bucharest on Dec. 17. (RFE/RL, 12.17.22)
  • Kazakhstan plans to launch a pilot project next month that would transport oil to Germany via Russia's major Druzhba pipeline. (RFE/RL, 12.21.22)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Yiri Borisov, head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, praised Russia-U.S. cooperation at the International Space Station following a major coolant leak from a Soyuz crew capsule. “Say hello to the entire American team. They proved themselves to be very worthy in this situation and lent us a helping hand," Borisov said. (MT/AFP, 12.20.22)
  • The U.S. Senate has voted overwhelmingly to confirm Lynne M. Tracy as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia. Tracy is a career member of the Foreign Service who has previously served as ambassador to Armenia. (RFE/RL, 12.22.22)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin has accused the United States of holding more than 60 Russian citizens as “hostages.” (MT/AFP, 12.20.22)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • When asked why there would not be a presidential address to the federal parliament in 2022, Putin said on Dec. 22: “The dynamics of events is very large ... therefore it was difficult to fix the results and specific plans for the near future right at a particular moment in time. We will do it at the beginning of the year, of course.” (RM, 12.22.22)
  • Putin said on Dec. 22 that he expects a 12% inflation rate in 2023. (RM, 12.22.22)
  • Russia’s dollar-denominated RTS Index has now sunk 35% this year, making it the worst performing benchmark among 92 tracked globally by Bloomberg in local currency terms and third-worst in dollars. The MOEX Russia Index, priced in rubles, has plummeted 44%, on track for the steepest annual drop since 2008. (Bloomberg, 12.19.22) Does the dollar-denominated estimate account for the fact that the Russian ruble is no longer a freely traded currency?
  • A Russian court has ordered the seizure of the $1 billion Imeretinskiy hotel complex and marina in Sochi owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, one of the few oligarchs to have criticized Putin’s war in Ukraine, in a sign of the pressure facing the country’s tycoons since the invasion. (FT, 12.20.22)
  • Norilsk Nickel is considering cutting nickel output by about 10% next year as some European buyers shun Russian supplies and amid a potential surplus of the metal. The miner controls roughly a 10th of the global nickel market and had targeted producing 205,000 to 215,000 tons of the metal this year. (Bloomberg, 12.20.22)
  • According to Rosstat, Russia's birth rate continues to decline. The cumulative total for the first nine months of 2022 is 1.092 million children born, 77,800 (-6.2 %) less than during the same period in 2021. (R.Politik, 12.19.22)
  • The share of Russians who think Russia is headed in the right direction increased from 61% in November to 64% in December, according to the Levada Center’s recent polls. The share of Russians who approve of Putin’s presidential activities also increased, from 79% to 81% over the same period. (MT, 12.22.22)
  • The Russian Justice Ministry is seeking the closure of the country’s oldest human rights watchdog, the Moscow Helsinki Group, amid a Kremlin campaign to muzzle criticism of the war in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.20.22)
  • Russia has placed prominent art gallerist and former Kremlin adviser-turned-critic Marat Gelman on its wanted list. It does not specify the crime that Gelman is suspected of, according to RBC. (MT/AFP, 12.20.22)
  • Yuri Kovalchuk, a conservative physicist and banking magnate who befriended Putin in the 1990s, bragged last year that he had spent several months in 2020 with Putin at his residence on Lake Valdai, between St. Petersburg and Moscow, according to a person who met with him then. (NYT, 12.16.22)
  • Relatives of the Russian Minister of Education Sergei Kravtsov own four apartments in the Czech resort of Karlovy Vary. Three apartments belong to the minister's mother and father, Alla Kravtsova and Sergei Brown, and another one is jointly owned by his mother, father and alleged brother, Yuri Brown. (Istories, 12.22.22)
  • In a rare show of defiance toward the federal government in Moscow, regional politicians in Tatarstan Dec. 22 rejected a set of amendments to its constitution that would have, among other measures, demoted the republic's leader from "president" to "head." (MT, 12.22.22)

Defense and aerospace:

  • In his address to the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry top brass on Dec. 21,  Shoigu said Russian servicemen in Ukraine were fighting "the combined forces of the West."  He framed the following measures as Russia’s response to NATO’s actions in 2023: 
    • Establish at least 22 new divisions, including 10 from scratch; one army corps, six brigades and nine regiments, with many of these units to be located in the west, and reestablish the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts. See table below for planned units.
    • Increase the personnel of the armed forces from 1.15 million to 1.5 million. As part of that increase, boost the number of contract servicemen to 521,000 by the end of 2023.
    • When conscripting soldiers for the armed forces, gradually increase the age of conscription of citizens from 18 to 21 and raise the limit of the conscription age to 30.
    • Commission four conventional submarines and 12 surface ships.
    • Increase supply of high-precision hypersonic missile systems Kinzhal and Zirkon. (RM, 12.21.22) Speaking at the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry on Dec. 21, Putin vowed to avoid repeating the Soviet leadership’s mistake of “destroying the economy for the sake of increasing defense capabilities" (as in participating in the arms race with U.S.). “We will not engage in militarization,” Putin promised. However, as far as one can tell from the plans for 2023 Shoigu has shared at that meeting, the militarization of Russia is bound to continue into the next year, if not beyond. The personnel reinforcements and establishment of the planned units constitute a major build-up. In addition, the planned re-establishment of two military districts and establishment of divisions on the basis of existing brigades signals the dismantling of two more signature reforms introduced by Shoigu's predecessor, Anatoly Serdyukov. The latter did not only disband the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts, but also converted many divisions into brigades in order to make AFRF's conventional forces more agile while also reducing numbers of reduced-to-cadre units that could not be immediately employed.
  • Putin told the annual meeting of the Russian defense ministry’s top brass that the war in Ukraine had revealed “issues” with Russia’s armed forces, and ordered the military to be open to criticism. “The military operation has highlighted issues that we need to work on specifically,” Putin said, adding that they included “communications” and “automatization.”  “An urgent task is to improve unmanned aerial vehicles, including strategic and reconnaissance-strike, as well as how to use them,” Putin told the top brass. At the same time, Putin vowed that Russia’s ability to finance war is unlimited. “The country provides everything, everything the army needs.” (RM 12.21.22, FT, 12.21.22, RM, 12.21.22, FT, 12.21.22)
  • Putin established a task force Dec. 20 to coordinate work between the government and pro-war military bloggers on Russia’s chaotic mobilization campaign. (MT/AFP, 12.21.22)
  • Jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny says the leader of the notorious Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, recruited dozens of inmates from the penal colony where Navalny is being held in the Vladimir region, 70 kilometers east of Moscow. (RFE/RL, 12.22.22)
  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Putin ordered Russia’s counterintelligence services on Dec. 19 to step up their hunt for “traitors, spies and saboteurs” and prevent threats from abroad. Putin urged the FSB and National Anti-Terrorism Committee to jointly take “special control” over strategic facilities like transport and energy infrastructure. (MT/AFP, 12.20.22)
  • A court in Moscow-annexed Crimea has sentenced Russian citizen Yevgeny Petrushin to 12 years in prison on charges of sharing details about the Russian navy with Ukrainian intelligence prior to the invasion of Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 12.19.22)
  • The Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, on Dec. 21 approved the final reading of a bill that would allow life sentences for those convicted of assisting "saboteurs." (RFE/RL, 12.21.22)
  • A 39-year-old Greek citizen, who Austrian media say is the son of a Russian diplomat, is currently under investigation in Vienna on a charge of spying for Russia. (RFE/RL, 12.19.22)
  • Germany’s Federal Prosecutor's Office has issued an arrest warrant for Carsten L., who is employed by the country’s Federal Intelligence Service. German prosecutors suspect the man has submitted classified information obtained in the course of his professional activity to a Russian intelligence service earlier this year. (RM, 12.22.22)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Israel has bristled at accusations that it is failing to do enough to assist Ukraine, and has disputed that the Iron Dome could help Ukraine protect itself. Israeli officials have complained that they do not receive enough credit for taking in roughly 50,000 refugees from Ukraine and Russia, and providing more than $30 million in humanitarian assistance. In contrast, Estonia, for example, which has a bit more than 1/10th of Israel’s population, has sent $300 million in military aid to Ukraine. (WP, 12.18.22)
  • Japan said Dec. 16 it would spend 43 trillion yen, currently around $322 billion, on defense over the next five years, including on deploying its first missiles that can hit military targets in other countries. (WSJ, 12.19.22)


  • The European Union's 27 heads of state and government and Zelensky will hold a summit on Feb. 3. (Reuters, 12.22.22)
  • Explosions in a Russian-occupied city in eastern Ukraine killed two people and injured former deputy prime minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin and Ivan Prikhodko, mayor of the Donetsk region town of Gorlovka,  in what Russian officials called a Ukrainian attack directed by informants. (WSJ, 12.22.22, RFE/RL, 12.22.22)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Putin denied plans to absorb Belarus as he paid a rare visit Dec. 19 to the country whose strongman assisted his invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Appearing together at a palace in Minsk after their talks, Putin and Lukashenko spoke about the need to withstand Western economic pressure. Putin said the two had also discussed the formation of a “unified defense space,” without describing what that would entail. (MT, 12.20.22, NYT, 12.20.22)
  • A court in New York has convicted Uladzimir Danskoi, the head of the Russian America immigration company, and immigration lawyer Julia Greenberg, both originally from Belarus, of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. (RFE/RL, 12.21.22)
  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has warned that the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has become precarious as Azerbaijanis continue to block the Lachin Corridor, RFE/RL reported. Pashinyan accused Russian peacekeepers Dec. 22 of failing in their mission to unblock a key road that links Armenia to the region, AFP reported. (RM, 12.22.22)
  • Georgia's ailing ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili on Dec. 22 looked frail as he appeared by video link at a court that will consider deferring his sentence of abuse of office over poor health. (MT/AFP, 12.22.22)
    • Zelensky has urged Georgian authorities "to be merciful" and transfer Saakashvili, who is a Ukrainian citizen, to a medical facility abroad given the deteriorating state of his health. (RFE/RL, 12.20.22)
  • The Russian exodus triggered by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has put the currencies of former Soviet republics at the top of global rankings this year. Armenia’s dram has increased 22% against the dollar since the start of the year, the top gainer among currencies worldwide, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Georgia’s lari and the Tajik somoni are stronger by more than 16% and 10%, respectively. (Bloomberg, 12.21.22)
  • The war explains the fivefold increase in remittances entering Georgia from Russia so far this year, equivalent to more than 60% of all transfers and exceeding $1.75 billion, according to the National Bank of Georgia. Money transfers to Armenia amounted to $2.8 billion in the first 10 months, a near-quadrupling compared with the same period of 2021. (Bloomberg, 12.21.22)


IV. Quotable and notable

  • Putin said on Dec. 22: “Nobody wants the unification of the [ethnic] Russian people, except us. But we are going to do it. And we will succeed.” (Kommersant, 12.22.22)


Number of units Shoigu proposed to establish during his address to the annual meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry’s top brass on Dec. 21:




  1. Here and elsewhere italicized text represents contextual commentary by RM staff.