Russia in Review, Dec. 21, 2023-Jan. 5, 2024

4 Things to Know

  1. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and its commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi have continued their indirect struggle over which of them should assume prime responsibility for the unpopular decision1 to conscript up to 500,000 Ukrainians. The tussle began on Dec. 19 when Zelensky claimed that the Ukrainian army chiefs had requested the conscription of up to 500,000 men, according to a column by Ben Hall in FT, entitled “Blame game breaks out over Ukraine’s need for more troops.” Speaking one day after a conscription bill was published on the Ukrainian parliament’s (Rada’s) website on Dec. 25 to propose lowering the conscription age from 27 to 25 among other things, Zaluzhnyi emphasized that he hadn't said anything about a “need for 500,000 or 400,000” soldiers—only a “general need.” That there is a need to conscript more young soldiers is clear from the fact that the average age of soldiers already serving in the Ukrainian army has exceeded 40. Whether, however, Ukrainian recruitment offices will succeed in conscripting half a million in a country whose population during the course of the war has shrunk from 43.8 million to 28.5 million will remain an open question, even if the Rada bill does become a law.2“While in 2022 part of the population was running away from an enemy state, a wrong decision made in 2024 would create a risk that Ukrainians will start running away from their own” state, chairman of Rada’s economy committee Dmytro Natalukha told Forbes.ua in reference to the mobilization bill.  
    • It should be noted that this is not the first time Zelensky has engaged in a blame game with Zaluzhnyi—whom he has reportedly begun to bypass to communicate with lower-level commanders directly. On Nov. 1, The Economist published an interview with Zaluzhnyi, in which he stated that his troops’ offensive has reached a stalemate that requires “something new,” like China’s invention of gunpowder, to break it. Zaluzhnyi’s revelations did not exactly please Zelensky, who in a Nov. 20 interview denied that the war had reached a stalemate even though in the month preceding his interview, Ukraine had re-gained a meager seven square miles of territory while losing control over 16 square miles. 
    • The continuing net losses of land and the tussle with Zaluzhnyi—who happens to be trusted by 88% of Ukrainians and who would be only two percentage points behind Zelensky in a hypothetical second round of a presidential election—have not been the only bad news for Zelensky recently. For one, his repeated appeals to the U.S. and EU to resume badly needed collective military and other aid to Ukraine have remained unheeded. In addition, Ukrainians themselves have been showing increasing disillusionment with propaganda broadcast in state-funded shows, such as the Telemarathon United News, which includes networks that represented 60% of Ukraine’s total prewar audience, according to NYT. Views of the show, which Zelensky has himself described as a “weapon,” have shrunk from 40% of Ukraine’s total views in March 2022 to 10% “today,” according to NYT. Moreover, Ukrainians’ confidence in Zelensky himself declined from 84% in December 2022 to 62% in December 2023, as Ukrainians increasingly question the “rose-tinted” promises of success to his prime audience in this theater of war.
  2. In the past month, Russian forces have gained 47 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukrainian forces have re-gained 1 square mile, according to the Jan. 2, 2024, issue of the Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. Russia’s recent gains in eastern Ukraine include a confirmed advance near the city of Kreminna in the Luhansk region, according to ISWThey also include the capture of the Donetsk region settlement of Marinka, which the Russian defense ministry claimed to have completed on Dec. 25 and which the Ukrainian military indirectly confirmed on Dec. 26 and on Jan. 4. The capture of Marinka represents a limited tactical gain but not a significant operational advance, unless Russian forces improved their "ability to conduct rapid mechanized forward movement,” according to ISW. In the south, Russia has recaptured land hard won by Ukrainian troops at the peak of their summer counteroffensive in the south, making progress around the southern village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region, NYT reported.
  3. Russia initiated a sharp escalation in the use of aerial attack systems with a Dec. 29 barrage on targets across Ukraine that featured 158 missiles and drones, including the cities of Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia. More than 40 died, including 32 in Kyiv, in this Dec. 29 barrage, which the Ukrainian military described as the largest air attack since the start of the full-scale invasion. Ukraine retaliated with strikes across the border on Belgorod, reportedly killing 24 in this southwestern Russian city in a Dec. 30 bombardment that appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the beginning of the war, according to NYT. The sides continued to exchange deadly aerial strikes well into the new year with Russia, which is estimated to be currently producing 100 missiles a month, generally dispensing more missiles than Ukraine. All in all, these attacks have not been able to prevent the Ukrainian military from continuing its shelling of Belgorod, prompting city authorities to offer evacuation to some of its residents this week.
  4. The Biden administration hasaccused the Russian military of using ballistic missiles the White House believes Russia has imported from North Korea to strike targets in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region, WP and Bloomberg reported. The missiles, which the U.S. has accused North Korea of sending to Russia, appear to be Hwasong-11s, according to Bloomberg. Hwasong-11s represent the newest family of nuclear-capable rockets that are easy to hide, quick to deploy and hard to shoot down, according to Bloomberg, which estimates that these missiles’ range reaches 800 km, which means that they can hit targets on the Ukrainian side of the Ukrainian-Polish border, if they are launched from the Russian positions on the Dnieper river. According to an EU-commissioned 2023 study, however, Hwasong-11, which are derived from Soviet-designed Tochka short-range ballistic missiles systems, have a range of only 170 km.3  Russia and North Korea both deny claims that the latter has been supplying arms to the former for use against Ukraine, although North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has publicly implied that his plans for 2024 include deeper ties with Russia, according to Bloomberg. In addition to accusing Russia of buying weapons from North Korea, U.S. officials are also accusing Moscow of planning to buy short-range ballistic missiles from Iran, WSJ reports.

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The IAEA said on Jan. 3 that its experts had recently been blocked for the first time from inspecting the reactor halls of three units of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia power plant (ZPP). The experts "for the past two weeks...have not been allowed to access the reactor halls of units 1, 2 and 6," IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in a statement. The nuclear plant was captured by Russian forces in 2022, and both sides have accused each other of compromising its safety. (AFP, 01.03.24) 
    • On Jan. 5 Russia confirmed it had blocked the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog from accessing parts of ZPP, but said the restrictions were for safety reasons. Responding to an IAEA statement saying their team had been blocked from reactor halls, Renat Karchaa, an official at Russia's Rosatom, alleged they tried to access "containment shells." (MT/AFP, 01.05.24)
  • ZPP has just the one remaining 750 kV line, with one 330 kV back-up power line. But since mid-2023, the IAEA says, the back-up line has needed manual intervention to become operational. The IAEA says that work has now been carried out at the plant on back-up electrical transformers which, Grossi said: "Means that if the main power supply through the 750 kV switchyard is lost, the back-up line will automatically be able to provide electricity to the plant without manual, and hence delayed, intervention, provided it remains operational." (WNN, 01.05.24)
  • The supply chain for uranium runs from Kazakhstan through Russia, which together account for 40% of U.S. supply—and Putin controls half of the world’s enrichment capacity. (FT, 01.04.24)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • The Biden administration hasaccused the Russian military of using ballistic missiles, which the White House believes Russia has imported from North Korea, to strike targets in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region, WP and Bloomberg reported. The missiles the U.S. has accused North Korea of sending to Russia appear to be Hwasong-11s, according to Bloomberg. Hwasong-11s represent the newest family of nuclear-capable rockets that are easy to hide, quick to deploy and hard to shoot down, according to Bloomberg, which estimates that these missiles’ range reaches 800 km, meaning they can hit targets on the Ukrainian side of the Ukrainian-Polish border, if they are launched from the Russian positions on the Dnieper river. According to an EU-commissioned 2023 study, however, Hwasong-11, which are derived from Soviet-designed Tochka short-range ballistic missiles systems, have a range of only 170 km.  Russia and North Korea both deny claims that the latter has been supplying arms to the former for use against Ukraine. (RM, 01.05.24, WP, 01.04.24, Bloomberg, 01.05.24, Bloomberg, 01.04.24)
    • “There is no longer any disguise...the Russian Federation for the first time struck at the territory of Ukraine with missiles received from...North Korea," Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on X, formerly Twitter on Jan 5. (RFE/RL, 01.05.24)
  • A dormant North Korean port near the border with Russia has sprung back to life, fueling what experts say is a burgeoning trade in arms destined for the frontlines in Ukraine. Satellite imagery of the Najin port taken from October to December shows a steady stream of ships at the facility, hundreds of shipping containers being loaded and unloaded, and rail cars ready to transport goods. The activity appears to have picked up since early October, when the U.S. accused North Korea of sending munitions to Russia. (Bloomberg, 12.26.23)
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s plans for 2024 include pressing forward with his nuclear arms program and potentially deeper ties with Russia. Kim said that North Korea will “expand and develop the relations of strategic cooperation with the anti-imperialist independent countries,” KCNA reported, a reference that likely includes Russia. (Bloomberg, 12.28.23) 
  • North Korea said it aims to launch three more spy satellites next year and will reconsider reconciliation plans with South Korea as relations between the two deteriorate. (Bloomberg, 12.31.23)
  • Russia, Iran and North Korea “are showing an excellent burden-sharing. And when it comes to Ukraine, there is an unholy alliance of these forces which have achieved a war economy, whereas we in the West are unable to achieve an increase in the production of ammunition," said Roderich Kiesewetter, a German lawmaker. A new acronym has already emerged in Washington to denote this autocratic lineup: the CRINKs, meaning China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. (WSJ, 12.23.23)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Russia is planning to buy short-range ballistic missiles from Iran, U.S. officials said. Delivery of the Iranian missiles could happen as soon as this spring if the purchase proceeds, but U.S. officials don’t believe the deal has been completed. U.S. officials said that Moscow’s desire to acquire Iranian missiles was evident in mid-December when a Russia delegation visited an Iranian training area to observe ballistic missiles displayed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, including its short-range Ababil missile. (WSJ, 01.04.24)
  • The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization has rejected a report by the IAEA that production of highly enriched uranium has been ramped up to 60% at Natanz and Fordow. Governments of the U.S., France, Germany and the U.K. said the IAEA’s findings represent a backwards step by Iran and will result in Iran tripling its monthly production rate of uranium enriched up to 60%. (DPA, 12.27.23, State.gov, 12.28.23)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • Ukraine and Russia have carried out a major prisoner exchange for the first time in months, under a deal reportedly mediated by the United Arab Emirates. The Russian Defense Ministry reported on Jan. 3 that 248 Russian POWs were handed over to Russia. In turn, Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets reported that 230 Ukrainian POWs had been freed from Russian captivity. This marks the single biggest release of POWs since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. (Meduza, 01.03.24)
  • A video published on Telegram channels in late December reportedly shows Russian soldiers executing three Ukrainian soldiers who were captured in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region. The video was filmed from an aerial perspective. It shows three individuals kneeling on the ground, while people dressed in different uniforms shoot at them from a short distance. (Meduza, 12.27.23)
    • According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office, the men were taken prisoner during combat earlier in December near the village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region. (RFE/RL, 12.29.23, WSJ, 12.28.23)
  • Russia has officially deployed a battalion formed of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) to the frontline in Ukraine, further confirming a myriad of apparent Russian violations of the Geneva Convention on POWs. (ISW, 12.29.23)
  • Russian courts have sentenced more than 200 Ukrainian soldiers to lengthy prison terms, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told RIA Novosti. (Meduza, 01.02.24)
  • As of December, more than 220 Russian soldiers had given themselves up through the “I want to live” hotline to the Ukrainian side, Vitaliy Matvienko, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s GUR’s department for prisoners of war, told FT. More than 1,000 other cases were pending, Matvienko added, disclosing both figures for the first time. GUR set up the hotline in September 2022. (FT, 01.04.24)
  • During the war, the Ukrainian military recorded 465 cases of Russian use of ammunition containing toxic chemicals, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in late December. (Istories, 12.27.23)
  • Ukraine says it has verified the names of more than 19,000 children who have been transferred to Russia or Russian-controlled territory. Over recent months, 387 children have been tracked down by relatives and brought back home. (NYT, 12.27.23)
  • Russian occupation authorities vastly and deliberately undercounted the dead in the flooding that followed the catastrophic explosion that destroyed the Kakhovka Dam in the southern Kherson region. Russia said 59 people drowned in the territory it controls. The AP investigation found the number is at least in the hundreds in the town of Oleshky alone. (AP, 12.28.23) 
  • Ukraine has exported 13 million tons of products through a shipping corridor in the Black Sea it established after Russia pulled out of a deal guaranteeing safe movement of crop vessels. (Bloomberg, 12.30.23)
  • A Panama-flagged bulk carrier headed to a Danube port to load grain hit a Russian mine in the Black Sea, the Ukrainian military said on Dec. 28. (RFE/RL, 12.28.23)
  • Ukraine may have to postpone pay for public servants and pension payments to millions of its citizens if the EU and U.S. fail to deliver promised financial aid in early 2024, its deputy prime minister Yulia Svyrydenko has warned. (FT, 12.27.23)
  • In a letter to a key coordination group overseeing funds, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said, “To uphold macroeconomic stability, it is imperative that we receive sufficient, prompt and predictable external financing, beginning January 2024,” Shmyhal said. (Bloomberg, 12.28.23)
  • Ukraine's Finance Ministry said on Dec. 25 that the country received $1.34 billion under the World Bank's public expenditures package. (RFE/RL, 12.25.23)
  • Belgium’s prime minister vowed that Europe will support Ukraine for “as long as it takes” as his nation prepared to take up the EU’s rotating presidency on Jan. 1. That includes urgent work on the next €50 billion aid package. (Bloomberg, 12.30.23)
  • Latvia has given Ukraine more than 270 vehicles confiscated from drunk drivers this year. (RFE/RL, 12.25.23)
  • Pope Francis in his traditional Christmas message on Dec. 25 referred to Russia's war in Ukraine. (WSJ, 12.25.23)
  • Ukraine and Poland said on Dec. 22 that they are ready to try to resolve "problematic" issues in their relations, starting with a pledge to work to resolve a Polish truckers' blockade of several border crossings. (RFE/RL, 12.22.23)
  • Polish farmers were to resume their blockade of the Medyka border crossing with Ukraine from Jan. 4, protest leaders told the state-run news agency PAP, as Prime Minister Donald Tusk attempted to defuse the dispute. (Reuters, 01.03.24)
  • For reports of military strikes on civilian targets see the following section.

Military and security aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • In the past month, Russian forces have gained 47 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukrainian forces have re-gained 1 square mile, according to the Jan. 2, 2024, issue of the Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. (Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, 01.02.24)
    • Russian forces recently made a confirmed advance near the city of Kreminna in the Luhansk region. Geolocated footage published on Jan. 4 indicates that Russian forces advanced east of Terny (northwest of Kreminna). (ISW, 01.04.24) 
  • On Dec. 22 Ukraine shot down three Russian Su-34 bombers in the south of the country, said commander of the Air Force of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Nikolai Oleshchuk. The Military Informant Telegram, channel published photos from the scene of the incident in the Kherson region. According to this channel, the planes were shot down by Patriot systems supplied by Germany. (Istories, 12.22.23)
  • On Dec. 22 Ukraine’s air force said it intercepted 24 out of 28 drones which targeted port infrastructure in the southern Black Sea region. (FT, 12.23.23)
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Dec. 25  told Putin that Russian forces had "completely" captured the settlement of Marinka with a pre-invasion population of roughly 9,000 in the Donetsk region. (MT/AFP, 12.26.23, ISW, 12.26.23)
    • On Dec. 26 Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s military, said that Ukraine’s forces had largely withdrawn from the settlement, but some entrenched themselves on its outskirts. (Meduza, 12.26.23)
    • On Jan. 3 Ukrainian OSINT group DeepState stated that Russian forces were staging attacks “from Marinka.” DeepState also admitted on Jan. 3 in its Telegram channel that Ukrainian forces had lost “part of positions” in the Bakhmut area. (RM, 01.05.24)
    • On Jan. 4 the Ukrainian military said that its troops were fighting ''in the vicinities'' of a village behind Marinka, a strong indication that Kyiv's forces have lost control of the town, more than a week after Moscow claimed to have seized it. Russia's success in Marinka is a symbolic blow to Ukraine's military, which has failed to retake any large population center in the past year. (NYT, 01.04.24)
  • On Dec. 24 Russian bombardment killed four people and injured nine in the frontline southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, a regional official said Dec. 24. (MT/AFP, 12.24.23) 
  • On Dec. 25 Ukrainian military said it had shot down 28 Russian drones out of 31 launched from Crimea. (MT/AFP, 12.25.23)
  • On Dec. 25 the Ukrainian military said it had destroyed two Russian warplanes. (NYT, 12.25.23)
  • On Dec. 26 Ukraine’s military said that Ukrainian tactical aviation units fired cruise missiles at the Crimean port of Feodosia, hitting 370-foot-long Russian landing ship, the Novocherkassk. (RFE/RL, 12.26.23)
    • Sevastopol Independent Television and Sevastopol News have removed reports that 74 Russian sailors were killed and 27 injured in the strike on the Novocherkassk ship. (Meduza, 12.30.23)
    • At least 33 sailors are reported missing after Ukraine’s Armed Forces struck the Black Sea Fleet’s Novocherkassk ship (Meduza, 12.27.23)
    • Open source evidence suggests it is highly likely the vessel was carrying explosive cargo when it was hit, causing a large secondary explosion. (U.K. Ministry of Defense’s X (Twitter) account, 12.28.23) 
  • On Dec. 26 Ukrainian interior minister, Ihor Klymenko, said that a Russian strike on a train station in the city of Kherson killed at least one person and wounded four others. (RFE/RL, 12.26.23)
  • In late December, the Ukrainian cabinet submitted a draft law to parliament (Rada) that lays out a new mobilization plan for the army, in the latest attempt to resolve disagreements between the political and military leadership over conscription  The bill envisages lowering the draft age during wartime for men with no military experience to 25 from 27. It also limits the grounds for delaying the enlistment and proposes introducing “basic military training” for citizens under 25. The bill was published on Rada’s site on Dec. 25. (Reuters, 12.25.23, Bloomberg, 12.26.23)
  • On Dec. 26 Ukraine's top general Zaluzhnyi called for mobilizing more troops even as  emphasized that he hadn't said anything about a "need for 500,000 or 400,000" soldiers - only a "general need." Zaluzhnyi denied recommending that Ukraine draft as many as 500,000 additional servicemen. The military command has come up with a “number that includes compensation of losses, the formation of new units and the replacement of potential losses next year,” he said. “But I cannot tell you what it is — it’s a military secret.” Even providing rest for current troops, he acknowledged, was proving difficult. To comply with a law mandating that soldiers rotate out after six months, Zaluzhnyi said, he would need "at least two times more troops" - and even more if Russian launched a new onslaught. "If we're working with demobilization after 36 months, then more likely than not, we have to start the process of preparing people of conscription age already next year," he said. (WP, 12.27.23, Bloomberg, 12.26.23)
    • On Jan. 4 Zaluzhnyi addressed the Ukrainian parliament’s security and defense committee as the latter began to review the Ukrainian government’s mobilization bill, which, in addition to lowering the conscription age to 25, also calls for allowing call-up notices to be emailed as well as for calling up some individuals currently found to be unfit for service due to ailments. In his address Zaluzhnyi said he opposes the bill’s clause for conscripting convicts, asking “Is the army for bad people?” according to one of the participants in the hearings at the defense committee. The participant also quoted Zaluzhnyi as saying that Russians already called up 400,000 and plan to call up several hundreds of thousands more in July. “Who do I fight with? Either appeal to the world and ask the people there or you go to war, if you cannot ensure” the adequate conscription, Zaluzhnyi was quoted by the unnamed participant as saying. (NV.ua, 01.04.24)
    • Blaming the army for a potentially unpopular move of mobilizing up to 500,000 Ukrainians was “destructive and wrong,” Mariia Zolkina of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation think-tank in Kyiv wrote on X. (FT, 01.04.24)
      • “The task of raising men for the armed forces has become something of a hot potato in Kyiv” with neither civilian nor military leadership willing to take full responsibility for drafting hundreds of thousands of perhaps reluctant Ukrainians, FT’s Europe editor Ben Hall wrote in a column, entitled “Blame game breaks out over Ukraine’s need for more troops. Zelensky and armed forces chief at odds regarding conscription call.” The tussle began on Dec. 19 when Zelensky said at his year-end press conference that Ukrainian army chiefs had requested the conscription of 450,000 to 500,000 men, Hall wrote. Zelensky’s Servant of the People party ... seems loath to take ownership of the [mobilization] bill. (FT, 01.04.24)
    • The Ukrainian army counted around 500,000 servicemen, 200,000 of which are active military personnel, recent figures show. If the figures are accurate, the Ukrainian army’s suggestion would bring the total number of servicemen to nearly one million. The Russian army has about four times more active military personnel than Ukraine, some 1,330,900 men and 250,000 reservists. In comparison, the United States Army has around 1,832,000 military personnel, while the British army has an estimated 231,000 total military personnel, according to recent figures. (Independent, 12.21.23) 
    • Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Ihor Klymenko said that the police had opened about 9,000 criminal cases for evading mobilization. (Media Zona 01.04.24)
  • On Dec. 27, Russia launched an overnight drone attack on Ukraine. Of 46 drones launched, 32 were shot down by Ukrainian air defense systems, according to the Ukrainian Air Force. (Meduza, 12.27.23)
  • On Dec. 28 NYT reported that Russia has recaptured land hard won by Ukrainian troops at the peak of their summer counteroffensive in the south, making progress around the southern village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. (NYT, 12.28.23) 
    • DeepState admitted on Jan. 3 in its Telegram channel that the Russian forces “moved” in between Robotyne  and Verbove in December. (RM, 01.05.24)
    • The Russian advances in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast support ISW’s assessment that the current positional war in Ukraine is not a stable stalemate. (ISW, 12.27.23)
  • On Dec. 29 Zelensky visited Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, and awarded fighters of the 110th separate mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, according to his telegram channel. (Meduza, 12.29.23)
  • On Dec. 29 Russia accused Ukraine of having fired three U.S.-made, air-to-surface HIMARS missiles into its southern region of Belgorod. (RFE/RL, 12.29.23)
  • On Dec. 29 Russian forces launched 158 missiles and drones at targets in Ukraine. Of these 36 were Shahed drones, while over 120 were missiles; 87 missiles and 27 drones were shot down by air defense forces, according to Zaluzhnyi, but none of the 20 or so ballistic missiles appear to have been intercepted.  Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia were among the cities targeted in these Dec. 29 strikes. More than 40 people died in these strikes on Ukraine, including 32 in Kyiv. A source in Ukraine’s defense industry suggested Russia had predominantly targeted defense facilities, with some connected to missile and drone production. Mykola Oleschuk, head of Ukraine’s air force, and Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov called the Dec. 29 attack the largest air attack since the start of the full-scale invasion. (Business Insider, 01.03.24, ISW, 12.29.23, RM, 12.29.23, WSJ, 12.29.23, Economist, 12.29.23, Meduza, 12.29.23, RFE/RL, 12.29.23, Bloomberg, 12.29.23,  FT, 12.29.23NYT, 12.30.23, RFE/RL, 01.04.24, FT, 12.30.23)
    • Zaluzhnyi said that Russian strategic aircraft and bombers launched at least 90 Kh-101, Kh-555 and Kh-55 cruise missiles, as well as eight Kh-22 and Kh-32 missiles in the Dec. 29 attack. Russian forces also launched a total of 14 S-300, S-400 and Iskander-M ballistic missiles. Russian forces also launched five Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles, four Kh-31P anti-radar missiles and one Kh-59 cruise missile, according to Zaluzhnyi. Russia launched cruise missiles from 18 Tu-95 “Bear” bombers, ballistic missiles from Tu-22 supersonic aircraft and Kinzhals from MiG-31 fighter jets. (ISW, 12.30.23, FT, 12.29.23) It follows from Zaluzhnyi’s estimate that Russia launched at least 122 missiles on Ukraine on Dec. 29. In contrast, about 160 Russian missiles were launched on the first day of the war, according to the Economist.*
      • Ukrainian outlet Ekonomichna Pravda reported that Russia’s Dec. 29 strike cost it at least $1.27 billion. (ISW, 12.30.23)
    • In comments after the Dec. 29 strike, Ukraine’s defense minister Umerov said Russian forces had spent months stockpiling missiles and drones for ample raids intended to overcome its air defenses. “It is obvious that with such stockpiles of missiles . . . they can and will continue such attacks,” Umerov warned on Facebook on Dec. 29. (FT, 12.29.23)
    • Moscow's missile production now exceeds 100 missiles per month, raising the prospect that attacks like the one on Dec. 29 will become more frequent. (Bloomberg, 12.29.23, WSJ, 12.29.23)
    • U.S. President Joe Biden called the Dec. 29 strikes “a stark reminder to the world that, after nearly two years of this devastating war, Putin’s objective remains unchanged.” Biden added: “He seeks to obliterate Ukraine and subjugate its people. He must be stopped.” ( FT, 12.29.23)
    • Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said the West needs to respond to the attacks "in a language that [President Vladimir] Putin understands: tightening sanctions so that he cannot make new weapons with smuggled components and by giving Kyiv long-range missiles that will enable it to take out launch sites and command centers." (RFE/RL, 01.03.24)
    • Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vasily Nebenzya told the council that Russia's forces had only attacked military targets and said civilians were killed by Ukrainian air defenses. (RFE/RL, 12.30.23)
    • The Russian Ministry of Defense said on Dec. 29 it had conducted 50 strikes on military targets in Ukraine over the past week, without commenting on damage to civilian infrastructure in the Dec. 29 barrage. (WSJ, 12.29.23)
  • On Dec. 30, Russia's Emergencies Ministry claimed that Ukrainian strikes had killed 24 in the city of Belgorod and 100 were injured. Russia claimed another 108 people were injured in an attack on the city. The strike on Belgorod damaged residential buildings, the local government center and a medical school, according to the state-run Ria Novosti news agency. Shelling also hit the village of Urazovo. The Russian Defense Ministry also accused Ukraine of attacking with 32 drones overnight, including in the Bryansk, Oryol, Kursk and Moscow regions. (RFE/RL, 12.30.23, Bloomberg, 12.30.23, MT/AFP, 01.01.24)
    • The bombardment of Belgorod appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the beginning of the war. (NYT, 12.30.23)
    • On Jan. 1 Putin called the attack on Belgorod a terrorist act and said that Russia will "intensify" strikes against Ukraine. "We're going to intensify the strikes. No crime against civilians will rest unpunished, that's for certain," Putin said. (Meduza, 01.01.24, MT/AFP, 01.01.24)
    • Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had requested an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss the attack while the ministry’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed that the United Kingdom was behind Ukraine’s Dec. 30 strike on Belgorod. (Meduza, 12.30.23, NYT, 12.30.23)
  • On Dec. 31 Ukraine repelled a drone attack, shooting down 87 of a “record” 90 Russian unmanned aerial vehicles that targeted regions from southern Odesa on the Black Sea to central Kyiv and western Lviv near the Polish border. Separately on Dec. 31 night, “four S-300 missiles as well as X-31 and X-59 shells hit north-eastern Kharkiv and southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions,” the Ukrainian air defense said. At least 26 people were injured in ballistic missile and drone strikes on Kharkiv and at least two people were killed in Odesa and Kherson, and a dozen others including children were injured. (Bloomberg, 01.01.24, FT, 01.01.24, Bloomberg, 12.31.23)
  • On Dec. 31 Russia said eastern Donetsk, which it occupies, was heavily shelled just as the new year came. At least four people were killed and 13 wounded, Kremlin-installed head of Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, said. (Bloomberg, 01.01.24)
  • Overnight on Jan. 1-2 and during the day on Jan. 2 Russian forces launched 35 Shahed drones; 10 Kh-47 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles; 70 Kh-101/555/55 missiles; 12 Iskander-M, S-300 and S-400 ballistic missiles; four Kh-31P anti-radar missiles; and three Kalibr missiles at Ukraine. Ukrainian forces said they shot down 59 of the Kh-101/555/55 missiles and all of the drones, Kinzhal missiles and Kalibr missiles. Ukrainian officials stated that the Russian strikes caused damage in Kyiv and Kharkiv cities. Describing Kyiv as Jan. 2’s “main direction of the attack,” Zaluzhnyi said air defenses intercepted 72 of some 99 drones and missiles fired by Russia. Zaluzhnyi said the Ukrainian air defenses had shot down all of the 10 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, with the help of Western-delivered Patriot missile batteries. At least five people died in Ukraine on Jan 2, and at least 135 were injured, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. (ISW, 01.02.24, NYT, 01.03.24, WSJ, 01.03.24, WSJ, 01.02.24, FT, 01.02.24, WP, 01.03.24, Bloomberg, 01.02.24, RFE/RL, 01.02.24)
    • U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk called on Jan. 2 for an immediate de-escalation of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine as his office voiced alarm at the intensification of attacks. U.N. officials estimate that nearly 70 Ukrainians have been killed and at least 360 injured because of air strikes across the country since Dec. 29. (FT, 01.03.24, AFP, 01.03.24)
    • In a post on social media platform X citing “loud explosions in Kyiv,” U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink said, “It’s urgent and critical that we support Ukraine now — to stop Putin here,” she added. (FT, 01.02.24)
  • On Jan. 2 at least seven private residential houses in the village of Petropavlovka in Russia’s Voronezh region were damaged when a Russian military aircraft accidentally dropped an aviation munition. (Meduza, 01.02.24)
  • On Jan. 3 Russia’s Defense Ministry said it downed 12 Ukrainian missiles in the western Belgorod region. (MT/AFP, 01.03.24)

  • Ukrainian military intelligence claimed on Jan. 4 it had destroyed a Russian Su-34 fighter bomber deep inside Russian territory by setting it on fire in the Chelyabinsk region. (MT/AFP, 01.04.24)
  • On Jan. 4 Russia’s Defense Ministry said that it repelled a Ukrainian missile attack on Crimea with one person injured. (Meduza, 01.04.24)
  • On Jan. 4 the Russian city of Belgorod was targeted by another round of Ukrainian shelling, officials said. "According to preliminary information, there are two victims. One man has a shrapnel wound on his forearm, the other has a shrapnel wound on his shin," the region’s governor Gladkov said. (MT/AFP, 01.05.24)
    • On Jan. 5 authorities in western Russia's Belgorod region offered to move some residents from its capital city to safety following intense shelling by Ukrainian forces over the past week. (MT/AFP, 01.05.24)
  • On Jan. 5 Ukraine admitted it carried out attacks on a Russian military command post and a military unit in separate strikes on Crimea, saying it had inflicted "serious damage" to Russia's defense system. (RFE/RL, 01.05.24)
  • Ukrainian military officials revealed in late December that Russian forces launched about 7,400 missiles and 3,900 Shahed drone strikes against Ukraine since launching the full-scale invasion. These included around 2,470 S-300/400 missiles, 900 Iskander-M missiles and 48 Kinzhal missiles. Ukrainian StratCom also reported that Russian forces have launched about 3,700 Shahed drones against Ukraine, of which Ukrainian forces have destroyed about 2,900. (ISW, 12.29.23)
    • Since Putin’s invasion, Ukraine has intercepted 1,709 Russian missiles and 3,095 Shahed drones, almost 85% of those launched over the country, Ukraine’s air defense commander Mykola Oleshchuk was quoted on Jan. 1 as saying. According to ISW’s Jan. 4 assessment, Ukrainian air defenses have intercepted 149 of a reported 166 Russian cruise missiles in intensified attacks since Dec. 29, 2023. (Bloomberg, 01.01.24, ISW, 01.04.24)
    • Kyiv's mobile air defenses have enough ammunition to withstand a few more powerful attacks but then will need more Western aid, Serhiy Nayev, the commander of Ukraine's joint forces, said on Jan. 3. (AFP, 01.04.24)
  • According to Jack Watling of RUSI, at the height of its 2023 offensive, Ukraine was firing up to 7,000 artillery rounds per day, accounting for up to 80% of Russia’s combat losses. By the end of 2023, however, Ukrainian forces were firing closer to 2,000 rounds per day. Russia’s artillery capacity, meanwhile, has turned a corner, with Russian forces now firing up around 10,000 rounds per day, Watling wrote. To continue to achieve localized artillery superiority, Ukraine will need about 2.4 million rounds of ammunition per year, in his estimate. (FA, 01.03.24)
  • Journalists from Mediazona and the BBC Russian Service confirmed from open sources the death of 40,599 Russian military personnel who participated in the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Mediazona/BBC, 12.29.23, Meduza, 12.29.23)
  • British defense intelligence sources estimate that, on current trends, Russia will have suffered more than 500,000 casualties, killed and wounded, by 2025. (The Economist, 01.01.24)
  • Igor Trifonov, the former head of Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry’s Yekaterinburg department, died in the war in Ukraine. In 2022, Trifonov was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for bribery and illegal weapons possession. According to Kezik, Trifonov had long tried to sign a contract with the Defense Ministry and managed to go to the war at the end of 2023. (Meduza, 01.03.24)
  • Zelensky gives little away about what Ukraine can achieve in 2024, but if he has a message, it is that Crimea and the connected battle in the Black Sea will become the war’s center of gravity. Zelensky is less open about his goals in the east and the south. Ukraine’s stated strategic ambition to restore Ukraine to its original borders has not and will not change, but he is no longer setting timelines and makes no promises of how much territory Ukraine can “de-occupy” in 2024. (The Economist, 01.01.24)
    • Zelensky, fearing that U.S. support will end with the upcoming American presidential election, has declared that all Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia must be liberated by October 2024. (FA, 01.03.24)
  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stated on Jan. 3 that Ukraine plans to increase its defense industrial base (DIB) output six-fold in 2024. (ISW, 01.03.24)
  • Research by Mediazona found that, as of October 2023, 76 cases of probable railway sabotage had been filed with the courts in Russia since the invasion. At least 137 people, the vast majority of them under 24, had been prosecuted, the agency reported. Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said late last month that its agents were targeting rail infrastructure across Russia. At the same time, Russia, which has long used irregular tactics to achieve political goals, continues to send sabotage and reconnaissance groups to infiltrate Ukraine. (NYT, 12.31.23)
  • Putin had embraced his role as commander in chief with an almost messianic determination by early 2023, people close to the Kremlin contend. One said last February that the president held two videoconferences a day with military officials who briefed him on the minutiae of movements on the battlefield(NYT, 12.23.23)
  • Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, made clear in a private meeting earlier this year that, despite his setbacks, Putin was determined to keep fighting. According to a senior international official who was present, Shoigu gave statistics showing Russia’s advantage in tanks and warplanes and its plans to increase defense production. He boasted that Russia could mobilize as many as 25 million men, the official recalled. (NYT, 12.23.23)f
  • Zaluzhnyi discussed with the Supreme Commander of the Joint NATO Forces Europe, Commander US EUCOM, General Christopher Cavoli, countermeasures against massive missile attacks and possible plans on the part of the Russian invaders. Zaluzhnyi reported this on Facebook, Ukrinform reports. (Ukrinform, 01.05.24)

Military aid to Ukraine:

  • On Dec. 22 Biden signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes a record $886 billion in annual military spending and policies, such as $600 million in aid for Ukraine and push-back against China in the Indo-Pacific. (Reuters 12.22.23, Tulsa World, 12.22.23)
  • On Dec. 22 Japan announced that it will allow the sale of advanced air defense systems to the United States to help bolster American military stockpiles at a time when Washington is continuing to support Ukraine. (NYT, 12.23.23)
  • On Dec. 24 Estonian media reported that Estonia’s Internal Affairs Ministry is ready to find and extradite draft-eligible Ukrainians living in Estonia back to Ukraine. (Meduza, 12.24.23)
  • On Dec. 27 the United States announced the final drawdown of weapons and military equipment for Ukraine from U.S. stockpiles under existing presidential authorization. The $250 million package includes air-defense munitions, additional ammunition for High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), 155 mm and 105 mm artillery ammunition and anti-armor munitions. (RFE/RL, 12.28.23) 
  • On Dec. 27 the U.K. Ministry of Defense reported on X (Twitter) that 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers have now been trained in the U.K. (RM, 12.27.23)
  • On Dec. 27 the U.K. Ministry of Defense reported on X (Twitter) that the first Ukrainian combat pilots were in Denmark training on F-16 fighter jets. Additionally, Norway's government said on Jan. 3 that it would send two F-16 fighter jets to Denmark to help train Ukrainian pilots in the use of the planes. (RM, 12.27.23, AFP, 01.03.24)
  • On Dec. 29 the U.K. said it’s shipping about 200 missiles to Ukraine to bolster the country’s air defenses in the wake of Russia’s biggest missile and drone bombardment of the 22-month war. (Bloomberg, 12.29.23)
  • On Jan. 1 Zelensky said Ukraine will boast at least "a million" additional drones in Ukraine’s arsenal next year as well as F-16 fighter jets delivered by its Western partners. (MT/AFP, 01.01.24)
  • On Jan. 1 a policy by the Norwegian government allowing direct sales of weapons and defense-related products to Ukraine went into effect. (RFE/RL, 01.01.24)
  • On Jan 2 the Turkish government announced that it will not allow the U.K. to transport two mine hunting ships to Ukraine via the Turkish Straits “as long as the war continues.” (ISW, 01.02.24)
  • On Jan. 3 Ukraine expressed confidence in its hopes for ongoing international aid to help beat back the invasion, saying there's no "Plan B" and calling military and other assistance an "investment" in transatlantic security. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN when asked about U.S. lawmakers' rejection so far of billions more in aid that "We don't have a Plan B. We are confident in Plan A." (RFE/RL, 01.04.24)
  • There is “no indication of wide-scale corruption or misuse” of weapons provided to Ukraine by the United States, White House National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby said during a press briefing on Jan. 3. “We are working very, very hard to make sure that every system that is provided to Ukraine, there’s a measure of accountability for it,” he explained. “That — that we can assure the Congress and the American people that that materiel is being used appropriately on the field of battle.” (The New Voice of Ukraine/Yahoo News, 01.04.24)
  • The U.S. Army is resurrecting production for the M777 howitzer after its heavy use by Ukraine brought new demand for a big gun whose most recent order was five years ago. (WSJ, 01.04.24)
  • On April 9, 2022, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Kyiv and delivered his pitch: "Nobody can be more Ukrainian than Ukrainians, it is not for me to tell you what your war objectives can be, but as far as I am concerned, Putin must fail and Ukraine must be entitled to retain full sovereignty and independence. … We're not directly fighting, you are. It's the Ukrainians who are fighting and dying. But we would back Ukraine a thousand percent." Zelensky didn't need much convincing. The conversation quickly shifted to the concrete ways in which the United Kingdom could assist the Ukrainian armed forces, such as the provision of military supplies. (WSJ, 01.05.24)

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

  • The U.S. has proposed that working groups from the G-7 explore ways to seize $300 billion in frozen Russian assets, as the allies rush to agree a plan in time for the second anniversary of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The U.S., backed by the U.K., Japan and Canada, has proposed moving forward with the preparatory work so the options would be ready for a potential meeting of G-7 leaders around Feb. 24. Germany, France, Italy and the EU have expressed some reservations, and the need to carefully assess the legality of confiscating Moscow’s assets before decisions are taken. (FT, 12.28.23)
    • Russia is prepared to sever diplomatic relations with the United States if American authorities decide to seize Russian assets or continue “fueling military escalation” in Ukraine, said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov in an interview with Interfax on Dec. 22. (Meduza, 12.22.23)
    • Russia has a list of Western assets that would be seized if G-7 leaders decided to confiscate $300 billion in frozen Russian central-bank assets, the Kremlin said on Dec. 29. (Reuters, 12.29.23)
    • The best estimate of the frozen Russian Central Bank amount of reserves that have been blocked by the sanctioning coalition is about $350 billion (at end-February 2022 exchange rates), according to FT’s Martin Sandbu. (FT, 01.04.24)
    • Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina, who helped the Kremlin absorb the blow from sweeping sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, said she’s preparing for a strengthening of penalties aimed at the country’s economy. The restructuring of Russia’s economy is proceeding “quite quickly” as businesses adapt to the sanctions, Nabiullina said in an interview with RBC news published on Dec. 25. (Bloomberg, 12.25.23)
  • Biden signed an executive order on Dec. 22 paving the way for Washington to impose sanctions on financial institutions that help Russia evade sanctions imposed over its war in Ukraine. The new executive order makes clear that banks and other financial institutions face significant sanctions themselves if they don’t stop the transactions of people and entities that have been designated for sanctions. (RFE/RL, 12.22.23)
  • The EU on Jan. 3 added Alrosa, the world's largest diamond-mining company, and its chief executive, Pavel Marinychev, to a blacklist subject to a visa ban and asset freeze in the EU. Alrosa accounts for 90% of Russia's diamond production, which totaled around $4 billion in 2022. (AFP, 01.03.24)

    • Russian diamond miners generate about $4.5 billion in revenue each year. That is peanuts compared with the revenue from Russia’s oil and gas exports, which, despite sanctions, was a record $384 billion in 2022. (The Economist, 01.04.24)

  • About 300 Western companies have left Russia since the invasion began while roughly 1,600 brands continue to operate in the country, paying $3.5 billion in tax on their profits in 2022, according to a study by B4Ukraine and the Kyiv School of Economics. The Western consumer goods sector made revenues of more than $21 billion in Russia last year, the report found. (FT, 12.22.23)
  • The international direct-sales cosmetics brand Avon has suspended plans to sell its business in Russia over the Kremlin’s steep exit tax. (MT/AFP, 12.27.23)
  • Societe Generale SA can complete its exit from Russia by selling stakes in some of the country’s largest companies worth an estimated $75 million to its former local unit, Rosbank, which it sold to billionaire Vladimir Potanin last year. Putin approved an order allowing Rosbank to buy the Russian stakes from the French bank. (Bloomberg, 12.24.23)
  • On YouTube one can find dozens of videos in which Russian fighters demonstrate sights from Western manufacturers. According to customs data, in 2022–2023, sights worth 16 billion rubles were imported into Russia. The purpose is “for installation on hunting weapons” and “not for military use.” But in reality, as YouTube shows, at least some of them end up at the front in Ukraine. (Istories, 12.26.23)
  • Six Danes have been charged by Russia for fighting in the war between Russia and Ukraine as foreign mercenaries, the Russian Embassy in Copenhagen said in a statement on Dec. 27. (Reuters, 12.28.23) 
  • Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs S. Ivanov said that over the past two years, Western countries have expelled several hundred Russian diplomats and closed 14 Russian government entities located in these countries. In response, Russian authorities closed a number of consular offices of Western countries in Russia. “There are no winners in this ‘duel’ and there cannot be,” he said. (kp.ru/mid.ru, 12.25.23)
  • The Estonian Foreign Ministry said on Jan,. 4 that Russia plans to close a key border checkpoint to road traffic for two years, citing renovation works as the reason behind the move. Authorities in Tallinn said they had received an official note from Russia saying the Narva-Ivangorod crossing would closed on Feb. 1. (MT/AFP, 01.04.24)
  • Loaves are not the only things coming hot off the production line at the Tambov Bread Factory in central Russia — and Western sanctions authorities are taking notice. Tambov’s bakers were put on a U.S. blacklist in December for assembling small drones on the premises that Russian troops use in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. (FT, 01.05.24)
  • Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has offered to release Ukrainian prisoners of war in exchange for lifting U.S. sanctions against his family members, Russian state media reported on Jan. 5 (AFP/MT, 01.05.24)

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

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

  • When it comes to suggestions about negotiations, Zelensky says he does not detect “any fundamental steps forward to the peace from Russia.” (The Economist, 01.01.24)
  • In a statement issued after Russian missile and drone strikes killed more than 40 in Ukraine on Dec. 29, Ukraine's foreign ministry said the attack showed that there could be no cease-fire with Moscow. (WSJ, 12.29.23)
  • With U.S. and European aid to Ukraine now in serious jeopardy, the Biden administration and European officials are quietly shifting their focus from supporting Ukraine’s goal of total victory over Russia to improving its position in an eventual negotiation to end the war, according to a Biden administration official and a European diplomat based in Washington. Such a negotiation would likely mean giving up parts of Ukraine to Russia. But along with the Ukrainians themselves, U.S. and European officials are now discussing the redeployment of Kyiv’s forces away from Zelensky’s mostly failed counteroffensive into a stronger defensive position against Russian forces in the east. (Politico, 12.27.23)
    • The U.S. State Department says reports that Washington wants Ukraine to change its strategy in the full-scale war against Russia are untrue. "No. This is not true," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. (RFE/RL, 01.04.24)
  • Putin has been signaling through intermediaries since at least September that he is open to a cease-fire that freezes the fighting along the current lines, far short of his ambitions to dominate Ukraine, two former senior Russian officials close to the Kremlin and American and international officials who have received the message from Putin’s envoys say. In fact, Putin also sent out feelers for a cease-fire deal a year earlier, in the fall of 2022, according to American officials. “They say, ‘We are ready to have negotiations on a cease-fire,’” said one senior international official who met with top Russian officials this fall. “They want to stay where they are on the battlefield.” (NYT, 12.23.23)
    • Putin certainly does not “act like a guy who’s willing to negotiate” despite reports in the press suggesting otherwise, said U.S. National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby during a briefing. According to Kirby, who cited recent Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities as an example, Putin is doing “everything he can” to put Ukrainians in a disadvantaged position. (Meduza, 01.04.24)
  • Lavrov said on Dec. 28 that some in the West were suggesting that Moscow should discuss peace in Ukraine because the United States and its allies had failed to defeat Russian forces in Ukraine. Lavrov, said there were signs that the West was changing its tactics and strategy on Ukraine. "They are starting to approach us and beginning to whisper – why don’t you meet someone who will be ready to talk to you in Europe. Indicatively, this suggests talking about Ukraine without Ukraine,” said Lavrov, who also reiterated that Moscow would achieve all its goals in Ukraine. (Reuters, 12.28.23, Mid.ru, 12.28.23)
  • “Whether a comprehensive, sustainable and fair resolution of the Ukraine conflict can be attained largely depends on whether its root causes can be eliminated. The West must stop pumping up the Armed Forces of Ukraine with weapons, and Kyiv must stop hostilities and withdraw its troops from the Russian territory. It is necessary to confirm the neutral, non-aligned and nuclear-free status of Ukraine, carry out its demilitarization and denazification, recognize new territorial realities, ensure the rights of Russian-speaking citizens and national minorities living in this country. Unfortunately, today we do not see the political will for peace either in Kyiv or in West,” Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Galuzin said. (MID.ru, 12.30.23)
  • One out of every two Russians wish for the war in Ukraine to end in 2024, according to survey results from the Russian Field polling agency published Dec. 29. When asked what they wish for in the New Year, 50% of Russian Field’s respondents named “peace, a peaceful sky and the end of” what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 12.29.23)
  • In the Kremlin, Putin was certain that Washington, rather than London, had forced Zelensky to abandon Russian-Ukrainian talks in Istanbul in April 2022 in the hope of exhausting Russia in a protracted war. Senior Russian officials kept angrily raising this point in meetings with their American counterparts. "Utter bulls—t," a senior Biden administration official told me. "I know for a fact the United States didn't pull the plug on that. We were watching it carefully." (WSJ, 01.05.24)

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

  • NATO will hold a meeting with diplomats and officials from the alliance's members and Ukraine on Jan. 10 to address the situation surrounding a wave of deadly Russian aerial attacks on Kyiv and other cities across the country. The military alliance's press chief, Dylan White, said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Jan. 4 that Ukraine had requested the meeting through the format of the recently established NATO-Ukraine Council. (RFE/RL, 01.04.24)
  • The chairman of a Poland’s military said on Dec. 29 that a suspected Russian missile had briefly flown into Polish airspace, but it was monitored by both Polish and allied forces during its three-minute flight across the border with Ukraine. Gen. Wiesław Kukuła, chief of the general staff of the Polish army, said although the incident was a violation of Polish airspace it was being treated as part of Russia’s mass missile strike against Ukraine. Poland’s defense forces said the object penetrated about 40 kilometers into its airspace and left after less than three minutes. (FT, 12.29.23, WP, 12.29.23, RFE/RL, 12.30.23)
    • NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he spoke with Polish President Andrzej Duda about the incident.  ( FT, 12.29.23, WP, 12.29.23)
    • Russia’s chargé d’affaires to Poland, Andrei Ordash, declined to give an explanation for the missile that reportedly entered Poland’s airspace. Ordash told RIA Novosti that Russia would wait until “specific evidence is presented because these accusations are baseless.” (Meduza, 12.30.23)
    • Poland said on Jan. 2 that planes protecting its airspace had returned to base after the threat level related to Russian strikes on Ukraine had reduced. Earlier, Poland had deployed two pairs of F-16 fighters and an allied tanker in the face of Russian attacks on Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.02.24)
  • On Dec. 22 Stoltenberg stated that Putin "has lost Ukraine altogether" and can "no longer achieve its war goals," which is a "major strategic defeat." Stoltenberg also cautioned against expectations in the West of a rapid end to the war. (ISW, 12.22.23)  
  • Krišjānis Kariņš, Latvia’s foreign minister and self-declared candidate to head NATO, said the West needed a long-term strategy to contain Russia as Moscow would seek new targets irrespective of the outcome of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. (FT, 01.05.24)
  • On Jan. 3, NATO said a coalition of members, including Germany and the Netherlands, is buying up to 1,000 Patriot missiles, or $5.5 billion worth, to strengthen their air defenses amid Russia's war against Ukraine. Norway’s Kongsberg, which in addition to Nasams air defense missiles also makes products including ship-based missiles and parts of F-35 fighter jets, has ramped up production. It moved to 24-hour, seven-day shifts. (WSJ, 01.03.24)
  • EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, warned that the European Union’s existence was at stake in Ukraine. “The important thing is what we can do in order to avoid Russia winning the war,”  he said. “Putin cannot be satisfied with a piece of Ukraine and to let the rest of Ukraine belong to the European Union, but he cannot be satisfied with a limited territorial victory. So we must prepare for a conflict of high intensity for a long time,” Borrell said. “Putin has decided to continue the war until the final victory,” he said. (Guardian, 12.24.23)
  • When asked: “How do you feel about Western countries helping our enemy?” Putin said during his visit to a Moscow hospital: “Ukraine itself is not our enemy whereas those who want to destroy Russian statehood and to achieve, as they say, a strategic defeat of Russia on the battlefield, are mainly in the West ... there are the elites who think the existence of Russia (at least in its current state and size) is unacceptable,” he said. “We have no desire to fight endlessly, but we are not going to cede our positions either,” he said. (Kremlin.ru, 01.01.24) 
  • Moscow will without fail carry out a strike against foreign military bases in Ukraine should any be established in the country, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said on Telegram. Referring to the declaration on security guarantees for Ukraine drawn up by the EU, he stated that the document was "a useless scrap of paper" with no added value. However, it provided Kyiv with the opportunity to make separate agreements with individual countries on weapons supplies, troop training, funding for military programs and many other things, up to and including the establishment of military bases on Ukrainian soil. Medvedev pointed out that an attack on a military base would certainly provide grounds for activating Article 6 of NATO’s founding treaty, which mentions "an armed attack ... on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties." "This is where things get more interesting: Article 5 says that the response does not have to be a military or a collective one," he noted. (TASS, 12.25.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping on Dec. 31 said his country's ties with Russia had grown stronger in 2023 in his New Year greetings to Putin, state media reported. Xi said "The material and public opinion foundation of our relationship has become stronger" in his recap of the year to Putin on Dec. 31, according to state broadcaster CCTV. "In the face of changes unseen in a century, and a turbulent regional and international situation, China-Russia relations have maintained healthy and stable development and moved steadily in the right direction," the Chinese leader added. (MT/AFP, 12.31.23)
  • “The President of Russia sent heartfelt greetings on the occasion of the New Year 2024 and the approaching Spring Festival to President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping. He expressed confidence that joint efforts will further boost productive bilateral cooperation in all spheres,” according to Kremlin.ru. (RM, 12.30.23)
  • During a meeting in Moscow back in March, Putin told Xi that Russia "will fight for [at least] five years" in Ukraine, sources have revealed. This was apparently Putin's way of summarizing a situation that at the time was not favorable to Russia and assuring Xi that Russia would emerge victorious in the end. (Nikkei, 12.28.23)
  • China's cross-border yuan settlement for merchandise trade has more than doubled, on a monthly basis, since mid-2020—and is now equal in value to over a quarter of China's top-line goods trade. In October, 3.6% of international payments globally were made in yuan, according to data from Swift, the international financial-messaging service. That was up from less than 2% in January. Close to two thirds of Russia's imports from China were already invoiced in yuan by the end of 2022, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. (WSJ, 12.26.23)
  • Chinese shipments to Russia of an important class of advanced machine tools have increased tenfold since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with the country’s producers now dominating trade in high-precision “computer numerical control” devices vital to Moscow’s military industries. Russian customs returns show Chinese producers shipped $68 million worth of CNC tools in July, the latest verifiable figure available, up from just $6.5 million in February 2022 when Moscow launched the full-scale invasion. (FT, 01.02.24)
  • The Chinese spy agency, known as the M.S.S., once rife with agents whose main source of information was gossip at embassy dinner parties, is now going toe-to-toe with the CIA in collection and subterfuge around the world. Unlike Russian operatives, M.S.S. case officers generally avoid working undercover in the United States, preferring instead to run agents or assets from outside and recruit online, including using jobs ads with no apparent ties to China, U.S. officials said. (NYT, 12.27.23)
  • Russia and China together have around 5,020 land-based air-defense missile systems, compared with around 3,200 for the U.S., Europe and Japan combined, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. (WSJ, 01.03.24)
  • A former senior White House official said Nikolai Patrushev has been a key conduit between Moscow and Beijing. “If Putin had been deposed or killed earlier this year by Wagner Group, I suspect Beijing would have made efforts to install Patrushev as Putin’s replacement,” the former official said. (WSJ, 12.22.23)
  • Beijing's spycatchers all but blinded the U.S. in China a decade ago when they systematically rounded up a network of Chinese agents working for the CIA. In Russia, the CIA has had greater success. It obtained Putin's secret Ukraine invasion plan, stole and then publicized Kremlin disinformation plots and gave the White House a heads up before Wagner Group chieftain Yevgeny Prigozhin launched his mutiny in June. Putin's Russia is a "target-rich environment" in espionage parlance, rife with disaffected officials, military officers and businessmen who might be persuaded to trade inside knowledge for cash. (WSJ, 12.27.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms

  • On Dec. 25 the president of Belarus said that Russia has completed its shipments of tactical nuclear weapons to his country, an initiative that raised concerns in neighboring Poland and elsewhere in the region. President Alexander Lukashenko said at a meeting of a Moscow-led economic bloc in St. Petersburg that the shipments were completed in October, but he did not give details of how many weapons were sent or where they have been deployed. (AP, 12.26.23)
  • “If the United States does not take any extraordinary steps to exert pressure through other means, Russia will not be the first to deploy missiles that were previously prohibited under the INF Treaty. However, judging by the preparations made by the Pentagon, practical actions by the Americans to deploy ground-launched intermediate and short-range missiles in different regions of the world should not take long. Therefore, the time when we will have to make necessary political decisions is fast approaching,” Lavrov said. (MID.ru, 12.31.23)

Counterterrorism:

  • Of five people arrested in connection with a possible planned terrorist attack on Cologne Cathedral, four were individuals of Tajik and Uzbek nationality. (RFE/RL, 01.02.24)

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

  • Russian hackers were inside Ukrainian telecoms giant Kyivstar's system from at least May 2023 in a cyberattack that should serve as a "big warning" to the West, Illia Vitiuk, head of the Security Service of Ukraine's (SBU) cybersecurity department, told Reuters. The hack knocked out services provided by Ukraine's biggest telecoms operator for some 24 million users for days from Dec. 12. The attack wiped "almost everything," including thousands of virtual servers and PCs, he said, describing it as probably the first example of a destructive cyberattack that "completely destroyed the core of a telecoms operator." (Reuters, 01.04.24)
  • Kazakhstan has extradited Russian cybersecurity expert Nikita Kislitsin, who is wanted in the U.S. for allegedly purchasing hacked personal data from the now-defunct website Formspring, to Moscow, Russian state media reported on Jan. 3. (Meduza, 01.03.24)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia has redirected its oil exports from Europe to China and India, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak. "We previously supplied a total of 40-45% of oil and oil products to Europe," said Novak. "This year, we expect the figure not to exceed 4-5% of total exports," Novak said. "China — whose share (of oil exports) has grown to 45-50% — and India have become our main partners in the current situation," Novak said. "In two years the total share of supplies to India has increased to about 40%," Novak said. (MT/AFP, 12.27.23)
  • There are growing signs that Russia’s oil flows might be facing disruption in the aftermath of a ramp up in U.S. sanctions targeting traders and shipping companies moving the nation’s petroleum. Over the past month or so, a total of 14 tankers hauling the nation’s barrels to India have either been dithering, u-turned or switched off equipment that informs digital tracking systems of their location and what they’re doing over the past month or so. (Bloomberg, 01.05.24)
  • India’s crude oil imports from Russia in November were the costliest in a year, government data show, reflecting lowering discounts on the fuel. Refiners in the world’s third-largest oil consumer paid an average of $85.90 a barrel for shipments from its largest supplier, up 1.8% compared with $84.46 in October. (Bloomberg, 01.04.24)
  • OPEC+ will resume its regular oil market monitoring meetings with an online session early on Feb. 1. (Bloomberg, 01.02.24)

  • EU imports of Russian liquefied natural gas dropped slightly last year after a surge in 2022, as confidence is growing that the bloc can finally rid itself of fossil fuel imports from Russia. Russian LNG and what remains of Russian pipeline gas only accounted for 13% of the bloc’s overall supplies last year, down from 40% in 2021, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights. (FT, 01.05.24)
  • Russia’s biggest liquefied natural gas producer began production at its Arctic LNG 2 project despite U.S. sanctions. The facility, located on the Gydan peninsula above the Arctic Circle, is Novatek’s second large-scale project and is crucial for Russia’s goal to more than triple its LNG production to 100 million tons by the end of the decade. Novatek holds a 60% stake in the operator of the Arctic facility. TotalEnergies SE, China’s CNPC and Cnooc, and a consortium of Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co. and Jogmec each hold a 10% stake. (Bloomberg, 12.27.23)
    • Foreign shareholders have suspended their participation in Russia’s Arctic LNG 2 project due to U.S. sanctions, the Kommersant business daily reported Dec. 25, citing anonymous government sources. Kommersant reported that France’s TotalEnergie, China’s state oil majors CNOOC and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), as well as Japan’s consortium between Mitsui and Co and JOGMEC, have since declared “force majeure” on their participation. (MT/AFP, 12.25.23)
  • European companies have accelerated withdrawals of natural gas from Ukraine as demand for heating increases during the winter months, reducing the chances of the continent suffering another energy crisis. (FT, 01.02.24)

Climate change:

  • Siberia is heating up almost twice as quickly as other parts of the world. The rapid change is causing the ice known as permafrost that coats about two-thirds of Russia to thaw for the first time in ages. In July, scientists were able to revive a 46,000-year-old worm that was trapped in the permafrost. European researchers. (WP, 01.04.24)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • The risk of Americans being held on spurious charges by a foreign government is now so widespread that the State Department warns U.S. citizens against traveling to countries accounting for nearly a quarter of the world's population. In diplomatic parlance, those nine nations are classified "D" for the risk of detention. The Biden administration says around 30 U.S. citizens are still unjustly detained abroad, an estimate that doesn't account for the eight still presumably held in Gaza after Hamas's attack on Israel in October. China, Russia and other governments often balk at the "wrongfully detained" label, as Americans would too if foreign diplomats weighed in to declare U.S. court verdicts invalid. (WSJ, 12.27.23)
  • The U.S. government is preparing for its adversaries to intensify efforts to influence American voters next year. Russia has huge stakes in the presidential election. China seems poised to back a more aggressive campaign. Other countries, like Iran, might again try to sow division in the United States. (NYT, 12.24.23)

   

II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • More than half of respondents of a Levada Center poll in December (57%) hope that 2024 will be better than the past year, and another 14% are confident that it will definitely be better. Three percent believe that the new year will be worse than the outgoing one. (RM, 12.26.23)
  • Of the events of the past year, Russians consider an increase in prices, housing and communal services tariffs and exchange rates to be most important (38%), according to Levada’s December poll. Another 25% named Putin’s reelection bid announcement as such an event, while another 22% each named the continuation of the so-called special military operation in Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas. (RM, 12.22.23)
  • The All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) conducted a monitoring survey of Russians, from which it follows that only 26% of Russians consider television to be an “objective” source of information about events in the country compared to 46% in 2016. (Istories, 12.27.23)
  • On the tarmac of a Moscow airport in late August, Yevgeny Prigozhin waited on his Embraer Legacy 600 for a safety check to finish before it could take off. Through the delay, no one inside the cabin noticed the small explosive device slipped under the wing. When the jet finally left, it climbed for about 30 minutes to 28,000 feet, before the wing blew apart. The assassination of the warlord was two months in the making and approved by Nikolai Patrushev, according to Western intelligence officials and a former Russian intelligence officer. In the beginning of August, Patrushev gave orders to his assistant to proceed in shaping an operation to dispose of Prigozhin, said the former Russian intelligence officer. Putin was later shown the plans and didn’t object, Western intelligence agencies said. (WSJ, 12.22.23)
    • Hours after the incident, a European involved in intelligence gathering who maintained a backchannel of communication with the Kremlin and saw news of the crash asked an official there what had happened. “He had to be removed,” the Kremlin official responded without hesitation. (WSJ, 12.22.23)
  • A brief New Year's address by Putin has been broadcast on state television. Putin called on Russians not to look back but to “move forward and create the future.” He praised Russia’s military, but did not mention a Dec. 30 incident in the western city of Belgorod in which Moscow claimed a Ukrainian air strike killed 24 people and injured more than 100. (RFE/RL, 01.02.24) 
  • Almost one-half of the 997 presidential decrees signed by Putin last year were done in secret. (RFE/RL, 01.02.24)
  • Putin has ordered the seizure of Russia’s largest car dealership from exiled former lawmaker and billionaire Sergei Petrov, a presidential decree said Dec. 21. Shares in the Rolf dealership will be transferred from the Cypriot company Delance Limited and Rolf Motors to Russia’s Federal Property Management Agency , according to the document. (MT/AFP, 12.22.23)
  • On Dec. 25 Alexei Navalny resurfaced at a prison in the village of Kharp, in Russia's Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, 1,914 kilometers (almost 1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow. On Dec. 25, his press secretary announced on social media that he received a visit from his lawyer and "is doing well." (Meduza, 12.25.23)
  • On Dec. 29, a Russian court handed down a nine-year prison sentence to Russian politician Ksenia Fadeyeva, the former head of Navalny’s regional office in the city of Tomsk. (Meduza, 12.29.23)
  • Sources in Russian law enforcement on Dec. 22 said a probe had been launched against self-exiled opposition politician Leonid Gozman on the charge of spreading "fake" information about Russia's armed forces involved in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.22.23)
  • A Moscow court has arrested writer and journalist Masha Gessen in absentia on charges of spreading “disinformation” about the Russian army. (Meduza, 12.26.23)
  • The Russian Interior Ministry’s wanted persons database lists Dmitry Gudkov, who served in Russia’s lower-house State Duma from 2011-16, alongside cartoonists Oleg Kuvayev and Pavel Muntyan. Kuvayev is the creator of the long-running flash-animated series “Masyanya,” whose latest season is highly critical of Russia’s 22-month invasion of Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 12.26.23, WP, 12.26.23)
  • The U.S.-based Global Investigative Journalism Network (GJIN), the Britain-based True Russia Limited and Latvia-based Helpdesk Media Foundation have been included in Russia’s “undesirable” list with no explanations for why they have been blacklisted. (MT/AFP, 12.27.23)
  • Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov, the 86-year-old head of the Slavic and South Russian Orthodox Church, which distances itself from the Moscow Patriarchate, has been charged with "repeatedly discrediting" Russia's armed forces that invaded Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.28.23) 
  • Russian authorities have launched a criminal investigation into “war fakes” against the head of a Kazakh diaspora in Moscow, Polat Dzhamalov. (MT/AFP, 01.03.24)

  • Data from Roskomnadzor, the state's censor, shows the agency received 283,789 reports from citizens in 2022 mostly concerned with "the posting of illegal information on the internet," including false information about Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, and requesting its removal, according to information published on the agency's website. That was more than 25% higher than the previous year. (WSJ, 12.27.23)
  • On Dec. 28 Russia's Kalmykia region marked the 80th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Kalmyks to Siberia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. (RFE/RL, 12.28.23)
  • Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has called for the prosecution of wanted fugitives' family members. (MT/AFP, 01.03.24)

  • George Orwell’s “1984” has earned the distinction of being the most stolen book from the shelves of Russia's Chitai-Gorod bookstore chain in 2023. (MT/AFP, 12.27.23)
  • In Russia, where the entire LGBTQ+ community has been banned as "extremist," some parents are paying thugs to abduct their queer sons and daughters, forcing them into secure private centers to "cure" them with so-called conversion therapy. (WP, 12.22.23)
  • Longtime TV anchorman and journalist Pavel Lobkov says he was attacked in a park in an affluent downtown district in Moscow, posting photos early on Dec. 30 that show bloody injuries to his face and hands. Lobkov, who is openly gay, appeared to suggest the attack was homophobic by including a slur in quotation marks in the post. (RFE/RL, 12.30.23)
  • Russia's Central Election Commission has registered two candidates to run against Putin in a presidential election in March. The commission on Jan. 5 approved Leonid Slutsky, the head of the lower house of parliament's international affairs committee, and Vladislav Davankov of the New People party, who is the vice-speaker of the lower house, as candidates in the March 17 vote. (RFE/RL, 01.05.24)
  • The Communist Party of Russia, the second-largest party in parliament, on Dec. 23 selected a 75-year-old to stand next March in presidential polls against Putin. At a party congress in the Moscow region, the members held a single-candidate vote backing Nikolai Kharitonov. He won just under 14% of the national vote when he stood against Putin in 2004. (MT/AFP, 12.23.23)
  • Russia’s Central Election Commission has barred journalist Yekatarina Duntsova, who has called for peace in Ukraine, from running for president in the next election, citing alleged mistakes in her application to register as a candidate. Then Russia’s Supreme Court rejected Duntsova’s appeal of the Russian Central Election Commission’s refusal to register her voters’ committee, which supported her nomination as a presidential candidate. (Meduza, 12.27.23, RFE/RL, 12.23.23)
  • “New People” and the Party of Growth announced their decision to unite and nominate a single candidate for the Russian presidential elections, TASS reports. The single candidate in the elections will be Vice Speaker of the State Duma, 39-year-old member of the New People party Vladislav Davankov. (Meduza, 12.24.23)
  • Imprisoned Russian ultranationalist and former Russian officer Igor Girkin acknowledged the end of his presidential campaign after failing to register with the Russian Central Elections Committee (CEC) on Dec. 27. (ISW, 12.29.23)
  • Veteran Russian pro-democracy politician Grigory Yavlinsky decided against running in the upcoming presidential race. (Bloomberg, 12.23.23)
  • The powerful backlash against Russian celebrities who attended an “almost naked” party was escalated at the command of Putin’s administration, sources in the government, the State Duma and the presidential administration told MT. (MT, 12.29.23)
  • Russian opposition outlet Meduza estimated on Dec. 29 that Russia’s economy will most likely grow by more than 3% by the end of 2023, largely due to the Russian DIB’s unprecedented levels of production that have bolstered Russian economic output. (ISW, 12.30.23) 
  • On Dec. 21, the final 2023 meeting of the Public Council of the State Corporation Rosatom was held in Moscow. The event was chaired by Rosatom General Director Alexei Likhachev who said that over the 11 months of 2023, Russian nuclear power plants generated more than 197 billion kWh of electricity. (Rosatom, 12.22.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • There are over 640,000 contract soldiers serving in the Russian army, according to the Russian MOD. (Meduza, 12.28.23)
  • The Russian military opened 5,024 cases against soldiers for abandoning their units in 2023, the independent outlet Mediazona reported Dec. 29. (Meduza, 12.29.23)
  • St. Petersburg police arrested at least 3,000 migrants on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, reports local outlet Fontanka. On Jan. 1, military enlistment officers came to many of the detainees and offered them the option of enlisting in the Russian army as “volunteers,” reports Novaya Gazeta Europe. (Meduza, 01.02.24)
  • Putin signed a decree expediting Russian citizenship to foreigners who sign at least one-year contracts to serve in the military or in "military formations." The offer to foreigners also extends to the immediate family members of those who volunteer. (RFE/RL, 01.04.24)
    • On Jan. 4, Putin also approved a fast-track Russian citizenship process for citizens of Ukraine who lived in Crimea before Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of the peninsula. That decree also covers citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen who were born in Soviet territory and held Soviet citizenship. (NYT, 01.05.24)
  • Tank production increased seven-fold in two years, Rostec Chief Executive Officer Sergey Chemezov told Putin on Dec. 28 in televised comments, without giving figures. (Bloomberg, 12.28.23) 
  • Russia has sufficient budget funds to pay for its war in Ukraine, according to Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. Russia plans a massive increase in defense spending in 2024, to 10.8 trillion rubles ($112 billion) from 6.4 trillion rubles this year. (Bloomberg, 12.27.23)
  • See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Anna Boltynyuk, from the Kaluga region of central Russia, lost her 18-year-old daughter Yana when she was raped and murdered in 2014. Now, the murderer, Evgeny Tatarintsev, has been freed after serving just three years of his sentence. Tatarintsev is among thousands of prisoners who took up the offer of a pardon in exchange for serving on the battlefield in Ukraine. Most joined the war with Wagner, but others are now joining separate defense ministry-sponsored groups. (FT, 01.03.24)
  • Russian authorities have opened at least 190 criminal cases against Wagner mercenaries who were pardoned in exchange for fighting in Ukraine, the independent media outlet Vyorstka reported Dec. 25. (MT/AFP, 12.25.23)
    • The first evidence of prisoners being recruited for the war effort can be traced to the fall of 2022, when this practice—carried out by private military companies that were never officially legalized—fell into a legal gray area. (MT/AFP, 12.29.23)

  • A court in Russia's Kirov region on Dec. 26 sentenced the region's imprisoned former governor, Nikita Belykh, to an additional 2 1/2 years in prison on a charge of abuse of power but spared him from serving the fresh sentence, citing the statute of limitations. (RFE/RL, 12.27.23)
  • The deputy director of Russia's space agency has been charged with fraud over suspected embezzlement. Oleg Frolov and two other suspects are accused of a "large-scale fraud," the Investigative Committee said in a statement on Dec. 22. "Frolov, using his official position, took part in a criminal conspiracy with two other co-conspirators," the statement said. (RFE/RL, 12.22.23)
  • A Moscow court on Dec. 27 issued an arrest warrant for Dmitry Dovgy, a former top official of the Investigative Committee and a former lawyer for Sergei Furgal, the imprisoned former governor of the Khabarovsk region. Dovgy, who currently resides in Israel, is accused of financial fraud. (RFE/RL, 12.27.23)
  • At trial next week, Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev is set to accuse Sotheby's of helping art dealer Yves Bouvier trick him into wildly overspending for works, a claim the company disputes. (NYT, 01.05.24)

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • On Dec. 22 the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling for urgent expanded humanitarian aid for Gaza and the creation of “conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities,” after overcoming the threat of an American veto. The U.S. and Russia both abstained, while 13 other members voted in favor of the measure, which Washington’s ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield described as “humanitarian-focused.” (FT, 12.22.23)
    • Over 600 people evacuated from the besieged Gaza Strip are being housed in 10 facilities across Russia, a Foreign Ministry official said Dec. 28. (MT/AFP, 12.28.23)
  • Russia has been increasing its efforts to undermine French support for Kyiv—a hidden propaganda front in Western Europe that is part of the war against Ukraine, according to Kremlin documents and interviews with European security officials and far-right political figures. The maneuvering—and Kremlin connections with a host of far-right parties across Europe, including in France—are worrying some European officials ahead of European Parliament elections in June. (WP, 12.30.23)
  • Russia on Dec. 25 accused the West of orchestrating anti-government street protests in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, that flared into violence on Dec. 24. (NYT, 12.25.23)
  • Putin and Lavrov met with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Dec. 27 in a likely effort to maintain Russia’s critical trade relationship with India. (ISW, 12.27.23) 
    • Russia and India have made tangible progress in talks on plans to jointly produce military equipment, Lavrov said on Dec. 27 after talks with his Indian counterpart in Moscow. (Reuters, 12.27.23)
    • Agreements linked to the construction of new reactors at the Kudankulam site in Tamil Nadu were signed during a five-day visit to Moscow by India's Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. The ministry did not provide details of the agreements. (WNN, 01.03.24)
  • Putin’s messages addressed to President of the Republic of India Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister of the Republic of India Narendra Modi note that, despite the difficult international situation, the special and privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India continues to develop dynamically. (Kremlin.ru, 12.30.23)
  • Membership of the BRICS group of emerging-market nations is set to double, with Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Egypt to join its ranks on Jan. 1, South Africa’s envoy to the bloc said. (Bloomberg, 12.29.23)
  • In total, over 200 events of different levels and types will be held in many Russian cities as part of Russia’s BRICS chairmanship, according to Putin. (Kremlin.ru, 01.01.24)
  • Nepal has stopped issuing permits to its citizens to work in Russia and Ukraine until further notice, an official said on Jan. 5, after at least 10 Nepali soldiers were killed while serving in the Russian Army. The government has said that up to 200 Nepali citizens were estimated to be working in the Russian Army. (Reuters, 01.05.24)
  • Russia has reopened its embassy in Burkina Faso after a gap of nearly 32 years, the West African nation's government and a Russian diplomat said. (MT/AFP, 12.28.23)
  • Russia has begun negotiations with Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to open Russian cultural centers (Russkii dom) abroad, likely aimed at increasing Russian influence in the Middle East and North Africa. (ISW, 01.04.24)

Ukraine:

  • Since the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, the people of Ukraine have had access to a single source of television news: the Telemarathon United News show has been a major tool of Ukraine’s information war. “It’s a weapon,” Zelensky said of the show, which includes six networks representing around 60% of Ukraine’s total prewar audience. But after nearly two years of war, Ukrainians have grown weary of Telemarathon. In March 2022, the program accounted for 40% of Ukraine’s total viewership, according to a Ukrainian media watchdog. By the end of 2022, viewership of the news program had shrunk to 14 % of the television audience. Today, it is down to 10%. (NYT, 01.03.24)
    • Many viewers said that as the threat of a Russian takeover receded, the program’s patriotic overtones became increasingly exaggerated. “They portray events in Ukraine as if everything is fine, as if victory is just around the corner,” said Bohdan Chupryna on a recent evening in Kyiv. (NYT, 01.03.24)
  • Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) and the Defense Ministry said on Dec. 22 they had uncovered a scheme that involved the embezzlement of the equivalent of nearly $40 million and arrested the head of one of the main departments of the Defense Ministry under suspicion of involvement in the scheme. "As a result of complex measures in Kyiv the head of one of the Main Departments of the Ministry of Defense involved in the [procurement of] equipment was detained," the SBU said on Facebook. (RFE/RL, 12.23.23)
  • The former owner of Ukraine’s JSC Sense Bank, which was nationalized in 2023, is seeking more than $1 billion in compensation through arbitration, according to a statement on its website. The claim has been filed with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, an arm of the World Bank, by Luxembourg-registered ABH Holdings S.A, the latter said on Jan. 4. This firm, controlled by a group of Russia’s businessmen with Mikhail Fridman at the helm, had been Sense Bank’s nominal owner prior to nationalization. (Bloomberg, 01.05.24)
  • The National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NAZK) began monitoring Energoatom President Petro Kotin over suspicious property purchases by his mother-in-law, lawmaker Yaroslav Zhelezniak said on Jan. 5, citing a letter from the agency. (Kyiv Independent, 01.05.24)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • During Prigozhin’s mutiny, Patrushev looked for mediators, and calls were made to the governments of Kazakhstan and Belarus. The call to Kazakhstan was insurance against a worst-case scenario. The year before, Russia had sent it troops to restore order after violent riots broke out. The hope now was Kazakhstan would return the favor if the Russian military couldn’t hold the rogue army back, said a Western intelligence official and a former Russian intelligence officer. But president Kassym Jomart Tokayev declined, having distanced himself after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (WSJ, 12.22.23)
  • Kazakh President Kassym Jomart Tokayev has given a lengthy interview in which he discusses what he sees as the origins of the "Bloody January" protests of 2022 as well as the threat of dual power systems. Tokayev said the protests that began in the southwestern town Zhanaozen on Jan. 2, 2022, following a sharp rise in fuel prices and which quickly spread to other cities, including Almaty, were instigated by an unidentified "rogue group." (RFE/RL, 01.03.24) 

  • Maia Sandu, Moldova’s pro-Western president, announced she will seek reelection November 2024 and also called on parliament to organize a referendum on her small southeastern European nation’s potential accession to the EU. (RFE/RL, 12.24.23)
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed amendments to the law “on the President of the Republic of Belarus” on Jan. 3 that allows the Belarusian president to make proposals to the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly to send military personnel abroad to participate in “ensuring collective security and activities for maintaining international peace and security.” (ISW, 01.04.24)
  • The leader of Nagorno-Karabakh separatists ousted from the breakaway Azerbaijani region in September said on Dec. 22 that a decree he signed on the dissolution of separatist institutions was no longer valid. The separatist leader, Samvel Shahramanian, said:  "There is no document...of the Republic of Artsakh [Karabakh] stipulating the dissolution of government institutions," he said. (RFE/RL, 12.22.23)
  • The United States has put Azerbaijan and three other countries on a watch list for engaging in or tolerating “severe violations of religious freedom” after Baku took over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Jan. 4 that Azerbaijan joins the list along with the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam. The designation comes after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom pointed to concerns about the preservation of Christian religious sites in Nagorno-Karabakh. The takeover by Azerbaijan in September prompted virtually the entire population of 100,000 ethnic Armenians to flee to Armenia. (RFE/RL, 01.05.24)
  • Azerbaijani authorities have arrested the eighth journalist since November amid what rights activists says is a crackdown on independent media. (RFE/RL, 12.28.23) 
  • France has declared two employees of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Paris persona non grata in a move of "reciprocity," the Foreign Ministry said on Dec. 27. (RFE/RL, 12.28.23)
  • The media landscape in Tajikistan is in its "worst state” since the Central Asian nation’s civil war in the 1990s as the country’s authoritarian president, Emomali Rahmon, establishes himself as an “absolute power with no tolerance for dissent,” the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on its annual report released on Jan. 4. (RFE/RL, 01.05.24)
  • Putin extended Christmas and New Year greetings to several former foreign heads of state and government, in particular, Robert Kocharyan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Serzh Sargsyan, Nicolas Sarkozy and Gerhard Schröder. (Kremlin.ru, 12.30.23)

 

IV. Quotable and notable

  • “Despite its military setback, Ukraine can win this war by emerging as a thriving, Western-leaning democracy. Defeating Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is not about retaking territory so much as showing the Kremlin that his invasion is a futile exercise robbing Russia of its young men and its future,” The Economist wrote in one of its Leaders articles. (The Economist, 01.04.24)
  • “Putin knows he made a mistake. But one rule of power is to never go back,” said Giuliano da Empoli, an Italian whose bestselling debut novel about Russia’s political elite, written in French, appears in English as The Wizard of the Kremlin. (FT, 01.05.24)

 

Footnotes

  1. Nearly 20,000 men have fled Ukraine since the beginning of the war to avoid being drafted, and Ukrainian police are presently investigating 9,000 cases of alleged draft-dodging.
  2. Conscription of an additional 500,000 servicemen would increase the size of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU) from more than 800,000, as estimated by the Ukrainian defense ministry, to 1,300,000. It would still be far less than that of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (AFRF) if Vladimir Putin’s Dec. 1, 2023, decree setting AFRF’s personnel strength at 2,209,130 is fully implemented.
  3. According to Matt Corda of FAS, the Hwasong-11s in Ukraine are likely the newer version, hence the range discrepancy. The newer ones can fly much further than the old ones, which are based off of Soviet-era Toksa missiles. It seems like North Korea refers to both the old and the new versions as "Hwasong-11," although the new version has a "Na" suffix attached to it, indicating that it is an "improved" version. 

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

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

Photo by National Police of Ukraine shared under a CC BY 4.0 DEED license.