Russia in Review, Dec. 22, 2022-Jan. 6, 2023

4 Things to Know

  1. Improvised or not, Putin’s plan for a Christmas ceasefire remains on paper. Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to stop fighting in Ukraine for 36 hours, starting at 09:00 GMT on Jan. 6, but fighting and shelling reportedly continued in several locations in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders were quick to dismiss the ceasefire proposal, which Putin announced on the Orthodox Christmas Eve on Jan. 5. Volodymyr Zelensky described the proposal as a ploy to win time to re-gain strength, as did Joe Biden, even though it is difficult to imagine how the Russian military could have done anything qualifying as regaining strength in 36 hours.. Whatever the real reason behind Putin’s decision to call for a ceasefire, it is interesting that the Russian autocrat ordered it after being urged to do so by his Turkish counterpart. As interesting, Putin’s order came less than three weeks after his press secretary Dmitry Peskov said, “No ... this is not on the agenda,” when asked whether the Kremlin was considering a New Year or Christmas ceasefire. This sequence raises questions about whether Putin’s ceasefire decision may have been a product of recent improvisation rather than longer-term planning.
  2. Ukraine’s deadly strike in Makiivka highlights enduring command failures on the Russian side. Having apparently detected a concentration of Russian servicemen in a building in the eastern town of Makiivka thanks to their use of cell phones, Ukrainian forces employed U.S.-made HIMARS to strike that building on Dec. 31. Kyiv estimates the strike killed more than 400, while the Russian military has admitted less than 90 KIAs. That the Russian soldiers may have used mobile phones in spite of a long-time ban meant to prevent detection by the adversary indicates their commanders’ failure to enforce even the most vital orders. Such a failure would be all the more astounding given that Russians themselves have a long history of detect-and-kill operations, including the killing of a Chechen rebel leader in 1996 and strikes on Ukrainian personnel in Donbas since 2014. Equally astounding, if true, are reports that, in addition to soldiers, the building housed ammunition, which detonated in the course of the HIMARS strike. Ex-“defense minister” of Donetsk separatists Igor Girkin (Strelkov) wrote in reference to the Dec. 31 strike that “there were quite a few such cases last year,” concluding that “our generals are basically untrainable.”
  3. The U.S., France and Germany agreed to provide the Ukrainian army with new kinds of advanced armored vehicles. The first week of January saw the U.S. and Germany pledge to send Bradley IFVs and Marder IFVs shortly after France pledged to supply AMX-10 RC “tank-killers.” The latter are wheeled, but Paris is billing them as the first Western-made tanks to be supplied to Ukraine. It is doubtful that deliveries of these vehicles would be game-changing on the strategic level, but they are nevertheless significant. They demonstrate the increasing willingness of leading Western powers to loosen the constrains on military aid to Kyiv they have kept out of concern it may prompt Russia to escalate on and off the battlefield in Ukraine.
  4. The FSB was in charge of planning the invasion of Ukraine as a Ukrainian oligarch fed Putin’s confirmation bias. Pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk played a role in reaffirming Vladimir Putin’s conviction that Ukrainians would welcome his “special military operation,” according to WSJ’s insightful reconstruction of the events preceding the (re-)invasion of Ukraine. WSJ did not specify how decisive Medvedchuk’s counsel was in forming Putin’s assessment of the costs of invasion, but there are multiple reports that its planners were so convinced it would be a walk in the park that Russian officers were told to pack their dress uniforms for Kyiv. The actual planning of the Feb. 24 invasion fell to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) more than to the Defense Ministry, with the latter kepping normal working hours in the leadup to the invasion in more indications that the Russian military-political leadership may have planned for a quick special operation rather than a protracted and bloody war. In spite of the fact that things didn’t go as planned, the FSB and its former director Nikolai Patrushev—who reportedly influenced Putin’s timing of the invasion—continue to play a key role in shaping Putin’s understanding of the war, according to WSJ.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Ukraine’s position regarding the demilitarized zone at the Zaporizhzhia NPP remains the same: Russian troops and “Rosatom” should leave the station, Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said. Ukraine must seize the Zaporizhzhia NPP from Russia by force, Petro Kotin, the president of Ukraine’s nuclear utility Energoatom said. “We do not think it is realistic,” Kotin said of the IAEA’s effort to establish a security buffer. (Bloomberg, 12.27.22, Bloomberg, 01.04.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Russia is receiving drones from Iran in batches of 200 and 300 units, according to the Ukrainian side. An Iranian state-run media source claimed on Dec. 28 that Iran will soon receive 24 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia likely in exchange for Iranian-made drones and ballistic missiles. (ISW, 01.04.23)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • The number of confirmed civilian casualties from Russia's war in Ukraine from Feb. 24 to Dec. 26, 2022, is nearing 18,000, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. (RFE/RL, 12.28.22)
  • Scores of Russian missiles were fired at Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities on Dec. 29, killing three people, in what officials described as one of the largest daily barrages of a months-long campaign targeting the country’s energy infrastructure. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, claimed 69 missiles were launched in total and of these 54 were shot down. In addition, the Ukrainian side said its air defenses intercepted all drones from two consecutive nights of Russian drone strike attacks against Ukraine on Dec. 31 to Jan. 2. (FT, 12.29.22, MT/AFP, 01.01.23, ISW, 01.02.23, WSJ, 01.03.23)
    • The Ukrainian electricity grid operator, Ukrenerho, has introduced daily limits for energy consumption across the country from 8 a.m. and 11 p.m., citing expected cold weather in the coming period. (RFE/RL, 01.06.23)
  • Ukraine’s security service is seeking to prosecute two high-ranking Russian military officials for ordering strikes on civilian targets, Col. Gen. Sergei Kobylash and Adm. Igor Osipov. (NYT, 01.05.23)
  • More than 450 people died in Bucha outside Kyiv in one month of Russian occupation, which was roughly 10% of the remaining population, a level that war crimes investigators say could amount to the crime of genocide. (NYT, 01.03.23)
  • A fact-finding mission to the notorious Russian prison camp near the town of Olenivka, where dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed in an explosion on July 29, is being disbanded, a United Nations spokesman said Jan. 5, citing a lack of necessary security guarantees. (NYT, 01.06.23)
  • Ukrainian officials are gathering pace in documenting alleged sexual crimes by Russian servicemen. “We are finding this problem of sexual violence in every place that Russia occupied,” Anna Sosonska, an investigator with the prosecutor general’s office, said. (NYT, 01.05.23)
  • Ukraine estimates its grain harvest fell by around 40% year on year due to the Russian invasion. (AFP, 12.24.22)
  • Ukraine’s GDP fell by 30.4% in 2022, the largest decline since Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. (NYT, 01.05.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law a $1.65 trillion spending bill for FY 2023 that includes $858 billion in military spending, $45 billion more than the White House had requested and up about 10% from $782 billion during the prior year. The legislation includes $45 billion in aid to help Ukraine fight against Russia's invasion. (WSJ, 12.29.22)
    • Scrutiny on U.S. support for Ukraine is set to intensify as Republicans take the reins of the House of Representatives. Republican leaders are planning more hearings featuring Biden administration officials to provide details about where and how aid is being spent and have vowed to apply more scrutiny for future requests (FT, 12.23.22)
    • A handful of Congressional lawmakers have proposed the creation of a special watchdog for Ukraine aid. (WSJ, 12.22.22)
  • Germany and the United States have agreed to send armored vehicles to Ukraine, a joint statement from the two governments said on Jan. 5 after a phone call between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Biden. The U.S. intends to supply Ukraine with Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and Germany intends to provide Marder infantry fighting vehicles, the joint statement said. Germany also will join the U.S. in supplying a Patriot air-defense battery to Ukraine. In addition, France will provide AMX-10 RC light-armored vehicles to Ukraine. The move is billed by the Élysée Palace as the first delivery of Western-made tanks to the country. (FT, 01.05.23, RFE/RL, 01.05.23, AP, 01.05.23) 
  • Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny said that during 2022, the Ukrainian military liberated 40% of the territories occupied by Russia during a full-scale invasion of territories and 28% of all territories occupied by Russia. According to Belfer Center researcher Katherine Davidson’s analysis of open sources, however, Ukraine has recaptured 54% of territory Russia controlled at some point since Feb. 24. (FT, 01.06.23, Zerkalo, 01.02.23, RM, 01.06.23)
  • Ukraine has claimed responsibility for a missile attack on a temporary military barracks in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region after the Kremlin acknowledged that scores of its soldiers had been killed at a site in the region’s town of Makiivka on Dec. 31. (RFE/RL, 01.02.23)     
    • Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed on Jan. 1 that the strike killed 400 mobilized personnel and injured 300. In contrast, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that the death toll was 89. The death toll includes a deputy regimental commander, Lt. Col. Bachurin, the ministry said. (BBC, 01.02.23, ISW, 01.02.23, MT/AFP, 01.04.23, ISW, 01.04.23)
    • Ukrainian forces used U.S.-supplied HIMARS rockets to hit the building, both sides said. (NYT, 01.02.23)
    • Donbas separatists said the strike occurred when Russian servicemen, most of whom were recently mobilized, violated operational security by using personal cell phones, allowing Ukrainian forces to conduct a precision strike at the base. Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed that version, stating that “it is already obvious that the main reason for what has happened was the turning on and massive use by personnel of mobile phones within reach of enemy weapons contrary to the ban." (MT/AFP, 01.04.23, ISW, 01.02.23)
      • The use of personal cellphones has plagued both Ukraine and especially Russia throughout the war. Ukrainian officials say that Russian-backed forces have used cellphone data to target Ukrainian soldiers since at least 2014. (NYT, 01.04.23)
    • The living quarters of the mobilized soldiers were in the same building as an ammunition depot, the detonation of which caused most of the casualties, totaling “many hundreds,” according to the Telegram channel of ex-“defense minister” of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Girkin (Strelkov). He wrote in reference to the Dec. 31 strike that “there were quite a few such cases last year,” concluding that “our generals are basically untrainable.” (RM, 01.01.23)
    • All in all, Ukraine has claimed three successful artillery attacks on Russian barracks in the first days of the year, with 1,200 casualties. The Russian military has confirmed only one, on the building in Makiivka. (NYT, 01.06.23)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces on Jan. 5 to stop fighting in Ukraine for 36 hours beginning at 09:00 GMT on Jan. 6. It would have been the first full pause since Moscow's invasion in February 2022, if honored. However, residents in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, which has been the scene of intense battles, said that the sounds of fighting continued on Jan. 6. Additionally, Ukrainian officials in the eastern city of Kramatorsk reported shelling on Jan. 6, and the Russian state news agency TASS said Ukrainian forces had shelled Donetsk "exactly at noon." (Bloomberg, 01.05.23, NYT, 01.06.23, MT/AFP, 01.06.23, RFE/RL, 01.06.23)
    • Putin’s order of the ceasefire came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had urged him to call a unilateral cease-fire in Ukraine and head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill called for a ceasefire in Ukraine over the Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 6. Putin’s order also came less than three weeks after his press secretary Dmitry Peskov said, “No ... this is not on the agenda” when asked on Dec. 14 whether the Russian authorities are considering a New Year or Christmas ceasefire or are prepared to respond to a proposal for such a ceasefire if Kyiv makes it. (Bloomberg, 01.05.23, MT/AFP, 01.05.23, RM, 01.06.23)
      • The pro-war Russian military blogger information space responded to the ceasefire announcement with vitriolic discontent. (ISW, 01.05.23)
    • "Everyone in the world knows how the Kremlin uses a lull in the war to continue the war with new strength," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Jan. 5. Russia “must leave the occupied territories—only then will it have a ‘temporary truce.’ Keep hypocrisy to yourself,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said. (FT, 01.05.23, RFE/RL, 01.06.23)
    • Asked about Putin’s call for a ceasefire, Biden said: “I found it interesting. He was ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches on the 25th and New Year’s. I think he is trying to find some oxygen.” (FT, 01.05.23)
    • German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock slammed Putin’s proposal, saying that a cease-fire "brings neither freedom nor security to people living in daily fear under Russian occupation." (RFE/RL, 01.06.23)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry is sending its new T-90M tanks to the war in Ukraine, according to Interfax. (RM, 01.05.23)
  • The first inmates recruited from Russian jails by the Wagner mercenary group have completed their six-month service in Ukraine and received their promised pardons from the Russian state. (MT/AFP, 01.05.23)
  • War planning fell to the FSB more than the military, according to a former Russian intelligence officer and a person close to the defense ministry. The ministry kept normal working hours in the weeks leading up to the invasion, with little sense of the urgency. (WSJ, 12.23.22)
  • From inside Ukraine [prior to the invasion], a Kremlin-connected businessman was telling Putin what he wanted to hear. Viktor Medvedchuk, a Russia-funded politician, had a dedicated line to reach the president. Medvedchuk assured Putin that Ukrainians saw themselves as Russian, and would welcome the invading soldiers with flowers, said two people close to the Kremlin. (WSJ, 12.23.22)
  • Putin wakes daily around 7 a.m. to a written briefing on the war, according to a former Russian intelligence officer and current and former Russian officials. Battlefield updates can take several days to reach Putin’s desk, leaving them often out of date. Frontline commanders report to the FSB, which edits reports for experts at the Security Council, who pass them to Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, who then passes the reports to Putin. (WSJ, 12.23.22)

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

  • Germany is open to using billions of euros in frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine rebuild as long as legal issues can be resolved and allies follow suit. Scholz’s government supports Ukraine’s demand for war reparations but hasn’t yet taken an official position on seizing assets from the Russian state. (Bloomberg, 01.03.23)
  • The U.S. government announced sanctions against Iranians involved in building drones that Russia has used to strike Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. The Jan. 6 actions included sanctions against six members of the board of directors of Qods Aviation Industries, the Iranian defense company that is primarily responsible for the manufacture of the drones being supplied to Russia. (NYT, 01.06.23)
  • Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the Indian foreign minister, said: “Since February, Europe has imported six times the fossil fuel energy from Russia that India has done,” Jaishankar said. “So if a $60,000-per-capita society feels it needs to look after itself, and I accept that as legitimate, they should not expect a $2,000-per-capita society to take a hit.” (NYT, 12.31.22)
  • The number of foreigners visiting Russia as part of an organized tour plummeted by more than 90% during 2022 as the country’s international isolation over its invasion of Ukraine kept most travelers away, Kommersant reported. (MT/AFP, 12.28.22)
  • The war in Ukraine and extreme weather events have driven up the cost of reinsurance by as much as 200% in crucial January renewals. (FT, 01.04.23)
  • The franchise holder of McDonald's in Kazakhstan says it has been forced to suspend operations under the brand's name due to unspecified supply chain issues. In November, the company suspended its operations, citing supply chain issues sparked by Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.05.23)
  • Some 1,271 U.S. citizens have made Moscow's "Stop List," posted online by Russia's Foreign Ministry. Washington has imposed sanctions on more than 1,300 Russians in recent years and on more than 1,000 Russian legal entities. (WP, 01.06.23)
  • Latvian authorities have arrested the editor in chief of Russia's Sputnik state news agency in Lithuania, Marat Kasem, on a charge of violating sanctions imposed on Russia. (RFE/RL, 01.05.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • Putin told Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Jan. 5 that he was open to dialog with Ukraine if Kyiv accepts the territories occupied by Moscow as Russian, the Kremlin said. Earlier, in an interview aired on Dec. 25, Putin claimed that, “It’s not we who refuse negotiations, but they.” “We are ready to negotiate with all the participants in the process about some acceptable outcomes,” he said. (MT/AFP, 01.05.23, Bloomberg, 12.25.22,, 12.25.22) 
  • “Any negotiations with the current puppet Ukrainian leadership have become absolutely meaningless,” deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council Dmitry Medvedev wrote in a Dec. 25 commentary for the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily. (RM, 12.26.22) One wonders how much Medvedev clears what he says on major foreign policy issues with Putin. His interview was published on the same day Putin’s interview was aired, in which the Russian leader said he was ready for negotiations on Ukraine with all "participants in the process," while Medvedev said "any negotiations" with Kyiv are meaningless.1
  • Zelensky said he asked for India's help in implementing a "peace formula" during a telephone call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Dec. 26. Modi also "strongly reiterated" his call for an immediate end to hostilities in Ukraine and conveyed India's support for any peace efforts. Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan calls for full withdrawal of Russian troops, restoration of pre-invasion Ukrainian borders, restoration of food security, safety around Ukrainian nuclear plants and repairing Ukrainian power infrastructure. Additionally, the plan includes the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes, price restrictions on Russian energy resources and assurances that future invasions or conflicts will not occur. (RFE/RL, 12.26.22,, 01.03.23)
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Dec. 29 rejected Zelensky's "peace formula" as a basis for talks, outlining three conditions that Moscow will not accept. "Putting forward all sorts of ideas and 'formulas of peace,' Zelensky cherishes the illusion of achieving, with the help of the West, the withdrawal of our troops from the Russian territory of Donbas, Crimea, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson region, the payment of reparations by Russia and the surrender of international tribunals and the like." (Newsweek, 12.29.22)
  • “Our proposals for the demilitarization and denazification of territories controlled by the regime, the elimination of threats to Russia's security emanating from there, including our new lands—the DPR, LPR, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions—are well known to the enemy. ... [T]hey should be implemented before it is too late. Otherwise, the issue will be decided by the Russian army,” Lavrov told TASS on Dec. 27. (RM, 12.28.22)
  • Lavrov told Russian TV in an interview that aired on Dec. 28: “This war was declared years ago after the coup in Ukraine which was orchestrated by the United States and supported by the EU, and after no one planned to act on the Minsk agreements (as we now know for sure). Angela Merkel confirmed this.” (RM, 01.04.23)
    • In an interview published in Germany's Zeit magazine on Dec. 7, Merkel said that the Minsk agreements had been an attempt to "give Ukraine time.” Responding to her comments Putin said he was "disappointed" by them. "It turns out that no one wants to fulfill all these Minsk agreements,” he said. Unfazed by Putin’s comments, Merkel then told Italian magazine Sette on Dec. 27 that “The 2014 Minsk Accords were an attempt to give Ukraine time. Ukraine used this period to become stronger, as seen today. The country of 2014/15 is not the country of today.” (RM, 01.04.23)
  • The Levada Center’s recent polling shows that the share of Russians who are concerned about the war in Ukraine increased from 80% in November to 84% in December. The share of Russians who favor peace talks over continuing the war was 50% in December, compared to 51% in November, according to Levada. (RM, 12.23.22)
  • Pope Francis has appealed for an end to the "senseless" war in Ukraine in his traditional Christmas message from St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Dec. 25. (AFP, 12.25.22)

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

  • “The West lied to us about peace while preparing for aggression, and today, they no longer hesitate to openly admit it and to cynically use Ukraine and its people as a means to weaken and divide Russia. ... Our struggle for our country, for our interests and for our future undoubtedly serves as an inspiring example for other states in their quest for a just multipolar world order,” Putin said in his New Year address. In an earlier, Dec. 25 interview, Putin blasted the West for trying to "tear apart" Russia. (, 12.31.22, MT/AFP, 12.26.22)
  • Tony Blair sought to encourage Putin to adopt Western values in the belief that the new Russian president was at heart a “Russian patriot” worthy of a seat at the international “top table,” according to newly released official files. A February 2001 memo records Blair describing Putin as a “Russian patriot” with a “similar mindset” to former French president Charles de Gaulle. Putin told the prime minister he did not want to be considered “anti-NATO,” it said, and “would not try to slow down the process of NATO enlargement.”  (FT, 12.29.22)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Putin and Xi held their annual end-of-year video call on Dec. 30.
    • Xi made a veiled reference to what he called “a complicated and quite controversial” international situation. “The road to peace talks will not be smooth, but as long as the efforts are not given up, the prospect of peace will always exist,” Xi said. “China will continue to uphold an objective and fair stance, work to bring together the international community and play a constructive role in peacefully resolving the Ukrainian crisis,” he added. (FT, 12.30.22)
    • Xi called for China and Russia to “provide each other with support for issues involving core interests.” Xi said the two sides should “closely coordinate and cooperate in international affairs” and oppose unilateralism, adding “sanctions and interference were doomed to fail.” China is ready to work with Russia and all progressive forces in the world that stand against hegemonism and power politics to jointly oppose unilateralism, protectionism and bullying, and to firmly safeguard the sovereignty, security and development interests of the two countries, as well as international equity and justice, Xi told Putin. (Xinhua, 12.30.22, FT, 12.30.22, NYT, 01.02.23, FT, 12.30.22)
    • Putin said Russia-China ties are the “best in history” and their strategic partnership is a “stabilizing factor” amid rising geopolitical tensions. Putin said Russia’s partnership with China was “gaining in significance as a stabilizing factor in conditions of rising geopolitical tensions.” (Bloomberg, 12.30.22, FT, 12.30.22)
    •  “Military and military-technical cooperation occupies a special place in our relations, in our ties,” Putin said. “It facilitates the security of our countries and supports stability in key regions.” "We are set to strengthen interaction between the armed forces," he said. He called Russia’s ties with China “a model of cooperation between major powers in the 21st century,” according to a readout by the Kremlin. He invited Xi to visit Moscow in the spring. (NYT, 01.02.23, TASS, 12.30.22, NYT, 01.02.23)
    • With Russian-Chinese trade expected to grow by 25% by the end of 2022, Putin told Xi: “At this rate, we’ll be able to reach the $200 billion target we’ve set for ourselves for 2024 ahead of schedule.” (MT/AFP, 12.30.22)
      • The United States is concerned by China's alignment with Russia, the U.S. State Department said on Dec. 30 after Putin and Xi held a video meeting. (RFE/RL, 12.30.22)
      • A column published by Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency on Dec. 29 showed how the Kremlin was lauding the partnership while trying to reduce expectations for how much support China would provide. Without providing proof, the article claimed that China was working to help Russia get around sanctions. This was happening “not as quickly or simply as Russia would like,” the article said, “but what matters is the process itself.” (NYT, 01.02.23)
  • China’s ruling Communist Party has named China’s foreign minister Wang Yi to direct the nation’s foreign policy after he was promoted to the 24-member Politburo following last year’s twice-a-decade party congress. The foreign ministry’s website on Jan. 1 posted a report by Wang, in which he wrote that China will deepen mutual trust with Russia and cement the bilateral strategic partnership. (Bloomberg, 01.01.23)
    • Prior to his departure from China’s Foreign Ministry, Wang defended what he said was his country’s position of impartiality on the war in Ukraine on Dec. 25 and signaled that China would deepen ties with Russia in the coming year. (AP, 12.25.22)
    • Wang’s replacement Qin Gang sought better Sino-U.S. ties in a phone conversation with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on New Year’s Day, according to a statement from Beijing. Qin, who served as China’s ambassador to the U.S. prior to his new job, looked forward to maintaining a close working relationship with Blinken. Blinken separately said on Twitter that the two discussed “maintaining open lines of communication.” (Bloomberg, 01.02.23)
  • The Russian Pacific Fleet's ships have arrived at the fleet's main base after participating in the Naval Interaction 2022 Russian-Chinese exercise. The Naval Interaction 2022 exercise, which took place in the East China Sea from Dec. 21 to Dec. 27, involved the Varyag missile cruiser, the Marshal Shaposhnikov frigate and two Project 20380 corvettes. (TASS, 12.28.22)
  • Russia’s Finance Ministry doubled the amount of Chinese yuan and gold it can hold in the national wealth fund. The potential share of yuan was raised to 60% of the National Wellbeing Fund and gold to 40% to make investments in the National Wellbeing fund “more flexible,” the Finance Ministry said. (Bloomberg, 12.30.22)  
  • Rosatom's TVEL fuel company has dispatched all shipments to China scheduled for 2022 in order to supply the first core loading of the CFR-600 sodium-cooled pool-type fast-neutron reactor at Xiapu in China's Fujian province. (WNN, 01.04.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • “The only thing that stops our enemies today [from starting a war against Russia] is that Russia will be guided by the Basic Principles of State Policy on Nuclear Deterrence and it will act in accordance with these principles if a real threat emerges. The trouble is that in this case, no one will be able to subsequently figure out what it was—a retaliatory strike or a preventive one,” Medvedev wrote in a Dec. 25 commentary. “Is the West ready to unleash a full-fledged war against us, including a nuclear one, with the hands of Kyiv? Western politicians avert their eyes and hesitate to give an honest answer,” he wrote. (Reuters, 12.26.22, RM, 12.26.22)
  • “New disarmament agreements are currently unrealistic and unnecessary. The sooner the maximum security guarantees that suit our country are received, the sooner the situation will normalize. If we do not receive them, the tension will persist indefinitely,” Medvedev wrote in a commentary for the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily. (RM, 12.26.22)
  • “The messages in the nuclear sphere coming from the West are very confrontational,” Lavrov told TASS on Dec. 27. “Washington has gone the furthest—there some ‘unnamed officials’ from the Pentagon actually threatened to inflict a ‘decapitation strike’ on the Kremlin, which in fact constitutes a threat to physically eliminate the head of the Russian state. If such ideas are actually hatched by someone, this someone should think very carefully about the possible consequences of such plans,” Lavrov said. (RM, 12.28.22)
    • Newsweek quoted “military sources” on Sept. 29 as saying that non-nuclear options for a U.S. response to a Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine can include a “decapitation strike to kill Putin in the heart of the Kremlin.” A Sept. 30 follow-up piece in Newsweek specified that this option was suggested by a Pentagon officer. (RM, 12.28.22)
  • When asked to comment on Henry Kissinger’s December commentary for the Spectator,  Lavrov told Russian TV in an interview that aired on Dec. 28: “Surprisingly, no one paid attention to the line that said, ‘As the world’s leaders strive to end a war in which two nuclear powers contest a conventionally armed country.’ ... [T]his is a candid statement about who is fighting against whom. We are at war with the collective West led by the United States, which is a nuclear power.” (RM, 01.05.23)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Foreign ministers from Russia and Turkey discussed holding another three-way Turkey-Syria-Russia ministers' meeting in a phone call on Dec. 31. The meeting could take place in the second half of January. (RFE/RL, 01.02.23)     

Cyber security:

  • Ukraine has achieved a cut-price version of what the Pentagon has spent decades and billions of dollars striving to accomplish: digitally networked fighters, intelligence and weapons. Kyiv's improvised web of drones, fighters and weapons, linked through satellite communications and custom software, is giving its soldiers a level of intelligence, coordination and accuracy that has allowed the initially outnumbered and outgunned forces to run circles around Russia’s massive but lumbering armies. (WSJ, 01.03.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia has hit back at the G-7’s attempts to cap gains from the country’s oil revenues, after Putin signed a decree banning sales under contracts that comply with the $60 price ceiling imposed by Ukraine’s Western allies. However, the decree says Putin “may grant special permission” to sell oil and oil products in certain circumstances even if purchasers comply with the cap—a wording that potentially paves the way for Russia to continue to sell crude to producers in markets such as India and China. (FT, 12.27.22)
  • Western insurers have been underwriting Russian crude shipments to India, China and Turkey throughout December, in a sign that Putin has yet to keep his promise to block oil sales under the G-7-imposed price cap. About a quarter of Russian seaborne crude shipments since Dec. 5, when restrictions started, were insured by Western companies. (FT, 12.28.22) 
  • Russia's crude shipments slid to the lowest for 2022 in the final four weeks of the year as sanctions crimped Moscow’s exports. Russia’s overall seaborne flows fell by 117,000 barrels a day to 2.615 million barrels on a four-week average basis. (Bloomberg, 01.03.23)
  • Russia will allow “unfriendly” countries to pay debt settlements for natural-gas supplies in a foreign currency, according to changes made by Putin to an earlier decree The document, published on Dec. 30 on the Russian government’s website of legal information, says Russian natural-gas suppliers can make settlements with buyers from “unfriendly” countries in the foreign currency specified in the contract. (RFE/RL, 01.02.23)     
  • Gazprom’s exports to its key foreign markets almost halved in 2022—reaching the lowest since at least the start of the century—as flows to Europe were slashed following the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian gas giant sent 100.9 billion cubic meters of fuel to countries outside the former Soviet Union this year, CEO Alexey Miller said Dec. 28. That’s a 46% drop from 2021. (Bloomberg, 12.28.22)

Climate change:

  • Temperatures in the German capital reached 16C (60.8F) on New Year’s Day, a January record, national forecaster Deutscher Wetterdienst said on Twitter. In Poland’s biggest city, the mercury surpassed the previous peak by more than 5 degrees. The Czech Republic registered its warmest ever New Year’s Eve. (Bloomberg, 01.03.23)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia is planning to wrest more money from some commodity producers and state companies and trim non-defense spending, as the costs of the invasion of Ukraine mount. Proposals include higher dividends from state companies and a “one-time payment” by fertilizer and coal producers. A government order calls the effort part of “revenue mobilization.” It also orders 175 billion rubles ($2.4 billion) in extra spending to resettle 100,000 people from Kherson to Russia. (Bloomberg, 01.06.23)
  • Putin signed a decree on Dec. 29 lifting the requirement for government officials to disclose their income tax returns for the duration of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 12.30.22)
  • Putin said in his televised New Year's address Dec. 31 that "moral, historical rightness" is on Russia's side as his country faces international condemnation for its offensive in Ukraine. Putin delivered the address standing among soldiers who had apparently fought in Ukraine. According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin recorded his New Year's speech from the headquarters of Russia's southern military district, where he was on a visit earlier on Dec. 31 and presented medals. (MT/AFP, 12.31.22)  
    •  Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Dec. 31 that Russia's victory in Ukraine is "inevitable" in a New Year's message to servicemen, as Moscow's military campaign grinds through its 11th month. (MT/AFP, 12.31.22)
  • A new gulf is emerging between Putin and much of the country's elite, according to interviews with Russian business leaders, officials and analysts. Putin "feels the loss of his friends," said one Russian state official with close ties to diplomatic circles, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. "There is huge frustration among the people around him," said one Russian billionaire who maintains contacts with top-ranking officials. "He clearly doesn't know what to do." (WP, 12.30.22)
  • Leaked files seen by the Guardian suggest 10 secretive offshore trusts established to benefit Roman Abramovich were rapidly reorganized in early February 2022, three weeks before the start of Putin’s war in Ukraine. (The Guardian, 01.06.23)
  • Some 12% of Russians polled by Levada hope 2023 will be better than 2022. Also, some 53% of the respondents believe 2022 was more difficult for them and their families than 2021. (RM, 12.26.22)
  • Medvedev on Dec. 28 proposed designating Russians who left the country in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine "enemies of society" and suggested they be banned from returning to Russia "for the rest of their lives." (MT/AFP, 12.28.22)
  • Russia detained at least 20,467 people for political reasons in 2022, according to end-of-year statistics published last week by OVD-Info, one of Russia’s leading independent human rights watchdogs. (MT/AFP, 12.28.22)
  • The Russian government has granted its media regulator the authority to block websites containing “LGBT propaganda” without a court order, according to a decree published Dec. 26. (MT/AFP, 12.27.22)
  • Russia's Investigative Committee has asked a Moscow court to issue an arrest warrant for Pyotr Verzilov, the publisher of the independent media website Mediazona, for allegedly hiding his dual citizenship. (RFE/RL, 12.30.22)
  • Ruslan Khasbulatov, a Russian politician whose dramatic standoff with then-President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 led to the deadly shelling of the parliament building in Moscow, an event that transformed post-Soviet Russia's political trajectory, has died at the age of 80, according to Russian state television. (RFE/RL, 01.04.23)
  • Prominent Soviet-era Russian dissident Viktor Fainberg has died at the age of 91, his children said on Jan. 3. Fainberg was among eight dissidents who protested in Moscow in August 1968 against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. (RFE/RL, 01.04.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia's latest nuclear-powered strategic submarines Generalissimo Suvorov and Emperor Alexander III were commissioned and launched, respectively, on Dec. 29. (Xinhua, 12.29.22)
  • Putin sent a frigate to the Atlantic Ocean reportedly armed with new Zirkon generation hypersonic cruise missiles on Jan. 4. However, doubts persist about whether Russia can actually deploy the vaunted technology. (Reuters, 01.04.23, NYT, 01.04.23)
  • See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A Moscow court sentenced former Russian senator Rauf Arashukov and his father Raul Arashukov to life in prison for ordering the contract killing of two men in the North Caucasus republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia over a decade ago, court authorities said. (MT/AFP, 12.28.22)
  • The Russian Interior Ministry has put a "wanted" notice out on six purported members of the Wagner mercenary group who may have escaped from a training camp in an occupied region of Ukraine over a week ago. (RFE/RL, 01.02.23)     
  • Pavel Antov, a 65-year-old regional lawmaker from western Russia who owned a sausage-making company, died Christmas Eve after falling from the roof of the three-story Hotel Sai International in the Indian state of Odisha, according to local police officials. His death came two days after Vladimir Bydanov, 61, with whom he had been sharing a room, succumbed to a heart attack, and months after the politician was in the media spotlight for a quickly retracted WhatsApp post deemed critical of Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine. (WSJ, 12.29.22)
  • Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee says its officers and counterparts from Russia's Federal Security Service have apprehended 18 alleged members of a criminal group in Baikonur. (RFE/RL, 01.04.23)
  • Police in Amsterdam said on Jan. 6 that they had identified a torso found wrapped in blue plastic in the IJ river in 2013 as belonging to missing Russian art dealer Alexander Levin. Levin was a wealthy businessman who dealt in icons. (Reuters, 01.06.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • In early March, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine entered its third week, a Russian diplomat nearly 3,000 miles away in the Central African Republic paid an unusual visit to the head of this country's top court. His message was blunt: The country's pro-Kremlin president must remain in office, indefinitely. To do this, the diplomat, Yevgeny Migunov, the second secretary at the Russian Embassy, argued that the court should abolish the constitutional restriction limiting a president to two terms. He insisted that President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who is in his second term and surrounds himself with Russian mercenaries, should stay on, for the good of the country. (NYT, 12.24.22)
  • Russians’ foreign-currency deposits in overseas banks surged the most in at least four years last quarter, according to the central bank. Deposits of Russian households in foreign banks increased by 1.5 trillion rubles ($21 billion) compared with 551 billion rubles in the second quarter, data published on the Bank of Russia website Dec. 30 show. That’s a record for the figures, which go back to the beginning of 2018. At the same time, deposit accounts in domestic banks both in local and foreign currencies shrank by 1.3 trillion rubles in total. (Bloomberg, 12.30.22)
  • Prosecutors in Poland have charged two men, a Belarusian and a Russian, with spying for Russia's military intelligence, a spokeswoman of the Polish Prosecutor-General’s Office said on Jan. 4. (RFE/RL, 01.04.23)
  • Russia’s Interior Ministry placed Christo Grozev, the lead Russia journalist with the open-source investigative journalism group Bellingcat, on its wanted list on Dec. 26. In keeping with previous wanted lists, the ministry did not specify which criminal offense Grozev was suspected of. (MT, 12.26.22)


  • Since Ukraine declared martial law and implemented a general mobilization in response to Russia's invasion, more than 12,000 men have tried to leave Ukraine illegally, and 15 of them have died, the State Border Service reported on Dec. 30. (RFE/RL, 12.30.22)
  • Ukraine has made a major misstep on reforming its all-important Constitutional Court. On Dec. 13, Ukraine’s parliament voted on a law that establishes an advisory group of three government officials and three independent experts with the same number of votes during the selection of judges. They would choose candidates by a simple majority vote. The decision of the group is also not final, making it possible for candidates who did not pass the evaluation to still run for Constitutional Court seats. When asked why Zelensky had now signed such a controversial law, Mykhailo Zhernakov, chairman of the board of the Dejure Foundation, a nongovernmental organization focusing on legal reform, said that while the Ukrainian government has been doing a lot to bring Ukraine closer to the EU, there are still people in the president’s office resisting change. (Politico, 12.26.22)
  • A French court has postponed to Jan. 19 a hearing on whether to extradite Ukrainian billionaire Kostyantyn Zhevago to his home country. The businessman, who controls London-listed iron-pellet producer Ferrexpo, is one of Ukraine's richest men. He was arrested and detained in France in late December at Ukraine's request. (Reuters, 01.05.23)
  • On Dec. 19, the administration of Ukraine’s Dnipro region signed a road maintenance contract worth 16.5 million hryvnia ($445,000) with Budinvest Engineering. Ninety-eight percent of the company is now owned by Pavlo Chukhno, the vice president of Prometey, the professional basketball team that he co-founded with Volodymyr Dubinskiy, the Dnipro businessman wanted, along with his older brother, Leonid Dubinskiy, by the FBI, according to RFE. An arrest warrant was issued in 2012 for the two. (Yahoo News, 12.27.22, Nashi Groshi, 12.27.22, RFE/RL, 01.03.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Efforts to get the United Nations Security Council to issue a joint statement on the ongoing de facto blockade of the Armenian population of Karabakh have failed. (RFE/RL, 12.25.22, Eurasianet, 01.04.23)
  • In Turkmenistan, the authorities are set to unveil a newly built $1.5 billion city, a project that officials claim “reflects the rapid socioeconomic development” in the Central Asian nation. (RFE/RL, 12.26.22)
  • Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has reshuffled the government, the presidential administration said on Jan. 4. According to the administration, the minister of industry and infrastructure; the minister of ecology, geology, and natural resources; the minister of culture and sports; and the justice minister have been replaced. (RFE/RL. 01.04.23)
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping called on his visiting Turkmenistan counterpart Serdar Berdymukhamedov to ramp up cooperation on energy, especially natural gas. (TVP World, 01.06.23)
  • Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko, has signed a law that allows the confiscation of property from citizens and companies for "unfriendly actions against Belarus." (RFE/RL, 01.06.23)
  • The trial in absentia of Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and several of her allies will open in the Minsk City Court on Jan. 17, the country’s Supreme Court announced on Jan. 3. (RFE/RL, 01.04.23)


IV. Quotable and notable

  • “For many years, the United States did not stand by us, but Moscow has,” Amitabh Kant, who is responsible for India’s presidency of the G-20 that began this month, said in an interview. New Delhi has enough rivals, he said: “Try, on top of China and Pakistan, putting Russia against you!” (NYT, 12.31.22)
  • “Ukrainian ties in Hungary’s thinking have always been subordinated to Russian ties,” said Russia expert András Rácz at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “This year they were subordinated to EU bargaining as well. Hungary was ready to ditch Ukraine aid in the absence of an EU deal.” (FT, 01.01.23)     



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