Russia in Review, Feb. 10-17, 2023

4 Things to Know

  1. U.S. officials are telling Ukrainian leaders that they are facing a critical moment to change the trajectory of the war, raising the pressure on Kyiv to make significant gains on the battlefield while aid from the West is flowing, WP reported. “We can’t do anything and everything forever,” one senior administration official said, warning that it will be hard to keep getting the same level of assistance from Congress. U.S. military planners believe Ukrainian forces cannot both defend Bakhmut and launch a counteroffensive to retake more critical territory, but Zelensky wants to fight for Bakhmut “as long as we can,” according to WP. It would be “very, very difficult” for a Ukrainian counteroffensive to “kick the Russians out of every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine” this year, in the view of Mark Milley.
  2. Top Western officials appear to disagree on if the major Russian offensive has started. NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg says “we’re seeing the start already.” Volodymyr Zelensky also believes the Russian offensive has begun. According to U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, however, “there is no evidence to date of a great, big Russian offensive.” At this pace, Russia forces won’t seize Bakhmut until April and it would take them “a year and a half to two years” for Russia to take the rest of Donbas, PMC Wagner’s Yevgeny Prigozhin estimates.
  3. Inspectors general from the U.S. Defense Department, State Department and USAID want to deploy auditors directly into the war zone to monitor U.S. assistance to Ukraine. The officials said they had thus far received no reports of major fraud or illegality involving U.S. assistance to Kyiv, but still want to put some of the 177 auditors and investigators scrutinizing Ukraine aid on the ground in Ukraine, WSJ reported. "Any fraud, waste, abuse that would divert that funding from its intended purpose risks jeopardizing the continued flow of that assistance," Diana Shaw, deputy inspector general at the State Department, told WSJ.
  4. The EU is to hit Russia with a 10th package of sanctions worth €11 billion ($11.7 billion) on Feb. 24, according to FT and Bloomberg. The measures will include extensive trade restrictions on technologies, components, heavy vehicles and electronics that could be used by the Russian military, as well as on rare-earths. The EU is also looking to sanction dozens of individuals, including politicians and commanders, and is planning to penalize Alfa Bank, Rosbank, Tinkoff Bank and the National Wealth Fund. The new package will also try to bolster efforts to block those attempting to circumvent EU sanctions by banning firms from selling key exports and technologies to third countries that then supply them to Russia, according to Bloomberg. Sanctions against Russia's nuclear sector have been omitted from the package, according to Politico.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Moscow’s renewed assault on Ukraine’s infrastructure directly or indirectly disrupted operations at all four of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, IAEA said on Feb. 10. (NYT, 02.10.23)
  • Russia alleged on Feb. 14 that Ukraine is planning a "provocation" linked to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant involving the United States and European countries. Moscow said Kyiv was looking to accuse Russia of violating the Convention on Nuclear Safety by claiming people living in the north and northwest of Kyiv had been exposed to high levels of radiation. (Newsweek, 02.15.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • On Feb. 10 the White House announced it will continue to waive sanctions on Russian and Chinese businesses assisting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. (Mosaic, 02.14.23) 
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with visiting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Feb. 14. Talking about JCPOA, Xi said China will continue to take a constructive part in the negotiations on resuming the nuclear deal. Raisi invited Xi to come to Iran and the Chinese leader accepted the invitation. (TASS, 02.17.23, Xinhua, 02.14.23)
  • WSJ reports that U.S. officials are considering a plan to send a shipment of Iranian-supplied weapons seized by the U.S. Navy to Ukraine. The weapons seized from smugglers off the Yemen coast in recent months included more than 5,000 assault rifles, 1.6 million rounds of small-arms ammunition and a small number of antitank missiles. (WSJ, 02.15.23)
  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told lawmakers on Feb. 15 that the proposed punitive measures would target those linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. She said the sanctions would include new trade bans and technology export controls, including on drones, missiles and helicopters. (Reuters, 02.15.23)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • Russia has placed least 6,000 Ukrainian children in camps where they’re subjected to Russian propaganda and forcible adoption by Russian families, with some even undergoing military training, a U.S. government-backed report from Yale University found. (Bloomberg, 02.14.23)
    • Putin praised the transfer of children from four occupied regions of Ukraine into Russian families, after publication of the Yale report. (Bloomberg, 02.16.23)
    • Putin's commissioner for the protection of children's rights informed the Russian leader during a meeting on Feb. 16 that she had recently adopted a 15-year-old child from Mariupol. (MT/AFP, 02.16.23)
  • As Russia’s war on Ukraine approaches its first anniversary, the U.N. appealed to international donors on Feb. 15 for $5.6 billion to aid millions of people whose lives have been devastated by the invasion. (NYT, 02.15.23)
  • Ukraine and Russia exchanged prisoners of war on Feb. 16. The newly freed Ukrainians included 100 soldiers and one civilian, including 63 Ukrainian soldiers who had made the last stand at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Russia’s Defense Ministry also said that it had secured the release of 101 soldiers. (NYT, 02.16.23)
  • A Times analysis suggests that an intentional strike, not an indiscriminate attack, most likely killed American paramedic Pete Reed in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on Feb. 2. (NYT, 02.14.23)
  • The U.N. said Feb. 15 that $5.6 billion was needed to provide humanitarian aid in Ukraine and to the millions who have fled the war-ravaged country. (AFP, 02.15.23)
  • The IMF started talks Feb. 13 with Ukrainian officials as the fund weighs a multiyear aid package worth as much as $16 billion to provide a catalyst for more financial assistance.  (Bloomberg, 02.14.23)
  • About 73% of Latin Americans polled by Ipsos last year “claim that their country cannot afford to lend financial support to Ukraine, given the current economic crisis”, said Jean-Christophe Salles, Latin America chief executive of the pollster.” (FT, 02.15.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:      

  • When Russia’s long-expected spring offensive begins, there will be no proverbial whistle to mark the moment Russian troops attack and go “over the top.” “The Russian offensive is not going to be like the Somme . . . It will happen in different ways, on different parts of the front line and at different times,” a senior Western defense official said. (FT, 02.15.23, WSJ, 02.15.23)
    • "I think the reality [is] that we're seeing the start already," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Feb. 13, saying that Russia had brought huge amounts of manpower to the fight. "We see how they are sending in more troops, more weapons, more capabilities, to try to pressure the Ukrainians." (WSJ, 02.14.23)
    • “There is no evidence to date of a great, big Russian offensive,” Wallace said Feb. 17. “What we have seen is an advance on all fronts, but at the expense of thousands of lives . . . We should actually question the assertion that they [the Russians] can go on.” (FT, 02.17.23)
    • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said a predicted spring offensive had already begun. "Russian attacks are already happening from several directions," he said. (BBC, 02.17.23)
  • Ukrainian Telegram channel reported on Feb. 17 that Russian forces managed to seize Hryanykivka in the Kharkiv region. The OSINT channel also acknowledged the presence of Russian forces in the Donetsk region’s Paraskoviivka, which PMC Wagner reportedly claimed on Feb. 17 to have taken. At the same time, Ukrainian forces continued to repel Russian attempts to advance in in the Donetsk region’s Bakhmut, Krasnohorivka and  Mar'inka, according to the OSINT channel. (RM, 02.17.23)
  • “To take Bakhmut, you need to cut all the means of supply—it’s still a big task,” Yevgeny Prigozhin told Russian military bloggers on Feb. 16. He said that the city was unlikely to be captured before March or April, and said it would take “a year and a half to two years” for Russia to take the Donbas. (FT, 02.15.23, NYT, 02.17.23)
  • U.S. officials are telling Ukrainian leaders that they are facing a critical moment to change the trajectory of the war, raising the pressure on Kyiv to make significant gains on the battlefield while aid from the West is flowing, WP reported. “We can’t do anything and everything forever,” one senior administration official said, warning that it will be hard to keep getting the same level of assistance from Congress. U.S. military planners believe Ukrainian forces cannot both defend Bakhmut and launch a counteroffensive to retake more critical territory, but Zelensky wants to fight for Bakhmut “as long as we can,” according to WP. (WP/RM, 02.13.23) 
  • “It will be almost impossible for the Russians to achieve their political objectives by military means. It is unlikely that Russia is going to overrun Ukraine. It’s just not going to happen,” Milley said. “It is also very, very difficult for Ukraine this year to kick the Russians out of every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” he added. “It’s not to say that it can’t happen . . . But it’s extraordinarily difficult. And it would require essentially the collapse of the Russian military.” (FT, 02.16.23)
  • U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said the United States considers that Crimea should be demilitarized at a minimum and that Washington supports Ukrainian attacks on military targets on the peninsula. In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Feb. 17 accused the United States of inciting Ukraine to escalate the war by condoning attacks on Crimea. (Reuters, 02.17.23)
  • “I think there’s more of a consensus out there that people realize that Ukraine is not going to militarily retake Crimea,” U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. (Politico, 02.17.23)
  • One change in the war may be an increased role for Russia’s air force. As much as 80% is thought to still be in good condition and Western intelligence believes Russia is preparing to throw these jets and helicopters into the war. (FT, 02.15.23)
  • The U.K.’s Wallace told the BBC on Feb. 15 that “97% of the Russian army” is in Ukraine, though he did not elaborate or offer evidence for the claim. U.S. military officials estimate that about 80% of Russia’s ground forces are dedicated to the war effort. (NYT, 02.15.23)
  • Ukraine said Russia was ready to launch a new mobilization but was struggling to integrate troops it had already drafted and was waiting to gauge the success of a stepped-up offensive ahead of the first anniversary of its invasion later this month. (WSJ, 02.11.23)

Ukraine’s air defenses downed less than half the 36 Russian missiles fired overnight on Feb. 16. Moscow has begun launching aerial objects with the intention of tricking Ukraine’s air defenses into firing surface-to-air missiles and exhausting valuable supplies, according to Kyiv. (FT, 02.15.23, Bloomberg, 02.16.23)

  • According to the British Defense Ministry, there have been between 175,000 and 200,000 Russian casualties in the last year, including between 40,000 and 60,000 deaths. A defense intelligence update from the British Defense Ministry says that over the past two weeks, Russia has likely suffered its highest rate of casualties since the first week of the invasion of Ukraine: 824 casualties per day. (Guardian, 02.12.23, Huffington Post, 02.17.23)
  • Two of Russia’s most elite brigades—the 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Brigades—have been decimated in Vuhledar, Col. Oleksii Dmytrashkivskyi, a spokesman for Ukrainian military forces in the area, said. In one week alone in the Vuhledar clash, the Ukrainian General Staff estimates that Russia lost at least 130 armored vehicles, including 36 tanks. (NYT, 02.15.23, MT/AFP, 02.14.23)
    • The Grey Zone, a Telegram channel affiliated with Wagner, has been scathing about the Russian military’s efforts in Vuhledar, and called for Russian commanders responsible for the losses to be held accountable in public trials. “Impunity always breeds permissiveness,” a recent post said. (NYT, 02.15.23)
  • A cemetery in the town of Bakinskaya near the Black Sea is the final resting place for many Wagner fighters killed in Ukraine. “Since November, the number of deaths has increased dramatically,” antiwar activist Vitaly Wotanovsky said. In the past he had counted around four burials a day at the cemetery, he said, but noted that on one recent day there were 11. (NYT, 02.15.23)
    • "Russia continues to pour large numbers of additional people into the fight," U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at NATO headquarters in Brussels Feb. 15. “That’s their [Russians’] strength—they have a lot of people,” Austin said. (Bloomberg, 02.15.23, WSJ, 02.15.23)
  • Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said in a statement that “losses amount to up to 80% of personnel” in some Russian army and Wagner paramilitary group units. (NYT, 02.16.23)
  • Russia "has probably lost half of its main battle tank stock in combat and through Ukrainian capture," U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander said. (MT/AFP, 02.13.23)
  • Almost a year of war has “significantly” changed Russia’s inventory, with losses of around 50% of its T-72 tanks, IISS said. Its assessment said the Russian army has lost nearly 40% of its broader prewar fleet of tanks, including models older and more modern than the T-72, with the fog of war making it difficult to determine figures beyond estimates. (WP, 02.16.23)
  • There is a Ukrainian military unit named Free Russia Legion made up entirely of Russians. They have taken up arms against Russia for a variety of reasons: a sense of moral outrage at their country’s invasion, a desire to defend their adopted homeland of Ukraine or because of a visceral dislike of Putin. (NYT, 02.12.23)
  • Inspectors general from the Pentagon, State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development said they would press to deploy auditors and investigators directly into the war zone to beef up monitoring as the scale and scope of American assistance expands. Following a trip by the trio to Kyiv in late January, they said they would press to put some of the 177 auditors and investigators scrutinizing Ukraine aid on the ground in Ukraine. (WSJ, 02.17.23)
    • "It's an incredibly large amount of assistance to flow to a single government or to a single purpose" in a "very short time," said Diana Shaw, deputy inspector general at the State Department. "Any fraud, waste, abuse that would divert that funding from its intended purpose risks jeopardizing the continued flow of that assistance." (WSJ, 02.17.23) 
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov discussed "priorities," including air defense and artillery on Feb. 11, and Ukraine’s Valeriy Zaluzhnyi spoke with Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. In 2022, Congress appropriated more than $113 billion in assistance to Ukraine, according to government documents. (WSJ, 02.17.23. Bloomberg, 02.11.23, Reuters, 02.12.23) 
  • At the ninth Contact meeting for the Defense of Ukraine in Brussels, the Western partners of Ukraine confirmed that Ukraine would receive more air defense systems, tanks, artillery and shells, as well as more training for its military. (Yahoo, 02.14.23)
  • The Biden administration is working with Congress to approve another $10 billion in direct budget assistance to Kyiv and is expected to announce another large military assistance package in the next week and the imposition of more sanctions on the Kremlin around the same time. (WP, 02.13.23)
  • The Pentagon is reviewing its weapons stockpiles and may need to boost military spending after seeing how quickly ammunition has been used during the war in Ukraine, Milley said. Any review may result in an increase in the military’s $817 billion annual budget. (FT, 02.16.23)
  • The U.S. Army has announced the award of contracts worth $522 million to U.S. companies to manufacture artillery ammunition for Ukraine. (AFP, 02.15.23)
  • Western countries are hoping to reduce Kyiv's firing rate by improving Ukrainian tactics and coordination through training, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. (WSJ, 02.15.23)
  • Ukraine will inevitably have to switch away from Soviet-era equipment for which there are few and finite sources of ammunition and spare parts. A senior artillery officer said that Ukraine’s armed forces were now firing more NATO-standard 155mm shells than 152mm Soviet-standard munitions, a tipping point in Ukraine’s transition to Western-standard kit. (FT, 02.13.23)
  • “Everyone likes to talk about fighter jets and tanks. They’re certainly the trendiest things to discuss,” said one Western defense official involved in discussions on supplying Ukraine, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But in the short term, Ukraine’s success on the battlefield boils down to one question: Does it have enough artillery rounds to keep the Russians at bay?” (FP, 02.15.23)
  • Britain’s defense minister Ben Wallace cautioned that the provision of Western fighter jets to Ukraine was still a long way off and that the modern fighter jet training the U.K. had offered to Ukrainian pilots was a “long-term resilience measure for after the war, when Ukraine needs to defend itself.” (FT, 02.17.23)
  • “We will soon be able to deliver 40 Marders to Ukraine, at the end of March,” Boris Pistorius, Germany's new defense minister, said. Pistorius has voiced his frustration with European partners who spent months pressuring Berlin to supply tanks to Ukraine but have so far failed to deliver any of the heavy armor themselves. So far, apart from Germany, only Poland has approved substantial deliveries. (FT, 02.14.23, WP, 02.16.23)
    • Despite promises of a huge boost in defense spending in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Germany's armed forces are in a worse place than a year ago, Pistorius said. "Given the rate at which materiel and weapons and ammunition are being provided, it's impossible to reorder and deliver again," Pistorius said. (WP, 02.16.23)
    • Chancellor Olaf Scholz has admonished Germany’s allies for failing to deliver tanks to Ukraine after having spent months urging Berlin to do so. In his address at The Munich Security Conference, Scholz urged “all those who can supply main battle tanks to really do so.” (FT, 02.17.23)
  • U.S. President Joe Biden and Scholz will discuss efforts to bolster support for Ukraine and mark the one-year point of Russia’s invasion at a White House visit on March 3. (Bloomberg, 02.16.23)
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda has ruled out the possibility of his country delivering fighter jets to Ukraine without first agreeing the move with allies, as the question divides backers of Kyiv. (dpa, 02.11.23)
  • U.K. defense companies are in talks with officials in Kyiv about setting up joint ventures in Ukraine to produce arms and vehicles. (CNN, 02.12.23)
  • After Elon Musk's SpaceX said it would limit its Starlink internet service in Ukraine to prevent offensive military use, Ukrainian soldiers said it was working largely as usual for front-line communications, but that some units reported issues with terminals attached to strike drones. (WSJ, 02.11.23)
  • Israel will help Ukraine develop an early warning missile detection system and provide up to $200 million for healthcare and other civilian projects, Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen said during a visit to Kyiv on Feb. 16. Meanwhile, Israel’s embassy in Kyiv was resuming full operations. (Bloomberg, 02.16.23, NYT, 02.16.23)
  • A survey, released on Feb. 15 by the Associated Press, showed 48% of those interviewed supporting the Unites States providing weapons to Kyiv, with 29% opposed and 22% having no opinion. That’s down from 60% support in a survey taken last May. Other recently published polls have also showed slipping support among Americans. (AP, 02.15.23)
  • Zelensky’s embattled defense chief appointed three deputies as part of a shakeup aimed at quelling accusations over corruption in the top echelons of the government. Reznikov, who earlier this month confronted speculation that he would be removed from his post, is taking to damage control after officials under him were swept up in a probe looking into procurement violations and skimming funds. (Bloomberg, 02.14.23)
  • Zelensky dismissed Ruslan Dziuba as deputy commander of the National Guard, his office said, without giving a reason. (RFE/RL, 02.12.23)

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

  • The EU is to hit Russia with a 10th package of sanctions worth €11 billion ($11.7 billion) on Feb. 24, according to FT and Bloomberg. The measures will include extensive trade restrictions on technologies, components, heavy vehicles and electronics that could be used by the Russian military, as well as on rare-earths. The EU is also looking to sanction dozens of individuals, including politicians and commanders, and is planning to penalize Alfa Bank, Rosbank, Tinkoff Bank, the National Wealth Fund and a Russian reinsurer of ships exporting Russian oil. The new package will also try to bolster efforts to block those attempting to circumvent EU sanctions by banning firms from selling key exports and technologies to third countries that then supply them to Russia, according to Bloomberg. (RM, 02.17.23) 
  • The European Commission has abandoned plans to sanction Russia's nuclear sector, which includes Rosatom, or its representatives, in its next sanctions package, three diplomats said. (Politico, 02.16.23)
  • One of the contentious points EU countries were yet to agree upon as of this week is whether to ban imports of synthetic rubber from Russia, according to Politico. (RM, 02.17.23)
  • The EU is poised to force banks to report information on Russian Central Bank assets as part of the bloc’s latest sanctions package targeting Moscow for its war in Ukraine, according to draft proposals seen by Bloomberg. (Bloomberg, 02.15.23)
  • The EU added Russia to its tax haven blacklist on Feb. 14. (MT/AFP, 02.14.23)
  • European airlines forced to take longer routes to Asia to avoid Russia will struggle to compete with Chinese rivals, the chief executive of Air France-KLM has warned. Both Brussels and Moscow have imposed restrictions on European airlines, but Chinese carriers can still fly over Russia and take shorter routes to Europe. (FT, 02.17.23)
  • Switzerland said confiscating frozen Russian assets and providing them for the reconstruction of Ukraine would go against the constitution, in a move likely to be welcomed by the country’s banks. (Bloomberg, 02.15.23)
  • Credit Suisse said it froze over $19 billion in Russian money following the implementation of Western sanctions. (SonntagsZeitung, 02.12.23)
  • The U.S. Treasury Department will focus in the coming months on cracking down on facilitators and third-country providers helping Russia evade Western sanctions, U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said. (Reuters, 02.11.23)
  • The United States will impose sanctions on five current and former Bulgarian officials, including former finance and energy ministers, accusing them of corruption that undermined the country’s democracy and helped keep it dependent on Russian energy. (NYT, 02.10.23)
  • A group of U.S. senators said on Feb. 15 that they would try again to pass legislation that would require the State Department to designate the Russian mercenary company Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization. (RFE/RL, 02.16.23)
  • Russian online streaming services will lose access to Disney’s library of films when their current contract with the U.S. entertainment firm expires in March. (Vedomosti, 02.12.23)
  • Weeks after Moscow invaded Ukraine, tech giant Cisco Systems Inc. stopped all sales of its hardware into Russia,. As the war approaches its first anniversary, that same gear is still easy to find at a range of retailers in Moscow. It is being supplied by a network of third-party vendors. (WSJ, 02.15.23)
  • German gas importer Uniper, one of the biggest corporate casualties of the war in Ukraine, has taken a €4 billion hit on its Russian subsidiary after losing control over the company. (FT, 02.17.23)
  • A Russian government commission has approved the sale of Swedish furniture maker IKEA's three factories in Russia to two local buyers, paving the way for a deal to be struck. (Reuters, 02.16.23)
  • Heineken aims to sell its Russian business, which employs 1,800 people, in the first half of 2023. (FT, 02.26.23)
  • Viagra’s brand owner has suspended deliveries of the erectile dysfunction pill to Russia, the country’s Industry and Trade Ministry said Feb. 15. (MT/AFP, 02.15.23)
  • The billionaire shareholders of one of Europe’s largest construction companies are set to test the extent of Russian sanctions in an Austrian court case. Businessman Oleg Deripaska is challenging a decision put forward by Strabag SE co-owner Hans Peter Haselsteiner to remove his delegate from the supervisory board last year. (Bloomberg, 02.15.23)
  • More than 300 assets linked to Deripaska and Rusal have been transferred to the Ukrainian state, Ukraine’s Justice Ministry said in a statement, citing a decision by the top anti-corruption court on Feb. 16. The Mykolayiv alumina refinery has been offline since early March 2022, after Russia bombed the southern city. (Bloomberg, 02.17.23)
  • Russian lawmakers on Feb. 16 supported the country's withdrawal from 21 conventions of the Council of Europe, in accordance with Moscow's decision last March to leave the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog. (TASS, 02.16.23)
  • Lawmakers in Slovakia have designated Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism and called its current regime terrorist. (RFE/RL, 02.16.23)
  • In a tit-for-tat move, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Austrian Ambassador Werner Almhofer on Feb. 16 and informed him that four diplomats at the Austrian Embassy in Moscow were declared as persona non grata and must leave the country before Feb. 23. (RFE/RL, 02.16.23)
  • Estonian authorities said on Feb. 15 that they had canceled the residence permit of pro-Kremlin activist Sergei Chaulin and deported him to Russia. (RFE/RL, 02.15.23)
  • The Kremlin will not invite reporters from countries that Russia has deemed “unfriendly” to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly on Feb. 21. (RFE/RL, 02.15.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • When asked if the moment for diplomacy between Moscow and Kyiv had passed, Milley said: “We’re weeks away from the beginning of spring, but it’s a rolling window. There’s opportunities at any moment in time.” (FT, 02.16.23)
  • Zelensky has ruled out giving up any of his country's territory in a potential peace deal with Russia. He warned conceding land would mean Russia could "keep coming back," while Western weapons would bring peace closer. (BBC, 02.17.23)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin also started to resume the canard of Russia’s willingness to negotiate with Ukraine “without preconditions” on Feb. 11 but “on the basis of the reality that exists today” and with consideration for Russia’s maximalist objectives—conditions, in other words, that still amount to Ukrainian surrender. (ISW, 02.12.23)
  • China is ready to join forces with the international community to promote a political solution for the crisis in Ukraine, Wang Yi, director of China’s Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission. (TASS, 02.15.23)

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

  • This year, as officials including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken convene for the Munich Security Conference, they hope to show a resolute front against Moscow as the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion approaches. Harris will meet Scholz, Sunak and Macron during the MSC. She will also meet the prime ministers of Finland and Sweden to discuss the NATO accession process. (NYT, 02.17.23, Reuters, 02.16.23)
  • The Munich Security Conference began with a video address by Zelensky, who compared his country to the biblical David in a fight to the death with Russia’s Goliath, and appealed for more Western military support. (FT, 02.17.23)
  • French President Emmanuel Macron used his conference speech at the Munich Security Conference to call on leaders of the Global South to join the West in condemning the war. He called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “neocolonialist and imperialist” attack that “broke all taboos.” (FT, 02.17.23)
  • No Russian officials have been invited to the Munich Security Conference this year. Iranian officials were also disinvited. (FT, 02.16.23)
  • NATO for the first time has openly acknowledged the possibility of Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance separately, breaking a taboo over their previous insistence they join as a pair, as their bids are being held up mainly by Turkey. (FT, 02.14.23)
  • Finland's president said in an interview published Feb. 11 that he trusts that Finland and Sweden will be admitted into NATO by July and hinted that he wants Washington to pressure Turkey to approve their membership bids. (AP, 02.11.23)
  • The Pentagon scrambled fighter jets to counter four Russian aircraft that approached but didn’t enter U.S. or Canadian airspace. The four aircraft—which included Tu-95 Bear and Su-35 fighters—entered the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone on Feb. 13 but remained outside American and Canadian airspace. (Bloomberg, 02.15.23)
  • U.S. and European security officials say Russia’s spy agencies have sustained greater damage over the past year than at any time since the end of the Cold War. The magnitude of the campaign appears to have caught Russia off-guard, officials said, blunting its ability to carry out influence operations in Europe, stay in contact with informants or provide insights to the Kremlin on key issues including the extent to which Western leaders are prepared to continue stepping up arms deliveries to Ukraine. Russia has sought to compensate for its losses by relying more heavily on cyberespionage. (WP, 02.17.23)
    • A man suspected of helping leak Western intelligence on the war in Ukraine to Russian agents was detained by U.S. authorities and questioned there before being flown to Germany where he was arrested last month. (WSJ, 02.10.23)
    • A former security guard at the British embassy in Berlin who admitted leaking secret material to Russia has been sentenced to 13 years and two months in prison. David Ballantyne Smith was sentenced on Feb. 17 after pleading guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act relating to offences between October 2020 and August 2021. (FT, 02.17.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Russian gold exports to China skyrocketed by 63%, growing $150 million year on year, Chinese customs data shows. (FT, 02.10.23)
  • The volume of cargo traffic with China via the Russian Railways network increased by 28% in 2022 compared with 2021 and amounted to 123 million tons, the company said in a statement. (Interfax, 02.15.23)
  • Moscow and Beijing will soon hold a series of high-level talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the State Duma. "Together with our Chinese friends, we are working to strengthen bilateral strategic cooperation, which has reached never-before-seen levels of trust. Foreign policy ties between Moscow and Beijing are cementing the foundation of the emerging polycentric architecture and serve as a balancing and stabilizing factor in global affairs," he said. (TASS, 02.15.23)
  • In 2023, Russia and China will continue strategic interaction and good-neighborly cooperation "having each other’s back," Chinese ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui said in an interview with TASS. (TASS, 02.17.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


  • A notorious Islamic State recruiter from Tajikistan, Parviz Saidrahmonov (aka Abu Dovud), was sentenced to 21 years in prison in November on terrorism charges in Dushanbe, Tajik Supreme Court officials said on Feb. 16. (RFE/RL, 02.16.23)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has agreed to the opening of two additional border crossings from Turkey into opposition-held territory in northwest Syria to allow the United Nations to deliver humanitarian relief to millions of earthquake victims, U.N. and Syrian officials said on Feb. 13. (NYT, 02.14.23)

Cyber security:

  • Google’s threat analysis group said Russian government-backed attackers have increased their attempted hacks on Ukrainian users by 250% in the past year compared with 2020. Ukraine’s ministries of defense and foreign affairs were among the top targets. (Bloomberg, 02.16.23)
  • After a two-week trial in U.S. District Court in Boston and 10 hours of deliberations over three days, a jury found Vladislav Klyushin, a 42-year-old Russian millionaire, guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, unauthorized access to computers and securities fraud. Prosecutors have said he could face more than 20 years in prison, but defense lawyers said federal guidelines weren't clear on how long his sentence might be. (Boston Globe, 02.15.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Aggregate flows of Russian crude fell by 562,000 barrels a day, or 16%, in the seven days to Feb. 10, even as exports from its Baltic ports edged higher. Combined shipments from the Arctic and the Pacific were down by half a million barrels on a daily basis, while those from the Black Sea also slumped. (Bloomberg, 02.13.23)
  • The EU downplayed the impact of Russia’s cut in oil production and said it was forced on Moscow by sanctions related to its invasion of Ukraine. “It wasn’t voluntary,” EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said. “It was forced on them. They don’t have the ability to keep up the production volumes because they don’t have access to necessary technology.” (Bloomberg, 02.13.23)
  • Russian companies did the most drilling at their oil fields in more than a decade last year, with little sign that international sanctions or the departure of some major Western firms directly harmed so-called upstream operations. (Bloomberg, 02.14.23)
  • Russia announced on Feb. 13 that its gas exports plummeted by 25% in 2022. Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak announced the figures and attributed the fall in gas exports to "the refusal of European countries to buy Russian gas." (MT/AFP, 02.13.23)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • The launch of a Soyuz spacecraft to bring Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev, Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio back to Earth from the International Space Station has been postponed from Feb. 20 until early March. The exact date of the launch will be clear after a coolant leak registered over the weekend on the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft, currently docked at the ISS, is located and its cause is determined. (RFE/RL, 02.13.23)
  • Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and Donald Trump’s one-time ambassador to the U.N., has become the first Republican to challenge the former president for the party’s nomination for president in 2024.  She warned that China and Russia were “on the march” and “think we can be bullied.” (FT, 02.15.23)
  • Prigozhin has acknowledged for the first time that he owns the Internet Research Agency—a so-called "troll factory" in St. Petersburg specialized in creating fake social-media accounts and spreading disinformation and propaganda. (RFE/RL, 02.14.23)
  • The United States has told its citizens to leave Russia immediately due to the war in Ukraine and the risk of arbitrary arrest or harassment by Russian law enforcement agencies. (RFE/RL, 02.13.23)
  • A Russian court has imposed a 40-year entry ban on a Chinese-American animal rights activist after she was jailed while walking a young cow near the Kremlin. (MT/AFP, 02.15.23)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • In what would be the sharpest contraction since the height of the global pandemic, data originally scheduled for Feb. 17 was expected to show Russian GDP dropped an annual 4.6% in the fourth quarter, a Bloomberg poll showed. Even as Russia logged its third straight quarter of contraction to end 2022, its downturn for the whole year was a fraction of the almost 10% collapse that was predicted a month after the invasion. The central bank has put last year’s drop at 2.5% and projects growth may resume already this year. (Bloomberg, 02.17.23)
  • Demand for gold bars and coins last year grew faster in Russia than in any other country, rising to nearly five times the level of the previous year, according to data from the World Gold Council. Despite last year’s surge, Russian demand for gold bars and coins last year was only 2% of the global total, according to World Gold Council. (FT, 02.10.23)
  • The ruble was 0.1% weaker against the dollar at 73.93, having hit 73.9850 during the Feb. 14 session, its lowest point since April 25. (Reuters, 02.14.23)
  • Russian tech giant Yandex announced on Feb. 15 that its revenues climbed 46% last year following a corporate restructuring amid unprecedented Western sanctions over Moscow's offensive in Ukraine. Yandex said its revenues for 2022 stood at 521.7 billion rubles ($7 billion), while its net profit reached 10.8 billion rubles, a 34% increase on the previous year. (MT/AFP, 02.15.23)
  • Initial data shows that at least 500,000, and perhaps nearly 1 million, have left Russia in the year since the invasion began. (WP, 02.14.23)
  • Around 20,000 people were detained for political and antiwar protests last year, according to human rights group OVD-Info. At least 440 people—artists, priests, teachers, students and doctors—have had criminal cases opened against them, according to OVD-Info. Many are awaiting trial in jail, and some face sentences of up to 15 years. Others have fled the country. (FT, 02.17.23)
  • Hundreds of people facing long prison sentences in Russia are being spirited out of the country by groups that arrange daring escapes, with one trip using six different cars over more than 4,000 miles. (NYT, 02.14.23)
  • The number of new identification documents issued in Russia due to gender change almost doubled last year to total 936. (RFE/RL, 02.13.23) 
  • A Chechen man detained at a Moscow airport on his way to the Netherlands has most likely been sent back to Russia's North Caucasus, where he may face torture or even death for being gay, the SK SOS human rights group said. The man then reportedly featured in a video, in which he said he was doing well and announced his intention to join Russia’s war against Ukraine. SK SOS said he had been pressured in recording the video. (RFE/RL, 02.16.23, RM, 02.17.23)
  • A Russian court has sentenced journalist Maria Ponomarenko to six years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia's armed forces for a social-media post highlighting a deadly attack on a Ukrainian theater last year. (RFE/RL, 02.15.23)
  • The Russian Justice Ministry has placed Zemfira, one of post-Soviet Russia's most popular singers, on a list of "foreign agents.” The ministry on Feb. 10 added several other people to its "foreign agents" list, including exiled former Russian lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov, political analyst Abbas Gallyamov and LGBT activist Alexandra Kazantseva. (RFE/RL, 02.11.23)
  • A court in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan, has sentenced a Jehovah's Witness to 6 1/2 years in prison on extremism charges amid an ongoing crackdown on the religious group. (RFE/RL, 02.17.23)
  • Russia’s main state broadcaster has started airing weekly classes that aim to rally patriotism and support for the invasion of Ukraine among schoolchildren. (MT/AFP, 02.17.23)
    • Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov said it was the “right idea” to hold lessons propagating the Kremlin’s views not only for school students, but also for their parents, Istories reported. (RM, 02.17.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Sudan’s ruling military has concluded a review of an agreement with Russia to build a navy base on the Red Sea, two Sudanese officials said on Feb. 11. They said the deal was awaiting the formation of a civilian government to be ratified. (AP, 02.11.23)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry officially appointed new commanders of three military districts, New Times reported. Lt. Gen. Andrei Mordvichev became commander of the Central Military District. Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Nikiforov was appointed to the post of commander of the troops of the Western District, and Col. Gen. Rustam Muradov became commander of the troops of the Eastern District. (RM, 02.17.23)
  • From the very beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Russian branch of France’s Auchan chain of supermarkets supplied goods for the Russian military in the territories of the occupied regions of Ukraine, according to a joint investigation by The Insider and Le Monde. In addition, the branch helped Russian military conscription offices call up personnel from the Russian Auchan supermarkets. (RM, 02.17.23)
  • See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Investigative reports say Putin has been using a specially built armored train for his official travel, while a secret railway network has been built near his residences. (RFE/RL, 02.14.23)
  • Marina Yankina, the head of the Financial Support Department of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Western Military District, died after apparently falling out of a high-rise building. (RFE/RL, 02.16.22)
  • This week, the death of a former deputy within Russia’s Interior Ministry was deemed a suicide. Maj. Gen. Vladimir Makarov was dismissed in January from the agency responsible for combating what the Kremlin deems extremism. (NYT, 02.16.23)
  • A court in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea has sentenced a retired Ukrainian Navy officer to 8 1/2 years in prison on the charge of taking part in activities of an illegal armed group. (RFE/RL, 02.17.23)
  • Criminal organizations are luring pregnant Russian women into Argentina with so-called childbirth tourism packages, the South American country’s immigration director said Feb. 12. Of the 10,500 Russians that entered Argentina in the last year, over half of them have been pregnant women that have entered in the last three months. (Bloomberg, 02.12.23, Bloomberg, 02.10.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • South Africa’s National Defense Force denied a report by TASS that the country’s navy would launch a hypersonic Tsirkon missile during a joint naval exercise with Russia starting this week that also includes China. Exercise MOSI II, which will start on Feb. 17 and will take place off South Africa’s eastern port of Richards Bay and will last 11 days, reprises a similar exercise in 2019 between the three navies. (Bloomberg, 02.10.23, NYT, 02.17.23)
  • Russian trade with Africa in 2021, the most recent full-year figure available, was worth $15.6 billion—a tenth of the continent’s trade with China and a quarter up on 2018, according to IMF data. However, Moscow remains the biggest exporter of arms to Africa and—through investments and trading relationships in goods from diamonds to citrus fruit—has become a useful partner for African states. (FT, 02.14.23)
  • With an estimated 5,000 men stationed across Africa, Wagner's footprint is now almost as large as the U.S.'s 6,000 troops and support personnel on the continent. (WSJ, 02.13.23)
  • Austria has come under heavy criticism for granting visas that will allow sanctioned Russian lawmakers to attend a Vienna meeting of the OSCE. (AP, 02.12.23)
  • Russia is planning to introduce visa-free travel for citizens of up to 11 states as well as ease entry requirements for citizens of some six others, including India and Indonesia, Lavrov announced Feb. 15. (MT/AFP, 02.15.23)


  • Moody’s Investors Service cut Ukraine’s credit rating to the second-lowest score, citing “long-lasting challenges” to its economy and public finances from the war with Russia.  Ukraine has about $23 billion outstanding in international bonds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. (Bloomberg, 02.10.23)
  • Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and Zelensky have discussed "humanitarian ties" between the two nations in a phone call, the Kazakh presidential administration said Feb. 16. (RFE/RL, 02.16.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The Russian government on Feb. 14 denied claims that it was seeking to foment a coup in neighboring Moldova. The Moldovan Parliament approved Dorin Recean as another pro-Western prime minister on Feb. 16. The United States is "deeply concerned" about reports of a Russian plot to destabilize Moldova, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried said Feb. 15. After being confirmed by lawmakers in Chisinau on Feb. 16, Moldova’s new Prime Minister Recean immediately questioned the country’s neutrality enshrined in the constitution in his first statements as head of the government. (BNE, 02.17.23, RFE/RL, 02.15.23, WSJ, 02.17.23, WSJ , 02.14.23)
  • The member states of the Russian-led CSTO will hold three military maneuvers in Belarus in 2023. (BelTA, 02.13.23)
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Putin in Moscow on Feb. 17. Lukashenko told journalists in Minsk before his trip that he was “ready to wage war, alongside the Russians, from the territory of Belarus”—with one major caveat. “But only if someone—even a single soldier—enters our territory from there with weapons to kill my people,” he said in response to a question from the BBC, referring to Ukraine. (NYT, 02.17.23)
  • Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on Feb. 13 became the first senior official from a European Union country to visit Belarus since the beginning of a crackdown on the opposition in 2020. (RFE/RL, 02.13.23)
  • Kyrgyzstan will host a Russia-led security bloc's peacekeeping drills this year instead of Armenia, which last month declined to host the exercises, the bloc's chief of staff said Feb. 14. (Reuters, 02.14.23)
  • Former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev, who was serving an 11-year sentence for his role in the release from prison of notorious crime boss Aziz Batukaev, has been released from prison and allowed to receive medical treatment abroad. (RFE/RL, 02.14.23)
  • Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev on Feb. 15 signed into law a bill that annuls the Law on the First President-Leader of the Nation (Elbasy), depriving immediate family members of the Central Asian nation's former authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, of legal immunity. (RFE/RL, 02.15.23)
  • Armenia has proposed creating a demilitarized zone around Nagorno-Karabakh with international guarantees as part of its latest peace plan on the breakaway region, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has announced. (RFE/RL, 02.16.23)
  • Armenia sent aid trucks to the disaster zone in Turkey, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Feb. 11. It was the first time since 1993 that aid trucks had crossed between the two countries, which have long been adversaries with no diplomatic ties and a closed border. Armenian rescuers also took part in rescuing victims from the rubble with the permission of the Turkish government. (WP, 02.12.23, BG, 02.11.23)
  • Ararat Mirzoyan was slated to meet with Turkey's foreign minister on Feb. 15 in Turkey, an Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman said. (RFE/RL, 02.15.23)
  • The U.S. State Department has expressed “deep concern” over a draft “foreign agent” media law in the Georgian parliament, saying its adoption could potentially undermine Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. (RFE/RL, 02.16.23)
  • Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Putin noted the importance of ensuring stability and security in the South Caucasus region during a phone call on Feb. 14. (RFE/RL, 02.14.23)


IV. Quotable and notable

  • “I would never have imagined that I would miss the Politburo,” said Rene Nyberg, the former Finnish ambassador to Moscow. “There is no political organization in Russia that has the power to hold the president and commander in chief accountable.” (FA, 02.15.23)
  • "The best option for Europeans is to unite with Russia. Resources here [in Russia], high technology there [in the West]. And it would be the main pole of the planet," Lukashenko said. (TASS, 02.16.23)