Russia in Review, Feb. 24-March 3, 2023

6 Things to Know

  1. Germany, France and Britain want to use the promise of stronger ties between NATO and Ukraine as leverage to convince Kyiv to pursue peace talks with Moscow. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants NATO’s July summit to discuss an incentive in the form of an agreement that would give Kyiv much broader access to advanced military equipment, WSJ reported. French and German leaders told their Ukrainian counterpart during their meeting on Feb. 9 he needed to start considering peace talks. Emmanuel Macron also told Volodymyr Zelensky that he had been a great war leader, but that he would eventually have to make difficult decisions. There are deepening private doubts among politicians in the U.K., France and Germany that Ukraine will be able to expel the Russians, and a belief that the West can only help sustain the war effort for so long, according to WSJ.
  2. Russia and China appear to have backtracked on the G-20’s Ukraine war language, including on the inadmissibility of nuclear threats, according to India. At this week’s meeting of G-20 foreign ministers, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov and China’s Qin Gang refused to endorse two paragraphs of language on the Ukraine war even though these paragraphs repeated, ad verbatim, the declaration that G-20 leaders, including Xi Jinping and Lavrov, agreed upon during their summit in November. This follows from the Chair's Summary & Outcome Document, which India prepared at the end of the March 2 meeting of the G-20 diplomats that it chaired. Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the document deplored Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and its impact on the humanitarian situation and the global economy. They also stated that “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible,” according to the document.
  3. More than a year ago Olaf Scholz’s government committed to set up a €100 billion fund to boost purchases of weapons systems. Not a cent of this money has been spent on these systems, German officials told WSJ. When Scholz—who is to meet Biden today—and his closest allies huddled to launch Zeitenwend, they assumed that Russia would quickly overrun Ukraine, reaching the NATO borders and directly threatening Germany’s security. But Ukraine's stiff resistance and a string of Russian military setbacks have since removed the sense of urgency, according to multiple officials interviewed by WSJ.
  4. The U.S. unveiled a new $400 million package of arms for Ukraine on March 3.  The aid includes Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges for the first time. GMLRS and HIMARS are also part of that package, as is ammunition for IFVs and howitzers The March 3 package is to bring the total value of American military aid to Ukraine to more than $32 billion since February 2022, according to NYT. In contrast, the total amount of military support provided to Ukraine by EU countries stands at $15.18 billion, according to the Kiel Institute.
  5. Russia’s Wagner Group paramilitary group claimed on March 3 that they had  "practically surrounded" the Donetsk region town of Bakhmut. "The pincers are tightening," Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the group, said. Some defense analysts have argued that withdrawal from Bakhmut would make sense militarily. But many Ukrainian officials have dismissed such plans, insisting that the huge losses being inflicted upon Russia justify the city’s continued defense, according to WSJ. The past month saw Russian forces gain a total of 57 square miles of Ukrainian territory, according to the Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force’s weekly report card.
  6. A Ukraine-based group of Russian nationals fighting on Ukraine’s side and calling itself the Russian Volunteer Corp claimed responsibility for raiding two Russian villages after reportedly crossing the border between Russia’s Bryansk region and Ukraine’s Chernihiv region on March 2. Russian authorities claimed the group killed two civilian men and wounded a boy during their incursion, while officials in Kyiv denied any Ukrainian involvement in the raid. Ukrainian reconnaissance and sabotage groups have crossed into Russia before, but it was this raid that the Kremlin claimed to have prompted a change in Putin’s plans. Rather than travel to the Stavropol region in the south, the Russian leader stayed in the Moscow area to chair a meeting of his security council that approved measures to prevent further raids, according to Putin’s spokesman.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Renat Karchaa, adviser to the general director of Rosenergoatom, claimed that Russian troopers came under fire from Ukrainian armed forces during the rotation of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the Zaporizhzhia NPP, according to Kommersant. This claim could not be verified. (RM, 03.03.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • IAEA inspectors have found uranium particles enriched up to nearly 84% in Iran's underground Fordow uranium enrichment site. The U.S. and its European allies have split over the response to Iran's production of near-weapons-grade uranium, with Britain, France and Germany favoring a public censure of Tehran while the Biden administration is reluctant to do that. IAEA chief Rafael Grossi arrived in Teheran on March 3 for talks. (Reuters, 03.03.23, RFE/RL, 02.28.23, Reuters, 03.02.23,WSJ, 03.02.23)
  • Iran is seeking sophisticated new air-defense systems from Russia that Israeli officials believe will narrow the window for a potential strike on Tehran’s nuclear program. The prospect of Iran getting the systems, the S-400s, would accelerate a decision on a possible attack, people in Israel and the U.S. with knowledge of the discussions said. (Bloomberg, 03.02.23)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • In the year since Russia invaded Ukraine, at least 8,000 civilians have been killed—with nearly 13,300 injured—the United Nations said. (WSJ, 03.02.23)
    • "The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered the most massive violations of human rights we are living today," U.N. chief Antonio Guterres said. (MT/AFP, 02.27.23)
  • Ukrainian authorities exhumed a communal grave of three men near the city of Bucha on March 2, suggesting further killings by Russian forces in the area. (WP, 03.02.23)
  • In Ukraine, Russian forces struck a multistory apartment block in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia overnight, killing at least two people in an attack condemned by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as an act of terrorism. Authorities had earlier put the death toll at four. (WSJ, 03.02.23)
  • A Ukraine-based group of Russian nationals fighting on Ukraine’s side and calling itself the Russian Volunteer Corp claimed responsibility for raiding two Russian villages after reportedly crossing the border between Russia’s Bryansk region and Ukraine’s Chernihiv region on March 2. Russian authorities claimed the group killed two civilian men and wounded a boy during their incursion. Russia’s Baza online news outlet identified one of the men killed as Alexander Tkachenko. The other man was identified only by his first name, Leonid. (RM, 03.03.23)
    • Zelensky’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said it “a classic provocation” from Russia. Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson at Ukraine’s military intelligence, said the armed Russian men were an “independent formation” fighting to liberate their country and “were not” trained or part of Ukraine’s armed forces. (FT, 03.02.23)
    • Putin described the incident as a “terrorist attack.”  “They saw the car [they attacked] was civilian, they saw the kids inside—but they opened fire.” Ukrainian reconnaissance and sabotage groups have crossed into Russia before, but it was this raid that the Kremlin claimed to have prompted a change in Putin’s plans. Rather than travel to the Stavropol region in the south, the Russian leader stayed in the Moscow area to chair a meeting of his security council that approved measures to prevent further raids, according to Putin’s spokesman. (FT, 03.02.23, Atlantic Council, 03.03.23, RM, 03.02.23)
    • Four servicemen of the Russian National Guard, which participated in efforts to track the raiding group, were wounded when their vehicle hit a mine, according Russia’s Baza news outlet. (RM, 03.03.23)
  • A total of 9,836 Russian servicemen have applied to surrender in advance via a special contact line set up by Ukraine in September, according to the country’s military center dealing with prisoners of war. (Bloomberg, 03.03.23)
  • A court in Ukraine has sentenced Russian Air Force officer Alexei Loboda to 12 years in prison on a charge of violating the laws of war. (Current Time, 03.03.23)
  • The World Bank has announced a further $2.5 billion grant financing to Ukraine on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion. In a statement, the World Bank said the money would support a range of social functions in the war-torn country, including healthcare, education and pensions. (FT, 02.25.23)
  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen made an unannounced trip to Ukraine Feb. 27 to announce disbursement of a total $10 billion pledged by the Biden administration. Ukraine’s budget shortfall may reach about $38 billion in 2023, Ukraine’s PM Shmyhal said last week. (Bloomberg, 02.28.23)
  • Prince Faisal bin Farhan was the highest-ranking Saudi official to visit Ukraine in 30 years. Saudi Arabia signed agreements valued at $400 million with Ukraine after the kingdom’s foreign minister made a surprise visit to Kyiv. (Bloomberg, 02.28.23)
  • Russia will only agree to extend a deal under which Ukraine is able to export grain from its Black Sea ports if doing so is in Moscow’s interests, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. The deal expires on March 18. (Reuters, 03.01.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:  

  • Russian forces in Ukraine said Bakhmut was "basically surrounded" while a top Ukrainian commander visited the besieged city in a display of Ukraine's continued presence in the area. "The pincers are tightening," Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group, which has spearheaded the Russian offensive in Bakhmut, said in a video posted March 3. Ukrainian OSINT Telegram channel acknowledged in its March 2 dispatch from the battlefields that Russian forces had made some gains in the southern part of the Donetsk region town of Bakhmut, capturing a processing plant there. As of March 3, however, Ukrainian forces continued to hold their positions, foiling further south-bound advances of the Wagner Group’s units in Bakhmut, according to pro-war Russian war correspondent Semyon Pegov.   (WSJ, 03.03.23, RM, 03.03.23)  
  • Russia accused Ukraine of sending drones deep into Russia on Feb. 27 and 28. Ukraine has denied any involvement with a series of drones that flew into Russian territory—including one that got to within 100 kilometers of Moscow, prompting the Kremlin to order the military to tighten up its air defenses. (RFE/RL, 03.01.23, Time, 03.02.23)
    • Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said March 2 that the drone attacks would only have been possible with U.S. assistance. (MT/AFP, 03.02.23)
  • In the past month of fighting Russian forces have gained 57 square miles of Ukrainian territory. (Russia-Ukraine War Report Card, 03.01.23)
  • On Feb. 27, Russia used 14 Iranian-made attack drones to attack targets across the country, the Ukrainian military said, adding that at least 11 were shot down. (FT, 02.27.23, NYT, 02.27.23)
  • Ukrainian officials are signaling that the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut may soon be impossible to defend as Russian troops level the area. (Bloomberg, 02.28.23)
  • A three-week battle near the coal-mining town of Vuhledar in southern Ukraine earlier this year has produced what Ukrainian officials say was the biggest tank battle of the war so far, and a stinging setback for the Russians. Ukraine’s military said Russia had lost at least 130 tanks and armored personnel carriers in the battle. (NYT, 03.01.23)
  • Kyiv has made clear that its most pressing need as it seeks to hold off a renewed Russia offensive is for artillery ammunition—particularly 155mm howitzer rounds. The Russian military fires four times as many shells as Ukraine each day. (FT, 03.03.23)
  • Warmer-than-average conditions are forecast for the remainder of winter and spring in Ukraine, further reducing movement, which will likely be at its worst in late March following the final thaw. (WSJ, 03.02.23)
  • U.S. authorities have advised Ukraine to play for time as heavy weaponry, especially tanks, are due to arrive, according to a senior official who declined to be identified. To gather resources for a spring counteroffensive in the south, Ukraine may have to surrender Bakhmut, European officials have said. (Bloomberg, 02.28.23)
  • Senior American generals hosted Ukrainian military officials this week for a set of “tabletop” exercises designed to help Kyiv map out the next stage of its battle to reclaim territory from dug-in Russian troops. (NYT, 03.03.23)
  • GMLRS and HIMARS are part of what U.S. officials described as an estimated $400 million package announced on March 3 by Blinken, bringing the total value of American military aid to Ukraine to more than $32 billion since February 2022. The aid includes Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges for the first time. The package also includes more ammunition for the 109 Bradley Fighting Vehicles along with howitzer rounds, demolition munitions for obstacle clearance, spare parts and field equipment. (NYT, 03.03.23, CNN, 03.03.23)
  • Since the beginning of the war, the U.S. has committed to provide a total of more than 10,000 antiaircraft systems and antiarmor systems, more than 200 helicopters and tanks and more than 1.5 million artillery and ammunition rounds. (WSJ, 03.02.23)
  • Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, told Congress on Feb. 28 that the Pentagon has not detected that any weapons sent to Ukraine have fallen into the wrong hands. Kahl's comments to the House Armed Services Committee came in response to questions from lawmakers of both political parties who appear to agree on the need for tougher scrutiny of the tens of billions of dollars and U.S. arms that the administration has provided to Ukraine. (WP, 02.28.23)
  • Rep. Mike Rogers has recently led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Poland and Romania meant to observe how the U.S. military delivers and tracks the weapons it provides to Ukraine. "The American people have every right to know that U.S. military equipment donated to Ukraine is being used for its intended purpose—Ukraine's fight for national survival," the lawmakers said. (WP, 02.28.23)
  • According to the Kiel Institute, which tracks aid to Ukraine, the Europeans have earmarked some €54.9 billion (about $58 billion) for Ukraine, while the United States has committed €73.1 billion, €44.3 billion of it military. Despite all the criticism of Brussels as slow to act, EU institutions have provided the second-largest amount of total aid, at €35 billion, while Germany is the third-largest donor country after the United States and Britain. (NYT, 03.03.23)
    • The total amount of military support provided to Ukraine by EU countries, both bilaterally and through the EPF, stands at €14.3 billion, according to the Kiel Institute. (Bloomberg, 02.27.23)
  • Ukraine is set to receive vital artillery ammunition within weeks after Brussels proposed reimbursing countries that provided shells from their stockpiles, according to EU officials.  All EU countries except Denmark have joined a project that paves the way for common procurement of replacement supplies, an official said. (FT, 03.03.23)
  • Despite Europe having an estimated 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks of different models—they are among the most commonly used main battle tanks across the continent—pledges for Ukraine are still short of the hundreds it says it needs. Germany and its allies have struggled for weeks to scrape together enough Leopard 2s to fill two battalions of tanks—62 vehicles in total. (NYT, 03.01.23)
  • Switzerland's adherence to a ban on the export and re-export of weapons and ammunition to conflict zones is blocking NATO countries in Europe from giving Ukraine their stocks of Swiss-made ammunition and arms, none of which are easily substituted. The ban is now affecting Western-provided weapons systems such as aerial defense batteries and tanks. (WSJ, 02.28.23)
    • Germany has asked Switzerland if it can buy back some of the nation’s decommissioned Leopard 2 battle tanks as part of an effort to replace depleted stocks among NATO allies. (Bloomberg, 03.03.23)
  • The Ukrainian requests for cluster munitions have prompted considerable discomfort among some of Ukraine's allies. (WP, 03.02.23)
  • A year ago, the German government said it would create a special-purpose €100 billion fund to boost weapon purchases. Yet a year on, not a cent of this money has been spent on weapons systems, according to German officials. When Scholz and his closest allies huddled in his office to write the Zeitenwende speech, they assumed that Russia would quickly overrun Ukraine, reaching the NATO borders and directly threatening the security of Germany, according to people present at the meeting. Ukraine's stiff resistance and a string of Russian military setbacks have since removed the sense of urgency, according to multiple officials. (WSJ, 03.02.23)
  • Canada is sending four more Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and imposing new Russia-related sanctions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Feb. 24. Canada will also provide an armored recovery vehicle and thousands of rounds of 155-millimeter ammunition, Trudeau said. (Reuters, 02.25.23)
  • Ukrainian OSINT company called Molfar has received funding from the Civilian Research and Development Foundation—a nongovernmental organization that includes the U.S. State Department, U.S. Defense Department and the U.K. government among its backers—to give additional OSINT trainings to officials from the SBU, as well as to the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine and other government bodies. (FP, 03.02.23)

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

  • The U.S. has launched a renewed crackdown on countries and individuals helping the Kremlin evade Western sanctions amid growing fears Russia is fueling the war in Ukraine by funneling imports through countries such as the UAE and Turkey. As part of their effort, U.S. government agencies issued a “compliance note” on the “use of third-party intermediaries or transshipment points to evade Russian- and Belarusian-related sanctions and export controls.” This includes a list of “red flags” businesses should be looking out for in terms of potential sanctions evasion, singling out specific states including China, Armenia, Turkey and Uzbekistan. (FT, 03.03.23)
  • The EU agreed on Feb. 24 to impose new sanctions over Russia's war in Ukraine. The package—the 10th imposed by the EU since Russia's invasion—contains "targeted restricted measures against individuals and entities supporting the war, spreading propaganda or delivering drones used by Russia in the war." Final approval of the sanctions was expected on Feb. 25. The details on the listed individuals and entities will then be published in the European Union's official gazette. (AP, 02.25.23)
  • The EU has announced additional sanctions against Russia's Wagner mercenary group for "human rights abuses" in the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali. (RFE/RL, 02.25.23)
  • The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international standard-setting body on illicit finance, has suspended Russia from its membership. (RFE/RL, 02.25.23)
  • Prosecutors in Switzerland have charged four bankers with helping to hide tens of millions of Swiss francs on behalf of Putin. The four individuals were employees of Gazprombank’s Swiss subsidiary, and include its chief executive, Roman Abdulin. According to an indictment the bankers were criminally negligent in allowing accounts to be opened in Switzerland on behalf of Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and the godfather to Putin’s daughter, without questioning the origin of the funds flowing through them. (FT, 02.03.23)
  • Two Kansas men were arrested on March 2 on federal charges that they broke U.S. export laws by selling aviation-related technology to Russia, the Justice Department said. The men, Cyril Gregory Buyanovsky and Douglas Edward Robertson owned and operated KanRus Trading Company. (NYT, 03.03.23)
  • Zelensky says the pressure on Moscow must increase and called for "decisive steps" against Russia's nuclear industry in addition to more pressure through sanctions on the Russian military and banking sectors. (RFE/RL, 02.25.23)
  • A year into the war, hundreds of Western businesses are still in Russia, including blue-chip and midsize companies from Europe and the United States. They are doing business despite Western sanctions and boisterous boycott campaigns pressed by Ukrainian officials, consumers and human rights groups. (WP, 03.02.23)
  • Raiffeisen reported it had made €3.6 billion in profit in 2022, compared with €1.4 billion in 2021. Of that, €2.2 billion, more than 60%, was attributable to businesses in Russia and Belarus, up fourfold from 2021. (FT, 02.26.23)
  • The decision by HSBC Asset Management to close its Russia equity exchange traded fund means there is only one such product open in Europe. FinEx Capital Management told Ignites Europe it did not plan to close its Russian RTS Equity ETF, which has been suspended since March last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (FT, 03.02.23)
  • The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Elena Anatolievna Lenskaya, Andrei Andreevich Zadachin and Danila Yurievich Mikheev for their involvement in serious human rights abuse against human rights defender, prominent opposition leader, author and historian Vladimir Kara-Murza. (, 03.03.23)
  • Exiled businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, wrote to the U.K. Foreign Office this week appealing for sanctions to be lifted from Oleg Tinkov, a self-made billionaire who publicly condemned Putin’s invasion. Leonid Volkov, the chairman of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, cited billionaire Mikhail Fridman and his partners Petr Aven, German Khan and Alexei Kuzmichev as examples of tycoons deserving of sanctions relief. (Bloomberg, 03.01.23)
  • Lawyers for Eugene Shvidler, who has long been associated with Roman Abramovich, filed the claim last month, saying that the U.K. made “significant errors” in its assessment of Shvidler’s relationship with Abramovich. Shvidler, a British citizen who saw his private jets impounded by the U.K., says he’s suffered “serious hardships” since being designated last March, and sought to push back against a government minister who dubbed him a Putin crony. (Bloomberg, 03.03.23)
  • Russia's governing body for chess said Feb. 28 it had been admitted into the game's Asian federation and will leave Europe (MT/AFP, 02.28.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • Germany, France and Britain see stronger ties between NATO and Ukraine as a way to encourage Kyiv to start peace talks with Russia later this year, officials from the three governments said, as some of Kyiv’s Western partners have growing doubts over its ability to reconquer all its territory. (WSJ, 02.24.23)
    • U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week laid out a blueprint for an agreement to give Ukraine much broader access to advanced military equipment, weapons and ammunition to defend itself once the war ends. He said the plan should be on the agenda for the NATO annual meeting in July. (WSJ, 02.24.23)
    • There are deepening private doubts among politicians in the U.K., France and Germany that Ukraine will be able to expel the Russians from eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and a belief that the West can only help sustain the war effort for so long, especially if the conflict settles into a stalemate, French, German and British officials say. (WSJ, 02.24.23)
    • The  French, German and British officials were careful to say that any decision on when and under what conditions any peace talks start is entirely up to Ukraine. (WSJ, 02.24.23)
  • President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany told Zelensky that he needed to start considering peace talks with Moscow when the three leaders met in Paris earlier this month. Macron told Zelensky that even mortal enemies like France and Germany had to make peace after World War II. Macron told Zelensky that he had been a great war leader, but that he would eventually have to shift into political statesmanship and make difficult decisions. (WSJ, 02.24.23)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Uzbekistan on March 1 that the Biden administration saw “zero evidence” that Putin was prepared to engage in serious peace talks over his war in Ukraine, despite growing calls from some nations for talks to start. (NYT, 03.01.23)
  • Blinken stuck to his skeptical view of China’s peace proposal, saying that while there were “positive elements” in the document, China had yet to express genuine commitment to its principle of respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity because it had not condemned Russia’s invasion. (NYT, 03.01.23)
  • “We paid a lot of attention to our Chinese friends' plan," Peskov said Feb. 27, adding that: "for now, we don't see any of the conditions that are needed to bring this whole story toward peace." China has sought to position itself as a neutral party in the conflict while maintaining close ties with strategic ally Russia. (MT/AFP, 02.27.23)
  • “China has taken a balanced position, stressing the need to resolve the crisis through political and diplomatic channels and to respect the territorial integrity and legitimate security interests of all parties concerned. We respect that position,” Russian Ambassador to China Igor Morgulov said. “A ceasefire and an end to the conflict is what we have consistently called for, but only if the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and its legitimate security interests are respected,” he said. (Global Times, 02.27.23)
  • Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Bejing that his country "fully supports" Beijing's proposals for ending the Ukraine war. Xi and Lukashenko expressed deep concern over the prolongation of the regional armed conflict and looked forward to restoring peace in Ukraine as soon as possible to avoid escalation of the crisis, according to China’s Foreign Ministry. “China’s stance on the Ukraine crisis has been consistent and clear,” Xi told Lukashenko.  “China and Belarus are joint defenders of international fairness and justice," Xi said, according to Chinese state television. (MT/AFP, 03.01.23, Bloomberg, 03.01.23, Bloomberg, 03.01.23)
    • Lukashenko’s three-day trip to China “is just another element of the PRC’s deepening engagement with Russia, with all of those who are engaged with and supporting Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine,” Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said Feb. 27. (NYT, 03.01.23)
  • Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry has expressed its approval of China's 12-point peace plan for Russia's war with Ukraine, saying it is "worthy of support" based on U.N. principles. (RFE/RL, 02.26.23)
  • Some 77% of Russians supported Russia’s “special military operation” in February compared to 75% in January, according to Levada Center polls. The share of those who support peace negotiations over continued war remained the same in December-January: 50%, according to Levada. The share of those who support continued war over peace talks stayed at 40% in that period. If peace talks do take place, the accord should not include the return of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to Ukraine, according to the majority of respondents. Some 76% of respondents also say the deal cannot include Ukraine’s admission to NATO. (RM, 03.03.23)

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

  • Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke for about 10 minutes on the sidelines of a meeting of G-20 foreign ministers in New Delhi on March 2. This was the first time since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. (FT, 03.02.23)
    • A State Department official said Blinken told Lavrov that Washington would support Ukraine for as long as it took and that Russia should reverse its recent decision to suspend participation in New START. Blinken added that Moscow should release detained American citizen Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018, according to the official. (FT, 03.02.23)
    • Maria Zakharova, the country’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said there were no official negotiations and that Blinken had requested the meeting. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the contact didn’t qualify as “talks or a meeting.” (FT, 03.02.23, Bloomberg, 03.02.23)
  • At this week’s meeting of G-20 foreign ministers, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov and China’s Qin Gang refused to endorse two paragraphs of language on the Ukraine war even though these paragraphs repeated, ad verbatim, the declaration that G-20 leaders, including Xi Jinping and Lavrov, agreed upon during their summit in November. This follows from the Chair's Summary & Outcome Document, which India prepared at the end of the March 2 meeting of the G20 diplomats that it chaired. The two paragraphs deplored Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and its impact on the humanitarian situation and the global economy. They also stated that “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible,” according to the document. (RM, 03.03.23)
  • When Scholz arrives at the White House on March 3, the challenge of how to maintain weapons supplies to Ukraine will be high on the agenda. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on March 2 told reporters that Biden and Scholz are likely to discuss their recent conversations with Zelensky, the upcoming NATO summit and relations with China (Bloomberg, 03.03.23)
  • In a speech to the lower house of parliament in Berlin on March 2, Scholz said he’s frustrated that at the recent G-20 meeting of finance minsters, China was no longer willing to join in “a clear condemnation of the Russian attack” agreed by the G-20 leaders in Bali last year. Scholz said on Feb. 25 that Germany wants to get India to support, or at least not block, Western efforts to isolate Russia for waging a devastating war against Ukraine. (AP, 02.25.23, Bloomberg, 03.02.23)
  • Putin has accused NATO members of entering the Ukraine conflict by donating arms to the country and said the West planned to break Russia up. "They are sending tens of billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine. This really is participation," Putin said in an interview with the Rossiya-1 channel that aired Feb. 26. "This means that they are taking part, albeit indirectly, in the crimes being carried out by the Kyiv regime," Putin said. (MT/AFP, 02.26.23)
  • Even today, by current NATO estimates, only nine of the alliance’s 30 members are spending 2% of GDP on military spending, while a 10th is close. Thirteen countries, including Germany, were spending around 1.5% of their GDP or even less. (NYT, 03.01.23)
  • NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the priority for Ukraine was to fight off Russia's invasion with allies' backing and that in the "long-term" the nation would join the alliance. (MT/AFP, 02.28.23)
  • Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says talks with Sweden and Finland over their NATO membership bids would resume on March 9. (Reuters, 02.27.23)
  • Hungary has further delayed a vote on ratifying Sweden and Finland's NATO accession bids. The delay pushes the vote back by two weeks to the parliamentary session beginning on March 20. A delegation of Hungarian lawmakers plans to visit Sweden on March 7 to discuss the Nordic country's bid to join NATO (AP, 03.02.23, Reuters, 03.02.23)
  • Finland’s parliament ratified NATO’s treaties. (Bloomberg, 03.01.23)
  • Finnish authorities are chopping down trees along the country's snowy Russian border, making way for a 124-mile-long fence, 10-feet high and topped with barbed wire. (WP, 03.01.23)
  • The mysterious ailment known as "Havana syndrome" did not result from the actions of a foreign adversary, according to a report by seven U.S. intelligence agencies that shatters a long-disputed theory that hundreds of U.S. personnel were targeted and sickened by a clandestine enemy wielding energy waves as a weapon. (WP, 03.01.23)
  • CIA Director William Burns said that during a meeting he had in November with the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, his counterpart had displayed “a sense of cockiness and hubris” that reflected Putin's own belief that he can “grind down the Ukrainians” and wear down Ukraine’s European allies. Burns characterized that conversation as “pretty dispiriting.” (AP, 02.26.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • China is considering sending Russia lethal military aid in the form of artillery shells as Putin’s army rapidly depletes its supply of ammunition a year into his invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials said, a prospect that has alarmed those in the Biden administration who believe Beijing has the ability to transform the war’s trajectory. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House foreign affairs committee, said China is considering sending 100 drones and other lethal weapons to Russia, as U.S. officials warn Beijing could escalate its support for Moscow in the war in Ukraine. (FT, 02.26.23, WP, 02.24.23)
  • Biden has said he did not think China would send weapons to Russia to help its military campaign in Ukraine. “I don’t anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to Russia,” Biden said. (FT, 02.25.23)
  • Burns said Feb. 26 that the U.S. was “confident” the Chinese leadership had been considering “the provision of lethal equipment.” But he added that there had been no evidence of “actual shipments of lethal equipment.” (FT, 02.26.23)
  • China’s stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine puts it in an “awkward” position internationally and any weapons support to Russia would come with “real costs,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said. (Bloomberg, 02.26.23) 
  • The Chinese authorities consider it necessary to promote cooperation with Russia at all levels, China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang said at a meeting with Lavrov in New Delhi on March 2. Qin also said Russia and China reached extensive agreements during a late February visit to Moscow of office director of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi to Moscow. Russia and China have big plans for the development of bilateral relations, Lavrov said at the meeting. (TASS, 03.02.23, Interfax, 03.02.23)
  • “Russia and China are not building a military-political alliance resembling that of the Cold War times. Our relationship, in many ways, transcends this outdated form of cooperation and allows us to act flexibly and effectively to protect the national interests of both countries, instead of establishing a ‘hard hook’ in a ‘dominant and subordinate’ way,” Russian Ambassador to China Igor Morgulov said. (Global Times, 02.27.23)
  • A meeting in the Russia-India-China format at the ministerial level may take place in 2023, Lavrov said on March 3. (TASS, 03.03.23)
  • Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine a year ago, China has downplayed talk of a Beijing-Moscow space axis, even while its diplomats say relations between the two nations are solid. Chinese representatives at September’s International Astronautical Congress in Paris didn’t talk about Russia when discussing the lunar project, and Russia is often left out of Chinese media reports about Beijing’s space program. (Bloomberg, 02.28.23)
  • A spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Finance said the yuan is "taking an increasingly important role" in its sovereign-wealth fund, which doubled the share of yuan it can hold to 60% in December. The share of Russian exports paid for in yuan rose to 14% by September, according to data from the central bank. Russian companies have also turned to the yuan and issued bonds in the Chinese currency worth the equivalent of more than $7 billion last year, according to Refinitiv data. (WSJ, 02.28.23)
  • Chinese carmakers including Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., minivan maker Chery Automobile Co. and Great Wall Motor Co. known for its affordable Haval brand, grabbed 17% of Russia’s auto market in 2022 after most of the world’s biggest automakers exited the country following its invasion of Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 03.01.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • Putin indicated that Russia suspended its participation in the New START treaty not only because of U.S. nuclear capabilities but those of other NATO countries. Putin also claimed in excerpts carried by Russian news agencies that Russia faces an existential threat because, in his view, NATO members are seeking his country’s “strategic defeat.” “When all the leading NATO countries have declared their main goal as inflicting a strategic defeat on us ... how can we ignore their nuclear capabilities in these conditions?” Putin asked, according to the excerpts. (WP, 02.26.23, Reuters/AFP, 02.26.23)
  • “Putin is threatening Armageddon, and the Russians are doing it all the time, sometimes in oblique ways and sometimes in a more direct way,” said John Sullivan, who served as U.S. ambassador in Moscow. “But when you actually poke at that and provide weapons gradually over time, there hasn’t been the catastrophic response that Putin promised.” (WSJ, 02.26.23)
  • Russia and the U.S. are still discussing issues concerning the New START nuclear weapons treaty via “closed channels,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to Interfax. He didn’t provide details of the contacts in recent days. (Bloomberg, 03.01.23)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • The foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran are arranging a meeting, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said. (Reuters, 02.26.23)
  • Egypt’s foreign minister travelled to Syria to meet President Bashar al-Assad, a rare visit by a senior regional official to Damascus as its Arab neighbors move towards a tentative re-engagement with the regime after this month’s devastating earthquake. (FT, 02.27.23)

Cyber security:

  • The Biden administration issued a new cybersecurity strategy on March 2 that calls on software makers and American industry to take far greater responsibility to assure that their systems cannot be hacked, while accelerating efforts by the FBI and the Defense Department to disrupt the activities of hackers and ransomware groups around the world. (NYT, 03.03.23)
  • Top Biden administration officials urged Congress to renew an expiring surveillance law. In a letter to congressional leadership, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said the law, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, protects the U.S. from foreign-based cyberattacks and arms traffickers and yields intelligence to address challenges posed by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. (WSJ, 02.28.23)
  • Russian authorities said Feb. 28 that several regional television and radio stations that have recently broadcast air raid alerts had been breached by hackers. (MT/AFP, 02.28.23)
  • Poland’s top cybersecurity official blamed Russia for an attack that disrupted the work of a government tax website. (Bloomberg, 03.01.23)
  • It took 35 days for Viasat to even begin to say publicly its satellites had been hacked, and 75 days for any country to point the finger officially at Russia over the hack. While Zelensky and his deputies have mostly declined to discuss the hack’s impact on their operations, Viktor Zhora, a senior Ukrainian cybersecurity official, told reporters last year that it resulted in “a really huge loss in communications.” The Russian Embassy in Washington denies any responsibility. (Bloomberg, 03.01.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia exported more than 8 million barrels of oil in January, one of the top five months on record and a level not reached since April 2020, though it is typically selling at a discount of around $30 a barrel. (WSJ, 03.03.23)
  • Russia stopped oil shipments to Poland after pipeline operator Transneft didn’t receive documents necessary for the crude to be allowed to leave the country. (Bloomberg, 02.27.23)
  • Brent crude and Russian Urals was $29.24 on Feb. 28, compared to $18.55 at the start of November. (FT, 03.01.23)
  • Russia's ruptured undersea Nord Stream gas pipelines are set to be sealed up and mothballed as there are no immediate plans to repair or reactivate them, sources familiar with the plans have told Reuters. (Reuters, 03.03.23)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

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’s energy revenues rose by a fifth last month, reflecting a change to taxation rather than an increase in exports, but remained well below last year’s monthly average. February’s intake of 521 billion rubles ($6.9 billion) was still almost half the 2022 monthly average of 965 billion rubles. An increase in Russia’s mineral extraction tax brought the budget 34% more month-on-month from oil and almost three times more than in January from gas, mainly from Gazprom. (FT, 03.03.23)
  • Russia’s oil and gas revenue fell last month to 521 billion rubles ($6.91 billion), according to the Finance Ministry. Proceeds from crude oil and petroleum products—which accounted for over two-thirds of energy tax revenue last month—fell by 48% from a year ago to 361 billion rubles, according to Bloomberg calculations. (Bloomberg, 03.03.23)
  • Living standards for Russian consumers peaked in 2014 and never recovered. Last year’s sanctions reduced turnover in retail trade by 10.5%, setting it back by more than a decade. Retail sales in Russia in January shrank for a 10th straight month, a stretch longer than their crash at the height of the pandemic in 2020. Still, their annual drop of 6.6% was much smaller than forecast by economists. (Bloomberg, 03.01.23)
  • The Russian ruble has fallen to its weakest level in 10 months, losing about 20% of its value since the start of December. As of March 1, the currency was trading at about 75 rubles to the dollar, from the peak of 50 rubles it reached at the end of July and about the level it was at before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago. (FT, 03.01.23)
  • Putin signed a decree laying out new rules for tightening control of companies that fail to fulfill defense contracts in the event martial law is imposed. Under the presidential decree, the state would get the power to take over firms that fail to meet their obligations under military contracts, suspending the rights of owners and shareholders. (Bloomberg, 03.03.23)  
  • Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska has warned the country faces an impending financial crisis and used his appearance at an economic forum in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on March 2 to urge the Kremlin to ease its rules on foreign investment in the country’s economy. “There will be no money already next year, we need foreign investors,” Deripaska said. (MT/AFP, 03.02.23, CNN, 03.03.23)
  • Putin’s approval rating in February was 83%, compared to 82% in January, according to Levada. (RM, 03.01.23)
  • Putin may have earned up to $500 million from sales of a popular vodka branded under his own name between 2004 and 2019, according to an investigation published on Feb. 28 by independent media outlet Proekt. (MT/AFP, 02.28.23)
  • New legislation preventing the general public from accessing entries to Russia’s real estate register came into force on March 1. The move, which restricts information on the register to “competent state agencies” is expected to act as a massive hindrance to Russian investigative journalists, who have used the register on multiple occasions as a basis for unraveling the complex ownership structures and holding companies used by Russia's elites to hide their wealth. (MT/AFP, 03.01.23)
  • Russian lawmakers on March 2 voted in favor of a bill that would make it a criminal offense to “discredit” anyone fighting on Russia's side in the war in Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 03.02.23)
  • Putin has signed legislation that bans government officials from using foreign words in official documents and correspondence as well as while carrying out their duties. (MT/AFP, 03.01.23)
  • Jailed Russian journalist Ivan Safronov has been transferred to the maximum-security prison where he will serve his sentence. (MT/AFP, 02.27.23)
  • Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has submitted more than 50 official complaints to Russia’s human rights commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova. (MT/AFP, 02.27.23)
  • Opposition supporters and ordinary people in several cities across Russia on Feb. 27 marked eight years since opposition leader Boris Nemtsov's assassination, amid an increased police presence. (Current Time, 02.27.23)
  • Russian political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky, a one-time adviser of Putin, has died. (Current Time, 02.27.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Air defense units assigned to Russian Ground Forces will be subordinated to the Russian Aerospace Forces, TASS reported. In addition, Russian Telegram channel “Zloy Moryachok” claimed that tactical aviation units now reporting to the Ground Forces will also be re-subordinated to the Russian Aerospace Forces. According to these channels, Russian naval units will be resubordinated. They presently report to commands of Russia’s military districts, but will be soon reporting to the command of the Russian Navy. These claims cannot be confirmed. (RM, 03.03.23)
  • For almost a decade, the Russian navy has been visiting World War II-era shipwrecks, removing military equipment in what allows the navy to train specialist divers and test equipment such as mini-submarines and unmanned underwater vehicles. (Bloomberg, 03.01.23)
  • An unmanned Soyuz capsule has docked with the International Space Station (ISS) as a replacement for a damaged space shuttle at the facility. (dpa, 02.26.23)
  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Putin recognized the loss of life members of Russia's FSB have suffered in the war in Ukraine and urged the agency to step up its counterintelligence activities in a speech to an expanded FSB board meeting in Moscow on Feb. 28. (MT/AFP, 02.28.23)
  • A 21-year-old soldier in Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok has been sentenced to seven years in prison for throwing Molotov cocktails at a local military enlistment center in July 2022. (RFE/RL, 03.03.23)
  • A court in St. Petersburg has closed a case on Holocaust denial against university professor Vladimir Matveyev due to the statute of limitations, the press service for the city's courts said on March 3. (RFE/RL, 03.03.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • There’s currently plenty of demand for Russian grain. Its seaborne wheat shipments in January and February totaled 6.1 million tons, about 90% more than the year-earlier period, according to ship lineups from Logistic OS. (Bloomberg, 03.03.23)
  • United Manganese of Kalahari Ltd, a manganese mining company to which sanctioned Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg is linked, helped pay for the electoral conference held by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress in December. (Bloomberg, 03.02.23)
  • A contentious OSCE meeting in Vienna ended on Feb. 24 with condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as Russian delegates accused the West of preventing dialogue by arming Kyiv. (AP, 02.25.23)
  • A survey conducted by the Linzer Market-Institut for newspaper Der Standard last summer—the most recent poll available—found that 71 % of Austrians supported maintaining the country’s neutrality, with 17% in favor of joining a collective defense alliance such as NATO instead. (FT, 02.17.23)
  • Critics of former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder have failed in a bid to expel him from the ruling Social Democratic party (SPD) over his close friendship with Putin. (FT, 03.02.23)
  • South Korea’s Justice Ministry is to appeal a court ruling that granted two Russian men fleeing military mobilization the right to apply for refugee status, The Korea Times reported March 1. (MT/AFP, 03.02.23)


  • Algeria will reopen its embassy in Kyiv. (Reuters, 02.26.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The U.S. is closely monitoring Russia’s efforts to evade sanctions via Central Asia, Blinken said on Feb. 28 in Kazakhstan. Blinken's visit to Kazakhstan was the first by a Biden administration cabinet official to any Central Asian nation. Blinken announced $25 million in new support to diversify trade routes and create jobs in the region at the C5+1 diplomatic summit attended by the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. (NYT, 03.01.23, Bloomberg, 03.01.23, NYT, 02.28.23. RFE/RL, 02.28.23)
  • China's share in the total foreign trade volume of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) reached 23% in 2022, Eurasian Economic Commission spokesperson Iya Malkina told a briefing on March 1. (Interfax, 03.01.23)
  • China supports a fast-track accession of Belarus into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Lukashenko and Xi said in a joint statement following their talks in Beijing on March 1. (TASS, 03.01.23)
  • Border guards in Belarus have increased their checks of people leaving the country after anti-government activists claimed to have launched a drone attack on a Russian A-50 surveillance plane that was parked at an airfield near Minsk. (RFE/RL, 02.27.23)
  • A Belarusian court sentenced Ales Bialiatski, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for his decades of defending human rights in Belarus, to 10 years in prison on March 3, according to Viasna, the group that he helped found. (NYT, 03.03.23)
  • Romania's Defense Ministry has warned that dozens of social-media posts claiming Bucharest has been massing troops and military equipment at its border with Moldova are part of "a fake news" campaign launched by the Kremlin since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. (RFE/RL, 02.28.23)
  • Moldovan lawmakers have approved the first reading of a bill that will introduce the syntagma "Romanian language" in all official pieces of legislation. (RFE/RL, 03.03.23)
  • A Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air said will suspend flights to and from Moldova's main airport starting March 14 due to rising safety concerns, weeks after a Russian missile launched at Ukraine flew over Moldova. (WP, 02.28.23)
  • Moscow and Baku on Feb. 28 criticized the deployment of an expanded EU monitoring mission to Armenia's volatile border with Azerbaijan. Arch Caucasus foes Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars for control of the Nagorno-Karabakh border region but have recently made progress toward a peace deal. The EU announced last week it had deployed a 100-member civilian mission (EUMA) for two years to the Armenian side of the frontier. (MT/AFP, 02.28.23)
  • An Azerbaijani delegation on March 1 met with representatives of ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh to discuss issues related to the reopening of the Lachin Corridor. (RFE/RL, 03.01.23)
  • EU member states have issued a formal diplomatic warning to Georgia's leaders over the deteriorating health of jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili. All 27 EU member states agreed to the diplomatic demarche presented to the Georgian justice minister. Georgia's government should take urgent steps to protect the life of Saakashvili, including releasing him on health grounds, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said. (RFE/RL, 02.27.23, RFE/RL, 03.02.23)
  • Protesters have clashed with police in and outside of Georgia's parliament as lawmakers took up a controversial "foreign agents" law that critics say will harm press freedom and push the country toward authoritarianism. (RFE/RL, 03.03.23)


IV. Quotable and notable

  • "It is possible that the Russia-Ukraine conflict will become a testing ground for China to exert its influence as a major power and resolve international conflicts," wrote Ming Jinwei, a former senior editor at Xinhua, in his popular WeChat blog. Exercising this influence is an "important lesson for China on the road to its rise as a great power," Ming wrote. (WP, 02.28.23)
  • “I should like to remind people that the Leopard 2 tank is equipped with a sub-caliber armor-piercing projectile with a uranium core ... If they hand over such shells to Ukraine, we will consider it a ‘dirty bomb’ against Russia, with serious consequences to follow,” Russian Ambassador to China Igor Morgulov said. (Global Times, 02.27.23)
  • “The consequences of Ukraine in the EU will be complicated, even explosive,” said Thomas Gomart, director of IFRI, the French Institute of International Relations. “But it will be politically impossible to reject it.” (NYT, 03.03.23)