Russia in Review, Jan. 13-20, 2023

5 Things to Know

  1. The Biden administration is warming to the idea that Kyiv may need to strike Crimea, U.S. officials told NYT. American officials are also discussing with their Ukrainian counterparts the use of U.S.-supplied attack systems to target the land bridge from Crimea to Russia. If the Ukrainian military can show Russia that its control of Crimea can be threatened, that would strengthen Kyiv's position in any future negotiations, according to NYT’s sources in the U.S. government. According to Putin’s spokesman Peskov, however, there would be global consequences if Ukraine's allies supply it with weapons able to strike inside territory Russia claims as its own, WP reported. In a sign that the Kremlin is seriously concerned about strikes deep within Russia, the Russian military has begun deploying air defense systems in Moscow, according to MT.
  2. The U.S. will send more armored vehicles to Ukraine, but no tanks. The new $2.5 billion military aid package, which the Biden administration unveiled on Jan. 19, includes Strykers and Bradleys. At the same time, U.S. Defense Secretary Austin remains dead set against providing Abrams M1 MBTs. The U.S. would rather have Germany both deliver its own Leopard-2 tanks and allow other operators of this advanced MBT to do the same. Ukraine, which loses about 130 tanks a month, wants Western MBTs for future offensives, even if they are unlikely to be a game changer on the battlefield, according to WSJ. A meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which Austin chaired on Jan. 20 in Germany, ended with no decision to supply Leopard-2s as Germany insists that such a decision needs to be made in concert, ideally, but not necessarily, accompanied by a U.S. decision to supply its own MBTs.  
  3. Prigozhin claims gains by his Wagner Group in the Donetsk region as the Kremlin continues to downplay the PMC’s role. The increasingly outspoken leader of the Wagner Group claimed on Jan. 18 that his soldiers had taken control of Klishchiivka, putting Russian forces closer to encircling the town of Bakhmut. Ukrainian open-source intelligence team Deep State acknowledged in its assessment of battlefield developments on Jan. 19 that Klishchiivka has been captured, noting that the Russian forces are trying to “push into Bakhmut.” In spite of Wagner’s advances, Putin has attributed gains in eastern Ukraine to the regular Russian armed forces in comments made on Jan. 15. Putin then met with one of Prigozhin’s political enemies, St. Petersburg Gov. Alexander Beglov on Jan. 18 to discuss the city’s role in Russia’s war effort, according to ISW.
  4. Medvedev claims that Russia’s loss in Ukraine may lead to a nuclear war. "The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war," the deputy chairman of Putin’s Security Council wrote on his Telegram channel in reference to the Jan. 20 meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meant to provide more military aid to Kyiv. Putin’s spokesman Peskov claimed Medvedev’s statement was “in full compliance with our nuclear doctrine.” Peskov’s claim can be contested, however. Russia’s 2014 Military Doctrine and 2020 Basic Principles of State Policy on Nuclear Deterrence both say that the country can resort to nuclear weapons in a conventional war when “the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” An outcome of the current war, in which Russia loses territories it has occupied in Ukraine, will arguably fall short of putting the existence of the Russian state in jeopardy. It should also be noted that the deputy chairman of the Security Council is not part of Russia’s chain of nuclear command, though that doesn’t stop Medvedev from regularly rattling the country’s nuclear saber. Since the beginning of the invasion, Medvedev has warned that Washington’s attempts to humiliate Russia could end in a “big nuclear explosion.” He has also invoked the possibility of nuclear war if the International Criminal Court moves to punish Moscow for alleged crimes in Ukraine.1
  5. European scholars estimate that less than 9% of Western firms had divested from Russia as of the fall. Of the 1,404 EU and G-7 companies with commercially active equity investments in Russia before the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion, a total of 120 (8.5%) had actually left as of November 2022, according to a new paper by Simon J. Evenett of the University of St. Gallen and Niccolò Pisani of IMD Business School. The two authors’ findings contrast with a Yale project’s estimates, which put the number of Western companies that had left the Russian market by March-April 2022 at 450.


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

Nuclear security and safety

  • IAEA teams have been launched at Chernobyl, Rivne and the South Ukraine nuclear power plants this week, with the mission to the Khmelnitsky plant set to be in place in the next few days. (WNN, 01.20.23)
  • IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi says he worries that the world is becoming complacent about the considerable dangers posed by the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (Reuters, 01.19.23)
  • “Destruction of Russia as a state ... will open up the vast area of its 11 time zones to internal conflict and to outside intervention at the time when there are 15,000 and more nuclear weapons on its territory,” Henry Kissinger told the World Economic Forum via Zoom on Jan. 17.  (RM, 01.18.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Iran had rejected the chance to return to a nuclear deal with the U.S. months ago and he reiterated that a new agreement was no longer a Biden administration priority. (Bloomberg, 01.18.23)
  • Iran will receive a number of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets by March as part of a military order that includes defense systems, missiles and helicopters, according to Shahriar Heydari, a member of the Islamic Republic’s parliamentary commission for national security and foreign policy. (Bloomberg, 01.15.23)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • The confirmed civilian death toll has surpassed 7,000 people in Ukraine since Russia's military invasion nearly one year ago, with more than 11,000 injured, although the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Jan. 16 it believes the number is actually higher.  (RFE/RL, 01.16.23)
  • Rescuers called off the search Jan. 17 for victims of the Russian missile strike on an apartment building in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, with 20 people still missing and funerals being held. Ukrainian authorities said Jan. 17 the Russian strike in Dnipro at the weekend killed at least 45 people, including six children. (MT/AFP, 01.18.23)
    • Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine's presidential office, resigned after he said the building in Dnipro was likely hit by debris from a Russian missile after it was struck in the sky by Ukrainian air defenses. He also revoked his claim. Zelensky’s administration has accepted the resignation. (RFE/RL, 01.17.23, RM, 01.17.23, FT, 01.16.23)
    • Canada's foreign minister said on Jan. 18 that Ottawa had summoned Russia's ambassador to Canada over Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.19.23)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held a phone call Jan. 16 where a potential prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia was discussed. (RFE/RL, 01.16.23)
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has "urgent humanitarian concerns" over visits to Russian and Ukrainian prisoners of war. (RFE/RL, 01.18.23)
  • Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, on Jan. 17 challenged leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum, to use their influence to help her country. “Not all of you are using this influence,” she said, “or sometimes you are using it in a way that divides even more.” (NYT, 01.17.23)
  • The United States is providing $125 million for electrical parts and other supplies to help crews in Ukraine keep up with repairs of the country's electrical system. (AP, 01.18.23)
  • In a major effort to open the door to more refugee resettlement, the Biden administration will begin inviting ordinary Americans to directly sponsor the arrival of thousands of displaced people from around the world into their communities. (NYT, 01.19.23)
  • German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on Jan. 16 for the establishment of a special international tribunal to prosecute Russian leaders over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. (Reuters, 01.16.23)
  • The European Parliament has adopted a resolution to establish a special international tribunal that will prosecute Russia’s political and military leadership and its allies for “the crime of aggression against Ukraine.” (MT/AFP, 01.19.23)
  • Andrei Medvedev, who says he is a former commander of a Wagner unit, left the front lines in November and went on the run until he clambered across two border fences in northern Norway last week. (FT, 01.17.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • After months of discussions with Ukrainian officials, the Biden administration is finally starting to concede that Kyiv may need the power to strike the Russian sanctuary in Crimea, according to several U.S. officials. The Biden administration has come to believe that if the Ukrainian military can show Russia that its control of Crimea can be threatened, that would strengthen Kyiv's position in any future negotiations. American officials are discussing with their Ukrainian counterparts the use of American-supplied weapons, from HIMARS rocket systems to Bradley fighting vehicles, to possibly target the land bridge from Crimea to Russia. (NYT, 01.18.23)
    • The Kremlin said there would be global consequences if Ukraine's allies supply it with weapons that would allow its army to strike inside Russian territory. "That would mean that the conflict reaches a new qualitative level, which will not bode well for global and common European security," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Jan. 19. Even the discussion itself is "potentially extremely dangerous," he said. (WP, 01.19.23)
  • On Jan. 19, the U.S. announced a major new package of aid for Ukraine. The $2.5 billion package includes 100 Stryker combat vehicles and at least 50 more Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. The next tranche of aid also will include a substantial restock of ammunition for howitzers and rocket artillery, and more mine-resistant vehicles. (FT, 01.19.23, WP, 01.19.23, Bloomberg, 01.20.23)
  • The Pentagon has turned to two alternative supplies of shells to Ukraine: one in South Korea and the one in Israel. About half of the 300,000 rounds destined for Ukraine have already been shipped to Europe and will eventually be delivered through Poland, Israeli and American officials said. (NYT, 01.17.23)
  • The U.S. this week began combined arms training for Ukrainian forces in Germany. "This is one of those moments in time where if you want to make a difference, this is it," Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told American trainers in Germany. Milley also met Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, the top officer in Ukraine's armed forces, in person for the first time at an undisclosed location near the Polish-Ukrainian border, said Col. David Butler, a U.S. military spokesman. "They've talked in detail about the defense that Ukraine is trying to do against Russia's aggression," Butler said. (WP, 01.18.23, WP, 01.17.23, FT, 01.19.23, WP, 01.17.23)
  • No decision was made on the provision of Germany’s Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Germany on Jan. 20. (Bloomberg, 01.20.23)
    • Addressing the meeting by video link on Jan. 20, Zelensky has again pleaded with Ukraine's allies to accelerate deliveries of tanks. He also asked the participants to consider other advanced systems, such as long-range missiles and fighter jets. Earlier this week Zelensky also told the World Economic Forum earlier this week that Western supplies of tanks and air-defense systems should come more quickly. (RFE/RL, 01.18.23, RFE/RL, 01.20.23, FT, 01.20.23)
    • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that "Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip.”  “We have a window of opportunity here, you know, between now and the spring … whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive, and that's not a long time, and we have to pull together the right capabilities,” he said. Austin remains dead set against providing U.S.-made Abrams M1s, the most powerful tanks in the world, to Ukraine. (WP, 01.19.23, RFE/RL, 01.20.23, U.S. Department of Defense, 01.20.23)
    • At the meeting, Germany’s new defense minister Boris Pistorius said he could not say when a decision on tanks might come, but that Germany was prepared to move fast if there was consensus among allies. He also said Berlin will review stock of Leopards for when agreement is struck. Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, has so far proved reluctant to approve any transfer of tanks, saying Berlin must act in concert with its allies, notably the U.S. (FT, 01.19.23, Bloomberg, 01.20.23, FT, 01.20.23, WP, 01.19.23)
    • Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Warsaw would go ahead and send the 14 Leopard 2 tanks it has pledged to Ukraine whether or not Germany consents. There were also initial signs that other countries that have the Leopards—which include Finland, Poland and Denmark—could defy the Berlin government. (WP, 01.19.23, WSJ, 01.20.23)
      • Ukraine is losing a lot of tanks to enemy fire—possibly as many as 130 a month, according to Gustav Gressel of ECFR. Gressel estimated around 200 tanks could be assembled in a Europe-wide effort, with around 80 deliverable by early summer. Ukraine wants Western tanks for future offensives even though the tanks are unlikely to be a game changer on the battlefield, according to WSJ. (WP, 01.19.23, FT, 01.20.23, RM, 01.20.23)
  • “From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from all—every inch of Ukraine and occupied—or Russian-occupied Ukraine,” Milley said. At the same time, Milley said that “it's very, very possible to—for the Ukrainians to run a significant tactical- or … even operational-level offensive operation.” (U.S. Department of Defense, 01.20.23)
  • CIA Director William Burns traveled in secret to Kyiv at the end of last week to brief Zelensky on his expectations for what Russia is planning militarily. Top of mind for Zelensky and his senior intelligence officials during the meeting was how long Ukraine could expect U.S. and Western assistance to continue following Republicans' takeover of the House and a drop-off in support of Ukraine aid among parts of the U.S. electorate. (WP, 01.19.23)
  • British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has informed Kyiv that Britain intends to send Challenger 2 main battle tanks and artillery support. U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the U.K. will send a further 600 Brimstone ground or air-launched attack missiles to Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 01.19.23, RFE/RL, 01.14.23)
  • Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Netherlands plans to send a Patriot system to Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 01.17.23)
  • Finland has announced a new package of more than 400 million euros ($434 million) in military aid for Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.20.23)
  • An estimated 1,000 to 3,000 foreign fighters are believed to be active in the Ukrainian military, with most serving in three battalions of the International Legion, according to analysts and academics monitoring them. (WP, 01.19.23)
  • Ukrainian troops repelled attacks near 14 settlements in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including Bakhmut and Soledar, over the past day, the Ukrainian General Staff said on Jan. 19. Meanwhile, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner Group, claimed on Jan. 18 that his soldiers had taken control of Klishchiivka in the Donetsk region. Ukrainian open-source intelligence team Deep State acknowledged in its assessment of developments on Jan. 19 that Klishchiivka had been captured and said that Russian forces are trying to “push into Bakhmut.” Capturing the town would put Moscow, which already controls territory north of Bakhmut, closer to encircling the city.  (WSJ, 01.19.23, RM, 01.20.23, Bloomberg, 01.20.23)
  • The Kremlin has continued to publicly challenge Prigozhin’s claims that Wagner Group forces were solely responsible for capturing Soledar. Putin on Jan. 15 attributed the success on the frontlines to Russian Defense Ministry and General Staff plans. Putin also met on Jan. 18 with St. Petersburg Gov. Alexander Beglov—one of Prigozhin's political enemies—for the first time since early March 2022 to discuss St. Petersburg’s role in the Russian war effort. In remarks on Jan. 18, Putin said Moscow had no choice but to invade Ukraine and called Russia’s victory in the war “inevitable.” (ISW, 01.16.23, MT/AFP, 01.15.23, NYT, 01.18.23, ISW, 01.19.23)
    • Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov declared that the Wagner Group does not belong in the structure of the Russian Armed Forces. (ISW, 01.19.23)
    • “The Ukrainian army is working clearly and harmoniously. We have a lot to learn from them," Prigozhin said. (MT/AFP, 01.19.23)
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited the command headquarters of a group of forces deployed in Ukraine, where he discussed materiel needs and handed out awards. (MT/AFP, 01.17.23)
  • Pantsir-S1 and S-400 air defense systems have been spotted across Moscow, including on the roof of the Russian Defense Ministry, this week amid concerns over Ukraine’s ability to strike deep within Russian territory. (MT/AFP, 01.20.23)
  • Russia’s verifiable death toll now stands at 11,662 troops after 942 names were added between Jan. 1-17, the Mediazona news website said Jan. 19. “It’s a super record,” Mediazona editor Dmitry Treshchanin said. Draftees account for 644 of Russia’s 11,662 troop deaths since the start of the war, the data shows. The real toll of the nearly 11-month invasion is believed to be much higher. (MT/AFP, 01.20.23)
  • The U.S. estimates that 4,000 of Wagner’s 50,000 mercenaries have been killed on the Soledar-Bakhmut front line, with 10,000 injured. (FT, 01.15.23)
  • Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) said on Jan. 20 that it had apprehended a network of agents of Russia's GRU military intelligence, who, among other things, coordinated Russian missile strikes in the city of Dnipro. (RFE/RL, 01.20.22)
  • On the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2022, Ukrainian banker Denys Kiryeyev told Ukrainian military intelligence chief Budanov that Putin had just given orders to invade. Kiryeyev also knew the main point of attack, Antonov Airport, outside Kyiv, Budanov told WSJ. According to an Aug. 16, 2022, story in Newsweek and Insider, however, it was CIA Director William Burns who told Zelensky in Jan. 2022 that Russian forces planned to take control of Antonov Airport and use it to fly in troops who would be used to topple Ukraine's government. Kiryeyev ended up being shot by agents of the SBU in March 2022 in what presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak blamed on “lack of coordination” among Ukraine’s security agencies. (RM, 01.19.23)

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

  • A new paper by Simon J. Evenett of the University of St. Gallen and Niccolò Pisani of IMD  Business School estimates that there had been 1,404 EU and G-7 companies with commercially active equity investments in Russia before the invasion. Of these a total of 120 (8.5%) had actually left after the invasion, according to the authors’s findings. The paper also contains an estimate of how many total foreign companies had operated in Russia before the invasion: 2,956. Of these 143 (4.8%) exited. The two authors’ findings contrast with a Yale’s project’s estimates, which put the number of Western companies that had left the Russian market by March-April 2022 at 450. (RM, 01.19.23)
  • Wintershall’s chief executive Mario Mehren said operations in Russia, where Wintershall derived roughly a fifth of its pre-tax profit in the past financial year, were no longer “tenable” nearly a year into the conflict. He said “Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine” had destroyed the possibilities for cooperation between Moscow and Europe, adding that it was also becoming more difficult to operate in the country. (FT, 01.18.23)
  • For the majority of Western banks trying to sell their Russian assets, hopes for a swift exit were shattered when Putin last year said foreign owners from “unfriendly” countries could not complete deals without his approval. The list of implicated companies includes 45 banks with subsidiaries in Russia. (FT, 01.16.23)
  • The Kremlin has given major Russian companies permission to disregard the votes of shareholders from so-called "unfriendly" countries this year as a means of combatting the effectiveness of Western sanctions. (MT/AFP, 01.17.23)
  • Since May, Russia has received more than $20 billion worth of goods through the so-called parallel imports process the head of Russian customs said. Much of the cargo consists of cars and equipment for factories. (NYT, 01.13.23)
  • Hungary is once again threatening to water down the European Union's sanctions regime against Russia by insisting that nine people be removed from a list of restrictive measures, including Alisher Usmanov, Pyotr Aven and Viktor Rashnikov. (RFE/RL, 01.17.23)
  • Russians were the biggest international buyers of Dubai real estate last year, when the city emerged as a safe haven amid geopolitical and economic uncertainty elsewhere, according to brokerage Betterhomes. (Bloomberg, 01.16.23)
  • Ukraine’s prime minister Denys Shmyhal has urged the IAEA to impose sanctions on Russia’s state nuclear firm Rosatom. A letter from a Rosatom department chief, dated October 2022 and obtained by Ukrainian intelligence, shows the state nuclear company offering to provide goods to Russian military units and to Russian weapons manufacturers that are under sanctions, including Almaz-Antey, NPK Tekhmash and Vysokotochniye Kompleksy. (WP, 01.20.23, NYT, 01.19.23)
  • The Biden administration designated Russia’s Wagner Group a transnational criminal organization in a new effort to blunt the mercenary company’s powerful role on the battlefield in Ukraine and around the world. New sanctions will be coming next week against the group. (Bloomberg, 01.20.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • “Negotiations with V.A. Zelensky are out of the question. Because he legally forbade negotiating with the Russian government. … We will be ready for any serious proposals [by the West on negotiations] to answer, consider them and decide. ... In fact, the West decides for Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at an annual news conference on Jan. 18. During the conference, Lavrov also said the goals of Moscow’s “special military operation” will be fulfilled. “There must be no military infrastructure in Ukraine that poses a direct threat to our country,” Lavrov said, adding that Moscow also intends to make sure the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine are protected. (RM, 01.18.23, AP, 01.18.23)
  • Speaking at the World Economic Forum via Zoom on Jan. 17, Henry Kissinger said the U.S. should continue and, if necessary, even intensify its military support for Ukraine “until the ceasefire lines are reached or accepted.” The 99-year-old American statesman believes “an end of fighting” can occur “when the pre-war line is reached,” implying a status quo ante, in which Russia abandons all its land grabs since re-invading Ukraine, but not Crimea or parts of the Donbas controlled by separatists prior to the launch of the invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. (RM, 01.18.23)
  • Ukraine wants to expand a crucial grain-export agreement to include steel shipments as a way to support an economy battered by Russia’s war, Economy Minister Yuliia Svyrydenko said in an interview. (Bloomberg, 01.18.23)

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

  • Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Jon Finer, the principal deputy national security adviser, and Colin H. Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, traveled to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky on Jan. 16. During the meetings, the leaders talked about how international assistance "has helped stabilize Ukraine's economy," as well as how the U.S. and Ukraine could continue to have an economic and trade relationship when the war is over. (NYT, 01.17.23, CNN, 01.16.23)
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said France’s military budget for 2024 to 2030 would be €400 billion, if parliament approved, up from €295 billion from 2019 to 2025. (FT, 01.20.23)
  • Sanna Marin, the prime minister of NATO aspirant Finland, says she hopes the West has learned its lessons on how to deal with Russia. If Ukraine had been a NATO member, there would not be a war in the country now, Marin said. (dpa, 01.17.23)
  • Sweden and Finland must extradite up to 130 "terrorists" to Turkey before its parliament will approve their bids to join NATO, Erdogan said Jan. 16. (Reuters, 01.16.23)
  • Two of three NATO surveillance planes deployed temporarily to Romania have arrived at an air base near Bucharest, from where they will fly missions to monitor Russian military activity. (RFE/RL, 01.17.23)
  • A Russian vessel, suspected to be a spy ship, has been operating near Hawaii in recent weeks, the Coast Guard said this week. The agency is monitoring the ship using "surface and air assets," it added. (WP, 01.20.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Russian crude oil supplies to China rose by 8.2% in 2022 to 86.24 million tons, the General Administration of Customs of China reported. In December, Russia ranked second among the leading oil suppliers to China, while Saudi Arabia ranked first. (TASS, 01.20.23)
  • Russia’s pipeline gas supplies to China climbed roughly 2.54-fold to over 7.53 million tons in 2021 compared with 2020. The cost of Russian pipeline gas delivered to China in 2022 amounted to $3.98 billion, a 2.63-fold increase, Chinese customs said. (TASS, 01.20.23)
  • “Our relations with the People's Republic of China are experiencing the best times in the history of cooperation ... For the PRC, getting out of Western dependence is much more difficult than for the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said at an annual news conference on Jan. 18. (RM, 01.18.23)
  • Zelensky attempted to initiate a dialogue with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the form of a letter, Ukraine's first lady, Olena Zelenska, told reporters at Davos, adding that she personally handed the note to Chinese officials. (WP, 01.19.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms

  • "The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war," Deputy Chairman of Russia's Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said in a post on Telegram. "Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends," Medvedev claimed. Putin’s spokesman Peskov subsequently claimed Medvedev’s statement is “in full compliance with our nuclear doctrine.”  (Reuters, 01.19.23, RM, 01.20.23)
  • Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden issued a joint statement last week to declare that "any use of a nuclear weapon by Russia in Ukraine would be an act of hostility against humanity and unjustifiable in any way." The joint statement, issued while Kishida visited Washington last week to meet with Biden, addressed countering Russia and China, as Kishida repeated his concerns over the weekend that East Asia could face a fate similar to that of Ukraine amid Beijing's simmering ambitions in the region. In response, Dmitry Medvedev said Jan. 14 that Kishida should perform a ritualistic suicide by disembowelment. (WP, 01.15.23)
  • The first batch of Poseidon nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicles, which can carry nuclear or conventional warheads, has been manufactured and will be carried by the Belgorod nuclear powered submarine, according to TASS. (RM, 01.17.23)
  • The U.S. nuclear arsenal remained roughly unchanged in the last year, with the Department of Defense maintaining an estimated stockpile of approximately 3,708 warheads, according to United States nuclear weapons-2023 report by Hans M. Kristensen and Matthew Korda of the Federation of American Scientists. Of these, only about 1,770 warheads are deployed, while approximately 1,938 are held in reserve. (RM, 01.17.23)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • The livestream of a press conference by Ukrainian authorities on Russian hacking was repeatedly interrupted by a cyberattack, according to a senior government official. Yurii Shchyhol, head of the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection, said Ukraine was targeted with 2,194 cyberattacks in 2022—a quarter of which targeted the government. (Bloomberg, 01.17.23)
  • U.S. authorities have charged a Russian national with transmitting more than $700 million in illicit cryptocurrency funds that fell foul of U.S. money laundering regulations. The Department of Justice on Jan. 18 said it arrested Anatoly Legkodymov in Miami. He is the founder of Bitzlato, a cryptocurrency exchange that U.S. authorities described as a “crucial financial resource” to the dark net. (FT, 01.19.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia exported record-breaking volumes of diesel fuel in December 2022 at 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd), with 60% of the supplies transported to European countries, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). (TASS, 01.18.23)
  • The Biden administration is inclined to oppose any move to lower the price cap on exports of Russian crude oil, despite a push by some European countries to squeeze Moscow’s revenues even more, according to people familiar with the matter. Russia’s flagship oil Urals is trading far below international prices—and the Group of Seven’s $60 per barrel cap that came into effect on Dec. 5. The European Union agreed to review the price cap every two months, starting in mid-January, with an aim to keep the threshold at least 5% below the average market price. (Bloomberg, 01.19.23)
  • Buyers of Russian oil are demanding increasingly wider discounts to Brent, the crude benchmark. Last year, the discounts deprived Moscow of an estimated $50 billion, according to the Kyiv School of Economics, equivalent to 12% of its planned revenue. At $35-$40, the spread between the price of Brent and Urals, the leading Russian blend, is around 10 times greater than before the invasion last February. Urals crude traded at $46.82 per barrel between mid-December and mid-January. That’s the lowest level since the monitoring period of mid-October to mid-November in 2020. (Bloomberg, 01.16.23, FT, 01.19.23)
  • Russia could start exporting oil to energy-starved Pakistan after March if terms are agreed, and it is discussing with Islamabad whether payment could be made in the currencies of "friendly" countries, Russia's energy minister said Jan. 20. (Reuters, 01.20.23)
  • Russia hoped cutting off natural gas would cause Europe to freeze and weaken its support for Kyiv, officials on the continent say. Warm weather and ample supplies from other producers have derailed that effort so far. European gas prices tumbled 15% on Jan. 16 to levels last experienced in September 2021. ''Europe is already on course to get through this winter,'' Daniel Yergin said. ''The big worry now, and we'll hear this at Davos, is next winter, when they won't have any Russian gas to put into storage.'' (WSJ, 01.16.23, NYT, 01.17.23)
    • After trading near €150 per megawatt hour ($48 per million British thermal units) at the beginning of December, natural gas prices have fallen below €60/MWh ($19 per mmbtu) this week. (FT, 01.20.23)
  • Germany learned a lesson from the war in Ukraine that it shouldn’t depend on just one country for its energy supplies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview. (Bloomberg, 01.17.23)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • The space agencies for the U.S. and Russia agreed that a Russian spacecraft will fly next month to the International Space Station to retrieve three people, after a leak emerged on the Russian ship that flew them to the facility. (WSJ, 01.14.23)
  • The FSB says it has opened a criminal case against a U.S. citizen "on the grounds" of committing espionage. "The American is suspected of collecting intelligence information on biological topics directed against the security of the Russian Federation," the FSB said in a statement on Jan. 19. It gave no further details or comment. (RFE/RL, 01.19.23)
  • Artyom Uss, the son of the governor of Russia's Krasnoyarsk Krai region, has asked an Italian court to extradite him to Russia, not the United States, where he faces up to 30 years in prison on charges of sanctions evasion and money laundering. (RFE/RL, 01.17.23)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Citing data from the Ministry of Economic Development, Putin said that Russia’s GDP had declined between January and November 2022—but only by 2.1 %. He noted that "some of our experts, not to mention foreign experts, predicted a decline of 10%, 15% and even 20%." (WP, 01.18.23)
  • Russia’s revenue from fertilizer exports soared last year despite a decline in sales volumes, as crop nutrient prices rose sharply after its invasion of Ukraine. In the first 10 months of 2022, Russian fertilizer exports jumped 70% to $16.7 billion compared to the same period in 2021, according to U.N. data. (FT, 01.15.23)
  • Russia's National Wealth Fund shrank to $148.4 billion as of Jan. 1, down $38.1 billion in a month, as the government took out cash to plug its budget deficit, data showed on Jan. 18. (Reuters, 01.18.23)
  • The majority of Russians have been unable to plan for a year or more ahead since December 2021, according to independent Russian pollster the Levada Center. The share of Russians who said they cannot plan for even the nearest months was lower than the share of those who said they could plan for a year or more ahead for most of 2010-2018, according to Levada. However, December 2021 saw the share of those who cannot plan for even the nearest months (56%) exceed the share of those who said they could plan for a year (41%). The latest measurement in December 2022 showed that the share of those who cannot plan for even the nearest months decreased somewhat (51%), but still exceeded the share of those who say they could plan for a year (47%). (RM, 01.15.23)
  • The share of Russians who feel responsible for the state of affairs in their country either fully or to a significant extent hit 29% in September 2019 and has remained there or above since, according to Levada. In the last measurement before the war in Ukraine, it was 29.5%. The latest measurement, in December 2022, shows that 36.9% of respondents feel responsible for the state of affairs in their country either fully or to significant extent—a 25% rise, according to Levada. (RM, 01.15.23) The war is at least partially responsible for that growth, indicating that senior Kremlin staffers' recent efforts to rally the Russian public by re-framing what it initially insisted was a special military operation as a patriotic war have somewhat succeeded.
  • Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, marking the second anniversary of his incarceration on charges widely believed to be politically motivated, says he remains hopeful the "thieves" trying to steal the country from its citizens will fail and be dislodged from power. (RFE/RL, 01.17.23)
    • A group of Russian lawyers has demanded an end to the "blatant torture" of Navalny, who is being held in punitive solitary confinement in a prison in Russia's Vladimir region. More than 80 lawmakers across Russia have signed an open letter demanding Putin stop pressuring Navalny, who has been placed in punitive solitary confinement several times since August. (RFE/RL, 01.16.23, RFE/RL, 01.19.23)
  • Russian governors and party leaders in several regions have informally restricted local officials from traveling abroad following controversy over civil servants’ wartime visits to luxury resorts overseas, the Kommersant daily reported. (MT/AFP, 01.17.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Putin on Jan. 17 said that Russian military suppliers continue to increase their capacity, with many companies working in several shifts or around the clock. Putin said Russia produces three times as many air defense missiles as the United States. (WSJ, 01.17.23, AP, 01.17.23)
  • Shoigu provided a timetable for the troop increase it outlined in December. The country's army will increase to 1.5 million military personnel between 2023 and 2026—compared with its current level of 1.15 million and one million at the start of 2022, Shoigu said. Russia will create new military districts in the regions around Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as an army corps in Karelia on the border with Finland, Shoigu said. The country will also set up "self-sufficient" units in Russian-held territories of Ukraine, he said. (WSJ, 01.17.23)
  • Once a shadowy organization whose very existence was unconfirmed, Russia's notorious Wagner mercenary group has now been registered as a joint-stock company in St. Petersburg. (MT/AFP, 01.17.23)
  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • A court in Russia's western region of Bryansk on Jan. 17 sentenced Kirill Belousov to five years in prison for planning to join Ukraine's armed forces and fight against Russia in the ongoing war in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.18.23)
  • Police in the western Russian city of Lipetsk have shot dead Dmitry Perov, a soldier they were trying to arrest after he deserted with a firearm from fighting in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.18.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Lavrov said at an annual news conference on Jan. 18 that the United States had gathered a coalition of European countries that is using Ukraine as a proxy to solve “the Russian question.” He compared such actions to those of Adolf Hitler, “who sought a final solution to the ‘Jewish question.’” (NYT, 01.19.23)
    • “Our first reaction is how dare he compare anything to the Holocaust, anything, let alone a war that they started,” John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, said. (NYT, 01.19.23)
    • Israel’s Foreign Ministry called Lavrov’s remarks “unacceptable.” Last May, Israel condemned his assertion that Jews were “the biggest antisemites” and his false claim that Hitler had Jewish roots. (NYT, 01.19.23)
    • "Latest comments by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov accusing 'The West' of seeking a 'final solution' for Russia are entirely misplaced, disrespectful and trample on the memory of the six million Jewish people, and other victims, who were systematically murdered in the Holocaust," the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement. (MT/AFP, 01.19.23)
  • At his annual press conference, Lavrov attacked the OSCE, underscoring the infeasibility of the Kremlin supporting a third Minsk-type agreement. Lavrov accused NATO and the European Union of using the OSCE against Russia. (ISW, 01.19.23)
    • OSCE has demanded an explanation after video emerged appearing to show some of its armored vehicles that had been stuck in Russia being transported into an occupied part of eastern Ukraine. (NYT, 01.20.23)
  • “We, from the very beginning, said that we were not able and we could not support Russia’s invasion against Ukraine,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said. “For us, Crimea is Ukraine, Donbas is Ukraine—and it’ll remain so,” he said. (FT, 01.18.23)
  • The Serbian government has asked Moscow to end its attempts to recruit Serbs to fight in Ukraine as part of the Wagner mercenary group. Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic has told RFE/RL that Serbia's military and civilian security agencies are monitoring and analyzing information related to alleged Serbian fighters who have joined Russian units in Ukraine. "Our country is very clear that the participation of Serbian citizens in all conflicts in other countries is prohibited, and this entails legal consequences," he said. (RFE/RL, 01.16.23, MT/AFP, 01.17.23)
  • Spain’s prime minister has warned that Europe must be alert to fighting the “rot” of Putin supporters operating within its borders if it is to prevent them from harming the EU. In an address at Davos, Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Socialist leader, said: “Let’s not forget that the Russian autocrat is not alone in his reactionary aspiration[s] . . . He has some allies in Europe now.” (FT, 01.18.23)


  • Zelensky wants to visit the U.N. to address a high-level meeting of the 193-member General Assembly on the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of his country. (AP, 01.14.23)
  • A Ukrainian helicopter has crashed near a kindergarten and a residential building just outside of Kyiv, leaving 16 dead, including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy and other senior ministry officials. (RFE/RL, 01.18.23)
  • The State Bureau of Investigation of Ukraine reported uncovering an alleged scheme of large-scale theft of products meant for the Ukrainian army. As part of the case, the bureau conducted more than 70 searches and seized more than 30,000 cans of stew weighing more than seven tons, ready for resale, as well as almost 4 million hryvnia ($108,000) in various currencies. (RBC, 01.20.23)
  • Ukraine’s supreme anti-corruption court is to rule on Jan. 23 whether to keep ex-chairman of the board of Ukraine’s state-owned Neftegaz Ukrainy Andrei Kobolev behind bars as investigators continue to probe him for the alleged embezzlement of 229 million hryvnia  ($6.23 million) in 2018. (, 01.19.23)
  • Russia’s largest bank Sberbank is launching operations in Crimea for the first time since Moscow annexed the peninsula. (MT/AFP, 01.18.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Shoigu and Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin discussed unspecified bilateral military cooperation, the implementation of unspecified strategic deterrence measures, and “progress in preparing” the joint Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Troops (RGV) in a Jan. 19 phone call. This could be setting conditions for a Russian attack against Ukraine from Belarus, although not necessarily and not in the coming weeks. (ISW, 01.19.23)
  • Lavrov met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk and discussed an unspecified Russo-Belarusian “shared vision” for Russia’s war in Ukraine on Jan. 19. Lavrov and Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik discussed how Russia and Belarus can defeat an ongoing Western hybrid war. (ISW, 01.19.23)
  • Russia and Belarus on Jan. 16 launched large-scale joint air-force drills. (NYT, 01.16.23)
  • TVEL delivered nuclear fuel produced by Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant to the Belarusian nuclear power plant at Ostrovets. (WNN, 01.18.23)
  • A new criminal case has been brought against opposition video blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, who has already been sentenced to 18 years in prison, Belarusian authorities said on Jan. 16. The Investigative Committee of Belarus said Tsikhanouski now faces charges of "malicious disobedience to the requirements of the administration of a correctional institution." (RFE/RL, 01.16.23)
  • The trial in absentia of Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her four associates has started in Minsk after they challenged the results of a 2020 election they say was rigged to keep Lukashenko in power. Five other Belarusian activists have each been sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison in a high-profile case related to the creation of a social-media account that revealed the personal data of law enforcement officers involved in the brutal crackdown on protests over the results of the August 2020 presidential election. (RFE/RL, 01.17.23, RFE/RL, 01.18.23)
  • Lavrov says the Kremlin is ready to send a mission from the Moscow-led CSTO to the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia. (RFE/RL, 01.18.23)
  • The blockade of Karabakh by Azerbaijan has halted the daily transport of 400 tons of food, medicine and other products that used to be delivered from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, causing severe shortages, said Gegham Stepanyan, the human-rights ombudsman for Nagorno-Karabakh. (WSJ, 01.20.23)
  • Authorities in Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh say a pipeline supplying natural gas from Armenia and passing through Azerbaijani-controlled territory has resumed operations about six hours after it was blocked. (RFE/RL, 01.17.23)
  • Fifteen soldiers were killed and three more were critically injured in a major fire that broke out at a military barracks in Armenia, the Defense Ministry said Jan. 19. The ministry said the fire broke out at the barracks. (RFE/RL, 01.19.23)
  • The trade turnover between Georgia and Russia in 2022 exceeded $2.4 billion, which is 52% more than in 2021, according to data published by the National Statistics Service of Georgia Jan. 20. Turkey was first among Georgia’s trading partners in 2022, with trade exceeding $2.8 billion, which is 30% more than in 2021. China was third with a trade turnover of over $1.8 billion (annual growth of 26%). (TASS, 01.20.23) Parallel imports?
  • More than $2 billion was transferred from Russia to Georgia last year as Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February prompted some 112,000 Russians to relocate to Georgia. (RFE/RL, 01.17.23)
  • Authorities in Moldova said on Jan. 15 that specialist teams have carried out "controlled detonations" of explosives that were discovered in rocket debris that border officials found in a northern village near the border with Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.15.23)
  • Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has dismissed the parliament's lower chamber, the Mazhilis, and set March 19 as the date for snap parliamentary elections. (RFE/RL, 01.19.23)
  • Kazakhstan has tightened entrance regulations for citizens of the Eurasian Economic Union member states as the number of Russian citizens arriving increases. As of Jan. 27, citizens from the group—Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Armenia—will be unable to stay in Kazakhstan for more than 90 days within 180 days. (RFE/RL, 01.17.23)
  • The owner of the rebranded Russian McDonald’s is seeking to expand into Kazakhstan. The U.S. fast food giant sold its Russian business to a local licensee in May 2022 in response to the invasion of Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 01.16.23)
  • Kazakh lawmaker Azamat Abdildaev has been expelled from the Aq Zhol (Bright Path) party, which positions itself as the opposition, after expressing support for Russia's aggression against Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.19.23)
  • Police and security officers have held a series of "anti-terrorist" raids in Uzbekistan's volatile Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, where unprecedented anti-government protests last year left 21 people dead. (RFE/RL, 01.20.23)


IV. Quotable and notable

  • No significant developments.



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