Russia in Review, Jan. 6-13, 2023

4 Things to Know

  1. Latest reshuffle leaves Gen. Valery Gerasimov personally responsible for the military outcomes of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has fired Gen. Sergei Surovikin as the commander of Russia’s joint group of forces in Ukraine,  installing chief of the General Staff Gen. Gerasimov in his place. The Jan. 11 reshuffle means that Gerasimov—who has been described as the brain behind the development of Russia’s war machine in recent years—will now have to personally answer for the result of a possible major offensive that the Russian army is reportedly preparing for spring, as well as for the Russian campaign’s further outcomes (unless he, too, ends up removed from the post like three of his predecessors, who lasted an estimated average of 92 days on the job).
  2. China now perceives a likelihood that Russia will fail to prevail against Ukraine and emerge from the conflict a “minor power,” FT quoted Chinese officials as saying. In addition, some in the Chinese government now express mistrust toward Putin, who did not inform Beijing of its intention to launch a full invasion of Ukraine, according to five PRC officials interviewed by FT at different times. As part of their country’s attempt at a diplomatic reset with the EU, Chinese officials have been telling European counterparts that Beijing is willing to use its close relationship with Moscow to restrain Putin from resorting to nuclear weapons, FT reported. Meanwhile, Russian-Chinese trade reached an all-time high last year, totaling more than $190 billion, according to the PRC’s customs agency.
  3. Russian trolls on Twitter had little impact on the U.S. presidential elections in 2016, according to a study published in the Nature Communications scientific journal. The study’s authors have concluded the Russian influence operations on Twitter ahead of the Nov. 9, 2016 elections reached relatively few users, finding “no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization or voting behavior.” "My personal sense coming out of this is that this got way overhyped," Josh Tucker, one of the report's authors told WP about the meaningfulness of the Russian tweets. 
  4. Reducing poverty becomes a priority for Putin as his staff gears up to have him “reelected” in 2024. Putin’s government has recently increased spending on social programs, defense and security to such an extent that they now jointly account of two-thirds of the federal budget’s expenditures, according to Bloomberg. In addition to supporting the war against Ukraine and stifling dissent at home, this choice of priorities has helped the Kremlin to reduce the number of people living under the official subsistence level of the ruble equivalent of a $186 per month income from 16 million in the third quarter of 2021 to 15.3 million in the third quarter of 2022, according to Russia’s statistics agency. This reduction in poverty is occurring as Kremlin advisers are laying the groundwork for Putin to run for “reelection” in March 2024 on the notion of national unity, according to Kommersant.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Next week, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi will visit the South Ukraine and Rivne NPPs, as well as the Chornobyl site to launch the missions consisting of two IAEA experts at each of the facilities. “Soon the IAEA will be permanently present at all of Ukraine’s nuclear power facilities, including Chornobyl,” he said. Brokering a deal on a safe zone around Ukraine's Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia NPP is getting harder because of the military’s involvement in talks, he said. (IAEA, 01.13.23, Reuters, 01.11.23)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin will speak with Grossi if necessary, but such a meeting is currently not on the Russian president’s work schedule, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. (TASS, 01.12.23) 
  • A Russian hacking team known as Cold River targeted the Brookhaven, Argonne and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories between August and September. The hackers created fake login pages for each institution and emailed nuclear scientists in a bid to make them reveal their passwords. (Reuters, 01.06.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • Russia and Ukraine have agreed on an exchange of 40 prisoners of war each, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said on Jan. 11 after meeting her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Lubinets in Turkey. (Reuters, 01.11.23)
  • Moscow said Ukrainian missile strikes had hit two power plants in the country’s Russian-occupied Donetsk region early on Jan. 8. (FT, 01.08.23)
  • Russia's Wagner Group said members of its forces found the body of one of two British volunteer aid workers who had been reported missing in eastern Ukraine. The statement included a photo that appeared to show passports bearing the names of Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Parry, the two missing workers. (Reuters, 01.12.23)
  • As the first anniversary of Russia's invasion nears, Europe is starting to roll out 18 billion euros ($19.4 billion) in support for Kyiv. (Reuters, 01.13.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • Russia has replaced Gen. Sergei Surovikin after barely three months as head of its Ukraine campaign following a succession of battlefield setbacks and failure to turn the war in Moscow’s favor. His replacement is chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov.  Gerasimov has thus become the fourth Russian general to command Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. His three predecessors lasted an estimated average of 92 days on the job. As for Surovikin, he becomes Gerasimov’s deputy in this campaign along with two other generals—Oleg Salyukov and Alexey Kim. On Surovikin’s watch Russia lost control of the southern town of Kherson. Together with deadly military mistakes—such as the housing of hundreds of conscripts in a single building in the town of Makiivka, leading to the deaths of dozens in a rocket strike by Kyiv—territorial losses have led to harsh rebukes from the Russian pro-war rightwing. Surovikin also oversaw an intense campaign of strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, regularly knocking out electricity in cities but not shaking up the balance of power on the front line. (FT, 01.11.23, al Jazeera, 01.11.23, RFE/RL, 01.12.23)
    • The demotion of Surovikin strikes a blow against the hawks who favored him, including Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov and head of the Wagner paramilitary organization, Yevgeny Prigozhin, both of whom had criticized the Defense Ministry and regular armed forces. (WSJ, 01.12.23)
    • Russia's widely read pro-war bloggers offered mixed reactions to the promotion of Col. Gen. Alexander Lapin, a senior military officer who was widely blamed for Russia’s battlefield retreats in the second half of 2022. Lapin was named chief of the General Staff of the Ground Forces. (MT/AFP, 01.11.23)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed on Jan. 13 that the country's Armed Forces had captured eastern Ukraine’s salt-mining town of Soledar, some 48 hours after the victory was claimed by head of PMC Wagner Prigozhin. “Taking full control of Soledar allows us to cut off the supply routes of the Ukrainian forces in the southwestern town of [Bakhmut] and then blockade and take the remaining units into a ‘cauldron,’” the Russian defense ministry added. In what might have been the first such acknowledgement, the ministry admitted that Wagner played a lead role in capturing Soledar, though it also emphasized the participation of the regular Russian armed forces in the operation. The capture of Soledar, whose pre-war population was 10,000, is a key objective for the Russian military in a larger campaign to take control of the strategic Donetsk region city of Bakhmut. (MT/AFP, 01.13.23, RM, 01.13.23, FT, 01.13.23)
    • Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told Ukrainian outlet RBC-Ukraine that Russia’s claim of capturing Soledar is “not true,” adding that “fighting is going on in the city.” (CNN, 01.13.23)
    • Staff of the Ukrainian open-source intelligence project DeepState wrote on their  Telegram account on Jan. 13 that fighting continued on the outskirts of Soledar on that day. (RM, 01.13.23)
    • Capture of Soledar by Russian forces would not be an operationally significant development and is unlikely to presage an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut, in the assessment of the Institute for the Study of War. (ISW, 01.12.23)
    • Ukraine may have committed as many as 10 brigades around Bakhmut, a force equivalent to more than 30,000 troops, according to Konrad Muzyka of Rochan Consulting. (FT, 01.10.23)
  • Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Jan. 12 that Russia was boosting forces on the battlefield, deploying soldiers that were mobilized and trained last year. The new moves, she said, raised the number of units to 280 from 250 last week. (WSJ, 01.12.23)
  • Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff, Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Hromov, stated on Jan. 12 that Russian military leadership plans to increase military personnel to 1.5 million (from roughly 1.35 million as of September 2022) and from at least 20 new military divisions in 2023. (ISW, 01.12.23)  
  • Ukraine uses up Western-supplied 155mm artillery shells at roughly twice the rate that they are being manufactured by the U.S. and allies, military analysts say. At this rate of fire, Kyiv could draw down U.S. and European reserves to critical levels at some point this summer or fall. By then, Russia—with its single-minded focus on the war—may be able to expand its own ammunition production to keep pace with the tempo of the fighting. (WSJ, 01.13.23)
  • Ukraine is set on pushing forward with its own military offensive, either in the depth of winter or after the muddy spring season. Russia, too, is telegraphing a spring offensive, said a senior Western intelligence official, and Ukraine ''doesn't want them to catch their breath'' between now and when that intensified round of combat begins. (NYT, 01.13.23)
  • Ukraine says that 111,170 Russian military personnel have been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on Feb. 24 last year. (RFE/RL, 01.24.23)
  • Numerous ethnic-based battalions and regiments ahave been forming in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last February. Fighters from Belarus have formed a regiment thousands strong. Other volunteers come from the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as from ethnic minorities that have large populations in Russia: Chechens, Tatars and Turkic-speaking groups. (NYT, 01.10.23)
  • The United States on Jan. 6 announced a major military assistance package for Ukraine that is valued at $3.75 billion and includes 50 Bradleys and dozens of other armored vehicles. The marquee items in the package are the Bradleys, which come with 500 TOW anti-tank missiles and 250,000 rounds of ammunition for their 25mm autocannons. (AFP, 01.06.23,  WSJ, 01.07.23)
    • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has praised the United States for including tank-killing armored vehicles and antiaircraft missiles in its Jan. 6 package of military aid. (RFE/RL, 01.07.23)
  • The Pentagon has announced it will teach 90 to 100 Ukrainian troops at Oklahoma's Fort Sill to use Patriot missile systems in the U.S.  The program, which is expected to begin next week and last several months, will be held at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where the U.S. trains its own troops to use the Patriot, Pentagon press secretary Patrick Ryder said on Jan. 10. (FT, 01.11.23)
  • Germany will make a decision on sending Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine in the next week, according to two officials familiar with the government’s thinking. Berlin will make a decision before a meeting of senior defense officials from allied nations at the American airbase in Ramstein on Jan. 20, according to a German official familiar with the plans. According to a poll of Germans, only 38% of respondents were in favor of the government supplying Ukraine with battle tanks—while 50% were against. (Bloomberg, 01.13.23, FT, 01.10.23)
    • There are an estimated 2,000 German-made Leopard tanks in more than a dozen militaries across Europe. (NYT, 01.13.23)
    • A Polish official said Warsaw was prepared to provide a dozen of its 240 German-made Leopard 2s. (FT, 01.10.23)
  • The U.K. is assessing whether to provide its Challenger 2 modern battle tank to Ukraine. (FT, 01.10.23)
  • The sense of urgency over sending more powerful weapons partly reflects the grim standoff on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine's most senior military commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, has said it needs some 300 Western tanks and about 600 Western armored fighting vehicles to make a difference. (NYT, 01.13.23)
  • Canada will buy a U.S.-made National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) for Ukraine. (Reuters, 01.11.23)

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

  • Poland and Lithuania want to lower the price cap on Russian oil, and target Russia's nuclear sector under new European Union sanctions against Moscow and Minsk for the war in Ukraine, senior diplomats from the two EU countries said on Jan. 13. The EU's leading Russia hawks will propose that the bloc bans more "Russian propaganda" media outlets and cuts more Russian banks from the SWIFT global messaging system. (Reuters, 01.13.23)
  • The Lady R, a Russian merchant ship whose owner has allegedly carried weapons for the Kremlin, turned off its transponder last month before docking at South Africa's largest naval base, according to witnesses and a senior U.S. official. South Africa has declined to say what the ship was carrying or what was loaded onto it at the Simon's Town navy base. (WSJ, 01.09.23)
  • Estonia wants to outline a plan by the end of January for seizing some $21.4 million of Russian assets and delivering them under EU sanctions to Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 01.10.23)
  • Estonia announced the expulsion of 21 Russian diplomats and embassy staff in order to "reach parity" between the two nations' diplomatic personnel. (MT/AFP, 01.11.23)
  • Ten oligarchs placed on the U.K. sanctions list in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine used a “golden visa” scheme for high-net-worth individuals to establish themselves in the country, home secretary Suella Braverman has revealed. she said the government would never again have a visa scheme based “solely on the basis of the applicant’s wealth.” (FT, 01.13.23)
  • Ukraine has imposed sanctions on more than 100 Russian actors, musicians and television personalities who Kyiv says are "propagandists of death" for supporting the war in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.08.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • The European Union sought to forge a common line with NATO as the 27-member bloc signed a joint declaration with the transatlantic military alliance. The Joint Declaration on NATO-EU Cooperation, signed in Brussels on Jan. 10, aims to improve collaboration and to protect critical infrastructure, as well as address the security implications posed by climate change, the space race and foreign interference and disinformation campaigns. (Bloomberg, 01.10.23, RFE/RL, 01.10.23)
  • Sweden has altered its terrorism laws and policies to win Turkey's approval of Stockholm's application to join NATO, but it will not violate its own constitution to extradite particular individuals named by the Turkish president, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said. (NYT, 01.10.23)
  • Sweden and the U.S. have started negotiations on a defense cooperation agreement as the Nordic nation prepares to become a fully-fledged member of NATO along with its neighbor Finland. (Bloomberg, 01.09.23)
  • Sweden’s government is taking steps to reactivate civil conscription in the latest move to shore up its defense capabilities in the wake of Russia’s war against Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 01.09.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • China’s trade deficit with Russia reached a record $38 billion last year as global energy prices surged following the outbreak of war in Ukraine.  The world’s second-largest economy purchased $114.1 billion worth of goods from Russia in 2022, up 44% from a year earlier, according to figures from China’s General Administration of Customs. Overall, the trade turnover between Russia and China in 2022 increased by 29.3% year-on-year to $190.27 billion, an all-time high for the two countries, the General Administration of Customs of China said. (Bloomberg, 01.13.23. TASS, 01.13.23)
  • The starting point for Xi’s diplomatic reset is a re-evaluation in Beijing about the benefits of its close relationship with Moscow. China now perceives a likelihood that Russia will fail to prevail against Ukraine and emerge from the conflict a “minor power.” In private some Chinese officials express at least a measure of mistrust towards Putin himself.  Five senior Chinese officials said Moscow did not inform Beijing of its intention to launch a full invasion of Ukraine. (FT, 01.11.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms :

  • Beijing’s main ploy is to attempt to reassure European counterparts that it is willing to use the closeness of its relationship with Moscow to restrain Putin from resorting to the use of nuclear weapons, Chinese and European officials say. Another aspect of Beijing’s strategy is to position itself not only as a potential peacemaker but also as a willing party in any postwar efforts to help rebuild Ukraine, Chinese officials say. (FT, 01.11.23)
  • "The First World War claimed millions of lives. The Second World War claimed tens of millions of them. There will be no third world war. It is not a trilogy," Zelensky told the 80th Golden Globes ceremony via video message. (Newsweek, 01.11.23)


  • A U.S. federal appeals court appeared open to siding with convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in his latest bid to reverse his death sentence. Tsarnaev's lawyer told the court in Boston on Jan. 10 that two jurors had lied about whether they discussed the case on social media before being seated, and one of the judges said it was hard to understand how the facts did not raise a potential claim of juror misconduct. (Reuters, 01.11.23)

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • A cyber incident that led to severe disruption to Royal Mail's international export services was caused by Lockbit, a ransomware group that some cybersecurity experts say has members in Russia. (Reuters, 01.12.23)
  • Ukrainian leaders in recent months have been sharing information about Russian cyberattacks with the International Criminal Court, hoping the organization will investigate them as war crimes. (WP, 01.11.23)
  • Russian tech giant VK Group is demanding its employees based abroad return to the country as lawmakers consider a legal ban on remote work. (MT/AFP, 01.12.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Jan. 10 that a price cap on Russian oil imposed by Western countries appeared to be achieving its goals of keeping Russian oil on the market while limiting Russia's revenues. Yellen said reports indicate that countries are using the price cap to drive steep bargains. Russian Urals grade crude for delivery to Europe was quoted at $52.48 on Jan. 10, while Brent crude was trading at $80.82. The Urals, Russia’s flagship crude blend, is, thus, trading lower than the $70 set up in its budget law for 2023. (Reuters, 01.10.23, FT, 01.11.23)
  • Group of Seven nations are aiming to design two price caps for Russian refined petroleum products to account for those that trade at higher prices than crude, as well as those that sell at a discount, according to an official. The EU is set to ban the import of refined Russian products on Feb. 5 and to impose price caps on exports to third countries, which would in particular effect diesel, naphtha and fuel oil. The exact mechanisms and the price levels are still being negotiated among G-7 nations and the EU. (Bloomberg, 01.10.23)
  • Crude shipments out of two major western Russian ports averaged just under $40 a barrel during the first days of January with the oil price cap already in place, according to data from Argus. That’s down more than 35% from the November average and roughly 50% from June. (Bloomberg, 01.11.23)
  • The price cap on Russian oil is costing the Kremlin €160 million ($172 million) a day, as the West tries to hobble Moscow’s war machine, a Finnish researcher estimated. Lost revenues will rise to $280 million a day when the cap is extended to refined products from Feb. 5, Lauri Myllyvirta of the Helsinki-based Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air said in a report. (Bloomberg, 01.11.23)
  • The Russian Energy Ministry said on Jan. 10 that it has been working on additional measures to limit discounts to international benchmarks on Russian oil prices, after the West imposed price caps. (Reuters, 01.10.23)
  • Since the EU banned almost all seaborne oil imports from Russia on Dec. 5, European-owned tankers have taken about 30% of the cargoes shipped from Russia’s key western oil ports, down from about half before. By contrast, the share moving on Russian vessels has risen to 35%, up from 22% previously. (Bloomberg, 01.13.23)
  • Russia’s Lukoil has agreed to sell its Sicilian refinery to an Israeli-backed private equity fund that has partnered with commodities trader Trafigura. Two people close to the transaction said GOI Energy would pay Lukoil about €1.5 billion to acquire the facility, which can process roughly 355,000 barrels of oil a day. (FT, 01.09.23)
  • Trafigura has sold its stake in an Indian oil refinery joint venture with Russia’s Rosneft. People familiar with the sale said Trafigura got book value for its stake, which was carried in its last annual report at $165.9 million. (FT, 01.11.23)
  • A gas pipeline connecting Lithuania and Latvia was hit by an explosion on Jan. 13, but there was no immediate evidence of an attack. (Reuters/RFE/RL, 01.11.23)

Climate change:

  • The Institute of Economic Forecasting within the Russian Academy of Sciences predicts that Russia’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have almost halved by 2050, mainly due to technological limitations. (CEIP, 01.11.23)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Russian influence operations on Twitter in the 2016 presidential election reached relatively few users, most of whom were highly partisan Republicans, and the Russian accounts had no measurable impact in changing minds or influencing voter behavior, according to a study, helmed by the NYU Center for Social Media and Politics, and published in the Nature Communications scientific journal. The study found “no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization or voting behavior.” "My personal sense coming out of this is that this got way overhyped," Josh Tucker, one of the report's authors, who is also the co-director of the center, said about the meaningfulness of the Russian tweets. (WP, 01.09.23)
  • Russia released U.S. Navy veteran Taylor Dudley who had been detained since April in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, a spokesman for his family announced on Jan. 12, marking the second time in just over a month that an American has been freed from Russian custody. (NYT, 01.12.23)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Kommersant says Kremlin political advisers are laying the groundwork for Putin to run for reelection next year. The advisors are pondering whether to base Putin’s campaign on the notion “of unity.” The elections are to take place on March 17, 2024, according to Kommersant. (RFE/RL, 01.13.23, RM, 01.13.23)
  • In its latest  update, World Bank revised its estimate for Russia's GDP in 2022 up, but predicts a greater decline of Russia’s output in 2023-2024. The Russian economy has contracted by 3.5% in 2022 compared to 2021, according to the lender. The Russian economy will decline by 3.3% in 2023 before expanding by 1.6% in 2024, according to the lender. Global GDP will probably increase 1.7% this year, about half the pace forecast in June, World Bank said. (RM, 01.10.23, Bloomberg, 01.10.22)  See table below.
  • Russia’s public deficit for last year was 3.35 trillion rubles ($48 billion) or 2.3% of gross domestic product, according to finance minister Anton Siluanov. Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, Moscow had predicted a budget surplus of 1% and in December it forecast a deficit of 2%. In 2022, revenues grew 10% year on year but overall spending skyrocketed 26%. (FT, 01.11.23)
  • Russia now earmarks about two-thirds of its budget on defense, security and social programs. The approach reduced the number of people living under the official subsistence level of the ruble equivalent of a $186 per month income from 16 million in the third quarter of 2021 to 15.3 million in the third quarter of 2022, according to Russia’s statistics agency. (Bloomberg, 01.13.23)
  • Nearly half of the 149 experts polled by the Atlantic Council on whether or not they expect Russia to break up by 2033 said they have such expectations. (RM, 01.10.22)
  • Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, suggested confiscating the property and assets of Russians who discredit the country's armed forces and oppose the war in Ukraine.  Meanwhile, Putin’s spokesman Peskov said Russia should fight for the return of Russians who have left Russia and “are not enemies” when commenting on Volodin’s suggestion (Reuters, 01.13.23, Kommersant, 01.13.23)
  • Prison authorities have refused to transfer Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny from punitive confinement to the penal colony's infirmary to get treatment for flu symptoms. Navalny also said that he was being refused access to hospital treatment. (RFE/RL, 01.11.23, MT/AFP, 01.12.23)
    • A group of Russian doctors have published an open letter urging Putin "to stop torturing" Navalny, who is now in punitive solitary confinement for the 10th time since August. (RFE/RL, 01.10.23)
    • Germany on Jan. 13 demanded swift medical care for Navalny. (AFP, 01.13.23)
  • Russia’s Interior Ministry has opened its first investigation into a breach of the recently expanded law against so-called "LGBT propaganda," State Duma Deputy Alexander Khinshteyn announced on his Telegram channel on Jan. 10. The investigation targets Popcorn Books, an independent publisher based in Moscow. (MT/AFP, 01.10.23)
  • Murtaza Rakhimov, the first president of Russia’s republic of Bashkortostan, died at age 88. (MT/AFP, 01.12.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Andrei Turchak, general secretary of the ruling United Russia party, on Jan. 13 denied that the Russian military had canceled the right to mobilization deferment for fathers of three or more children amid ongoing speculation that Moscow could launch a second round of mobilization for the war in Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 01.13.23)
  • A number of injured Russian soldiers are being sent back to the frontlines in Ukraine without permission from the military medical commission. (MT/AFP, 01.12.23)
  • A Russian court has sentenced a 24-year-old professional soldier to five years in prison for refusing to fight in Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 01.12.23)
  • Russia's space agency said on Jan. 11 it would launch a Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft on Feb. 20 to bring home two cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut from the International Space Station (ISS) after their original capsule sprang a coolant leak last month. The Dec. 14 leak stemmed from a tiny puncture in the external radiator of the Soyuz MS-22 capsule that is currently docked to the ISS and was due to bring the three crew members back to Earth in March. (Reuters, 01.11.23)
  • See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Putin secretly pardoned dozens of convicts even before they were sent to fight in the war in Ukraine, a member of Russia's Human Rights Council said, indicating that there were legal flaws in a recruitment strategy that promised jailed criminals that their sentences would be set aside only after they had completed military service. (WP, 01.11.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • The Kremlin said Jan. 9 it backs Brazil's newly inaugurated President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva while condemning riots by supporters of the country's ex-president Jair Bolsonaro. "We condemn in the strongest terms the actions of the instigators of the riots and we fully support Brazil's President Lula da Silva," Peskov told reporters. (AFP, 01.09.23)
  • The United States accused the Wagner Group on Jan. 10 of interfering in the internal affairs of African countries and "increasing the likelihood that violent extremism will grow" in the Sahel region, an allegation Russia denied. (AP, 01.11.23)
  • German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Jan. 13 called for closer cooperation between the EU and the African Union to respond to crises in the world, including Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (dpa, 01.13.23)
  • The BRICS group of nations is formulating criteria for countries wishing to join the bloc and may decide by the end of this year on whether to admit new members and who those states will be, Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s foreign minister, said. (Bloomberg, 01.12.23)
  • Russia is trying to block the reappointment of Inger Andersen, the Danish head of the U.N.’s leading environmental agency, following a highly critical report about the impact of the war on Ukraine. (FT, 01.07.23)
  • The independent Russian-language Dozhd TV channel, which was suspended in Russia over its war coverage and then yanked by Latvian authorities in December, has been given a license to broadcast in the Netherlands. (RFE/RL, 01.10.23)


  • Putin on Jan. 11 urged Russian government officials to work hard to improve living conditions in the regions of Ukraine that Moscow has illegally annexed and where conditions are frequently dire, acknowledging that the situation in the regions has been “difficult.” (NYT, 01.11.23)
  • A court in Russia has sentenced another group of Crimean Tatars to lengthy prison terms on charges of being members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir group. (RFE/RL, 01.11.23)
  • Zelensky has announced his revocation of the citizenship of four Ukrainian lawmakers suspected of treason: Andriy Derkach, Taras Kozak, Renat Kuzmin and Viktor Medvedchuk. (RFE/RL, 01.11.23)
  • Dissident Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who once promised to return to Moscow in a U.S.-made Abrams tank, has been added to the Interior Ministry's wanted list on unspecified charges. (RFE/RL, 01.12.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Russia and Belarus are reportedly expanding joint military training exercises in Belarus. Hundreds of Russian troops—between 1,400 and 1,600 soldiers—arrived in Vitebsk, Belarus, on Jan. 8. (FP, 01.10.23)
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has opened a new bureau in Riga aimed at producing "trusted news and objective reporting" as part of its efforts to counter Russian disinformation and censorship. (RFE/RL, 01.12.23)
  • The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan has added its voice to calls for the immediate reopening of Nagorno-Karabakh’s land link with Armenia, which has been blocked by Azerbaijan for the past month. The so-called Lachin Corridor allows supplies from Armenia to reach the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in the mountainous enclave, and has been policed by Russian peacekeepers since late 2020. (RFE/RL, 01.10.23)
  • Armenia will not host Russian-led military exercises this year, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Jan. 10, signaling growing frustration with Moscow. Pashinyan's announcement came after the leader of the ex-Soviet republic criticized Moscow and the work of Russian peacekeepers in the South Caucasus. Speaking to reporters, Pashinyan said he saw no reason for the Collective Security Treaty Organization to stage military drills in Armenia this year. (MT/AFP, 01.10.23)
  • Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has appointed the South Caucasus nation's first ambassador to Israel, Muxtar Mammadov. (RFE/RL, 01.11.23)
  • Kazakhstan's Constitutional Court has annulled the law on the first president and leader of the nation (elbasy), depriving former authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev of lifetime benefits and privileges. (RFE/RL, 01.11.23)
  • The energy ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have signed an agreement on the construction of the Kambar-Ata-1 hydropower plant in Kyrgyzstan. (RFE/RL, 01.08.23)
  • Kazakhstan in mid-2021 was estimated to be home to nearly a fifth of the world's bitcoin mining, according to Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index. (WSJ, 01.12.23)
  • Moscow has demanded an explanation from the Kazakh government regarding the appearance of a so-called Kazakh "Yurt of Invincibility" in Bucha, a town north of Kyiv. (RFE/RL, 01.11.23)
  • Turkmenistan's former president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, plans to reform the parliament structure, apparently aiming to become the paramount leader of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic. (RFE/RL, 01.13.23)
  • The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office said on Jan. 13 that all corruption charges against self-exiled former President Askar Akaev have been dropped due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. (RFE/RL, 01.13.23)


IV. Quotable and notable

  • "The idea that a major classic conventional war in Europe could last as long as one of the two world wars is not something we are yet ready for," says Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris think tank. (WSJ, 01.13.23)
  • “Putin is crazy,” says one Chinese official, who declined to be identified. “The invasion decision was made by a very small group of people. China shouldn’t simply follow Russia.” (FT, 01.11.23)


V. Tables

World Bank table

(Source: World Bank’s January 2023 outlook)