Russia in Review, July 14-21, 2023

5 Things to Know

  1. It is "way too early" to judge the Ukrainian offensive a failure, said U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, adding that the war "is going to be long, it's going be hard, it's going be bloody." Milley said the biggest challenge for Ukraine’s counteroffensive is getting through Russia’s “extensive” defensive minefields, not a lack of sufficient airpower. Procuring enough F-16s or other aircraft to match Russia's arsenal of hundreds of advanced jets, moreover, would take billions of dollars and years of training, he said. Western officials say the Ukrainian armed forces have so far embraced an attrition-based approach rather than pursue "combined arms" operations, which their Western partners have trained them for, according to WP. Nevertheless, CIA Director William Burns remains optimistic Ukraine will be able to make advances in its counter-offensive.
  2. Russia formally withdrew from a U.N.-brokered deal to export Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea on July 17 and then launched a series of strikes on grain facilities in southern Ukraine, destroying 60,000 tons of grain in the Chornomorsk port alone, according to Ukrainian authorities. Wheat futures soared as much as 9%, the biggest jump since 2012, Bloomberg reported on the third day of Russia’s strikes. While Africa has not been the top destination of Ukrainian grain exports, the increase in wheat prices won’t go down well with African participants of the 2nd Russia-Africa summit planned in St. Petersburg for July 26-29.* To placate its African partners, Russia is pushing a plan to supply its own grain to Africa, with the help of Turkey and Qatar, but neither have agreed to the idea, according to FT.
  3. Criminals, volunteer fighters and arms traffickers in Ukraine stole some Western-provided weapons and equipment intended for Ukrainian troops last year before it was recovered, according to an Oct. 6, 2022 Defense Department inspector general report obtained by CNN. In late June 2022, an organized crime group overseen by an unnamed Russian official stole a grenade launcher and machine gun. That same month, Ukraine’s intelligence services also disrupted a plot by arms traffickers working to sell weapons and ammunition they stole from the frontlines. And in August 2022, Ukraine’s intelligence services discovered a group of volunteer battalion members who stole 60 rifles and almost 1,000 rounds of ammunition, CNN reported.
  4. Russian police have arrested the former leader of Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine, Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov), on extremism charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 12 years, RFE/RL reported. This arrest, coupled with charges against retired GRU Col. Vladimir Kvachkov of discrediting the Russian armed forces (up to seven years in prison), may herald the beginning of repressions against leaders of the hardline opposition, which support the war in Ukraine, but criticize the Russian government over a half-hearted war effort. Both Strelkov—who has engaged in scathing criticism of Putin in his Telegram channel—and Kvachkov—who was convicted of trying to assassinate Anatoly Chubais—belong to the so-called Club of Angered Patriots. Strelkov has also criticized Yevgeny Prigozhin, who, unlike Strelkov, appears to have avoided prosecution thus far, in spite of staging a mutiny.
  5. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has an outstanding arrest warrant issued in his name by the U.N.'s International Criminal Court, will not travel to a BRICS summit to be held in Johannesburg next month. The Russian president will instead join via video link, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will take his place, FT reported. Prior to the announcement, South Africa had claimed it cannot arrest Putin because Russia has threatened to “declare war” if the warrant against its leader is enforced, according to FT. That Moscow has failed to press Johannesburg into ignoring the ICC warrant and hosting Putin is a major setback in the Russian authorities’ efforts to prove that the West is failing in its efforts to isolate Russia.

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • IAEA experts at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant have carried out further inspections "so far without observing any heavy military equipment, explosives, or mines" but are still awaiting access to the rooftops of the reactor buildings. (WNN, 07.21.23)
  • Nuclear security risks are rising for the first time in a decade, according to an annual index released by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The report marks the first time that the organization's Nuclear Security Index, in an attempt to piece together a big picture of the global nuclear threat, finds that security had gotten worse since the dataset's origin in 2012. The report accuses Russia of “willfully endanger[ing] Ukraine’s nuclear power plants [amid] questions about the security of its own nuclear arsenal. Russia ranks 18 out of 22 when it comes to securing nuclear materials, and it ranks 32 out of 47 when it comes to protecting its nuclear facilities, according to the Index. (WP, 07.18.23, NTI, 07.18.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • Saudi Arabia and Turkey are seeking to broker a deal to repatriate Ukrainian children taken to Russia and held in children’s homes or adopted by Russian families, according to four people familiar with the talks. Officials in Kyiv and Moscow are compiling lists of the thousands of children moved to Russia since President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as part of the mediation process, which has not been previously reported. (FT, 07.18.23)
  • Ukrainian courts have convicted and sentenced more than 50 Russian soldiers for crimes committed in Ukraine since Russia’s massive military invasion in February 2022, chief prosecutor Andriy Kostin said on July 16. (RFE/RL, 07.16.23)
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) says a Russian cruise missile strike on Lviv in western Ukraine on July 6, which killed 10 civilians in a residential apartment complex, should be investigated as a possible war crime. (RFE/RL, 07.19.23)
  • On July 17 Two people were killed and a child seriously wounded in what Moscow claimed was an attack by Ukraine on a major rail and road bridge linking Russia with the Crimean Peninsula. Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee said Kyiv used two naval drones against the bridge, hitting the structure at around 3 a.m. local time. Ukrainian media, citing government sources, also said that naval drones were involved. The blasts damaged the car lanes and it would take months to repair them. (WP, 07.17.23, FT, 07.17.23, RFE/RL, 07.17.23, Gazeta.ru, 07.17.23.)
  • On July 17 Russia formally withdrew from a UN-brokered deal to export Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea, potentially imperiling tens of millions of tons of food exports from the war-torn country. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would resume its participation in the deal “as soon as the relevant agreements are fulfilled.” A Western diplomat and a UN official confirmed that Moscow had informed stakeholders on July 17 that it would withdraw from the deal. (FT, 07.17.23)
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin said the main objective of the deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports to resume was not achieved, in a call with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa. (MT/AFP, 07.15.23)
    • The U.S. criticized Russia’s exit from the Black Sea grain deal, with U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby telling reporters at the White House on July 17 that Russia had made an “irresponsible and dangerous decision.” (FT, 07.18.23)
    •  Italy’s prime minister Giorgia Meloni has slammed Russia’s decision to pull out of the Black Sea grain deal, saying that “using the commodities that feed the world as a weapon is another offense against humanity.” (FT, 07.18.23)
  • On July 18 Russian forces conducted a strike campaign ostensibly against Ukrainian military objects in southern Ukraine in explicit retaliation for the Kerch Strait Bridge attack. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian retaliatory strikes hit port infrastructure in Odesa City and to have destroyed Ukrainian fuel storage facilities holding a combined 70 thousand tons of fuel near Odesa and Mykolaiv cities Ukrainian military officials reported that Ukrainian air defenses shot down all six Russian Kalibr missiles and 31 of 36 Shahed 131/136 drones targeting these areas, but that falling missile fragments damaged port infrastructure and a residential area in Odesa. (ISW, 07.18.23)
    • The three ports that ring Odesa are Ukraine’s largest and include the only deep-water port in the country. Before the war, about 70 percent of Ukraine’s total imports and exports were carried out by sea, and nearly two-thirds of that trade moved through the ports of Odesa. (NYT, 07.19.23)
  • On July 18 In the northern part of the Donetsk region, three civilians -- a 52-year-old woman and two men, aged 49 and 52 -- were killed by Russian shelling, regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported. (RFE/RL, 07.18.23)
  • On July 19 Russian forces launched an extensive missile and drone attack against port and grain infrastructure in southern Ukraine on to further emphasize Russia’s objections to the renewal of the Black Sea grain deal. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted strikes using 16 Kalibr sea-based cruise missiles, eight Kh-22 anti-ship missiles, six Onyx cruise missiles, one Kh-59 guided air missile, and 32 Iranian-made Shahed drones. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces predominantly targeted civilian and military infrastructure in Odesa Oblast. Ukrainian Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Mykola Solskyi reported that Russian strikes destroyed 60,000 tons of grain in the Chornomorsk port in Odesa Oblast. (ISW, 07.19.23)
    • The July 19 attack on the Odesa area was the "most massive" since the beginning of the war, the region's military administration said. (RFE/RL, 07.19.23)
    • Wheat futures soared as much as 9%, the biggest jump since 2012, as Russia threatened ships sailing to Ukrainian ports. (Bloomberg, 07.20.23)
  • On July 19 an explosion at a Russian training ground in occupied Kirovskyi Raion (Islam Terek Raion), in southeastern Crimea, disrupted the Russian use of the Tavrida highway, which connects eastern Crimea to Sevastopol. Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that Russian ammunition depots had detonated following an explosion at the Starokrymskyi Training Ground in Kirovskyi Raion. (ISW, 07.19.23)
  • On July 20 Russia launched a third consecutive round of air strikes on southern Ukraine, including Mykolaiv, targeting port installations and grain storage facilities as well as civilian infrastructure and killing at least two people, regional officials said. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched seven Onyx cruise missiles, four Kh-22 anti-ship missiles, three Kalibr sea-based cruise missiles, five Iskander ballistic missiles, and 19 Iranian-made Shahed drones. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian air defenses destroyed 18 targets. The Ukrainian Energy Ministry said grain terminals and port infrastructure in the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk were targeted. In Chornomorsk, 60,000 tons of grain were destroyed, the ministry said. (RFE/RL, 07.20.23, ISW, 07.20.23)
    • On July 20 Ukraine announced on July 20 that it would also treat Russian vessels as targets. Earlier, Russia had also threatened ships calling at Ukrainian ports, withdrawing their previous security guarantees. (FT, 07.20.23, al Jazeera, 07.20.23)
  • On July 20  a teenage girl was killed in a Ukrainian drone strike on a settlement in Crimea in which four administrative buildings were damaged, the Russian-installed head of Crimea said. (Reuters, 07.20.23)
  • On July 21 Russia's navy carried out a live fire "exercise" in the northwest Black Sea, days after the Kremlin said it would consider ships traveling to Ukraine through the waterway potential military targets. (MT/AFP, 07.21.23)
  • Poland, Slovakia and Hungary justified their intention to extend local sales bans on Ukraine grain until the end of the year, even amid concerns that Russia’s decision to end a grain-export deal with Kyiv may disrupt food supplies. (Bloomberg, 07.18.23)
  • Russia is pushing a plan to supply grain to Africa and cut Ukraine out of the global market after Moscow’s withdrawal this week from a UN-backed deal, according to three people familiar with the matter. President Vladimir Putin has proposed a replacement initiative whereby Qatar would pay Moscow to ship Russian grain to Turkey, which would then distribute the crop to “countries in need,” the people said. Neither Qatar nor Turkey have agreed to the idea. (FT, 07.21.23)
  • At least 31 people died after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine in early June, a Ihor Klymenko, the Ukrainian interior minister has said, though the total damage unleashed by the flooding that resulted is still unclear. (NYT, 07.21.23)
  • Ukrainian journalist Dmytro Khylyuk, who went missing last year after he was detained by occupying Russian troops, is in a penal colony in Russia's Vladimir region, Reporters without Borders (RSF) said in a statement. (RFE/RL, 07.21.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • In the past week of fighting Russian forces have gained 2 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukraine gained 5 square miles, according to Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. (Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, 07.19.23)
  • On July 16 President Vladimir Putin said Russia would use cluster bombs if they’re used against his troops, while denying - despite evidence - that Kremlin forces have already used the controversial munitions in Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 07.16.23)
  • On July 16 President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said that Russian forces were throwing ''everything they can'' at Kyiv's troops fighting to retake land in the south and east, again emphasizing the grueling nature of a counteroffensive that is moving more slowly than some allies had hoped and later stressing the importance of their continued support. (NYT, 07.16.23)
  • On July 17 Ukrainian forces were continued their offensive in the Melitopol and Berdyansk areas of the southern Zaporizhzhia region while recapturing some territory in the eastern region of Donetsk, the Ukrainian military said. (RFE/RL, 07.17.23)
  • On July 18 General Oleksandr Syrskiy, commander of Ukrainian ground forces, said t the situation was "complicated" in the Kupyansk area of the eastern Kharkiv region but that Ukrainian forces continued to register successes in parts of the south, where it pressed on with its counteroffensive. (RFE/RL, 07.18.23)
    • Russia has mobilized more than 100,000 troops in the Kupyansk and Liman directions in Ukraine's Kharkiv region for an offensive. (RepublicWorld.com, 07.19.23)
  • On July 20 Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front. A Ukrainian commander operating in the Bakhmut area reported on July 19 that Ukrainian forces advanced 1.8km likely on the southern flank of Bakhmut, and Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces also advanced on Bakhmut’s northern flank on July 20. Ukrainian military officials reported that Ukrainian forces continued advancing in the Berdyansk (Donetsk- Zaporizhzhia oblasts border area) and Melitopol (western Zaporizhzhia Oblast) directions and are continuing to advance by roughly 100 meters per day south and southeast of Orikhiv. (ISW, 07.20.23)
  • On July 21, President Vladimir Putin claimed that Ukraine’s counteroffensive to recapture occupied territories is failing even with Western military support “Today it’s clear that the Kyiv regime’s Western curators are disappointed with the results of the so-called counteroffensive,” Putin said at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council. (MT/AFP, 07.21.23)
  • A senior Wagner commander with the callsign “Marx,” stated that 78,000 Wagner fighters fought in Ukraine (49,000 of whom were convicts), and that Wagner had suffered 22,000 killed-in-action and 40,000 wounded-in-action as of Wagner’s capture of Bakhmut on May 20. (ISW, 07.20.23)
    • Up to 20,000 Russian convicts recruited by the Wagner mercenary group were killed in fighting in Bakhmut over the past few months, British intelligence said in its daily report on July 21. (RFE/RL, 07.21.23)
  • Among Russian commanders recently dismissed are 58th Combined Arms Army Commander Colonel General Ivan Popov, 106th Guards Airborne (VDV) Division Commander Major General Vladimir Seliverstov, 7th VDV Division Commander Major General Alexander Kornev, according to ISW. Commander of VDV Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky and 31st VDV Brigade Commander Colonel Sergei Karasev might also be fired soon, ISW claims. (RM, 07.17.23)
  • Ukraine has begun firing U.S.-provided cluster munitions against Russian forces in southeastern Ukraine. (WP, 07.20.23)
  • In the opening month of Ukraine's long-anticipated counteroffensive, about a dozen Bradleys have been destroyed, a senior U.S. defense official said. (WP, 07.20.23)
  • To preserve manpower, Ukraine has fielded just four of a dozen trained brigades in the current campaign. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, said that three brigades currently are being trained and equipped in Germany and other training is ongoing around the region. (RFE/RL, 07.18.23, WP, 07.18.23)
    • "It's very much in the hands of the West how far [Ukrainians] advance," a senior NATO defense official said of Ukraine's forward movement. "The West is doing all the right things, just six months late." (WP, 07.18.23)
  • The United States believes Ukraine is making progress in its counteroffensive against Russian forces and still has "significant" reserves it has yet to commit, said U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff. It is "way too early" to judge the offensive a failure, he said, adding that the war "is going to be long, it's going be hard, it's going be bloody." Milley said the biggest challenge for Ukraine’s counteroffensive is getting through Russia’s “extensive” defensive lines of minefields, not a lack of sufficient airpower. Procuring enough F-16s or other aircraft to match Russia's arsenal of hundreds of advanced jets, moreover, would take billions of dollars and years of training, he said. (RFE/RL, 07.18.23, Bloomberg, 07.18.23, WP, 07.18.23)
    • Ukraine will receive F-16 fighter jets before the end of the year, John Kirby, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, said in an interview with Fox News. (Kyiv Independent, 07.20.23)
  • U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said on July 20 that he remains optimistic Ukraine will be able to make advances its counteroffensive against Russia, based on the intelligence he has reviewed. “I don't think it should come as a surprise to anyone that the counteroffensive is a hard slog. The Russians have had months to prepare not only fixed defenses in Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine, but also quite thick and extensive minefields as well. I am, however, an optimist,” he said. Russia suffers from some significant “structural weaknesses” behind the considerable defenses it has built up, Burns said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. (Bloomberg, 07.20.23, NPR, 07.21.23))
    • President Biden has asked CIA Director William J. Burns to become a member of his Cabinet, reflecting the central role the veteran diplomat has taken carrying out the administration’s foreign policy and his key role as a messenger to Russia. (WP, 07.21.23)
  • Western officials and analysts say Ukraine's military has so far embraced an attrition-based approach aimed largely at creating vulnerabilities in Russian lines by firing artillery and missiles at command, transport and logistics sites at the rear of the Russian position, instead of conducting what Western military officials call "combined arms" operations that involve coordinated maneuvers by large groups of tanks, armored vehicles, infantry, engineers, artillery and, sometimes, air power. (WP, 07.18.23)
    • Minefields have forced Ukraine to adapt, according to frontline soldiers. Instead of trying to punch through Russia’s miles-deep minefields and heavily fortified defenses with Western armor as previously planned, Ukrainian troops are plodding ahead on foot and hoping that artillery has cleared a path. (FT, 07.20.23)
  • The Pentagon announced on July 19 a new $1.3 billion security package for Ukraine that includes four National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), 152mm artillery rounds, mine-clearing equipment, and other munitions and vehicles. The U.S. package also includes electronic warfare, communications, and other security equipment. (ISW, 07.20.23)
  • EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell proposed a plan to EU ministers on July 20 to provide Ukraine with security assistance worth up to 20 billion euros ($22.4 billion), including weapons, ammunition, and other military aid, over the next four years. Hungary is emerging as the biggest hurdle in the EU’s attempt to set up a long-term fund of up to €20 billion to keep Ukraine’s military stocked. (ISW, 07.20.23, Politico, 07.20.23)

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

  • Russia seized control of the Russian subsidiaries of France’s Danone SA and Denmark’s Carlsberg under a decree by President Vladimir Putin aimed at companies from “unfriendly” countries. According to a decree issued July 16, shares in Baltika Brewing Company, owned by Carlsberg, and in Danone Russia JSC will be transferred to Russia’s Federal Property Management Agency for “temporary management.” (Bloomberg, 07.16.23)
    • The government appointed Yakub Zakriev, Chechnya’s agriculture minister, as head of the Danone business. Zakriev, 34, is a close ally of the region’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Separately, Putin allies Yuri and Mikhail Kovalchuk have signaled their interest in Carlsberg’s Baltika subsidiary. (FT, 07.18.23)
    • Dmitry Patrushev, Russia’s agriculture minister and son of Putin’s top security official Nikolai Patrushev, played an active role in torpedoing Danone and Carlsberg’s exits, according to people close to the decision. (FT, 07.18.23)
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry says it has introduced a notification procedure for employees of British diplomatic missions on Russian territory. According to the ministry, British diplomats, with the exception of the ambassador, his/her advisers, and general consuls, must notify Russian authorities at least five days in advance of any trips beyond a 120-kilometer free-movement zone. (RFE/RL, 07.20.23)
  • Russia has banned the U.S.-headquartered Wild Salmon Center (WSC) as an “undesirable” organization July 18, accusing the conservation NGO of working to hinder the country’s economy. (MT/AFP, 07.18.23)
  • The United States has imposed new sanctions targeting 18 individuals and more than 120 entities based in Russia and Kyrgyzstan in a move aimed at inhibiting Moscow’s access to products and technology that support its war efforts. The entities include several based in Kyrgyzstan that the U.S. Treasury Department on July 20 said have operated as intermediaries to provide foreign-made electronics and technologies to Russia. The individuals designated for sanctions include former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, a longtime confidant of President Vladimir Putin. (RFE/RL, 07.21.23)
  •  The European Union has prolonged the sanctions regime imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine by another half-year, the 27-member bloc's council said in a statement issued on July 20. (RFE/RL, 07.20.23)
  • Oilfield services company SLB -- formally known as Schlumberger -- on July 14 announced that it is halting shipments of products and technology into Russia from all SLB facilities worldwide in response to international sanctions. (Reuters, 07.15.23)
  • Britain has sanctioned 14 Russian officials, including two government ministers, for what it says is their role in Russia's forced relocation of tens of thousands of Ukrainian children. (RFE/RL, 07.17.23)
  • The UK’s decision to freeze an unsanctioned Russian tycoon’s £38 million ($49 million) superyacht was legal, a London court ruled . The court rejected the challenge by Sergei Naumenko, a property developer who hasn’t been sanctioned, as it ruled in favor of extending the 2022 freeze of the 60-meter (197-foot) vessel “Phi.” (Bloomberg, 07.21.23)
  • The United Kingdom on July 20 lifted sanctions against the exiled former banking tycoon Oleg Tinkov. The decision was announced just days after British billionaire Richard Branson called on his government to lift the “unwarranted” sanctions imposed against Tinkov last year. Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny had also previously urged London to lift sanctions against the businessman. (MT/AFP, 07.20.23)
  • Australia on July 20 announced targeted sanctions against 35 Russian defense, technology, and energy entities and 10 Russian and Belarusian individuals. Among the individuals sanctioned are Russian Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova; First Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council Andrei Turchak; First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov. (RFE/RL, 07.20.23)
  • Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly announced on July 20 that Canada is imposing additional military and culture sanctions against Russia. These sanctions target 20 individuals and 21 entities connected to Russia's military-industrial complex as well as 19 individuals and four entities in the Russian cultural and education sectors, the minister said in a news release. (Xinhua, 07.20.23)
  • Ukraine's government has purchased Sense Bank, which is linked to sanctioned Russian oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven, for 1 hryvnia (2 U.S. cents) after the central bank (NBU) ruled to remove the institution from the Ukrainian financial sector. (RFE/RL, 07.21.23)
  • According to data from the Kyiv School of Economics, less than 300 of over 3,350 large foreign companies that owned assets in Russia have already left and about 500 are in the process of withdrawing. (FT, 07.21.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the world is tiring of Russia’s war in Ukraine. “The world is starting to get tired. Countries are starting to get tired,” Lula told reporters in Brussels on July 19. “So the moment will come when there will be peace. And then there will have to be a group of countries that are able to talk to Russia and to talk to Ukraine.” (Bloomberg, 07.19.23)
  • “The goal should be a sustainable, enduring peace in Europe, but one that does not reward aggression,” DeSantis told CNN. (NYT, 07.18.23)

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

  • The U.S. military wants allies to train and plan together for space operations, in the same way that they already do in ground, air and naval combat, Gen. Chance Saltzman, chief of space operations, said in an interview. (WSJ, 07.18.23)
  • Richard Moore, the chief of the U.K.'s Secret Intelligence Service, said in a speech in Prague on July 19 that Russians appalled by the war in Ukraine should "join hands" with his intelligence service and bring the bloodshed to an end. (RFE/RL, 07.19.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • China’s imports of key energy commodities from Russia surged to all-time highs last month. Imports of thermal and coking coal from Russia swelled to 10.6 million tons in June, above the combined total from Indonesia and Mongolia, the other top shippers to China, according to customs data on July 20. In the same month, oil flows from Russia hit 10.5 million tons, up more than 40% on-year. (Bloomberg, 07.20.23)
  • Russia’s trade with China jumped 30% last year to a record $191 billion, according to Chinese customs data. In the first six months of 2023, trade turnover in dollar terms was more than double pre-pandemic levels. But such a rapid increase in the volume of goods flowing between the two countries is putting pressure on Russia’s logistics and infrastructure network. (MT/AFP, 07.20.23)
  • China and Russia have begun their joint naval and air drills in the Sea of Japan, Chinese state media CCTV reported on July 20. The two sides will mainly focus on sea and air escorts, deterrence and repulsion, anchorage defense and other courses to carry out drills, CCTV reported. The Chinese military has sent five warships. (MT/AFP, 07.16.23, Reuters, 07.18.23)
    • Russia and China conducted six joint military exercises together last year, the most in data going back two decades. That accounted for two-thirds of all China’s drills with foreign militaries in 2022, according to data compiled by the U.S. National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs. Five of the exercises took place after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, the data shows. Four of them were bilateral, while two were held with U.S. adversaries including Iran and Syria. (Bloomberg, 07.17.23)
  • On the shipping label, the Chinese drones were billed as heavy-duty crop-dusters. But the identity of the buyer — a Russian company that purchased a truckload of the aircraft in early May at nearly $14,000 each — hinted at other possible uses. The drones' potential military value, ironically, had been noted by Russia's government, which last year seized four aircraft of the same model in eastern Ukraine and claimed that Kyiv was planning to use them for chemical warfare. The sturdy all-weather quadcopters are built to carry payloads of nearly 70 pounds and are designed to glide at treetop level trailing a fog of liquid chemicals. (WP, 07.19.23)
  • China's Foreign Ministry said: “An explosion happened near China’s Consulate-General in Odessa. The blast wave shook off parts of the wall surface and windowpanes. The consulate staff had long left the premises and no one was hurt.” The statement was made with regard to reports that China’s consulate in Odesa was damaged in a Russian missile strike. (Mfa.gov.cn, 07.20.23, RFE/RL, 07.21.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Ryabkov said that what the U.S. side has proposed in terms of reviving a dialogue with Russia on nuclear arms control cannot serve as the basis for such talks because “they ignore several key points in this whole configuration.” He did not specify what points he was referring to. Ryabkov also claimed the U.S. had not followed up on Jake Sullivan’s recent remarks, having failed to send any “written proposals.” (News.ru, 07.21.23, Interfax, 07.21.23)
  • Ryabkov said control over Russian nuclear weapons will not be transferred to Belarus. He added that the schedule for the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus has not changed. (Life.ru, 07.21.23)

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • Russian authorities have banned thousands of officials and state employees from using iPhones and other Apple products as a crackdown against the American tech company intensifies over espionage concerns. (FT, 07.16.23)
  • The potency of Russian cyber aggression is still being parsed, but lessons have emerged. During full-scale hostilities, for instance, cyber-attacks are of limited value; blowing up a power plant with a missile is cheaper and more likely to succeed than a months-long subterfuge involving malware and hacking. (FT, 07.18.23)
  • Hackers linked to Beijing accessed the email account of the U.S. ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, in an attack that is believed to have compromised at least hundreds of thousands of individual U.S. government emails, according to people familiar with the matter. (WSJ, 07.21.23

Energy exports from CIS:

  • The International Energy Agency has warned Europe could still face a very difficult winter if Russia cuts its remaining gas supplies to the continent and if the region experiences cold weather. (FT, 07.18.23)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said on July 20s said that mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny in June had “exposed some of the significant weaknesses in the system that Putin has built.” “For a lot of Russians watching this used to this image of Putin as the arbiter of order, the question was does the emperor have no clothes or at least why does it take so long for him to get dressed,” Burns said. Burns said the mutiny presented a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for CIA recruitment in Russia. (Bloomberg, 07.20.23)
  • An alleged Russian intelligence officer pleaded not guilty on July 14 to charges of smuggling U.S.-origin electronics and ammunition to Russia to help its war against Ukraine. Vadim Konoschenok, who was extradited from Estonia, entered the plea at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn. (Reuters, 07.15.23)
  • The U.S. and Russia continue to maintain a channel for communications on exchanges of prisoners, but no such contacts have taken place recently, according to Ryabkov. (RM, 07.21.23)

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia’s Central Bank hiked interest rates on July 21 for the first time in 16 months, as Moscow’s spending on its invasion of Ukraine, shortages across the labor market and a sharp fall in the value of the ruble trigger fresh concerns over inflation. The regulator raised its key rate from 7.5% to 8.5% — ahead of analysts’ expectations for a more modest increase to 8%. (MT/AFP, 07.21.23)
  • The Kremlin is looking for buyers of Russia’s internet giant Yandex who would later sell the company to a Kremlin-linked oligarch sanctioned by the West, independent media reported, citing several anonymous sources familiar with the matter. (MT/AFP, 07.17.23)
  • On July 21, the State Duma adopted a law on taxation for Russians working for Russian companies from abroad. The rate will be 13%, if the annual income of a person exceeds 5 million rubles - 15%. The law applies to people working under an employment contract, as well as under a GPC agreement. (Istories, 07.21.23)
  • Russian prosecutors have requested a 20-year prison sentence for jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on a new string of “extremism” charges, his team reported on July 20. Navalny, 47, has been charged with creating an extremist community and an organization that infringes on the rights of citizens; financing extremism; making calls to extremism; and involving minors in dangerous acts and the rehabilitation of Nazism. (MT/AFP, 07.20.23)
    • Navalny has been ordered to spend 13 days in a solitary confinement cell until a court verdict that could see him sentenced to a further 20 years in prison, his lawyer said on July 21. (MT/AFP, 07.21.23)
    • “[My Russia] is now floundering in a pool of either mud or blood, with broken bones, with a poor, robbed population … tens of thousands of those who died in the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century,” Navalny said at the trial. (Mediazonea, 07.20.23)
  • Russian police have detained the former leader of Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine, Igor Strelkov (aka Girkin), on extremism charges, his wife Miroslava Reginskaya said on Telegram on July 21. (RFE/RL, 07.21.23)
  • Russia’s clergy should forgo displays of “provocative luxury” at a time when citizens are making sacrifices and limiting themselves, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill has said. In 2020, the Proekt investigative website reported that Patriarch Kirill and his relatives owned property in Moscow and St. Petersburg worth $2.5 million at the current exchange rate. Patriarch Kirill uses private aviation and The Russian Orthodox Church also owns a $4 million luxury yacht which is used for river cruises by Patriarch Kirill himself. The Bell news website reported in 2019 that a personal residence costing 2.8 billion rubles ($30.9 million) was being built for Patriarch Kirill near St. Petersburg. (MT/AFP, 07.20.23)
  •  The family of the designer of Russia’s Lancet kamikaze drones owns property in the UK While designer Alexander Zakharov is arming the Russian army, his son Lavrenty Zakharov is working at the UN Institute for Disarmament Problems. (Istories, 07.19.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The Russian State Duma on July 18 adopted a bill raising the age limit for several key positions in the reserve by five years and raising the upper age limit for compulsory military service from 27 to 30. The law allows men who have completed their compulsory service without any further commitment to be mobilized up to the age of 40, 50, or 55, depending on their category. (RFE/RL, 07.18.23)
  • Russia will keep its minimum conscription age at 18 despite a promise to raise the limit as part of the military’s plans to increase troop numbers A bill backed by President Vladimir Putin originally envisioned an increase in age limits for compulsory military service from the current range of men aged 18-27 to 21-30. (MT/AFP, 07.31.23)
  • A Su-25 military jet fell into the Sea of Azov in the southwestern region of Krasnodar Krai on July 17 while performing a training flight near the city of Yeisk. (Current Time, 07.17.23)
  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Sixteen people were convicted in Russia for treason and espionage in 2022, according to UN experts on human rights and freedom of expression. At least 43 others faced similar charges so far in 2023, they added. (MT/AFP, 07.18.23)
  • Russia’s military courts have convicted at least 100 deserters every week so far in 2023, the independent news outlet Mediazona reported on July 19. (MT/AFP, 07.19.23)
  • Russian lawmakers on July 19 passed a bill that would allow the National Guard to deploy heavy weapons, including tanks, in the wake of a short-lived insurrection by the mercenary group Wagner. (MT/AFP, 07.19.23)
  • A Russian prosecutor on July 21 requested an 18-year prison sentence for Ilya Sachkov, founder of one of the country's top cybersecurity firms, on treason charges. (MT/AFP, 07.21.23)

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • South Africa has announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has an outstanding arrest warrant issued in his name by the UN's International Criminal Court (ICC), will not travel to a BRICS summit to be held in Johannesburg next month. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on July 19 that the Russian president would instead join via video link, which he claimed amounted to “full participation.” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will take his place at the BRICS gathering that begins on August 22. (RFE/RL, 07.19.23, FT, 07.19.23)
    • Prior to the announcement, South Africa had claimed it could not arrest Vladimir Putin because Russia has threatened to “declare war” if the International Criminal Court warrant against its leader was enforced. (FT, 07.18.23)
    • The South African government has conceded that it failed to execute its international responsibilities by failing to issue a warrant for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin if he enters the country. The DA asked the court to compel it to execute the arrest warrant any time the Russian president travels to the country. The government agreed. (News24.com,. 07.21.23)
  • Finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations concluded two days of meetings in India on July 18 unable to agree on a joint statement because of differences over how to characterize Russia’s war in Ukraine. The statement released by India’s finance ministry on July 18 made no mention of the war and instead said that the policymakers had committed to “enhancing international economic cooperation, strengthening global development for all and steering the global economy towards strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth.” Any change in language on the Ukraine war needs to be handled by G-20 leaders, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said. (NYT, 07.18.23. Bloomberg, 07.18.23)
  • For decades, the lakeside city of Geneva was home to many of the traders who sold Russia’s oil to consumers around the world. But since Switzerland joined the embargo imposed on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine much of that trade has shifted to Dubai and other cities in the United Arab Emirates. Companies registered in the small Gulf state bought at least 39mn tons of Russian oil worth more than $17bn between January and April — around a third of the country’s exports declared to customs during that period — according to Russian customs documentation analyzed by the Financial Times. (FT, 07.19.23)
  • Indian billionaire Ravi Ruia has bought a £113mn mansion in London’s Regent’s Park linked to Russian property investor Andrey Goncharenko, in an off-market deal that underlines the continuing secrecy around the sales of Britain’s most expensive homes. (FT, 07.21.23)

Ukraine:

  • In his evening address, Zelensky said he had asked Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal to “consider replacing” his culture minister Oleksandr Tkachenko over his decision to allocate millions of dollars to projects unrelated to the country’s war effort. “In a time of war like this the maximum amount of state attention and therefore state resources should go to defense,” the president said late on July 20. “Museums, cultural centers, symbols, TV series — all of this is important, but now there are other priorities.” (FT, 07.21.23)
  • Criminals, volunteer fighters and arms traffickers in Ukraine stole some Western-provided weapons and equipment intended for Ukrainian troops last year before it was recovered, according to a October 6, 2022 Defense Department inspector general report obtained by CNN. In late June 2022, an organized crime group overseen by an unnamed Russian official joined a volunteer battalion using forged documents and stole weapons, including a grenade launcher, the report says. Ukraine’s intelligence service disrupted the plot, according to the report. That same month, Ukraine’s intelligence services also disrupted a plot by arms traffickers working to sell weapons and ammunition they stole from the frontlines in southern Ukraine And in August 2022, Ukraine’s intelligence services discovered a group of volunteer battalion members who stole 60 rifles. (CNN, 07.21.23)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has dismissed his country's ambassador to Britain without giving reasons for the move. Zelensky's decree on the removal of Vadym Prystayko from the post appeared on the presidential website on July 21. Last week, Prystayko publicly chided Zelensky for his "unhealthy sarcasm" when the Ukrainian leader criticized a statement by British Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace about Kyiv's "insufficient gratitude.” (RFE/RL, 07.21.23)
  • Speaking at a Ukrinform media briefing on July 19, Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s senior defense official, said that organizational change was his main weapon to fight against the potential for corruption in the processes used to procure materiel for the military. “At present, we are on the path of transferring procurement functions from the departments of the Ministry of Defense to service agencies … A first set of service agencies will undertake planning, standardization, and quality control in cooperation with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Then, commercial aspects will be handled by separate appropriate agencies, including the one already established for defense purchasing,” Reznikov said. (Kyiv Post, 07.20.23)
  • European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on July 21 praised Ukraine's "amazing" progress in implementing reforms to fight corruption, preserve minority rights and ensure an independent judiciary. Fighting graft is a top requirement for Ukraine to join the European Union, which offered Kyiv candidate status last year. Ukraine is working on a package of reforms "ranging from the independence of the judiciary to anti corruption, from minority rights to media freedom", von der Leyen said during an awards ceremony in New York. (Reuters, 07.21.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • After Azerbaijan tightened its blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and two ethnic Armenian children died, locals say the situation is reaching a critical point. 100,000 ethnic Armenians effectively under siege inside the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (RFE/RL, 07.18.23)
  • Armenia has become a key stop on a booming trade route: bringing used cars to Russia, where sanctions over Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine have left Western-brand cars hard to find. Exports of cars from the tiny country to Russia have soared since last year’s invasion of Ukraine — from $800,000 worth of vehicles in January 2022 to just over $180mn worth of vehicles in the same month this year. (FT, 07.18.23)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused NATO member Poland of having territorial ambitions in the former Soviet Union, and said any aggression against Moscow's neighbor and close ally Belarus would be considered an attack on Russia. Moscow would react to any aggression against Belarus, which forms a loose "Union State" with Russia, "with all the means at our disposal," Putin told a meeting of his Security Council in televised remarks on July 21. Warsaw's Security Committee decided on July 19 to move military units to eastern Poland after members of the Russian Wagner mercenary force arrived in Belarus. Poland did not threaten Belarus when announcing the move. (Reuters, 07.21.23)
  • Since brokering the deal between Putin and Prigozhin to end the mutiny, Lukashenko’s popularity inside Russia has skyrocketed. According to a poll by Levada Center on July 1, a week after he brokered the deal, Lukashenko was the second most popular politician in Russia, after the Russian president. For a man who wanted the top job in Russia, such high popularity could be a reason for strife with his patron. Yet Lukashenko has played a bold game. (FP, 07.17.23)
  • The Wagner paramilitary group has relocated to Belarus “for some time” before leaving to fight in Africa, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has said, adding that the group may later rejoin Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prigozhin said Wagner would “make the Belarusian army the second army in the world and stick up for them if we have to” before “gathering our strength and heading off for Africa,” where the group has fought in proxy conflicts as mercenaries for years. (FT, 07.19.23)
    • In a video posted by his press people on Telegram on July 19, Prigozhin is shown in front of a large number of armed men, greeting them "on the land of Belarus." "You have done a lot for Russia. What is happening now on the front line [in Ukraine] is a shame we do not need to take part in. We need to wait until the moment when we are able to fully express ourselves," Prigozhin says in the video, the date of which remains unknown, adding that "the decision was made that we will stay here in Belarus for some time. "During that time, we will turn, and I am fully confident about that, the Belarusian Army into the second-best army in the world,” he said. (RFE/RL, 07.20.23)
    • Belarus says its soldiers have begun holding joint military maneuvers with fighters from Wagner in the city of Brest, which lies on the border with NATO member Poland. (RFE/RL, 07.20.23)
    • A third group of mercenaries from Wagner has arrived in the eastern Mahilyou region of Belarus, the Belaruski Hajun group, which monitors military activity on Belarusian territory, said on July 17. (RFE/RL, 07.17.23)
  • The chief of the opposition Communist Party in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, Oleg Horjan, was killed at home on July 16, the leader of the Russian Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, told a news conference in Moscow on July 17. (RFE/RL, 07.17.23)
  • The imprisoned former chief of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNB), Karim Massimov, has been added to the Central Asian nation's list of sponsors of terrorism. (RFE/RL, 07.18.23)

Quotable and notable:

  • "There is a growing belief in Europe that the defeat of Russia needs to be super clear, while at least in some corners of the U.S. system there might be a sense that this needs to be a defeat that generates a negotiated outcome," said Camille Grand, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Brussels who served until last year as NATO's assistant secretary-general. "There is this nuance." (WSJ, 07.16.23)

 

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2.00 pm East Coast time on July 21, 2023.

*Here and elsewhere, the italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute RM editorial policy.

Slider photo shared by the Ukrainian presidential press service via a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.