Russia in Review, July 21-28, 2023

5 Things to Know

  1. Ukrainian armed forces (ZSU) appeared to have escalated their counteroffensive this week, but there were conflicting reports on whether or not ZSU finally committed the bulk of Western-trained reserves. Five days after Volodymyr Zelensky vowed that the counteroffensive was about to “gain pace,” two Pentagon officials told NYT that Ukraine has launched the main thrust of its counteroffensive, throwing in Western-armed and trained troops that it had held in reserve. Most of the remaining reserves were now being committed, the U.S. officials were quoted as saying by NYT on July 26. The next day, however, NYT acknowledged that “there was minimal, and sometimes contradictory, information about how many troops and armored vehicles Ukraine had committed so far,” with the “scope of the assaults ... unclear.” As of July 27, “significant mechanized assault ... appear[ed] not to have continued” at least in one direction of the three-pronged assault, south of Orikhiv in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast, according to ISW.  Progress in that southern direction is key if the ZSU were to attain its aim of disrupting the land bridge from Russia to Crimea in the south. Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, who commands ZSU’s southern offensive, acknowledged on July 27 that his forces were struggling to overcome multi-layered minefields and fortified defensive lines. One area where Ukraine did make gains, according to both Ukrainian and Russian war watchers, is the eastern direction, where ZSU re-captured the Luhansk region’s Staromayorske village.
  2. There have been six incidents involving U.S. drones and Russian warplanes in the skies over Syria this month. In the latest such incident, a Russian fighter jet fired flares and struck a U.S. drone over Syrian airspace on July 26, according to AP. The prime motive of Russia’s efforts to increase the degree of confrontations over Syria is not necessarily related to the situation in Syria. It could be part of a broader strategy to try coercing the U.S. into normalizing relations on Russia’s terms. Senior Russian officials have timed and again claimed that their country is no longer willing to compartmentalize individual issues in interactions with the U.S.*
  3. Half as many heads of African states and governments attended the second Kremlin-organized Russia-Africa summit as did in 2019. As many as 54 African nations sent delegations to the 1st Russia-Africa Summit on Oct. 23-24, 2019, in St. Petersburg. Of these, 45 were headed by heads of state and/or heads of government, according to In contrast, the 2nd  Russia-Africa Summit of July 27-28, 2023, delegations from 49 African nations confirmed attendance, including 21 heads of state and heads of government (of these, 17 were heads of state and four were heads of government, according to Kremlin). The summit saw its signatories adopt seven documents, including on prevention of an arms race in outer space, cooperation in the field of international information security, countering terrorism and an action plan for 2023-2026. While the Kremlin blamed the low attendance of the second summit on efforts by the U.S. and its allies to isolate Russia over the Ukraine war, Moscow's decision to suspend participation in the grain deal, which predictably led to an increase in grain prices (the IMF predicts the death of the deal could result in a 15% increase in prices of grain), appears to have also played a significant role (even though Putin sought to downplay the damage to Africa by offering free grain to six poor African countries).
  4. The IMF revises Russia’s GDP growth up for 2023, expecting it expand at a rate below that of the U.S., but greater than that of the EU, U.K. and Japan. The IMF has improved its forecast of Russia’s economic growth in 2023 by 0.8 percentage points. The fund now expects Russian GDP to expand by 1.5% this year, which is half of what it expects global GDP to grow by in 2023. Russia’s GDP growth would, thus, be lower than that of the U.S. (1.8%), but higher than the EU (0.9%), Japan (1.4%) and the U.K. (0.4%).
  5. Russians’ support for their country’s war in Ukraine has increased from 40% in June to 45% in July, according to Levada Center’s polls. At the end of July, the share of respondents supporting continued hostilities was at 41% compared to 40% in June. As for supporters of the transition to peace negotiations, their share decreased from 53% in June to 51% in July. In July, only 10% of the Levada Center’s respondents believed that hostilities would last less than six more months (11% in May ), while 73% of respondents believe that hostilities will last more than six months (71% in May). Levada’s recent polls also show that the share of Russians who approve of Putin’s conduct as president reached 82% in July. When asked to name several public figures that they trust most, 44% of Russians named Putin in July (43% did so in June). Failed mutineer Yevgeny Prigozhin, who featured on the list of most trusted figures in June, was no longer on that list in July. The slight decrease in the share of Russians who support peace negotiations in July can be explained, in part, by the ending of Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny the previous month. The conclusion of the June 23-24 mutiny can explain the increase, if only slight, in Putin’s approval and trust ratings.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Experts from the IAEA found antipersonnel mines planted "on the periphery" of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said. The agency said the mines were located in a buffer zone between the site’s internal and external perimeter barriers. Russia is also continuing to disregard advice from safety regulators to bring all of Zaporizhzhia’s six reactors into a state of cold shutdown, the IAEA said. (Bloomberg, 07.25.23, FT, 07.25.23, RFE/RL, 07.25.23)
    • Most nuclear scientists insist there is almost no chance of a catastrophe at Zaporizhzhia comparable with Chernobyl. One reason is the robust containment of Zaporizhzhia’s six VVER-1000 pressurized water reactors. A second reason for experts’ confidence is that Zaporizhzhia has not been generating electricity for more than 10 months and its reactors have been shut down. Five reactors are completely closed down and a sixth is in “hot shutdown.” (FT, 07.26.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • Russian defense chief Sergei Shoigu delivered a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin thanking North Korea for supporting the invasion of Ukraine on July 27 while also holding one-on-one talks with Kim Jong Un. Kim and Shoigu discussed "matters of mutual concern" in the fields of national defense and on the international security environment. (NKNews, 07.28.23, BBC, 07.27.23)
    • The Russian national anthem blared throughout Pyongyang International Airport, which was "wrapped up in a warm welcome atmosphere" to greet Shoigu and his delegation July 25. (AFP, 07.26.23)
    • Shoigu on July 26 hailed his country's partnership with North Korea during a meeting with his counterpart Kang Sun Nam in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Un showed off North Korea's latest weapons to Shoigu. (MT/AFP, 07.26.23)
    • The Russian and Chinese delegations' visit for North Korea's Victory Day, as the 1953 end of hostilities is called in the North, was to finish on July 27 with an extensive military parade. (BBC, 07.27.23)
    • North Korea’s KCNA news agency claimed that while continuing his visit to the country on July 27 Shoigu described DPRK’s armed forces as having become “the strongest in the world.” (KCNA, 07.27.23)
  • Russia has resumed sending oil to North Korea for the first time since 2020, the U.N. said last month. That follows an earlier restart of grain shipments. Both the U.S. government and independent analysts believe Russia, in exchange, is getting munitions from North Korea’s vast stockpiles. One item that North Korea has and Russia likely wants is 152 mm artillery shells. (Bloomberg, 07.26.23)
  • Ukrainian artillery crews have been firing rockets made in North Korea against Russian positions. The North Korean arms, whose use by Ukraine has not been previously reported, were shown to the Financial Times by troops operating Soviet-era Grad multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) near the devastated city of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian soldiers said the rockets had been “seized” from a ship by a “friendly” country before being delivered to Ukraine. (FT, 07.28.23)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • A year after the tragic killing of at least 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war at the penal colony at Olenivka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine that is under the temporary military control of the Russian Federation, justice is still no closer to being served, U.N. Human Rights Chief Volker Türk said July 25. (U.N. OHCHR, 07.25.23)
  • U.S. President Joe Biden has asked the federal government to share evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine with The Hague-based International Criminal Court, U.S. officials said July 26, in a reversal of the administration’s stance. (Bloomberg, 07.27.23)
  • Journalist Rostislav Zhuravlev of Russia’s  RIA Novosti news agency was killed during shelling in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region. (RFE/RL, 07.22.23)
  • Ukraine is now the most mined country. About 30% of Ukraine, more than 67,000 square miles, has been exposed to severe conflict and will require time-consuming, expensive and dangerous clearance operations, according to a recent report by GLOBSEC, a think tank based in Slovakia. (WP, 07.22.23)
  • On July 22-23 Russian forces conducted another series of missile strikes against port infrastructure and the city center in Odesa City overnight, severely damaging civilian areas. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched 19 missiles, including five Onyx, five Iskander-K, four Kalibr, two Kh-22 and two Iskander-M missiles, and that Ukrainian forces shot down four Kalibr and five Iskander-K missiles. (ISW, 07.24.23)
  • On July 23 Russia's missile attack on Odesa left two dead, wounded many and badly damaged a UNESCO-listed Orthodox Savior and Transfiguration Cathedral. (MT/AFP, 07.23.23)
  • In the early hours of July 24, the Ukrainian port of Reni on the Danube River came under a massive Russian drone strike. The attack lit up the sky in Romania, just 200 meters away on the other side of the river, one of Europe's main waterways. It was the closest the conflict in Ukraine has come to Romania, a NATO member, since Russia launched its full-scale invasion. (RFE/RL, 07.25.23)
    • Reni, along with Izmail, is one of Ukraine’s biggest river ports for grain. Wheat in Chicago rose as much as 6.9% on July 24, extending gains of more than 5% last week. (Bloomberg, 07.24.23, FT, 07.24.23)
      • The EU could provide alternative routes for almost all of Ukraine’s grain exports following Russia’s decision to stop their passage through the Black Sea, the bloc’s agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said. The EU solidarity lanes currently carry about 60% of Ukraine’s grain exports, with the remaining 40% going via the Black Sea. (FT, 07.26.23)
      • U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Moscow on July 24 to restart the grain deal brokered by the world body, which allows shipments to be made from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports hours after reports said Russian drones had struck a key Danube River export route. (RFE/RL, 07.24.23)
      • The clock is ticking to try to renew the deal. By September, Ukraine's grain harvest will begin to pile up in storage, making it harder to export in time. (WSJ, 07.28.23)
  • On July 24 the U.N. said its top official in Ukraine, Denise Brown, was in Odesa to examine the toll of a week of attacks that have killed civilians, destroyed agricultural facilities and damaged sites including the city’s most important cathedral. (NYT, 07.25.23)
  • On July 24, Ukrainian authorities said one child was killed and six other people injured in a Russian strike on the city of Kostyantynivka in eastern Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 07.24.23)
  • On July 27, in the central region of Vinnytsya, at least five people were wounded by debris falling from downed Russian Kalibr cruise missiles, regional Gov. Serhiy Borzov said. Odesa Gov. Oleh Kiper said earlier on July 27 that Kalibr missiles launched from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea killed a security guard and damaged a cargo terminal. Russia’s offensive on the coastal region has gone on for nine days, damaging and partially destroying 26 port facilities and five civilian ships, Ukraine said. (FT, 07.27.23, RFE/RL, 07.27.23)
  • On July 28, Moscow said it downed two Ukrainian missiles over southwestern Russia, including one that fell and exploded in a city center, injuring several people. The missiles appeared to be part of a stepped-up campaign by Ukraine to strike targets inside Russia. One missile hit near an art museum and a cafe in the port city of Taganrog on the Sea of Azov, destroying a museum wall and several car garages, the regional governor, Vasily Golubev, said on the Telegram messaging app. He said that nine people had been hospitalized with light to moderate injuries. (NYT, 07.28.23)
  • Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said that it would likely take until mid-September to restore partial two-way cargo (automobile) traffic on the Crimean bridge, and until November to fully rebuild the 12-mile-long structure. (WSJ, 07.22.23)
    • Addressing the Aspen Security Forum, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested that further strikes could be conducted on the Crimean Bridge. “This is the road that is used to feed the war with ammunition. And it militarizes the Crimean peninsula,” Zelensky said. “This is an enemy facility built outside international law, so understandably, it is an objective.” (FT, 07.24.23)
  • Some 68% of Ukrainian refugees are women. Failure to persuade any of the 2.8 million working-age women to return would cost Ukraine 10% of its annual pre-war gross domestic product, according to Alexander Isakov of Bloomberg Economics. (Bloomberg, 07.24.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • In the past month of fighting, Russian forces have gained 26 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukraine gained 38, according to the Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. (Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, 07.28.23)
    • Speaking by video to international security leaders at the Aspen Security Forum, Zelensky insisted his military’s counteroffensive against Russian forces was about to “gain pace,” as he sought to reassure Western governments that have grown alarmed at the slow progress of the operation. “We are approaching a moment when relevant actions can gain pace because we are already going through some mines locations and we are demining these areas,” he said. (FT, 07.22.23)
    • Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov admitted that Ukraine’s plan for its sluggish counteroffensive is behind schedule. Reznikov however insisted the operation is “going to plan.” (CNN, 07.25.23)
    • U.S. officials acknowledge the Ukrainian counteroffensive is going slowly, but say it is too soon to assess the effectiveness until Ukraine commits more of its combat brigades, especially those that have been trained by the U.S. at bases in Europe in armored maneuver warfare. "If they commit their reserves and their reserves aren't successful, then we will have to determine the way ahead," said one U.S. official. (WSJ, 07.25.23)
    • Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Jake Sullivan, U.S. national security adviser, said that the results of Ukraine’s military effort would only become clear once Kyiv had fully committed its forces. Sullivan said Ukrainian emphasis on securing supplies of advanced fighter jets for the counteroffensive was misplaced, because strong Ukrainian and Russian air defenses had prevented air power from playing a significant role in the conflict. (FT, 07.22.23)
    • “I’m tired of hearing about escalation. Stop talking about escalation. If you don’t escalate, you’re gonna lose,” Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, said. “I want [Vladimir] Putin to wake up in the morning worried about what he’s going to do that’s gonna cause us  to escalate instead of us wringing our hands.” (FT, 07.22.23)
  • On July 23, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN that Ukrainian forces have liberated approximately 50% of the territory that Russian forces captured since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. This figure is largely consistent with ISW’s current assessment of control of terrain. (ISW, 07.24.23)
  • On July 23, Putin claimed that Ukraine's counteroffensive "had failed.” "There is no counteroffensive," Russian news agencies quoted Lukashenko as saying. Putin replied: "It exists, but it has failed." (RFE/RL, 07.23.23)
  • On July 24, Shoigu said 17 drones were launched at Crimea. All were either shot down or suppressed using electromagnetic defenses, the Russian Defense Ministry said. (FT, 07.24.23)
  • On July 26, American officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on that the main part of Ukraine’s counteroffensive was underway. ''This is the big test,'' said one senior Pentagon official. The American officials said most of the remaining reserves were now being committed. But Russian officials described the assaults as considerably smaller (3,000 troops), and on July 27 Ukrainian officials, also given anonymity, said that most of their reserve units were not yet in use. Battles raged in southern Ukraine on July 27 as Kyiv’s stepped-up offensive against the Russian occupation made small gains, according to Russian, Ukrainian and Western analysts and officials. The Ukrainian military said in a statement that its forces “continue to conduct an offensive operation in Melitopol and Berdyansk directions.” (NYT, 07.27.23, NYT, 07.26.23, NYT, 07.26.23)
  • On July 27, Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front, although Ukrainian forces appear not to have continued significant mechanized assaults south of Orikhiv in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast. (ISW, 07.27.23)
  • On July 27, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian forces are "gradually advancing" in the direction of the coastal cities Melitopol and Berdyansk. (WP, 07.27.23)
  • On July 27, Zelensky posted footage showing that Ukrainian forces liberated Staromaiorske in western Donetsk Oblast following heavy fighting in the area. (ISW, 07.27.23)
  • On July 27, the general in charge of Ukraine's counteroffensive in the south has said Russian defenses are making it difficult for military equipment, including Western tanks and armored vehicles, to move forward. Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskyi says his forces are struggling to overcome multi-layered minefields and fortified defensive lines. (BBC, 07.28.23)
  • On July 27, Putin stated to a reporter that in recent days Russian forces destroyed 39 armored vehicles out of 50 that Ukrainian forces committed to intensified assaults in the Zaporizhzhia direction. Putin claimed that Russian forces also killed 60% of the Ukrainian personnel that conducted these assaults. (ISW, 07.27.23)
  • On July 28, the Ukrainian military said its forces were pushing in two directions in southern Ukraine, aiming to rip through Moscow’s heavily fortified defensive lines, as Putin acknowledged a major uptick in attacks but claimed Russian lines were holding. “We confirm that hostilities have intensified and in a significant way,” Putin said at a summit of African leaders in St. Petersburg. (NYT, 07.27.23)
  • On July 28, the Ukrainian military said it was “consolidating” gains after Zelensky declared that Ukraine had retaken one southern village of Staromaiorske in a renewed push into Russian-occupied territory. The Ukrainian claim that it retook Staromaiorske puts its forces one step closer in their march to the sea, though they have yet to break through Russia’s main defensive lines. (NYT, 07.28.23)
  • As of July 28, pro-war Russian telegram channels, such as Voyenkor Kotyonok’s, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces controlled at least part of the Staromayorske village while also “trying to assault” the village of Urozhainyi. The channel also claimed Russia’s offensive in the direction of Svatove in the Luhansk region gained 1.5 km on July 28, but this could not be verified. As of July 28, Ukrainian OSINT Telegram channel DeepState’s latest update on the situation on the frontline was dated July 26. In that update, DeepState acknowledged “heavy pressure” by Russians in the village of Karmazynivka near Svatove. (RM, 07.28.23)
  • On July 28, pro-war Russian Telegram channels “Rybar” and Voyenkor Kotyonok’s, reported heavy fighting in Andriivka and Klishchiivka outside Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. (RM, 07.28.23)
  • On July 28, Russia launched Iskanders at Ukraine’s Dniper region, according to pro-war Russian Telegram channel “Rybar.” (RM, 07.28.23)
  • U.S. officials said this week that the Biden administration was sending up to $400 million in additional military aid to Ukraine, including artillery, air defenses and mine-clearing equipment, in an effort to help replenish Kyiv’s forces as their counteroffensive grinds on. (NYT, 07.25.23)
  • U.S. Abrams tanks are likely to arrive on the Ukrainian battlefield in September, according to six people familiar with the planning, as Kyiv’s forces push to retake territory in a counteroffensive that is picking up steam. (Politico, 07.27.23)
  • The Biden administration is holding firm, for now at least, on its refusal to send long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine despite mounting pressure from U.S. lawmakers and pleas from the government in Kyiv, according to U.S. officials. (WP, 07.22.23)
  • The Senate's National Defense Authorization Act for FY2024, or NDAA, does share some central similarities with the House-passed version: Both would authorize $886 billion in spending on national security, and green light $300 million in security assistance for Ukraine. (WSJ, 07.28.23)
  • Blinken said Russia “failed a long time ago” in what it sought to achieve in its war against Ukraine and that Kyiv’s current counteroffensive has retaken substantial territory initially seized by Moscow, but he also warned of a long, "very hard fight" in the coming months. (RFE/RL, 07.24.23)

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

  • French yogurt maker Danone has written down its Russian dairy business after it was seized in a surprise move by the Kremlin. The company said it would write down €200 million in equity on the Russia business on top of the €700 million it had already taken off its balance sheet. Danone will also write down a €500 million non-cash forex translation difference it had accumulated against the ruble, which it noted had “no impact on the group’s total equity.” (FT, 07.26.23)
  • Russia will receive “super priority” rights in acquiring the assets of strategic foreign companies that leave the country, Interfax reported July 24, citing an unpublished draft presidential decree. (MT/AFP, 07.25.23)
  • Ukraine’s finance ministry said it completed the nationalization of Sense Bank JSC from foreign stakeholders controlled by a group of Russian businessmen including Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven. (Bloomberg, 07.22.23)
  • Several banks in Central Asia and the Caucasus have stopped working with the Russian money-transfer company Unistream after the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the Moscow-based firm on July 20. (RFE/RL, 07.25.23)
  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has formally invited 203 countries to compete in the 2024 Paris Games, notably excluding Russia and Belarus from the list. (RFE/RL, 07.26.23)
  • The Russian government banned the import of finished fish and seafood products from "unfriendly countries." (RFE/RL, 07.26.23)
  • Moldova has ordered 45 Russian diplomats and embassy staff to leave the country "over numerous unfriendly actions," officials said July 26, as tensions between the two countries reach an all-time high. (MT/AFP, 07.26.23)
  • The U.K. government’s “completely unrealistic” approach to Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group over the past decade has made “it possible, if not probable” that it has continued to benefit from access to London’s financial markets, despite being internationally sanctioned for alleged human rights abuses, a cross-party committee of MPs said July 26. (FT, 07.26.23)
  • The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said on July 26 that a court in Ukraine had sentenced in absentia 18 lawmakers in the Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, to 15 years in prison each on a charge of encroaching on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 07.27.23)
  • The Russian Interior Ministry said on July 27 that International Criminal Court (ICC) Judge Tomoko Akane has been placed on the government's wanted list. The ICC issued arrest warrants in March for Putin and his children's commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for being responsible for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. (RFE/RL, 07.27.23)
  • The British government has allowed Russian oligarchs, such as Mikhail Fridman and his former business partner, Petr Aven, to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on perks like private chefs, chauffeurs and housekeepers, despite ostensibly having their bank accounts frozen, documents show. (NYT 07.27.23)
  • 56-year-old former semiconductor executive Mikhail Pavlyuk is accused by the U.S. government of illegally smuggling microchips for Russian weapons that raze Ukrainian cities. Pavlyuk, who fled Russia last summer, was sanctioned by the U.S. government for his alleged role in an international crime ring that purchased, transshipped and sold semiconductors to Russia. (Bloomberg, 07.28.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • The declaration of the Second Russia–Africa Summit adopted on July 28 contained no explicit reference to Russia’s war in Ukraine, but calls for the “use [of] peaceful diplomatic means, such as dialogue, negotiations, consultations, mediation and good offices, to resolve international disputes and conflicts, settle them on the basis of mutual respect, compromise and the balance of legitimate interests.” (RM, 07.28.23)
  • On July 28, Putin repeated his oft-stated—and misleading—contention that Russia was interested in negotiations to end the war, but that Ukraine and the West refuse to engage. “We, of course, agree with you that all contradictions must be decided in the course of negotiations,” Putin said in a televised round-table discussion with African leaders. “But the problem is that they are refusing to negotiate with us.” Putin also said Moscow is "carefully" examining proposals made by some African leaders to end the conflict in Ukraine. (NYT, 07.28.23, MT/AFP, 07.28.23)
  • Blinken told the Aspen Security Forum: “If we saw any evidence that Russia was interested in having meaningful peace talks, we would be the first to jump on it—well, maybe the second because I suspect the Ukrainians would be first. No one wants this war over more quickly than the Ukrainians. They’re on the receiving end of Russia’s aggression every day. Unfortunately, I see zero evidence that Russia’s interested.” (, 07.23.23)
  • Secret diplomatic talks are ongoing between former senior U.S. national security officials and high-ranking members of the Kremlin, a former U.S. official directly involved in the talks has confirmed to The Moscow Times. “There has been a severe lack of sustained U.S.-Russia dialogue on European security,” the former official said. During the discussions, it became evident that Ukraine’s chances of regaining its occupied territories were extremely slim. “We emphasized that the U.S. needs, and will continue to need, a strong enough Russia to create stability along its periphery. The U.S. wants a Russia with strategic autonomy in order for the U.S. to advance diplomatic opportunities in Central Asia.” But the former official expressed a sense of impasse in the ongoing secret talks. “In Russian diplomacy, everything is now linked, all built around the locus of the war making it impossible to do any productive forms of diplomacy.” “Putin is the major block to all progress,” he said. “The U.S. administration has made at least  one attempt to speak with the Kremlin but Putin himself refused.” (MT, 07.27.23) 
  • On July 21, Zelensky held talks with Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Zelensky said he had discussed prospects for peace with Erdogan and asked for help in returning prisoners of war, particularly members of the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority. (NYT, 07.22.23)
  • Russians’ support for the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine increased from  40% in June to 45% in July, according to Levada Center’s poll. At the end of July, the share of respondents supporting continued hostilities was at 41%, compared to 40% in June. As for supporters of the transition to peace negotiations, their share decreased from 53% in June to 51% in July. In July only 10% of respondents said they believe hostilities will last no more than six more months (11% in May) while 73% of respondents believe that hostilities will last more than six months (71% in May). (RM, 07.28.23)

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

  • NATO militaries will increase surveillance and reconnaissance flights and drone deployments in the Black Sea region in response to Russia’s threats against civilian ships and attacks on Ukraine’s ports. (FT, 07.27.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Russia and China have ended their joint naval exercises in the Sea of Japan, the Russian Defense Ministry announced July 23, as the two allies seek to deepen their military ties. The Russian Defense Ministry previously said the main goal of the latest exercises, which began on July 20, was to "strengthen naval cooperation" between the two countries and "maintain stability and peace in the Asia-Pacific region." (MT/AFP, 07.23.23)
  • Russia has imported more than $100 million-worth of drones from China so far this year—30 times more than Ukraine. And Chinese exports of ceramics, a component used in body armor, increased by 69% to Russia to more than $225 million, while dropping by 61% to Ukraine to a mere $5 million. Supplies of equipment like body armor, thermal imaging and even commercial drones that can be used in offensive frontline operations are unlikely to trigger a Western response, according to Helena Legarda of Mercator Institute for China Studies. (Politico, 07.24.23)
  • Putin is planning to visit China in October, the Kremlin said July 25, as Russia aims to shore up ties with one of its closest allies. "It is known that we have received an invitation and that we intend to go to China when the Belt and Road Forum is held in October," presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said. (AFP, 07.25.23)
  • India and Brazil are pushing back against a Chinese bid to rapidly expand the BRICS group of emerging markets to grow its political clout and counter the U.S., officials said. The countries have raised objections in preparatory talks for a summit in Johannesburg next month where Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will discuss potentially expanding the group to include Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. (Bloomberg, 07.28.23)
  • China removed Qin Gang as foreign minister just seven months into the job, marking the shortest-ever tenure for the role after the diplomat mysteriously disappeared from public view in June. The former envoy will be replaced by his predecessor Wang Yi. (Bloomberg, 07.25.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • “If Russia thought it might lose Crimea, it would almost certainly resort to [using] tactical nuclear weapons,” a U.S. official directly involved in the track 1.5 talks with Russia told The Moscow Times. (MT/AFP, 07.26.23)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • A Russian fighter jet fired flares and struck another U.S. drone over Syrian airspace on July 26, the White House said, in a continued string of harassing maneuvers that have ratcheted up tensions between the global powers. It’s the sixth reported incident this month, and the second in the past 24 hours. (AP, 07.27.23)

Cyber security/AI:

  • Russian lawmakers on July 26 passed legislation banning the use of foreign email accounts when registering on websites, drawing criticism from the country’s IT industry. (MT/AFP, 07.26.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia notched a victory in the fight for influence over global oil markets in recent days when the price of the country's most coveted crude traded above a Western price cap imposed to starve Moscow of funds for the war in Ukraine. It is the first time that the price for its flagship Urals grade of oil has breached the $60-a-barrel limit since the U.S. and its allies introduced the novel sanctions policy last December, according to Argus Media. It is a sign that the Kremlin has succeeded, at least in part, in adjusting to the restrictions. One sign that the financial squeeze on Moscow might be relenting: The discount for Urals, compared with benchmark Brent, has narrowed to $20 a barrel. The gap is still far wider than before the war, but it has halved since January. (WSJ, 07.23.23)
    • "Fundamentally, the price cap is holding down Russia's revenue significantly, while continuing to create a world in which global markets are being supplied with Russian oil," Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in an interview. (WSJ, 07.23.23)
  • Two Aframax tankers, each hauling about 730,000 barrels of Urals crude from the Baltic ports of Primorsk and Ust-Luga, are heading east to Rizhao in China. Tapping the Northern Sea Route can sharply reduce the journey time from Russia’s Baltic ports to refiners in northern China, making it likely that more Russian crude carriers will make such voyages in the coming months, probably assisted by ice breakers. (Bloomberg, 07.24.23)
  • Argentina turned away a Russian LNG cargo last week because its bank doesn’t accept payments from Russia. But Gunvor Group Ltd., the trading house that made the delivery, is arguing the shipment was lawful and transparent. Russia is going to release more gas into the market with the start of Novatek PJSC’s Arctic LNG 2 facility later this year. The fuel is slated to be delivered to countries such as Japan and France, where governments have been critical of Putin’s war in Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 07.26.23)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • A Moscow court sentenced the founder of Russia’s top cybersecurity firm to 14 years in prison for treason on July 26. Ilya Sachkov, who’d built up Group-IB, was ordered to serve the sentence at a strict-regime prison colony. While the charges against him have never been made public because of secrecy surrounding treason trials in Russia, Sachkov was alleged to have given the U.S. government information regarding a hacking team in Moscow’s GRU military intelligence service—dubbed “Fancy Bear” by U.S. cybersecurity companies—and its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to people familiar with the matter. (Bloomberg, 07.27.23)
  • Brazilian authorities said they have rejected a request by the United States to extradite Sergei Cherkasov, who Washington alleges collected information on the war in Ukraine while posing as a graduate school student. The Wall Street Journal has named Cherkasov as a possible candidate for exchange for its correspondent Evan Gershkovich. (RFE/RL, 07.28.23)
  • U.S. ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who was part of a prisoner swap between the United States and Russia, has been injured while fighting in Ukraine, the State Department said on July 25. (RFE/RL, 07.25.23)
  • Putin on July 27 granted U.S. hockey player Brennan Menell Russian citizenship, allowing him to play for the country's national team. (MT/AFP, 07.27.23)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • The IMF revised Russia’s GDP growth up for 2023, expecting it expand at a rate that is equal to that of the U.S., but greater than that of the EU, U.K. and Japan. The IMF has improved its forecast of Russia’s economic growth in 2023 by 0.8 percentage points. The fund now expects Russian GDP to expand by 1.5% this year, which is half of what it expects the global GDP to grow by in 2023. Russia’s GDP growth would, thus, be lower than that of the U.S. (1.8%) but higher than the EU (0.9%), Japan (1.4%), and the U.K. (0.4%). (RM, 07.28.23)
  • Putin signed the digital ruble bill into law July 24, allowing the country's central bank to issue its own digital currency. (Coindesk, 07.24.23)
  • A record $253 billion has been pulled out of Russia since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the Russian Central Bank has said. The flight of $239 billion from Russia last year, including $13 billion in the pre-invasion month of January, was four times the amount that was pulled out of the country in 2021, according to the analysis. (MT/AFP, 07.24.23)
  • In 2023, only 30% of Russians with HIV who need treatment will receive antiretroviral therapy—unless the government provides additional funds. (Meduza, 07.21.23)
  • When Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, launched his attempted mutiny on the morning of June 24, Putin was paralyzed and unable to act decisively, according to Ukrainian and other security officials in Europe. No orders were issued for most of the day, the officials said. (WP, 07.25.23)
  • Putin on July 24 signed into law a ban on gender-reassignment surgery and hormone therapy done as part of the gender-transition process. Such treatment will be allowed only in the case of "congenital physiological anomalies of sex formation in children." (RFE/RL, 07.24.23)
  • A former campaigner for opposition politician Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to nine years in prison. Vadim Ostanin, who had run Navalny's local headquarters in the Siberian city of Barnaul, had carried out only "legal political work," Navalny's team said. (RFE/RL, 07.24.23)
  • Russia's FSB has charged political analyst Boris Kagarlitsky with online calls for terrorism, his daughter Ksenia said July 26, adding that her father was detained and transferred to the northwestern city of Syktyvkar where the probe against him was launched. (RFE/RL, 07.26.23)
  • Zelimkhan Bakaev, a popular Chechen singer long believed to have been killed as part of a “gay purge” in the Russian republic, was tortured and executed on Ramzan Kadyrov’s orders after the strongman leader became “personally insulted” by his sexuality, according to a new report. (Daily Beast, 07.25.23)
  • Russian authorities have declared the EU-based Dozhd (Rain) TV an "undesirable" organization amid the Kremlin's ongoing crackdown on civil society and independent organizations. (RFE/RL, 07.25.23)
  • Navalny said July 25 that pro-war nationalist Igor Girkin, who was arrested last week on extremism charges, should be recognized as a political prisoner. (MT/AFP, 07.25.23)
  • The Council of Wives and Mothers NGO has announced that it will close after being slapped with a “foreign agent” label just months earlier. (MT/AFP, 07.28.23)
  • What’s the difference between Russia’s internet before and after the invasion of Ukraine? The answer: a thirtyfold increase in censorship. That was the finding of a report published on July 26 by Citizen Lab, a group from the University of Toronto that studies online censorship in authoritarian countries. To compile its findings, Citizen Lab analyzed more than 300 court orders from the Russian government against Vkontakte, one of the country’s largest social media sites, demanding that it remove accounts, posts, videos and other content. (NYT, 07.26.23)
  • Prigozhin has appeared on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg, despite agreeing to go into exile following his failed mutiny last month. (FT, 07.27.23)
  • Levada’s latest poll shows that the share of Russians who believe that things in the country are generally going in the right direction amounted to 66%, returning to May levels. Some 82% approved of Putin’s activities as president, one percentage point higher than in June. When asked to name several public figures that they tryst, 44% of Russians named Putin (43% did so in June). Yevgeny Prigozhin—who had featured among the trusted figures in June—was no longer present on that list in July. (RM, 07.27.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The Russian parliament's Federation Council on July 28 approved a bill raising the maximum age for mandatory one-year military service for men to 30 from 27. Lawmakers have said the legislation was intended as a plan for "a big war" and "general mobilization." After the bill is signed into law by Putin, Russian men between 18 and 30 years of age will be required to put in one year of mandatory military service as of Jan. 1, 2024. (RFE/RL, 07.28.23)
  • Russian soldiers may now be able to avoid criminal prosecution if they serve on the frontline in Ukraine, the Kommersant business daily reported July 26, citing a recent ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court. (MT/AFP, 07.26.23)
  • See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Millionaire Russian businessman Anton Cherepennikov, founder of the ICS Holding technology conglomerate and who was subject to U.S. sanctions, was found dead in his Moscow office. (RFE/RL, 07.22.23)
  • Russia's Investigative Committee has filed final charges against Darya Trepova, who is suspected of involvement in the April killing of Vladlen Tatarsky, the pen name of prominent pro-Kremlin blogger Maksim Fomin. 26-year-old Trepova was charged with "a terrorist act with an organized group that caused intentional death." (RFE/RL, 07.25.23)
  • Russia’s FSB on July 27 said it arrested a Russian Navy sailor who it accused of plotting to blow up a warship. The FSB said the sailor had been recruited by Ukrainian special services. (MT/AFP, 07.27.23
  • The FSB said July 27 it had found "explosives traces" on a cargo ship bound for the southern Russian port of Rostov-on-Don through the Black Sea. The ship, Bmo River, arrived from Turkey and had previously sailed twice to the Ukrainian port of Reni, the state-run Interfax news agency reported, citing security officials. (MT/AFP, 07.27.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Russia said on July 21 that it understood the concerns African nations may have after Moscow left the Ukrainian grain deal, promising to ensure deliveries to countries in need. Those countries in need would receive the necessary assurances at a summit later this month, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin told journalists. (MT/AFP, 07.21.23)
    • Russia and Ukraine together accounted for 28% of the world's exported wheat before the war, with much of it shipped via the Black Sea. (WSJ, 07.22.23)
  • A shipment of 50,000 tons of the grain destined for Mali arrived from Russia at the port of Conakry in Guinea about a month ago, Alfousseyni Sidibé, a spokesman for Mali’s foreign affairs ministry, said. (Bloomberg, 07.26.23)
  • 2nd Russia-Africa summit:
    • On July 26 African Union Chairman Azali Assoumani called on Russia to allow the export of both Ukrainian and Russian grain at the opening session of the Russia-Africa summit on July 27, amid fears that the blockade will lead to a spike in food prices that would worsen a food security emergency in the Horn of Africa. (WP, 07.28.23)
    • Putin told the leaders gathered for the July 27-29 Russia-Africa summit, whose countries are among the most vulnerable to food insecurity, that Western nations, not Russia, were to blame for the collapse of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the deal that had allowed Ukrainian grain to be shipped in the midst of war. (NYT, 07.28.23)
    • Africa’s trade with Russia accounted for only 2% of the continent’s total trade volume in 2022, while a recent estimate put Africa’s share in Russian exports and imports at merely 3% and 1% ... but Russia and Ukraine jointly accounted for 44% of Africa’s wheat imports in 2018-2020. (RM, June 2023) Also see the table below for a comparison of the attendance of Russia-Africa summits.
    • Russia wants to provide 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain for free in the next three to four months, Putin told the African leaders on July 27. Zimbabwe, Mali, Burkina Faso, Somalia, Eritrea and the Central African Republic are to receive the grain. (RFE/RL, 07.28.23)
    • The declaration of the Second Russia–Africa Summit adopted on July 28 expresses “deep concern over the challenges related to global food security, including the rise in food and fertilizer prices, as well as the disruption of international supply chains, which disproportionately impact the African continent.” (RM, 07.28.23)
    • The summit saw its signatories adopt seven documents, including on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, cooperation in the field of international information security, countering terrorism and an action plan for 2023-2026. In addition, Putin said Russia signed agreements during the summit for military cooperation with more than 40 African countries, according to RFE/RL. (RM, 07.28.23)
    • Azali Assoumani, the chairman of the African Union, said that Putin had “demonstrated that he is ready help us in the field of grain supply," adding that this is important, “but it may not be quite enough. We need to achieve a cease-fire." (RFE/RL, 07.28.23)
    • Putin handed Zimbabwean leader Emmerson Mnangagwa a Mi-38 presidential helicopter, according to the African nation’s government, as a show of their close ties. (Bloomberg, 07.28.23) Also see the section on Useful Infographics for a comparison of attendance of the Russia-Africa summits.
  • The head of Niger’s presidential guard Abdourahmane Tchiani has declared himself leader of the west African country after instigating the coup this week that deposed its pro-Western leader Mohamed Bazoum. A Russian organization affiliated with the Wagner mercenary group shared a message apparently from its boss Prigozhin, who said the events in Niger were part of the nation's fight against "colonizers." (FT, 07.28.23, MT/AFP, 07.28.23)
  • Poland's Foreign Ministry on July 22 issued an "urgent" summons to the Russian ambassador to protest what Warsaw termed "provocative declarations" by Putin. Putin had on July 21 accused Warsaw of harboring territorial ambitions in western Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 07.22.23)


  • Ukraine’s president has warned government officials and lawmakers that “personal enrichment” and “betrayal” will not be tolerated, after the arrest of a military recruitment chief on embezzlement charges and an MP accused of collaborating with Russia. “No one will forgive MPs, judges, ‘military commissars’ or any other officials for putting themselves in opposition to the state,” Zelensky said in his nightly TV address on July 25. “Any internal betrayal . . . or any personal enrichment . . . triggers fury at the very least.” (FT, 07.26.23)
    • Ukrainian investigators have detained Yevhen Borisov, the former military commissioner of the Odesa region, on charges of illegal enrichment, dereliction of duty, and evading military service. Borisov was fired from the post last month after investigative reports said he and members of his family had bought property in Spain along with luxury automobiles worth $4 million at a time when Ukraine was battling invading Russian forces. A Kyiv district court ordered that Borisov be held in pre-trial detention and set bail at about $4 million. (RFE/RL, 07.24.23, FT, 07.26.23)
    • Ukraine's State Bureau of Investigations (DBR) says former lawmaker Vadym Rabinovych, who represented the pro-Russia Opposition Platform-For Life (OPZZh) party in parliament, is suspected of high treason. (RFE/RL, 07.26.23)
  • Ukraine's parliament on July 27 voted to strip Yuriy Aristov, a lawmaker from Zelensky's Servant of the People party, of his mandate because he has been out of the country for almost two months, even though officials and males of conscription age are banned from leaving during Russia's ongoing invasion. (RFE/RL, 07.27.23)
  • Viktor Pshonka, a former top Ukrainian prosecutor who fled to Russia after the fall of his nation’s Kremlin-backed regime, won a European Union court fight over his inclusion on the bloc’s war sanctions list. (Bloomberg, 07.26.23)
  • Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) claimed responsibility for the first time on July 26 for an explosion that badly damaged the bridge linking the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula with Russia in October 2022. (RFE/RL, 07.28.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Putin held talks in St. Petersburg on July 23 with Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko, who was quoted as saying in an apparent joking tone that fighters of Russia's Wagner mercenary group who are now training Belarus's army were keen to push across the border into NATO member Poland. "The Wagner guys have started to stress us. They want to go west. 'Let's go on a trip to Warsaw and Rzeszow,'" he was quoted as saying. (RFE/RL, 07.23.23)
  • On July 23 Putin and Lukashenko toured Kronstadt with St. Petersburg Gov. Alexander Beglov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s younger daughter Ksenia Shoigu. Both Beglov and Shoigu are personal enemies of Prigozhin. (ISW, 07.24.23)
  • On July 23, Lukashenko told Putin that the Wagner Group in Belarus will remain in central Belarus, likely subtly reminding Putin of the threat the Wagner military organization still poses to him and underlining Lukashenko’s control over that power. (ISW, 07.24.23)
  • Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has defended a new law obliging all officials to be able to speak Kyrgyz for official purposes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly called the legislation "undemocratic" and "discriminatory." (RFE/RL, 07.24.23)
  • Thousands of Russia-linked Wagner group mercenaries have arrived in Belarus since the group’s short-lived rebellion, a military monitoring group said July 24. Between 3,450 and 3,650 soldiers have traveled to a camp close to Asipovichy, a town 230 kilometers (140 miles) north of the Ukrainian border, according to Belaruski Hajun, an activist group that tracks troop movements within the country. (AP, 07.25.23)
  • Armenia has vowed not to turn back a convoy of 19 Armenian trucks carrying emergency food aid to Nagorno-Karabakh that has been blocked at an Azerbaijani checkpoint for the past two days as Baku refused to allow it access through the Lachin Corridor—the only road linking Armenia with the breakaway Azerbaijani region.  The corridor has been blocked by Baku for more than seven months. (RFE/RL, 07.28.23)


IV. Quotable

  • No significant developments.


V. Useful infographics

Russia-Africa Summit attendance:

1st Russia-Africa Summit

Oct. 23-24, 2019

2nd Russia-Africa Summit

July 27-28, 2023

U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

Dec. 13-15, 2022

54 African nations sent delegations, of these 45 were headed by heads of state and/or heads of government, according to

49 African nations confirmed attendance, including 21 heads of state and heads of government (17 heads of state and four heads of government), according to the Kremlin.

49 African nations sent delegations (6 excluded), including 44 heads of state and/or government: 35 presidents and 9 premiers.


World Economic Outlook Growth Projections:

IMF graphic

The following sentence in this digest was modified at 6.13 pm (East Coast Time) on July 28, 2023: "The IMF revises Russia’s GDP growth up for 2023, expecting it expand at a rate below that of the U.S., but greater than that of the EU, U.K. and Japan."

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2:00 pm Eastern Time on the day it was distributed.

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

Slider photo shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense ( via a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.