Russia in Review, March 18-25, 2022

This Week's Highlights

  • The Russian army said March 25 that the first phase of its military campaign in Ukraine was over and troops will now focus on the complete "liberation" of the country's eastern Donbas region, The Moscow Times reports. A senior General Staff officer added, however, that the Russian military is “not excluding the possibility of storming” Ukrainian cities, according to The Washington Post. A Western official and a Ukrainian journalist reported the same day that Russian soldiers had attacked and injured their commanding officer after their brigade suffered heavy losses in the fighting outside Kyiv, the Post reports. The brigade had been operating in the town of Makariv, where battlefield radio transmissions from the initial Russian invasion showed an army struggling with logistical problems and communication failures, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
  • At least three senior Russian officials this week reiterated Moscow’s position, enshrined in its strategic documents, that nuclear-weapons use would be an option if the Russian leadership believed the country’s survival was at risk, Reuters, The New York Times and Sky News report. Top U.S. military leaders have tried to set up phone calls with their Russian counterparts, but the Russians have so far declined to engage, leaving the world’s two largest nuclear powers in the dark about military movements, and raising fears of a major miscalculation or battlefield accident, according to The Washington Post. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, meanwhile, had been absent from the public spotlight for almost two weeks, prompting speculation he might be unwell, the Post writes; his seconds-long, silent appearance on state TV March 24 was so odd that it has raised doubts about the genuineness of the footage.
  • Poland is on the frontlines of the humanitarian and military crisis unfolding in neighboring Ukraine, as Axios puts it. And tensions between Warsaw and Moscow climbed high this week, as NATO announced a doubling of battlegroups on its eastern flank ahead of President Joe Biden’s March 25 visit to Poland. Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now a senior security official, blasted Poland for its attempts to undermine Russian energy sales to Europe, accusing Warsaw of “Russophobia by … talentless politicians and their puppeteers from across the ocean,” per TASS. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, meanwhile, compared Russia’s attacks on Ukraine to Nazi forces during World War II, killing civilians “with no mercy at all,” AP writes. Warsaw later announced it is expelling 45 Russian diplomats it accuses of being spies, The Washington Post and Reuters report, while Russia on March 23 condemned what it called a "reckless" Polish proposal to send international peacekeepers into Ukraine and warned that it could lead to a direct clash between Russian and NATO forces.
  • Western dependence on Russian energy continued to capture headlines, as President Vladimir Putin said March 23 that Russia will seek payment in rubles for gas sold to "unfriendly" countries, driving up European gas prices by more than 30%, Reuters and Bloomberg report. The move, which would prop up Russia’s currency, prompted accusations of “blackmail” from Germany, which had relied on Russia for 55% of its natural gas before the war, CNN says.  A new U.S. commitment to supply Europe with 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas was largely symbolic, analysts told Reuters and The New York Times, at least in the short run, because the U.S. doesn’t have enough capacity to export more gas and Europe doesn’t have the capacity to import significantly more LNG. Oil prices also rose after Russia said March 22 that exports via a pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Black Sea may temporarily fall by around 1 million barrels a day, or about 1% of global oil demand, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times report; the stoppage, officially due to storm damage, has raised fears that Moscow is prepared to retaliate against Western sanctions by curbing its own energy supplies.
  • More than a quarter of a million Russians have left their country, by some estimates, since the invasion of Ukraine, The New Yorker reports, saying their departure accelerates a long-running process of shutting down Russia’s civil society, without the state having to persecute and imprison people individually. President Vladimir Putin said March 16 that “this natural and necessary cleansing will only strengthen our country.” Between 50,000 and 70,000 of those who have left are IT professionals, The Moscow Times cites an industry group as estimating; by the end of April the number could reach 170,000, the group warned Russian lawmakers March 22. 
  • Ukraine’s defense against the Kremlin’s aggression has included plenty of surprises. One of the biggest, The New York Times writes, has been Russia’s failure to defeat the Ukrainian Air Force, which is operating in near total secrecy, with Top Gun-style aerial dogfights—rare in modern warfare—now raging above the country. Another has been the creativity of programmers on Ukraine’s tech scene, who have pivoted from consumer software that powered some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names to apps of war designed for both front-line combat and the realities of life under siege, per The Washington Post.


I. Special section: Ukraine conflict

Military action/impacts:

  • Maps of main Russian movements: New York Times and the Institute for the Study of War
  • The Russian army said March 25 that the first phase of its military campaign in Ukraine was over and troops will now focus on the complete "liberation" of the country's eastern Donbas region. "The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed," said Sergei Rudskoi, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of Russia's armed forces. "The combat potential of Ukraine's armed forces has been significantly reduced, which allows [us] … to focus our main efforts on achieving the main goal—the liberation of Donbas." (The Moscow Times, 03.25.22)
    • Rudskoi claimed that Russian forces have “blocked” Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mykolayiv. He added that, despite the focus on “liberating Donbas,” the Russian military is “not excluding the possibility of storming” Ukrainian cities. (The Washington Post, 03.25.22)
  • More than three weeks into the war, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initial aim of an easy change in government in Kyiv long gone, Russia’s military still has a strong hand. With their greater might and stockpile of city-flattening munitions, Russian forces can fight on for whatever the Russian president may plan next, whether leveraging a negotiated settlement or brute destruction, military analysts say. As Russian forces bomb cities, Western officials and analysts say the Ukraine conflict is turning into a grinding war of attrition. (AP, 03.21.22)
    • As of early this week, Russia had taken control of just three cities, all in the south near heavily fortified Crimea: Kherson (where the situation has changed since—Ed.), Berdyansk and Melitopol. “They are looking for a chance to gain some momentum, not even ‘regain’ momentum because they never really had it,” a senior U.S. defense official said March 21. “That’s what’s so frustrating for them. When you look at the map, you can count literally on one hand the number of population centers that we assess are in Russian control right now.”  (Air Force Magazine, 03.21.22, Financial Times, 03.22.22)
    • According to a report dated March 22 from the Institute for the Study of War, Russia’s forces are probably moving to a “phase of protracted bombardment” of Ukrainian cities owing to the failure of their initial campaign to surround and seize Kyiv and other major cities. The ISW also said in its report that the head of Ukraine’s armed forces said March 22 that Russian forces “are suffering casualties due to a poor medical supply system and lack of medicine.” He also claimed some unspecified Russian units “have stockpiles of food and ammunition for no more than three days,” according to ISW. (Financial Times, 03.23.22)
    • The next two weeks could be critical in determining the outcome of the entire war, analysts and officials say. Russia needs to improve its supply lines, bring reinforcements and bolster the flagging morale of the troops on the ground. A senior U.S. defense official said March 22 that Russia is struggling to get food and fuel to its troops, and there are indications that some troops don’t have proper cold weather gear and are suffering frostbite. (The Washington Post, 03.20.22, AP, 03.22.22)
    • Russian troop numbers dipped for the first time below 90% of the 150,000 it had amassed on the border of Ukraine before the invasion, a senior U.S. defense official said March 22. Meanwhile, Ukraine retains more than 90% of its own combat power thanks to constant replenishment from Western partners, according to Pentagon assessments. (Financial Times, 03.23.22, Air Force Magazine, 03.21.22)
    • Ukrainian and Russian armed forces on March 24 conducted the first exchange of prisoners of war since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine one month ago. (Financial Times, 03.25.22)
  • The Russian military reported March 19 that it has used its latest hypersonic missile for the first time in combat. Moscow said it used the Kinzhal, which it claims can travel at 10 times the speed of sound, twice in three days: to destroy a fuel depot in southern Ukraine and to target an underground munitions storage facility in the country’s western Ivano-Frankivsk region. The Pentagon said the U.S. could not confirm the claim, but Kyiv said Moscow had used its new hypersonic missiles against civilian areas in Ukraine—the first confirmation that the Kremlin had deployed the weapons in the conflict. (AP, 03.20.22, Financial Times, 03.20.22)
  • A month into the fighting, one of the biggest surprises of the war in Ukraine is Russia’s failure to defeat the Ukrainian Air Force. Top Gun-style aerial dogfights, rare in modern warfare, are now raging above the country. The Ukrainian Air Force is operating in near total secrecy. Its fighter jets are vastly outnumbered: Russia is believed to fly some 200 sorties per day while Ukraine flies five to 10. Ukrainian pilots do have one advantage: “We operate on our own land,” Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force said. “The enemy flying into our airspace is flying into the zone of our air defense systems.” (The New York Times, 03.22.22)
    • The British defense ministry has said the Ukrainian Air Force and air defense forces are “continuing to effectively defend Ukrainian airspace” and Russia has failed to get control of the air, which was one of the Kremlin’s key objectives. (AP, 03.20.22)
    • The air war is changing over Ukraine, with Russia picking up the pace of sorties but running low on precision-guided munitions, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters March 21. The official cited “inventory issues” with the PGMs in explaining the increased use by Russian forces of unguided bombs. The official also noted increased fail rates of Russian PGMs: “Either they’re failing to launch, or they’re failing to hit the target, or they’re failing to explode on contact… Why would you need a hypersonic missile fired from not that far away to hit a building?” (Air Force Magazine, 03.21.22)
  • The U.S. believes Russia has about 21 ships in the Black Sea, including about a dozen surface combatant warships and some landing ships that carry troops, a senior U.S. defense official said March 22. There are about seven ships in the Azov Sea. (AP, 03.22.22)
    • Ukraine on March 24 said it had destroyed a Russian ship at the port in Berdyansk, as its military seeks to keep Russia from reinforcing and resupplying its forces. The Russians have not commented on the news. But a March 21 report on Zvezda, a television network run by Russia’s Defense Ministry, said that 10 Russian landing ships were involved in the operation to resupply forces in the area, which has been the site of some of the most intense fighting, with the port city of Mariupol just 40 miles away. (The New York Times, 03.24.22, The Wall Street Journal, 03.24.22)
  • Ukraine’s defense ministry said March 25 that Russian forces had been “partially successful” in securing enough territory around the besieged city of Mariupol to move troops and supplies between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014. Earlier in the week Russian ships heavily shelled the already devastated southern port city from offshore, a senior U.S. defense official said March 22. Civilians making the dangerous escape from Mariupol described Russian and Ukrainian forces locked in street-by-street warfare and unburied corpses, as Russia’s military tried to pound the city into submission. An assistant to the city’s mayor told The Times on March 22 that the 3,000 soldiers defending Mariupol were battling an estimated 14,000 Russian troops. The city has seen some of the worst horrors of the war, under Russian bombardment for more than three weeks in what Ukrainian and Western officials have branded a war crime. Whole neighborhoods have been reduced to piles of smoldering rubble; electricity, gas and water have been cut off and trapped residents are without food. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said March 20 that what Russian forces have done to the peaceful city of 430,000 “is a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come.” (The New York Times, 03.25.22, AP, 03.22.22, The Wall Street Journal, 03.22.22, Reuters, 03.22.22, The New York Times, 03.22.22, AP, 03.20.22)
    • It’s not known how many have died so far in Mariupol. City officials on March 15 said at least 2,300 people had been killed, with some buried in mass graves. There has been no official estimate since then, but the number is feared to be much higher after so many more days of bombardment. Matilda Bogner, head of the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, said March 25 that her agency had received “increasing information” and satellite images of mass graves in Mariupol, one of which appears to hold some 200 bodies. (AP, 03.21.22, The Washington Post, 03.25.22)
    • Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, said that some 100,000 people remained in the besieged city. Humanitarian corridors have allowed some residents to flee, but only sporadically. Two corridors will operate March 25, agreed between Russia and Ukraine, Vereshchuk said in a daily video update—including one directly from the city, for citizens who can leave in private vehicles. (The New York Times, 03.22.22, The Washington Post, 03.25.22)
    • Russia—which has framed its invasion as a “special operation” to “liberate” Ukraine—claimed Kyiv was using “Nazis,” “foreign mercenaries” and “bandits” to hold up to 130,000 civilians hostage there. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it has denied any responsibility for the civilian casualties in Mariupol and blamed them on “provocations” by Ukrainian nationalists. (Financial Times, 03.20.22)
    • Video shared on Telegram on March 25, and verified by The New York Times, is the first known visual confirmation of civilians inside a drama theater in Mariupol after it was largely destroyed on March 16. An estimated 300 people were killed in the theater, which hundreds of people had been using as a bomb shelter, local officials said on March 25. (The New York Times, 03.25.22, The New York Times, 03.25.22)
    • Ukrainian officials on March 21 rejected a Russian demand that their forces in Mariupol lay down their arms and raise white flags in exchange for safe passage out of the besieged port city, whose access to the Sea of Azov was cut off March 18. The ultimatum came on March 20 as fierce fighting engulfed Mariupol, with Russian forces tightening their grip and bombing a school where about 400 residents were sheltering. (AP, 03.21.22, Financial Times, 03.20.22)
    • Earlier, Ukraine admitted that it had lost access to the Sea of Azov, a potentially significant setback that underscores the extent of Russian military gains in the south-east of the country. Capturing Mariupol would give the Russians control of the whole northern coast of the Sea of Azov, cutting Ukraine off from a crucial conduit to the Black Sea and enabling Moscow to form a land corridor to Crimea. (Financial Times, 03.19.22)
    • An adviser to Ukraine’s president said there was no immediate military help for Mariupol, saying the nearest forces able to assist were already struggling against Russian forces at least 60 miles away. (AP, 03.20.22)
    • Mariupol’s city council said Russian soldiers had forced several thousand residents—mostly women and children—to leave and be relocated to Russia. It didn’t say where in Russia and the AP could not immediately confirm the claim. (AP, 03.20.22)
    • Two AP journalists who documented the siege of Mariupol by Russian troops for more than two weeks—the last international reporters to do so and the ones who shared footage of the now infamous bombing of a maternity hospital—have recounted their escape from the city. (AP, 03.21.22)
    • A Ukrainian police officer in Mariupol has warned that the besieged port city has been “wiped off the face of the earth” and pleaded with the presidents of the U.S. and France to provide his country with a modern air defense system. (AP, 03.19.22)
  • “Kyiv is still the main objective and that is clear . . . for both sides,” said an intelligence official with NATO. “Clear in terms of what the Russians have said their desired end-state is, and what the Ukrainians know they must defend at all costs.” (Financial Times, 03.22.22)
    • Russian soldiers have attacked and injured their commanding officer after their brigade suffered heavy losses in the fighting outside Kyiv, according to a Western official and a Ukrainian journalist. The brigade had been operating in the town of Makariv, around 30 miles west of Kyiv, which was reported to have been recaptured by Ukrainian forces this week. The Ukrainians have pushed the Russians more than 34 miles away from Kyiv, gaining more than 20 miles in the past week, according to U.S. and other Western officials. Dozens of battlefield radio transmissions between Russian forces during an initial invasion of Makariv revealed an army struggling with logistical problems and communication failures, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Control of Makariv would allow Ukrainian forces to retake a key highway to the west and block Russian troops from surrounding the capital from the northwest, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has said. (The Washington Post, 03.25.22, The New York Times, 03.23.22, AP, 03.22.22)
    • The northwest suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which have been under attack for weeks, remained heavily contested this week. (Interfax-Ukraine, 03.23.22, AP, 03.22.22, AP, 03.20.22)
    • In Kyiv, a shopping center in the densely populated Podil district near the city center was a smoking ruin after being hit late March 20 by shelling that killed eight people, according to emergency officials. Russian journalist Oksana Baulina was killed by shelling March 21 while reporting on the destruction in Podil. (AP, 03.21.22, The Washington Post, 03.24.22)
    • A hail of rockets slammed into a residential area near the center of Kyiv on March 23, setting off a burst of explosions from what seemed to be Russian Grad missiles fired from a multiple-rocket launcher system, the first time such weapons have struck central Kyiv. The strikes caused extensive damage, including setting a house on fire and damaging apartment buildings, but left few casualties. (The New York Times, 03.23.22)
    • Early this month, Russian forces took over a 14-building residential complex about 10 miles northwest of Kyiv and took up sniping positions. They made around 200 residents stay too, holding many of them hostage in the basements of their own buildings, forcing them to hand over their phones and taking over their apartments. Using the accounts of seven residents who managed to escape, along with footage from security cameras and cellphones, The Times was able to piece together what it looked and felt like as Russian forces closed in. (The New York Times, 03.20.22)
    • In peacetime, Ukraine has a thriving surrogate industry, one of the few countries where foreigners can get women to carry their pregnancies. Now at least 20 of those babies are stuck in a makeshift bomb shelter in Ukraine’s capital, waiting for parents to travel into the war zone to pick them up. (AP, 03.20.21)
  • The northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv has in effect been cut off by Russian forces, the regional governor said March 25. "The city has been conditionally, operationally surrounded by the enemy," Viacheslav Chaus said on national television, adding that the city was under fire from artillery and warplanes. After an airstrike this week destroyed a crucial bridge, a “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding, city official Olexander Lomako said, as Russian forces target food storage places. He said some 130,000 people are left in the besieged city, about half its prewar population. (Reuters, 03.25.22, AP, 03.25.22)
  • In just 24 hours, Russian rockets and missiles have struck the battered Ukrainian city of Kharkiv at least 55 times, according to city officials. Photographs show a large fireball and nearby cars and buildings on fire following a Russian attack. The images also show residents fleeing on foot and bicycle, carrying whatever belongings they could grab in the aftermath of the attack. Newly surfaced security camera footage shows an attack on a line of civilians outside a post office and shopping center in Kharkiv on March 24. The video, verified by The New York Times, captures the impact of a projectile in a parking lot with dozens of civilians, who a local official said had been standing in line for humanitarian aid. (The New York Times, 03.25.22, The New York Times, 03.25.22, The New York Times, 03.25.22)
  • Russian forces no longer have full control of Kherson, the first major Ukrainian city that Putin’s forces managed to capture as part of his invasion, a senior Pentagon official said March 25. Ukrainian forces are now fighting fiercely in Kherson and pushing back Russian gains there, again making the strategically important port city “contested territory,” the official told reporters. Earlier in the week the Ukrainian military mounted an aggressive counteroffensive to reclaim territory captured by Russia in southern Ukraine, hoping to use public defiance to bolster military efforts, according to Ukrainian and U.S. officials. Those efforts were most evident in towns and cities overwhelmed by Russian forces in the early days of the war, such as Kherson. (The New York Times, 03.25.22, The New York Times, 03.22.22)
    • A huge blue and yellow Ukrainian flag was unfurled from the roof of a municipal building in Kherson, photos shared on social media show. (The New York Times, 03.25.22)
    • Russia has withdrawn most of its helicopters from a strategic airport in Kherson, in southern Ukraine, according to satellite images analyzed by The Times, in what experts said could be a telltale sign of Russian military setbacks in the south of the country. (The New York Times, 03.22.22)
    • Russian forces occupying Kherson were responding to protests there with increasingly aggressive tactics, according to videos and photographs verified by The Times. While Russian troops had previously fired into the air to disperse crowds, March 21 saw a more violent response—including shooting directly at the crowd and the use of flash-bang type grenades. In the videos and images, at least one soldier is seen firing directly at protesters, and at least one man appeared to be seriously injured, bleeding from the leg as he was carried away. (The New York Times, 03.21.22)
  • Ukraine’s southern frontline city of Mykolaiv is considered a success story for how its military has defended against Russia’s invasion. This is where Ukrainian forces have held their ground, delaying any Russian offensive on the strategically critical Black Sea port of Odessa. This is where they’ve even launched counterattacks to push back Russian troops. And this is where bodies continue to pile up—hundreds of them. Rescuers on March 19 searched the rubble of a marine barracks that was destroyed in an apparent missile attack a day earlier. It isn’t clear how many marines were inside at the time, but a senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke to The New York Times, estimated that as many as 40 marines were killed. (The Washington Post, 03.25.22, AP, 03.20.22)
  • A senior U.S. defense official said March 22 that the U.S. did not see indications that ships in the northern Black Sea were firing on Odessa, as they had during the weekend. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • In Lviv in western Ukraine, families exchanged tearful farewells as women and children boarded trains to Poland while men of fighting age stayed behind, barred from leaving the country. An air raid siren could be heard blaring over the city. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • Ukrainian military intelligence has said 150 mercenaries were sent from Russia's Hmeimein air base in Syria to Russia on March 15 to take part in military actions against Ukraine. In Washington, U.S. Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East, told a Senate hearing on March 15 the numbers of Syrians trying to head to Ukraine appeared to be “a very small trickle.” (Reuters, 03.20.22)
  • Estimates of Russian battlefield deaths in Ukraine continued to vary widely this week:
    • A senior NATO military official said March 23 that roughly 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in four weeks of fighting. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under NATO ground rules, said the estimate was based on several factors, including information from Ukrainian officials, what the Russian side has released and open sources. (The Washington Post, 03.24.22)
    • Senior Russian military officials, meanwhile, on March 25 gave their first update on Russian losses in Ukraine in over three weeks, saying that 1,351 soldiers had been killed so far. (The Moscow Times, 03.25.22)
    • An article that briefly appeared March 21 on the website of pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that 9,861 Russian servicemen have been killed and 16,153 wounded in Ukraine. The report stayed on the site for more than six hours before being removed but was captured by a web archive tool. The newspaper called the article fake news and accused hackers of planting it. (Reuters, 03.22.22, Russia Matters, 03.22.22)
    • Russia confirmed that Andrei Paliy, deputy commander of its Black Sea fleet, had died during the battle for Mariupol. Paliy’s death made him the seventh high-ranking Russian officer Ukraine claimed to have killed during the war. (Financial Times, 03.20.22)
  • As of March 25, at least 1,081 civilians, including 93 children, have been killed in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began and at least 1,707 civilians have been injured, according to an update from the U.N. human rights office (OHCHR). The office warned that the actual figures are likely to be "considerably higher,” especially in recent days "as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration." (Russia Matters, 03.25.22, Kyiv Independent, 03.21.22)
  • The U.N. refugee agency announced a staggering milestone March 22: More than 3.5 million refugees had left Ukraine. By March 24 the number had climbed above 3.6 million. The agency has labeled the exodus the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. More than 10 million—nearly a quarter of the population of Ukraine—have been displaced, the agency said early this week, with approximately 6.5 million displaced internally. (AP, 03.22.22, Axios, 03.24.22)
    • To put the size of the population fleeing Ukraine into perspective, nearly 6 million people applied for asylum in EU countries from 2013 to 2021. About 2.5 million sought asylum during 2015 and 2016. (Vox, 03.19.22)
    • Equally unprecedented is the welcoming attitude that countries neighboring Ukraine have had toward these refugees. Race, culture and religion certainly play a role, but recent history is another factor: The ease with which Ukrainians have been able to work and travel to EU countries have made them fixtures in the bloc, and that has contributed to a sense that they are Europeans currently in need of aid from other Europeans. (Vox, 03.19.22)
    • Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has led to the displacement of more than half of the country's children, UNICEF said March 24. An estimated 4.3 million children have been displaced, including more than 1.8 million who have fled to neighboring countries. Prior to the invasion an estimated 7.5 million children lived in the country. (Axios, 03.24.22)
    • More than 6,000 people were able to evacuate along eight of 10 humanitarian corridors on March 19, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said. That figure included 4,128 people from Mariupol, who were taken to the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia. (AP, 03.20.22)
    • Thousands of refugees from Ukraine waited in long lines in Warsaw to receive local identification papers that will allow them to move on with their lives. Poland has taken in more than 2 million refugees from Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands have streamed into Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania. (AP, 03.20.22)
    • The United States plans to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing Russia's invasion and is pledging $1 billion in new humanitarian aid, the Biden administration said on March 24. (Reuters. 03.24.22)
  • The reports have filtered out for days: mass kidnappings, forced deportations, Ukrainians spirited across the border to Russia. The Ukrainian foreign ministry said March 24 that 6,000 residents of Mariupol had been “forcibly deported” by Russian forces—stripped of their passports and identity documents—and taken to Russia as “hostages.” Like much in this war, the claims have been impossible to independently verify. Russia, in turn, claimed March 25 to have “evacuated” 402,000 Ukrainians to Russia, including 84,000 children. Yet the language—“filtration camps”—and the imagery of mass deportations are particularly resonant, evoking a dark chapter in Russian history: An estimated 3 million people on the USSR’s borders were rounded up and forcibly deported to remote parts of Siberia and Central Asia between 1936 and 1952, according to the United Nations refugee agency; some 60,000 were Poles and Ukrainians. (NBC, 03.25.22, The Moscow Times, 03.25.22)


  • Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff, on March 24 said there was progress in the ceasefire negotiations with Russia and expressed “cautious optimism” about the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough to end the war. Yermak is Zelensky's closest aide and one of the most powerful and influential government officials in the country. “It is still difficult … but there is progress and we think the moment when the two leaders can meet is getting closer," Yermak said of the talks with Moscow, adding: “The most important things for us are stopping the war, withdrawing all Russian forces and creating a new security framework for Ukraine.” Moscow has demanded that Ukraine declare neutrality, rule out future NATO membership and give up all claims to Crimea and the Donbas "republics." (Axios, 03.24.22)
    • Yermak made it clear in the interview that Ukraine will not agree to any territorial concessions in Donbas or Crimea. "We are not going to give [away] anything that is ours. People who were at war for 30 days won’t allow this to happen. We don’t want one meter of Russian territory. We just want our territory back," he added. Yermak said a meeting between Zelensky and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is needed because it is the only way to tackle the really thorny issues; Putin has so far refused to meet directly with Zelensky. (Axios, 03.24.22)
  • Russia said March 25 there had been no progress on the main political issues at talks with Ukraine. "On minor issues, positions are drawing closer now, but on major political issues we are actually marking time," Kremlin aide and lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky told reporters, according to Russian news agencies. Three days earlier the Kremlin had said that it would like the ongoing negotiations with Kyiv to have more substance. Russia's position was "well-known to the Ukrainian side" because Moscow handed over its demands in written form "many days ago," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. "We would like a more substantial and swift answer.” (The Moscow Times, 03.25.22, AFP/The Moscow Times, 03.22.22)
  • Talks between Ukraine and Russia are confrontational but moving forward, President Volodymyr Zelensky said March 23. Late March 21 the Ukrainian leader said he was prepared to discuss a commitment from Kyiv not to seek NATO membership in exchange for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security. “It’s a compromise for everyone: for the West, which doesn’t know what to do with us with regard to NATO; for Ukraine, which wants security guarantees; and for Russia, which doesn’t want further NATO expansion,” Zelensky said in an interview with Ukrainian television channels. He also repeated his call for direct talks with Putin. Zelensky said Kyiv will be ready to discuss the status of Crimea and the eastern Donbas region held by Russian-backed separatists after a cease-fire and steps toward providing security guarantees. (Reuters, 03.23.22, AP, 03.21.22)
  • Turkey, which is mediating alongside Israel between Russia and Ukraine, claimed Moscow and Kyiv were converging on key aspects of a peace deal. Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said “the parties are close to agreement on fundamental issues.” (Financial Times, 03.21.21)
    • Turkey’s pro-government Hurriyet newspaper reported that the two countries were edging toward agreement on Kyiv declaring neutrality and abandoning its drive for NATO membership, “demilitarizing” Ukraine in exchange for collective security guarantees, what Russia calls “denazification” and lifting restrictions on the use of Russian in Ukraine. (Financial Times, 03.21.21)
    • A possible agreement would require Russia to announce a ceasefire and withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory to their positions when Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24. (Financial Times, 03.21.21)
    • Two people briefed on the talks said it was likely a compromise would involve token concessions from Kyiv on what Russia calls “denazification.” These could include banning certain groups or changing the names of streets named after Ukrainian partisans who fought alongside Nazi Germany against the USSR in WWII, they said. Russia is also likely to soften a demand for Ukraine to make Russian the second official language in the country if Kyiv rolls back laws limiting its use, one of the people added. (Financial Times, 03.21.21)
  • In light of Kyiv’s position on territorial concessions to Russia, Mariupol’s status is a sticking point in the talks, according to two people briefed on the peace efforts, because it is part of the Ukrainian-held territory claimed by Moscow-backed separatists. (Financial Times, 03.21.21)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said March 21 that decisions on issues such as security guarantees and the occupied territories of Donbas will be put up for a nationwide referendum. He added that the security guarantees that are currently being discussed involve changes to Ukraine’s constitution and legislation, implying that Ukraine might be removing the NATO membership aspiration from its constitution. (Kyiv Independent, 03.21.22)
  • In his nightly address to the nation in the early hours of March 20, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine is interested in peace, and that ongoing talks with Russia are “not simple or pleasant, but they are necessary.” Zelensky has said the talks were worth pursuing even if they had a “1% chance of success” and warned a failure of negotiations would risk “a third world war.” The two countries have held several rounds of negotiations. (AP, 03.20.22, Financial Times, 03.21.21)
    • Zelensky said he discussed the course of the talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on March 19. Putin, meanwhile, spoke by phone with Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. The Kremlin said Putin “outlined fundamental assessments of the course of the talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives.” (AP, 03.20.22)
  • Kyiv and its Western allies fear Russian President Vladimir Putin could be buying time in peace talks to replenish Moscow’s forces and launch a broader offensive. (Financial Times, 03.21.21)
    • British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Putin of using the talks as a “smokescreen” while his forces regroup. “We don’t see any serious withdrawal of Russian troops or any serious proposals on the table,” she told the Times of London. (AP, 03.20.22)
    • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., accused Moscow of failing to fully participate in the talks. “The negotiations seem to be one-sided,” she said. “The Russians have not leaned into any possibility for a negotiated and diplomatic solution.” (Financial Times, 03.21.21)
  • Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is in contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has been passing messages between him and President Volodymyr Zelensky in an attempt to reach a ceasefire. Zelensky on March 20 criticized the Israeli government for not standing unequivocally on the side of Ukraine and against the Russia invasion during a virtual address to Israeli lawmakers. (Axios, 03.21.22)
    • Andriy Yermak, Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff, said March 24 that while the Ukrainian president appreciates Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s mediation efforts, he wants more Israeli political support, weapons and the Pegasus spyware. (Axios, 03.24.22)
    • A Ukrainian effort to acquire the powerful Pegasus spyware system was blocked by Israeli defense officials, according to people familiar with the decision. Kyiv’s effort had the support of the United States, Israel’s closest ally, but Israeli officials were concerned that providing the spyware would anger Russia at a time when Russian forces were in Syria. Israeli concerns about Russia’s reaction also affected dealings between NSO Group, the creator of Pegasus, and NATO member Estonia, known for its aggressive counterintelligence measures against Russia, people familiar with those actions say. (The Washington Post, 03.23.22)
  • The Kremlin said on March 24 that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich played an early role in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, but the process was now in the hands of the two sides' negotiating teams. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky advised President Joe Biden in a recent phone call to wait on sanctioning the businessman, as he might prove to be an important go-between with Russia in helping to negotiate peace, according to people with knowledge of the call. Biden consulted Ukraine’s president on a range of sanctions. (Reuters, 03.24.22, The Wall Street Journal, 03.23.22)

Punitive measures related to Ukraine and their impact globally:

  • The United States, along with the G7 and European Union, announced on March 24 a new set of sanctions on Russia, targeting: 328 Duma members and the Duma as an entity; German Gref, the head of Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, and a Putin adviser since the 1990s; and Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, his companies and his family members. The sanctions will also target 17 board members of Russian financial institution Sovcombank and 48 large state-owned defense enterprises. (The Washington Post, 03.24.22)
    • The allies also announced a new initiative focused on sanctions evasions, in which the countries will share information and coordinate responses to ensure the effectiveness of the sanctions and prevent “backfilling.” The nations said they would take further steps to blunt the Russian Central Bank’s ability to deploy international reserves, including gold. (The Washington Post, 03.24.22)
    • G7 leaders pledged to "actively support countries willing to phase out their dependency" on Russian energy, as well as those harmed by the collateral effect of sanctions and global food insecurity. (Axios, 03.24.22)
  • Russia will seek payment in rubles for gas sold to "unfriendly" countries, President Vladimir Putin said on March 23, and European gas prices surged more than 30% on concerns the move would exacerbate the region's energy crunch. The decision came in response to a freeze on Russia's assets by foreign nations over events in Ukraine that Putin said had destroyed Moscow's trust. Analysts say it would effectively prop up the currency and escalate economic tensions between Russia and the West. On March 25 Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Putin has instructed Russian state energy giant Gazprom to switch to ruble payments. (Reuters, 03.23.22, Bloomberg, 03.23.22, CNN, 03.25.22)
    • Russia's demand for payments in rubles for gas deliveries to Europe constitutes a breach of contract, which must be discussed with partners, Germany warned March 23. The country imported 55% of its natural gas from Russia before Moscow invaded Ukraine. Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck said Putin’s demand amounts to “blackmail.” (AFP/The Moscow Times, 03.23.22, CNN, 03.25.22)
  • More than 400 U.S. and other multinational firms have pulled out of Russia, either permanently or temporarily, according to Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for executive programs at Yale University’s School of Management, who has publicized a list of corporate actions in Russia. (AP, 03.19.22)
    • Major U.S. oil services companies Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes on March 18 and 19 added their names to the growing list of U.S. companies pulling back from Russia in response to Moscow’s war against Ukraine. (AP, 03.19.22)
    • French energy giant TotalEnergies said March 22 it has decided to halt all its purchases of Russian oil and petroleum products by the end of the year at the latest. (AP, 03.22.22)
    • French carmaker Renault will suspend some of its Russian operations indefinitely and review its stake in a local carmaker. (Financial Times, 03.24.22)
  • Australia imposed new sanctions on March 25 on Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko and his family, as well as on members of the Russian media for their role in supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Financial Times, 03.25.22)
  • Global finance firms with thousands of staff and tens of billions of dollars of assets in Russia are fleeing the country, followed by lawyers and other professionals. However, the detachment process won’t be quick, says Harvard Business School senior lecturer Ashish Nanda, and is likely to get complicated. Firms must juggle their obligations to anxious clients, partners and staff, while complying with sanctions and new state regulations that have rewritten the rules of doing business in Russia. (Bloomberg, 03.23.22, Reuters, 03.18.22)
  • Privately, executives express concern about possible retribution. Russian prosecutors have warned that business leaders who criticize its government risk fines and imprisonment, while businesses halting operations could be found guilty of “fraudulent or deliberate bankruptcy.” (Financial Times, 03.20.22)
  • Those companies that have kept some or all of their original operations in Russia are dealing with a weakening economy, broken supply chains and a devalued currency. (Financial Times, 03.20.22)
  • The world’s largest agricultural companies are continuing to sell seeds and handle crops in Russia, despite pressure to sever ties following the invasion of Ukraine. Companies including Cargill, Bayer and Archer Daniels Midland say humanitarian concerns over food availability for Russian citizens and other countries justify the companies’ continued operation in Russia. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.21.22)
  • At least half a dozen major consumer-goods companies—including Pepsi, Procter & Gamble and Nestle—are continuing to do business in Russia, despite growing pressure from politicians, investors, activists and consumers urging them to further curtail sales and manufacturing in the country after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, will halt sales of KitKat, Nesquik and several dozen other brands in Russia. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.22.22, Financial Times, 03.24.22)
  • Even as McDonald’s suspended operations at its 850 Russian restaurants, it promised to continue to pay its 62,000 employees there. But one expert noted: “The question is how much longer can McDonald’s and IBM keep paying people to do nothing—how long they’ll put up with it and how long the general public will appreciate them pumping cash into a rogue economy.” (Financial Times, 03.20.22)
  • President Joe Biden consulted his Ukrainian counterpart on a range of sanctions, including those planned against Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.23.22)
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was evidence Russia was attempting to circumvent international sanctions on their foreign reserves held in gold. (Financial Times, 03.25.22)
  • Moscow was taken aback by the scale of sanctions over the war in Ukraine, Russia’s foreign minister has said—the first time officials have admitted being unprepared for the Western response. “When they [froze] the central bank reserves, nobody who was predicting what sanctions the West would pass could have pictured that. It’s just thievery,” Sergei Lavrov told students at MGIMO. (Financial Times, 03.23.22)
  • Egypt has asked for support from the IMF, the fund said, as the country struggles to weather the economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has sent grain prices soaring and increased the price of oil. Egypt is the world’s biggest wheat importer, is heavily reliant on supplies from Russia and Ukraine and has a subsidized bread program that feeds 70 million people. (Financial Times, 03.23.22)
  • The superyachts of Russia’s super rich have taken on outsize symbolism as their owners scramble to move their biggest assets out from under the threat of widening Ukraine-related restrictions. Governments can freeze assets of sanctioned individuals indefinitely, without proving criminality; sanctions can be challenged, but the legal effort can take years. While at least seven such yachts have already been seized, others are staying on the move—looking for ports in countries not implementing the sanctions, sometimes spurned by insurers and fueling stations. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.21.22)
    • A superyacht that Kremlin opponents claim secretly belongs to Russian President Vladimir Putin shared the same construction manager and European crew members as several other yachts owned by Russian tycoons that Western governments have either seized or targeted with sanctions, an investigation by RFE/RL has found. A senior Russian crew member on the Scheherazade, which is worth an estimated $700 million, previously worked for a Russian yachting company that secured millions of dollars in contracts from the Kremlin’s security service, whose officers have allegedly served on the crew of the yacht. (RFE/RL, 03.23.22)
    • A second superyacht belonging to Chelsea soccer club owner and sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich has docked in a resort in southwestern Turkey—a country that is not applying sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Turkish media reports said March 22. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • Italian authorities have frozen a €105 million residential property complex in southern Italy that belongs to Russia’s richest man, Alexei Mordashov, as Rome continues its hunt for the assets of oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin. (Financial Times, 03.19.22)
  • As the war in Ukraine shows no signs of letting up, the art world is reassessing its relationship to Russian artists and collectors. Major auction houses—Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams—have canceled Russian art sales in recent days, while others are donating proceeds from their sales to Ukrainian charities. (Quartz, 03.18.22)
  • At least half a dozen Russian skaters—including this year’s Olympic champions—have been banned from competing at the world figure skating championships in France this week. The decision by the International Skating Union followed the precedent set by other sports governing bodies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Figure skaters from Belarus also are barred from the competition that began March 23 because of its alliance with Russia. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • The Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin has been suspended from chess for six months over his backing for President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, the International Chess Federation announced. (The New York Times, 03.22.22)
  • See also “China-Russia: Allied or aligned?” section below.


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

Nuclear security:

  • After more than three weeks working at gunpoint at the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, some Chernobyl workers have finally been allowed to go home. Late on March 20 and early on March 21, 64 technicians and support staff were evacuated across Russian lines and replaced by co-workers who had volunteered to relieve them, according to released Chernobyl employees and their families, Ukraine’s energy ministry and the U.N.’s atomic energy watchdog. The hostages were among 210 technicians and other support staff trapped at the defunct power plant since Russian forces seized control of it on Feb. 24, the first day of the war. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.21.22)
  • Wildfires have broken out in the radioactive forest that surrounds the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Ukrainian media reported March 22, raising worries that radiation could spread widely in the smoke if the fires burned unchecked. Typically, Ukraine sends hundreds of firefighters into the area to extinguish blazes as quickly as possible. But as this year’s fire season begins, the Russian military is occupying the Chernobyl zone, having used the site to advance troops and tanks from Belarus toward Kyiv. (The New York Times, 03.22.22)
  • Brussels has accelerated plans designed to improve the EU’s health response in case of a nuclear incident following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, according to officials. The European Commission is seeking to encourage EU members to stockpile protective suits as well as iodine pills and other medicine. It is also working on ways to deal with possible chemical and biological attacks after the U.S. warned that Russia could use such weapons in Ukraine. (Financial Times, 03.21.22)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • North Korea fired its new monster missile March 24, its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile to date and one capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States — ratcheting up tensions amid stalled nuclear negotiations. It is Pyongyang’s first ICBM test since 2017. (The Washington Post, 03.24.22)
  • North Korea on March 20 fired a short-range multiple rocket launcher, South Korea's military said. It was the latest in a series of weapons tests amid heightened tensions in the region. (DW, 03.20.22)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Iran’s supreme leader on March 21 signaled support for Tehran’s nuclear negotiations to secure sanctions relief, a rare reference to the still-halted talks as world powers near a diplomatic turning point. (AP, 03.21.22)
  • Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a three-way summit March 21 in Egypt with the Egyptian and Emirati leaders against the backdrop of the Iran nuclear talks. Bennett's surprise visit to Egypt where he met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was reported by Israeli media. Shared concerns over Iran saw the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forge ties with Israel in 2020 to create a new regional axis at a time of uncertainty over the commitment of key security ally the United States. (AFP, 03.21.21, Reuters, 03.21.22)

Other great power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

  • Exactly one month since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, leaders of NATO, the G7 and the European Union convened a trio of summits in Brussels to coordinate the next phase of the Western response. President Joe Biden delivered remarks March 24 at the NATO summit laying out Washington’s three-pronged approach to addressing the Ukraine crisis, which includes: economic costs the United States has imposed on Russia through sanctions, U.S. support for Ukraine through military and humanitarian assistance and the American commitment to NATO and, particularly, the alliance’s eastern flank. (Axios, 03.24.22, The Washington Post, 03.24.22)
    • Biden said that if Russia were to use chemical weapons in Ukraine, it "would trigger a response" from NATO. Asked if the U.S. had gathered specific intelligence regarding Russia's using or preparation to use chemical weapons, Biden said he could not comment on any intelligence data. Earlier in the week, Biden had reiterated the U.S. warning that Russia could deploy biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine. Biden told a group of U.S. business leaders late March 21 that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not anticipate the extent of unity he would face in opposition to Russia's actions and "his back is against the wall." The following day Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. has seen no evidence to suggest that such an escalation is imminent. (Axios, 03.24.22, VOA, 03.22.22, AP, 03.22.22)
    • NATO is doubling its battlegroups on the alliance’s eastern flank in response to Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine, the group’s secretary general said March 23, urging Russia to stop its “nuclear saber rattling.” Jens Stoltenberg said four battle groups will be sent to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. The move is part of an “immediate” response to Russia’s invasion, he said, but leaders will also discuss longer-term plans. “I expect leaders will agree to strengthen NATO’s posture in all domains, with major increases in the eastern part of the alliance on land, in the air and at sea,” he told reporters at a briefing in Brussels. NATO will also provide more support to Ukraine to deal with possible attacks involving chemical and biological weapons, he said, declining to offer specifics. (The New York Times, 03.23.22, The Washington Post, 03.23.22)
    • Stoltenberg also warned against Russia's war in Ukraine sliding into a nuclear confrontation between Moscow and the West. "Russia should stop this dangerous irresponsible nuclear rhetoric," he told a news conference. "But let there be no doubt about our readiness to protect and defend allies against any threat anytime." He added: "Russia must understand that it can never win a nuclear war." (Reuters, 03.23.22)
    • Stoltenberg said on March 24 he will extend his term as head of the alliance by a year as it faces the "biggest security crisis in a generation" due to the war in Ukraine. (Reuters, 03.24.22)
  • An upcoming Pentagon defense strategy document would declare Russia an "acute threat,” Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said March 24. But Russia cannot pose a long-term systemic challenge to the United States, unlike China, he said, and will emerge from the conflict in Ukraine weaker and more isolated. (Reuters, 03.24.22)
  • Zelensky spoke to NATO leaders via videoconference on March 24, urging the alliance to provide Ukraine with “unlimited military help,” but notably did not explicitly call for a no-fly zone, a request he has made on numerous other occasions. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and Zelensky did not press for NATO membership on March 24, but did tell the alliance: "Never, please, never tell us again that our army does not meet NATO standards. We have shown what our standards are … and how much we can give to the common security in Europe and the world." Earlier in the week, Zelensky said that Western leaders have told him Ukraine would not be allowed to join NATO or the EU although “publicly the doors will remain open.”   (The Washington Post, 03.24.22, Axios, 03.24.22, Financial Times, 03.21.22)
  • Several senior Russian officials this week reiterated Moscow’s position , enshrined in its strategic documents, that nuclear-weapons use would be an option if the Russian leadership believed the country’s survival was at risk:
    • Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president in 2008-2012 and now deputy chief of Russia's Security Council, warned the U.S. on March 23 that the world could spiral toward nuclear dystopia if Washington pressed on with what the Kremlin casts as a long-term plot to destroy Russia. The views of Medvedev, once considered to be among the least hawkish members of Putin's circle, give insights into the thinking within the Kremlin as Moscow faces the biggest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. (Reuters, 03.23.22)
    • Russia would consider using its nuclear weapons if it felt there was “an existential threat for our country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an English-language CNN interview March 22. Peskov characterized the invasion of Ukraine as a defensive move to protect Russia. “President Putin intends to make the world listen to and understand our concerns,” Peskov said. “But no one would listen to us.” Ukraine, he added, “was formed by the Western countries, anti-Russia. … This is the problem.” (The New York Times, 03.22.22)
    • The Russian deputy ambassador to the U.N. says Russia retains the right to use nuclear weapons if the country is "provoked" by NATO. Asked if Putin was right to hold the prospect of nuclear war over the rest of the world, Dmitry Polyanskiy, one of Russia's top diplomats in the U.S., said: "If Russia is provoked by NATO, if Russia is attacked by NATO, why not? We are a nuclear power. … I don't think it's the right thing to be saying. But it's not the right thing to threaten Russia, and to try to interfere. So when you're dealing with a nuclear power, of course, you have to calculate all the possible outcomes of your behavior." (Sky News, 03.24.22)
  • Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have tried to set up phone calls with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov but the Russians have so far declined to engage, leaving the world’s two largest nuclear powers in the dark about explanations for military movements and raising fears of a major miscalculation or battlefield accident. (The Washington Post, 03.23.22)
  • President Joe Biden, stepping back from a campaign vow, has embraced a longstanding U.S. approach of using the threat of a potential nuclear response to deter conventional and other nonnuclear dangers in addition to nuclear ones, U.S. officials said March 24. (Wall Street Journal, 03.24.22)
  • The U.S. plans to boost military spending and increase its military presence near Russia in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, while trying to maintain a long-term focus on countering China, current and former officials said. “I think it’s a 9/11 event for Europe,” said a senior Pentagon official. While the Pentagon will respond accordingly to what those countries need, the official said, the main focus remains on countering Beijing: “I think there is room to enhance our posture alongside our allies in Europe without it being this huge sucking sound that prevents us from being able to focus on China.” (The Wall Street Journal, 03.21.22)
    • The U.S. is holding “active consultations” with “many” nations “about how to provide Ukraine the kinds of defensive capabilities, to include long-range air defense, that we know that they’re comfortable using,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a March 21 press briefing. (Air Force Magazine, 03.21.22)
    • The U.S. is sending some of the Soviet-made air defense equipment it secretly acquired decades ago to bolster the Ukrainian military as it seeks to fend off Russian air and missile attacks, U.S. officials said. The decades-old systems were obtained by the U.S. so it could examine technology used by the Russian military, which Moscow has exported around the world. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.21.22)
    • Turkey refused to send its Russian-made S-400 air defense system to Ukraine, after U.S. officials called for it to deliver the weaponry. (Financial Times, 03.24.22)
  • EU defense and foreign ministers on March 21 adopted a new security strategy, known as "Strategic Compass." As part of the new strategy, the European Union will create a force of as many as 5,000 troops, an overhaul of the EU battlegroups that have existed only on paper since 2007. The joint response forces are to be operational by 2025. German Defense Minister Christina Lambrecht told reporters ahead of the meeting that "Germany can provide the military core." (DW, 03.21.22)
  • U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson was set to reveal a £25 million financial package on March 24 for Ukrainian armed forces alongside 6,000 defensive missiles, as part of efforts to step up western military and economic support to Ukraine.  (Financial Times, 03.24.22)
  • President Joe Biden's visit to Poland on March 25 punctuated the country's unlikely turn from illiberal agitator to symbol of European solidarity, putting on hold U.S. and EU concerns about Warsaw's democratic backsliding to celebrate its embrace of over 2 million Ukrainian refugees. With Poland on the frontlines of the humanitarian and military crisis unfolding in neighboring Ukraine, Biden traveled to the country’s southeast, where he is meeting with U.S. troops and aid workers assisting refugees. Before he returns to Washington on March 26, he will meet with Ukrainian refugees, national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed. (Axios, 03.24.22, NBC, 03.25.22)
  • Poland is expelling 45 Russian diplomats it accuses of being spies, describing the decision as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s policies toward Poland and its allies. The move prompted Russia to warn it will retaliate. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the expulsions "a conscious step toward the final destruction of bilateral relations, the dismantling of which our Polish 'partners' have been systematically carrying out for a long time." (The Washington Post, 03.23.22, Reuters, 03.24.22)
  • The president of Poland compared Russia’s attacks on Ukraine to Nazi forces during World War II, saying March 22 that besieged Mariupol looks like Warsaw in 1944 after the Germans bombed houses and killed civilians “with no mercy at all.” President Andrzej Duda spoke as traumatized people bearing witness to the horrors inflicted on Ukraine by Russian forces continued to arrive by the thousands in Poland and other neighboring nations. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev blasted Poland’s leadership this week, accusing Warsaw of “Russophobia by … talentless politicians and their puppeteers from across the ocean.” Poland’s decision to not buy Russian gas, oil and coal and its opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has seriously damaged the Polish economy, said Medvedev, now deputy chair of Russia’s Security Council, in a March 21 post on Telegram. "But now it is much more important for the vassal Polish elites to swear allegiance to their overlord—the U.S.—rather than help their own citizens, so they will keep stoking the bonfire of hatred against the enemy that is Russia," he wrote. (TASS, 03.21.22)
  • Russia on March 23 condemned what it called a "reckless" Polish proposal to send international peacekeepers into Ukraine and warned that it could lead to a direct clash between Russian and NATO forces. Poland said March 18 that it would formally submit a proposal for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine at the next NATO summit, but NATO allies have been clearly cool to the idea. (Reuters, 03.23.22, Defense One, 03.24.22)
  • The United States has assessed that members of Russia's military forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on March 23, adding that Washington's conclusion was based on a "careful review" of available information from public and intelligence sources. Blinken said the United States will continue to track reports of war crimes and will share information it gathers with allies and international institutions. A court of law would be ultimately responsible in determining any alleged crime, he said. (Reuters, 03.23.22)
    • During a phone call with Western allies ahead of his trip to Europe, President Joe Biden discussed “serious concerns about Russia’s brutal tactics in Ukraine, including its attacks on civilians,” according to a White House statement. In the call with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, Biden also discussed providing security and humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians. (The New York Times, 03.21.22)
  • A top American diplomat met with India’s foreign secretary on March 21, affirming the countries’ security ties as India’s dependence on Russian arms has come into sharp relief amid the invasion of Ukraine. Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, met Harsh Shringla as part of a visit to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, three countries that abstained from a U.N. resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (The New York Times, 03.22.22)
  • Breaking through Putin’s propaganda bubble is a key strategic goal for Ukraine and its Western allies. They have tried a series of actions, overt and subtle, to reach ordinary Russians—from encouraging the use of software that circumvents internet blocks to having government briefings for TikTok influencers. The hope is that independent voices still operating in Russia, those from the West and direct pleas from Ukrainians can convince the masses that they’re being lied to about the war next door. (AP, 03.22.22)
    • Quietly, for example, U.S. officials have encouraged internet service providers to stay in Russia, calculating that Russians need to have the means to find outside information online. The U.S. is also increasing funding for its traditional means of reaching audiences in Eastern Europe, adding $25 million this month for the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America. (AP, 03.22.22)
    • Thomas Rid, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and expert on disinformation, noted that the U.S. “doesn’t really have a great track record” on countering false narratives. “The way I would play this is via Ukraine,” he said. “It has the proximity, the language skills, the family links. We need to help them first and foremost to win and retain access to information.” (AP, 03.22.22)
    • “I don’t think Americans fully understand what’s been fed to Russians about the U.S. and the West for literally the past decade,” says Maxim Pozdorovkin, a Russian-born, Harvard-educated filmmaker behind several works on the subject. “What this information war boils down to is this: ‘The West is completely against us and trying to stifle and destroy our way of life.’ It’s a simple message. But people are told this over and over, in so many different ways.” (The Washington Post, 03.22.22)
  • The FBI is trying a novel strategy to recruit Russian-speaking individuals upset about the country’s invasion of Ukraine: aiming social media ads at cellphones located inside or just outside the Russian Embassy in Washington. (The Washington Post, 03.23.22)
  • Russia has claimed that foreign actors have encroached on its religious turf in Ukraine, alleging the United States helped instigate an Eastern Orthodox schism there. Moscow Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said both the West and a rival patriarch were “pursuing the same end” of seeking to weaken Russia and “make the brotherly peoples—Russians and Ukrainians—enemies.” While hardly the only factor in the war, the religious grievance shouldn’t be overlooked, experts say. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • A U.S. Capitol riot suspect who fled the United States has been granted refugee status in Belarus, according to Belarusian state-owned television BelTA. The California man, Evan Neumann, went to Europe after being charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Neumann initially settled in Ukraine, he said in an interview in November, but he claims he traveled to Belarus on foot after noticing that Ukrainian authorities were following him. (CNN, 03.22.22)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drags on, China’s economic links with its northern neighbor have come under strain. According to a recent survey of 322 Chinese exporters by FOB Shanghai, an industry forum, 39% of respondents said the war had “severely” undermined their Russian business. Importers are not faring much better. “There is too much risk trading with Russia,” said Frank Yao, owner of a coal trader based in the northeastern city of Dalian. His company cancelled an order from Russia this month because the seller had trouble processing payments due to Western sanctions. (Financial Times, 03.21.22)
  • Boosting rail traffic from China to the European Union via Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus is a key element in the Belt and Road Initiative, a $1 trillion vision unveiled by Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2013 to project Beijing’s economic and political influence around the world. Now, sanctions on Russia are sidetracking China’s Silk Road Rail Corridor—disrupting freight traffic and creating losses for China, while forcing Beijing to rethink regional trade, development and security strategies. (, 03.21.22)
  • China’s top Russia envoy urged Chinese businesspeople in Moscow to seize economic opportunities created by the crisis, a strategy that could help soften the blow from international sanctions. Ambassador Zhang Hanhui on March 20 told about a dozen business heads to waste no time and “fill the void” in the local market, the Russia Confucius Culture Promotion Association said on its official WeChat account. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing March 22 in Beijing that “China and Russia have been conducting mutually beneficial cooperation in economics and trade,” without acknowledging the ambassador’s meeting in Moscow. (Bloomberg, 03.22.22)
    • Alicia Garcia Herrero, Natixis SA Asia Pacific chief economist, said she doubted the push to engage smaller Chinese businesses in Russia would be successful. “Navigating the sanctions is the same for everybody,” she said. “My sense is these private, small companies will hear the message, but they’ll be very reluctant unless they see the biggest companies backed by the Chinese state moving forward.” (Bloomberg, 03.22.22)
  • A Beijing-based lawyer who advises Chinese companies on their Russian operations said many were struggling to balance commerce and allegations that they were keeping Russia’s economy afloat after Western governments imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Moscow. “Chinese companies are finding it increasingly difficult to walk a fine line between conducting normal business activities in Russia and bankrolling its war against Ukraine,” the person said. (Financial Times, 03.21.22)
    • DJI, a Chinese drone maker whose equipment is used by both sides in the war, typifies those challenges. The company found itself in the spotlight last week when a senior Ukrainian official urged it to stop doing business with Russia. DJI rebuffed the pleas as firmly as Chinese diplomats have rebuffed criticism that President Xi Jinping has effectively sided with Russia. (Financial Times, 03.21.22)
    • Geely is examining its future in Russia, casting doubt on expectations that China’s carmakers would push further into the country to take advantage of the exodus of international groups following Ukraine’s invasion. Geely has suspended its operations at a factory in Belarus that exports to Russia, and has launched a review weighing the reputational risk to the brand of sticking with the country against the opportunity created by the halting of sales of major rivals from Volkswagen to Toyota. (Financial Times, 03.24.22)
  • But many Chinese companies still want to expand their trade with Russian counterparts. The China Coal Transportation and Distribution Association, an industry body, hosted a video conference on March 11 at which a dozen of the country’s big power plants and about 20 Russian coal companies discussed plans to increase bilateral trade just as the U.S. and U.K. banned Russian oil imports. “China needs Russian coal not because we want to provide support for Putin,” said the official at Jidian International. “We do so because it helps solve our economic problems.” (Financial Times, 03.21.22)
  • While Russia dominated the discussions in Brussels this week, NATO leaders also called on China to "cease amplifying the Kremlin’s false narratives" and "promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict." (Axios, 03.24.22)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • The Department of Justice has charged four Russian government employees for their parts in "two historical hacking campaigns" targeting the global energy sector in 135 countries between 2012 and 2018, the department announced March 24. Thousands of computers at hundreds of energy companies around the world were targeted by the Russian cyberattacks, according to a pair of newly unsealed federal indictments. Access to such systems would've allowed the Kremlin to "disrupt and damage such computer systems at a future time of its choosing," the DOJ said. Three intelligence officers are accused of launching cyberattacks from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) against nuclear power facilities, power transmission companies and oil and gas conglomerates, according to one of the indictments. (Axios, 03.24.22)
  • U.S. President Joe Biden on March 21 reiterated warnings that the Russian government is "exploring options for potential cyberattacks" in response to U.S. economic sanctions triggered by the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden urged the private sector to "harden your cyber defenses immediately," according to a White House statement. Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, said March 21 that federal agencies convened more than 100 companies last week to brief them on cyber threats and provide hands-on support. (Axios, 03.21.22)
  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked a surge of volunteer hackers, or hacktivists, battling on the digital frontline with Moscow. Groups such as Anonymous, Squad303 and Cyber Partisan have carried out several cyberattacks against Russian targets over the past few weeks. But these highly publicized attacks against Russian sites also pose a danger—the risk of escalation. (France 24, 03.23.22)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • The U.S. will work to supply 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to the EU this year to help wean it off Russian energy supplies, the transatlantic partners said on March 25. But analysts warned that the plan will be largely symbolic, at least in the short run, because the U.S. doesn’t have enough capacity to export more gas and Europe doesn’t have the capacity to import significantly more. Even if the 15 bcm is achievable, "it still falls well short of replacing Russian gas imports, which amounted to around 155 bcm in 2021," analysts at ING Bank said. Additionally, EU countries will work to ensure demand for 50 billion cubic meters of U.S. fuel until at least 2030. The deal also included a commitment to “advance the production and use of clean and renewable hydrogen,” the White House said in a statement. (Reuters, 03.25.22, The New York Times, 03.25.22, Bloomberg, 03.25.22, Russia Matters, 03.25.22)
    • The European Union is moving toward the joint purchase of natural gas and ensuring its storage facilities are nearly full to try to avoid another crisis tied to its dependency on Russian energy, officials said March 22. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • Support for a European Union-wide ban on the purchase of Russian oil is growing inside the bloc, according to diplomats involved in the discussion, representing a significant shift in the continent’s stance toward how to ratchet up economic pressure on Moscow. Agreement on any EU ban of Russian crude is far from locked in yet, and a rapid decision to move ahead isn’t likely, diplomats have said. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.21.22)
    • Several EU members, including Germany, remain reluctant to support an oil ban, and would only consider gradual restrictions—not a sudden cutoff—if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates. A move to restrict Russian natural gas isn’t being considered, diplomats said. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.21.22)
    • Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stood firm on Germany’s resistance to an immediate embargo of Russian fossil fuels, telling the Bundestag on March 23 that abruptly cutting imports of Russian energy supplies would trigger an economic crisis. (Financial Times, 03.23.22)
    • Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on March 21 condemned EU sanctions on Russian energy, according to Hirado news agency, saying it “threatens the security of energy supply to Hungary.” (Kyiv Independent, 03.21.22)
  • The head of Vitol, the world’s largest independent oil trader, warned of a shortage of diesel in Europe stemming from potential disruption to Russian supplies. (Financial Times, 03.23.22)
  • Oil prices rose after Russia said on March 22 that oil exports via a pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Black Sea may temporarily fall by around 1 million barrels a day—representing about 1% of global oil demand—citing storm damage. Repairs could take up to two months, Russian officials said. Analysts raised questions about the timing of the reported storm damage, as none of the pipeline’s Western partners had been able to inspect the facilities. Throttled capacity through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium’s pipeline has raised fears that Moscow is prepared to retaliate against Western sanctions by curbing its own energy supplies. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.23.22, Financial Times, 03.22.22)
  • Russia enriches more uranium for use in nuclear plants than any other country in the world. Its increasing economic isolation has exposed the fragility of global nuclear-fuel supplies, which are controlled by a handful of countries. Uranium prices have jumped more than 30% since the start of the war in Ukraine. A trade agreement limits U.S. dependence on Russian uranium to no more than around 20% of domestic needs, but no other country could quickly fill Russia’s role in a complex supply chain that could take years to rejigger. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.22.22)
    • Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming—one of the main U.S. uranium-producing states—filed legislation on March 17 to ban Russian imports, calling the dependence on foreign uranium “simply unacceptable.” (The Wall Street Journal, 03.22.22)
  • Russia’s coal exports to Asia, where China is the biggest buyer, fell to 1.8 million tonnes in the first two weeks of March compared to 62 million tonnes in February, according to Refinitiv, a data provider. But many analysts expect the exports to rebound strongly in coming months. (Financial Times, 03.21.22)
  • See also section on “Punitive measures related to Ukraine and their impact globally” above.

Climate change:

  • In a major speech on March 21, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine could set back the climate agenda. "As major economies pursue an 'all-of-the-above' strategy to replace Russian fossil fuels, short-term measures might create long-term fossil fuel dependence and close the window to 1.5 degrees," Guterres said. "This is madness.” (Axios, 03.21.22)
  • The March 25 agreement calling on the U.S. to help the EU secure an additional 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas this year could undermine efforts to combat climate change. Once new export and import terminals are built, they will probably keep operating for several decades, perpetuating the use of a fossil fuel much longer than many environmentalists consider sustainable for the planet’s well-being. (The New York Times, 03.25.22)
  • Several climate NGOs released a report March 23 arguing that Europe can end reliance on Russian gas "without stalling the end of coal power generation or building new gas import infrastructure." The report is from Ember, E3G, the Regulatory Assistance Project and Bellona. (Axios, 03.23.22)
  • Electric vehicle makers in the U.S. and Europe are scrambling to manage threats to supplies of key battery materials following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the consequent sanctions and divestment. Russia supplies nearly half of the world’s palladium and roughly 10% of nickel, as well as large quantities of aluminum and copper—key ingredients in EV batteries. S&P Global Mobility has dramatically reduced its outlook for light vehicle production this year and next. (Axios, 03.17.22)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • See section on “Punitive measures related to Ukraine and their impact globally” above.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • The Russian Foreign Ministry on March 21 summoned John Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Russia, and handed him a note over President Joe Biden's "unacceptable" comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that ties between the countries are "on the verge of breaking." Russian officials were referring to Biden's calling Putin a "war criminal” last week. The Foreign Ministry said Biden's comments were "unworthy of a statesman of such a high rank," adding that any "hostile actions taken against Russia would receive a decisive and firm rebuff." (Axios, 03.21.22)
    • The U.S. Embassy in Moscow on March 23 received a list of its diplomats declared "persona non grata," a State Department spokesperson said, in what Russian media said was a response to a U.S. move ousting Russian staff at the United Nations. (Reuters, 03.23.22)
    • State Department spokesman Ned Price said, despite the tensions, the Biden administration is committed to maintaining lines of communication with Moscow. “It’s awfully rich to hear a country speak about ‘inappropriate comments’ when that same country is engaged in mass slaughter” of civilians, he added. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.21.22)
  • A bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers visiting Poland said on March 19 that the most urgent need in Ukraine’s fight against a Russian invasion is to equip and support the country in every way that will help it defend its independence. The American lawmakers said there is no room for peace talks as long as there is a “hot war.” (AP, 03.19.22)


III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • A Moscow court has sentenced jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to nine more years in prison on fresh charges of embezzlement and contempt of court, raising fears among allies that his life may be in danger in a remote colony after his near-fatal poisoning. Judge Margarita Kotova on March 22 found Navalny guilty in a makeshift court inside the maximum-security prison in Pokrov, some 60 miles east of Moscow, where he is already serving a 2.5-year sentence for violating parole while recovering from the poisoning. The court also ordered him to pay a fine of 1.2 million rubles ($11,500). (The Moscow Times, 03.22.22)
  • More than a quarter of a million Russians by some estimates have left their country since the invasion of Ukraine. Their departure accelerates a long-running process of shutting down Russia’s civil society, without the state having to persecute and imprison people individually. During a Kremlin meeting on March 16, Putin apparently referred to the exodus, saying, “The Russian people can tell true patriots apart from those traitors… I am sure that this natural and necessary cleansing will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, our cohesiveness and our readiness to face any and all challenges.” (The New Yorker, 03.20.22)
    • Up to 170,000 Russian IT specialists could flee the country by the end of April, industry figures warned Russian lawmakers March 22. Between 50,000-70,000 have already left Russia, the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) estimates, in what the industry body is calling the “first wave” of an exodus of creative, entrepreneurial and prosperous Russians following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and the country’s mounting international isolation. (The Moscow Times, 03.22.22)
  • Anatoly Chubais, a veteran aide of President Vladimir Putin has resigned over the Ukraine war and left Russia with no intention to return, two sources said on March 23—the first senior official to break with the Kremlin since Putin launched his invasion a month ago. The Kremlin confirmed that Chubais, who had been serving as a special envoy for sustainability, had resigned of his own accord. (Reuters, 03.23.22)
  • In a further media crackdown March 21, Russia banned Facebook and Instagram entirely after a court said their parent company, Meta, was guilty of "extremist activity" (but the ruling will not affect its WhatsApp messenger service). Twitter, meanwhile, has been difficult for Russians to access. The Kremlin also suspended the BBC Russian service, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvia-based website Meduza. And, on March 22, international news channel Euronews said it had been blocked from broadcasting in Russia. Google News is also largely offline in Russia, in what appears to be related to the Kremlin's crackdown on sources of independent reporting on its invasion. (Reuters, 03.21.22, AP, 03.22.22, The Wall Street Journal, 03.24.22)
    • Some social media platforms and news organizations have worked around the bans and government surveillance, using a privacy-protected “onion” service. Russian users can access a version of Twitter if they download the Tor browser. Instead of .com, onion sites have a .onion suffix. The Russian authorities have had some success blocking those sites, however, too. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • Russia on March 22 amended an already draconian censorship law to make “discrediting” the activities abroad of all government bodies—not just the military—a potentially criminal offense. The law punishes anyone spreading “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison. (The New York Times, 03.22.22)
    • Russian investigators said March 22 they had launched a criminal case against a popular journalist for alleging that Moscow's army deliberately shelled a maternity hospital in Ukraine's embattled city of Mariupol. Alexander Nevzorov is the first prominent political reporter and commentator to be probed for spreading "false" information about the Russian army under new legislation introduced after President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24. (AFP/The Moscow Times, 03.22.22)
  • A former Paris-based Europe correspondent for Russian state-controlled broadcaster Channel One said March 22 she resigned this month due to Russia’s war against Ukraine and voiced fears she’ll be accused of being “a highly paid spy.” Zhanna Agalakova quit as the war broke out in Ukraine, joining a string of colleagues from Russia’s strictly state-controlled network. (AP, 03.22.22)
    • Marina Ovsyannikova, the Russian journalist who protested the war in Ukraine on live state TV, also worked for Channel One. Speaking from hiding, Ovsyannikova has since told media of her resolve to stay in her country. “I don’t want to leave Russia. I am a patriot,” she told German news site Der Spiegel. Ovsyannikova turned down an offer of asylum from French President Emmanuel Macron, even as she feared severe repercussions from Russian authorities and called herself Russia’s “enemy No. 1” in anti-war dissent. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov announced March 22 that he will auction off his medal and donate the proceeds to Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion. Muratov and the independent Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta newspaper where he is editor-in-chief have spoken out fiercely against the war despite a government crackdown on media and free speech. (The Moscow Times, 03.22.22)
  • The severed head of a pig and a sticker with an anti-Semitic slur were left outside the apartment of Alexei Venediktov, editor in chief of Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, which has been shut down by the Russian authorities. (RFE/RL, 03.24.22)
  • Russia’s war on Ukraine is set to wipe out 15 years of economic development, undoing three quarters of all the progress President Vladimir Putin made in rebuilding Russia’s economy after he took office in 2000, the Institute of International Finance (IIF) said in a note released on March 23. (bne IntelliNews, 03.25.22)
  • Russian Central Bank chief Elvira Nabiullina tried to resign after the invasion of Ukraine, people familiar with the matter said. Her effort was rejected by Russian President Vladimir Putin who instead nominated her for a third term. A spokeswoman for the central bank said March 24 that reports of Nabiullina’s desire to resign do “not correspond to reality.” Over nearly a decade Nabiullina has been one of Putin’s most stalwart allies in buttressing the Russian economy against volatile oil prices and U.S. sanctions in a growing face-off with the West, while remaining one of the few liberals who hold senior positions in the Russian government. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.24.22)
  • Russia may have averted a debt default, as the country’s latest interest payment on its dollar debt has been processed by JPMorgan. The country’s foreign-currency government bonds have rallied as evidence emerges that $117 million in coupon payments, which were due this week, are making their way along the chain that separates the Russian government from investors. (Financial Times, 03.23.22, Financial Times, 03.18.22)
  • More than half of the goods and services flowing into Russia come from 46 or more countries that have levied sanctions or trade restrictions, with the United States and European Union leading the way. (The Washington Post, 03.18.22)
  • Russian sources this week noted heightened pessimism and anxiety among investors and businesspeople facing the consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine and its fallout. Only now is business realizing the scale of the problem, the Kommersant daily wrote March 25, with large, medium and small businesses jostling for limited government funding to soften the economic blows. The independent Levada Center pollster, meanwhile, has released new survey results showing that the share of Russian retail investors who expect their material well-being to improve dropped from 44% in October to 13% in March. (Russia Matters, 03.25.22)
  • Russia's ruble has rebounded sharply in recent weeks, as officials cobbled together an unorthodox defense of the currency after it collapsed from Western sanctions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. (Axios, 03.24.22)
  • Russia’s stock market jumped in its first limited trading session since the West unveiled punishing sanctions nearly a month ago. The increase is unlikely to be interpreted as a sign that all is well with the Russian economy. Only 33 shares out of 50 on the index were allowed to trade. To prevent a steep selloff, Russia’s central bank banned short selling and blocked foreigners, who make up a huge chunk of the market, from selling their shares. The Kremlin also directed a Russian sovereign wealth fund to buy around $10 billion in shares. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.24.22)
  • Steel and mining giant Severstal said Citigroup has frozen interest payments to investors in the company’s bonds, setting up what would likely be the first debt default by a major Russian issuer since Moscow invaded Ukraine. Severstal said March 23 that payment was frozen because of “regulatory investigations” and that it was committed to fulfilling its obligations under the loan. It said it had been in constant contact with Citigroup and would apply for any licenses needed for the payment to be made. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.23.22)
  • Russia is a major global player in all three nutrients that compose fertilizer: nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Russia is the world’s largest nitrogen exporter, supplying 16.5% of global nitrogen exports in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. Russia is the world’s third-largest phosphate exporter with a 12.7% share of global phosphate exports in 2018. Russia is the world’s third-largest potassium exporter as well, supplying 16.5% of global potassium exports in 2018. (FarmWeekNow, 03.16.22)
  • The president of the European Central Bank warned that cryptocurrencies are being used by Russians to evade sanctions, noting that the volume of rubles being converted into cryptocurrencies had risen to its highest level in almost a year. (Financial Times, 03.23.22)

Defense and aerospace:

  • In Russia, the slow going and the heavy toll of President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine are setting off questions about his military’s planning capability, his confidence in his top spies and loyal defense minister and the quality of the intelligence that reaches him. It also shows the pitfalls of Putin’s top-down governance, in which officials and military officers have little leeway to make their own decisions and adapt to developments in real time. (The New York Times, 03.22.22)
  • Recriminations and finger-pointing have begun within Russia's spy and defense agencies, as the campaign that Moscow expected to culminate in a lightning seizure of Ukraine's capital has instead turned into a costly and embarrassing morass, U.S. officials said. A U.S. official described as credible reports that the commander of the Federal Security Service (FSB) unit responsible for Ukraine had been placed under house arrest. The officer in question is Col. Gen. Sergei Beseda, head of the agency's so-called Fifth Service, also known as the Service for Operational Information and International Communications. The U.S. official, in an interview, also said bickering had broken out between the FSB and the Russian Defense Ministry, two of the principal government units responsible for the preparation of the Feb. 24 invasion. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.19.22)
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whose absence from the public spotlight for almost two weeks in the middle of a war prompted speculation he might be unwell, was at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council on March 24, according to the Kremlin. The state-owned RIA Novosti news agency aired an 11-second silent video clip of President Vladimir Putin in front of a screen of officials, zooming in to show Shoigu among those present. Shoigu’s absence from public view has raised questions amid Russia’s poorer-than-expected military performance in its war on Ukraine—but the Kremlin on March 24 brushed questions aside. “Look, the defense minister has a lot on his mind right now, as you understand,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked why Shoigu had not been seen in public since March 11. (The Washington Post, 03.24.22)
    • In the non-state-run Russian-language press there has been speculation that the image of Shoigu may have been pasted into the footage from an earlier Security Council meeting when his clothing and background were the same as March 24. (Russia Matters, 03.24.22)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Twelve Russian special police officers within the country’s national guard, or Rosgvardia, refused an order from their superiors to go fight in Ukraine and were dismissed from service, according to human rights lawyers now representing them in court. (The Washington Post, 03.24.22)


IV. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • President Vladimir Putin on March 25 accused the West of trying to cancel Russia's rich musical and literary culture, including composers Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninov, in the same way he said it had cancelled "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling. He compared the cancellation of a number of Russian cultural events in recent weeks to actions taken by Nazi Germany in the 1930s. (Reuters, 03.25.22)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to attend the next G20 summit in Indonesia later this year and received valuable backing from Beijing on March 23 in a pushback to suggestions by some members that Russia could be barred from the group. The United States and its Western allies are assessing whether Russia should remain within the group of major economies following its invasion of Ukraine, sources involved in the discussions told Reuters. But any move to exclude Russia would probably be vetoed by others in the group, raising the prospect of some countries instead skipping G20 meetings, the sources said. (Reuters, 03.23.22)
    • President Joe Biden said March 24 that he would support Russia being expelled from the G20 over its invasion of Ukraine. He also said he has proposed allowing Ukraine to attend as an observer nation if other G20 members do not agree to remove Russia. (Axios, 03.24.22)
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry has said it will suspend negotiations for a postwar peace treaty with Japan in an apparent reaction to Japan's sanctions against Moscow for invading Ukraine, prompting Tokyo to protest the move March 22. Russia also announced March 21 that it was halting a visa-free program that allows former Japanese residents to periodically visit the Russian-controlled, Japan-claimed islands off Hokkaido, while indicating that it will withdraw from joint economic activities on the disputed islands. (Kyodo, 03.22.22)
  • France and Mexico are pressing U.N. members to mention Russia’s invasion in a resolution on the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine. But South Africa is arguing against that approach, saying that inserting political issues may block consensus on helping civilians. Expected to be considered this week. (AP, 03.21.22)
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said March 19 that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a “turning point for the world,” arguing that a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces would herald “a new age of intimidation.” (AP, 03.19.22)
    • Britain accused Russia of spreading misinformation on March 22 by posting doctored clips of the U.K.’s defense chief speaking to a hoaxer posing as Ukraine’s prime minister. (AP, 03.22.22)
  • Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on March 21 spoke out against sending peacekeepers to Ukraine and the establishment of a no-fly zone, citing the risk of war. (Kyiv Independent, 03.21.22)
  • The European Union’s top diplomat said March 21 that he has ordered the suspension of combat training for soldiers in Mali until he receives guarantees from the government there that the trainees will not be working with Russian mercenaries, who have been accused of rights abuses in Africa and the Middle East. (AP, 03.21.22)
  • Pakistan’s prime minister on March 22 urged foreign ministers from Muslim-majority nations to help end Russia’s war in Ukraine, appealing also to China’s top diplomat to join the effort. (AP, 03.22.22)


  • Italian prime minister Mario Draghi endorsed Ukraine’s bid for EU membership on March 22, following Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s video address to the Italian parliament. (Financial Times, 03.23.22)
  • In peacetime, the programmers of Ukraine’s tech scene crafted the consumer software that powered homegrown start-ups and some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names. Now, they build apps of war—an unprecedented digital infrastructure designed for both front-line combat and the realities of life under siege. There are glossy online tools for rallying anti-Kremlin protests and documenting war crimes. There are apps for hearing air-raid sirens, coordinating supply deliveries, finding evacuation routes and contributing to cyberattacks against Russian military websites. There’s even an app people can use to report the movements of Russian troops, sending location-tagged videos directly to Ukrainian intelligence. (The Washington Post, 03.24.22)
  • Russian armed forces on March 21 took four Ukrainian media workers from their homes in Melitopol, a city in southeastern Ukraine, the National Union of Journalists said in a news release. The journalists and some of their family members were driven from the city—which is under Russian military occupation—to an unknown location before they were released a few hours later. Anna Medvid, the director general of the company that owns the newspaper where the four work or worked, said that Russian soldiers have tried to persuade journalists to collaborate. (The New York Times, 03.21.22)
  • See most Ukraine-related news above.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given fresh momentum to efforts by Turkey and Armenia to establish diplomatic relations, as the war is forcing countries in the region to recalibrate their foreign policy priorities. (, 03.24.22)
  • Since the beginning of March, the ceasefire between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Karabakh—brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2020 and now maintained by a Russian peacekeeping force—has become increasingly shaky. It goes without saying that each side blames the other for the violations. The situation for the Russians in Karabakh isn’t as dire as it’s turning out in Ukraine, but they still are facing challenges they perhaps didn’t expect when they started this mission. (, 03.23.22)
  • Russia’s closure of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium oil pipeline is going to be particularly painful for Kazakhstan, which ships more than two-thirds of its oil exports through the CPC pipeline. (, 03.23.22)
  • The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has demanded that Belarus cut the number of diplomats at its embassy in Kyiv to five. Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said March 24 that the move came in response to a similar one announced by Minsk the day before. The Belarusian government said March 23 that it shut down Ukraine's Consulate-General in the western city of Brest and ordered an unspecified number of Ukrainian diplomats to leave the embassy in Minsk as Belarus continues to assist the Russian armed forces in their attacks against Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 03.24.22)
  • Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, has announced plans to take the country’s president to court, arguing that she has overstepped her largely ceremonial powers—in part, with her actions in support of Ukraine. (, 03.24.22)
  • See “Energy exports from CIS” section above.