Russia in Review, March 25-April 1, 2022

This Week's Highlights

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has told his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, that shelling of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol will only end when Ukrainian troops surrender, the BBC cites the Kremlin as saying. Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said March 31 that about 100,000 people requiring immediate evacuation remain in the city, according to CNN. The U.N.’s top refugee official said during his first official visit to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion that more than 10.5 million people had been displaced either within Ukraine or abroad, around a quarter of the population, and that 13 million people inside the country need urgent humanitarian assistance, the New York Times reports.
  • More than a month after taking it over, Russian forces transferred control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant back to Ukrainian authorities, but plant workers said the departing troops also took away more than 100 Ukrainian national guardsmen as prisoners of war, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ukrainian authorities claim that Russian soldiers got “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches at the highly contaminated site, per the AP, while Chernobyl employees told Reuters the soldiers likely inhaled “suicidal” doses of radioactive dust kicked up as they drove their armored vehicles, without protective gear, through a highly toxic zone called the "Red Forest." One of the Chernobyl workers who spoke with Russian soldiers when working alongside them in the facility also told Reuters that the soldiers had not heard about the 1986 nuclear disaster at the plant.
  • For all the hardship visited on consumers at home and the financial chokehold put on the government from abroad, Bloomberg Economics expects Russia will earn nearly $321 billion from energy exports this year, an increase of more than a third from 2021. Refiners in India, the world's third biggest oil importer and consumer, have been snapping up Russian oil since the war broke out, taking advantage of deep discounts as other buyers back away, Reuters reports; India has bought at least 13 million barrels of Russian oil since Feb. 24, compared with nearly 16 million barrels in all of 2021. Russia’s sales of gas to Europe—estimated at $350 million a day by energy consultant ICIS—also severely undermine the effect of Western sanctions, the Financial Times writes. In a twist of bitter irony described by The Washington Post, Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas utility, Naftogaz, is still transporting about 30% of the gas Russia sells in Europe. We see it as a deterrent [against] more bombing and more destruction inside Ukraine,” Naftogaz chief executive Yuriy Vitrenko told the newspaper.
  • The Russian ruble made a staggering rebound approaching its prewar value on March 30, trading at 83 per dollar versus a low of roughly 150 to the dollar on March 7, when news emerged that the Biden administration would ban U.S. imports of Russian oil and gas, The New York Times and Forbes report. Oil and gas revenues have helped stabilize the ruble, but stringent central bank moves to limit ruble selling and force ruble buying have effectively manufactured demand for the currency, the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal report, with some analysts saying this means that the rising currency prices do not reflect a general strengthening of Russia’s economic outlook.
  • Russia has authorized retailers to import products from abroad without the trademark owner's permission, after global brands halted sales or stopped exports over Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine, Reuters reports. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said March 30 that "parallel imports" were needed to ensure that certain goods could continue to be shipped to Russia.
  • In scientific fields with profound implications for mankind’s future and knowledge, the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine is causing a swift and broad decaying of relationships and projects that bound together Moscow and the West, the AP reports, describing how the collapse of cooperative programs is jeopardizing European experiments with carbon-free energy and Mars exploration. Also delayed or derailed are international collaborations studying climate change in the Arctic, the Wall Street Journal writes.
  • Leaders from Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to meet in Brussels on April 6 as tensions rise over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, RFE/RL reports. Earlier in the week, fighting had escalated between the two countries’ forces in the region, with Azerbaijan gaining new positions and Russia issuing a rare rebuke of Baku for violating the existing ceasefire, according to Eurasianet.


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

Nuclear security:

  • More than a month after taking it over, Russian forces transferred control of the Chernobyl nuclear-power plant back to Ukrainian authorities, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom and plant workers—who said the departing troops had also taken more than 100 Ukrainian national guardsmen away in trucks as prisoners of war. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.31.22)
    • Russian soldiers got “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches at the highly contaminated site, Energoatom said March 31. But there has not yet been independent confirmation of that. (AP, 03.31.22)
    • The Russian soldiers who seized the site also drove their armored vehicles without radiation protection through a highly toxic zone called the "Red Forest", kicking up clouds of radioactive dust, workers at the site said. One Chernobyl employee said that was "suicidal" for the soldiers because the radioactive dust they inhaled was likely to cause internal radiation in their bodies. (Reuters, 03.28.22)
    • Russian soldiers with whom one of the Chernobyl workers spoke when they worked alongside them in the facility had not heard about the 1986 nuclear disaster at the plant, he said. (Reuters, 03.28.22)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • U.S. and South Korean officials are reviewing whether North Korea tested its newest intercontinental ballistic missile last week as it claimed, with mounting public signs that Pyongyang may have exaggerated its milestone. “North Korea’s version of events is misleading at best, and possibly a complete fabrication of a successful Hwasong-17 test,” wrote Colin Zwirko, senior analyst at the Seoul-based North Korea-monitoring website NK News, who first revealed the discrepancies. (The Washington Post, 03.28.22)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other Israeli officials for their alternative to a nuclear deal with Iran that will limit Tehran's uranium enrichment, a senior State Department official and an Israeli official told Axios. After months of indirect negotiations between Iran and the U.S., a draft agreement for returning to the 2015 nuclear deal is almost done. The last remaining stumbling block is Iran's demand that the Biden administration remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations blacklist. Israel, together with its Arab allies in the region, is against a U.S. return to the nuclear deal. (Axios, 03.31.22)
  • Despite a likely partisan battle, it’s unlikely that Congress will be able to block any new agreement with Iran. A disapproval resolution in the Senate would require 60 votes; even if that hurdle is cleared, opponents of the new deal would not be able to reach the two-thirds threshold required to override a presidential veto. That doesn’t mean the sales job for a still-unfinished deal will be easy for President Joe Biden and his national-security deputies. (Politico, 03.31.22)

Punitive measures related to Ukraine and their impact globally:

  • The U.S. Treasury on March 31 imposed sanctions on Russia’s largest chipmaker and 20 other companies operating in the technology, marine and aerospace sectors that it said were “malicious cyber actors” and “instrumental to the Russian Federation’s war machine,” as well as companies helping Russia escape Western sanctions. The chipmaker, Mikron, is one of the biggest companies to be targeted—responsible for more than half of Russia’s microelectronic exports. Separately, the U.S. is also targeting Moscow-based group Serniya Engineering, which it claimed was at the center of a multi-country procurement network designed to “obfuscate the Russian military and intelligence agency end-users that rely on critical Western technology.” The EU and Japan have already placed export restrictions on Serniya, while the U.K. will be imposing its own as well, the U.S. said. As part of the new sanctions, the U.S. designated 13 additional individuals, most of them affiliated with Serniya. Also named on the new sanctions list are software and communication technology firm NII-Vektor, hardware sector company T-Platforms and the Molecular Electronics Research Institute (MERI), which does work for the Russian government. (Financial Times, 03.31.22, The Moscow Times, 03.31.22, Reuters, 03.31.22)
  • The U.S. has threatened to impose sanctions on individuals and companies outside Russia that are helping it circumvent western penalties imposed due to the war in Ukraine, in what would be a significant escalation of its efforts to financially isolate Moscow. “We have a number of tools to ensure compliance, and one of those tools is the designation of individuals or entities in third-party jurisdictions who are not complying with U.S. sanctions or are undertaking systematic efforts to weaken or evade them,” Sullivan said. He added: “We are prepared to use them if it becomes necessary.” (Financial Times, 03.25.22)
  • The British government has announced sanctions on more than a dozen Russian media personalities and organizations that it accuses of spreading propaganda and disinformation about Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The latest group subjected to asset freezes and travel bans, announced on March 31, includes Rossiya TV anchor Sergei Brilev, who previously lived in Britain, Gazprom-Media chief executive officer Aleksandr Zharov and Alexei Nikolov, managing director of Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT. Punitive measures have also been imposed on the media organizations TV-Novosti, which owns RT, and Rossiya Segodnya, which controls the Sputnik news agency. Britain also targeted Russian Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the Russian National Defense Control Center, who the British Foreign Office said had become known as "the butcher of Mariupol" over Russia's actions in the besieged Ukrainian port city. (RFE/RL, 03.31.22)
  • Asked about the idea of secondary sanctions after a summit on March 25, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the allies were now looking “deep” into the sanctions regime to identify any loopholes or efforts made by Russia to get around the penalties. They would then do everything within their own system to “close the loopholes and make circumvention impossible.” (Financial Times, 03.25.22)
  • Georgian officials say the country is participating in Western sanctions against Russia, weeks after declaring that such a move could put its people at risk. President Salome Zourabichvili has been outspoken about Georgia's need to provide more support for Ukraine, a position that has put her at odds with members of her country's governing political party. The leaders are all wary of provoking Russia, which invaded Georgia in 2008. (NPR, 04.01.22)
  • The unprecedented financial sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine threaten to gradually dilute the dominance of the U.S. dollar and result in a more fragmented international monetary system, Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s first deputy managing director, has warned. (Financial Times, 03.31.22)
  • Several European Union countries announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats March 29, deepening the standoff between Europe and Russia over the invasion of Ukraine. Belgium expelled 21 Russian diplomats, the country’s Foreign Ministry confirmed, saying the individuals were working for Russian intelligence services. The move came as the Netherlands expelled 17 Russian diplomats for allegedly using diplomatic cover to do intelligence work. Around the same time, Ireland said it had asked four Russian diplomats to leave, saying their conduct was not in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behavior. (The Washington Post, 03.29.22)
  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced on March 31 that it is expanding its blacklist of people blocked from entering the country to include European Union leadership and European Parliament deputies in response to the EU’s sanctions. The blacklist includes “top leadership of the European Union, [including] a number of European commissioners and heads of EU military structures, as well as the vast majority of deputies of the European Parliament” who are allegedly encouraging “anti-Russian policies,” according to a statement from the ministry. (The Hill, 03.31.22)
    • Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had said in televised remarks March 28 that Moscow was preparing to restrict entry into Russia for nationals of "unfriendly" countries, which include Britain, all EU states and the United States. "A draft presidential decree is being developed on retaliatory visa measures in response to the 'unfriendly' actions of a number of foreign states," he said. (AFP/The Moscow Times, 03.28.22)
  • State news agency TASS has reported that Russia is considering banning the export of uranium, the fuel for nuclear power stations, citing Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, in retaliation for the U.S. ban on Russian oil imports. Along with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Russia is a major producer of uranium and the U.S. is one of its biggest customers. (BNE, 04.01.22)
  • In scientific fields with profound implications for mankind’s future and knowledge, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is causing a swift and broad decaying of relationships and projects that bound together Moscow and the West. Post-Cold War bridge-building through science is unravelling as Western nations seek to punish and isolate the Kremlin by drying up support for scientific programs involving Russia. (AP, 03.27.22)
    • Europe’s space agency is wrestling with how its planned Mars rover might survive freezing nights on the Red Planet without its Russian heating unit. (AP, 03.27.22)
  • Russia has authorized retailers to import products from abroad without the trademark owner's permission, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said March 30, after global brands halted sales or stopped exports over Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine. Mishustin said "parallel imports" were needed to ensure that certain goods could continue to be shipped to Russia. (Reuters, 03.30.22)
  • Bipartisan legislation backed by President Biden that would strip Russia of its most-favored-nation trade status is stalled in the Senate over concerns from GOP senators. The Suspending Normal Trade Relations with Russia and Belarus Act passed the House 424 to 8 earlier this month, but has been held up in the Senate over disagreements on sanctions language and a proposal to ease the transfer of weapons to Ukraine. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.31.22)
  • The European Commission is calling on member nations to repeal “golden passport” programs that let wealthy investors buy E.U. citizenship, to stop the sale of residence permits to Russian nationals and to consider stripping oligarchs of second passports already granted inside the bloc. (The Washington Post, 03.29.22)
  • Russia's factories cut production and jobs in March after the U.S. and its allies adopted some of the most severe economic sanctions ever taken against a country following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, a new survey showed on April 1. The survey of purchasing managers at Russian manufacturing companies conducted by data firm S&P Global also recorded sharp rises in prices and a big decline in new orders. S&P Global said its Purchasing Managers Index for Russia's manufacturing sector compiled from the answers to the survey had fallen to 44.1 in March from 48.6 in February. (The Wall Street Journal, 04.01.22)
  • Wealthy Russians are pouring money into real estate in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, seeking a financial haven in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions, according to many property companies. (Reuters, 03.28.22)
  • The price of oil briefly dipped below $100 per barrel and stocks climbed March 29 as cease-fire talks raised hopes of progress, with Ukraine outlining a peace proposal and Russia promising to drastically reduce its military activity near Kyiv. (The Washington Post, 03.29.22)
  • Under growing pressure to bring down high energy prices, President Biden announced on March 31 that the United States would release up to 180 million barrels of oil from a strategic reserve, the largest release since that emergency stockpile was established in the early 1970s, to counteract the economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the move will likely have a modest impact because it cannot make up for all the oil, diesel and other fuels that Russia used to sell to the world but is no longer able to. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • There are signs that Russian energy is drawing interest from potential buyers, at least in the shadows. As the war in Ukraine drags on, Russian tankers carrying crude oil and petroleum products are increasingly disappearing from tracking systems. (CNN, 03.30.22)
  • Since the invasion of Ukraine began, almost 500 companies have announced their withdrawal from Russia. (, 03.31.22)
  • Heineken will end its operations in Russia, in a move that will cost the Dutch brewer €400 million and pressure rivals to follow suit. The world’s second-largest brewer said on March 28 it would transfer its Russian business to a new owner and that it would not profit from any such transaction. Heineken’s Russian business represents 2% of its global sales. While other international brewing companies have reduced activities in Russia, Heineken is the first to announce plans to exit the country and one of few consumer companies to do so. (Financial Times, 03.28.22)
  • HSBC has repeatedly edited its analysts’ research publications to remove references to a “war” in Ukraine, as the U.K. bank resists pressure to follow rivals by closing its business in Russia. (Financial Times, 03.28.22)
  • A London-listed port operator is at risk of violating U.K. sanctions law, experts say, as a Turkish terminal in which it has a controlling stake harbors a yacht suspected of being owned by sanctions-hit Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Global Ports Holding is the world’s biggest cruise port operator, running 22 terminals in 14 countries including the dock in Bodrum where Solaris, a 140-metre vessel, arrived last week. (Financial Times, 04.01.22)
  • The Antiguan government has established that two yachts moored in the Caribbean island belong to Roman Abramovich, confirming a Financial Times investigation that revealed the vessels appeared to be owned by the sanctions-hit oligarch. (Financial Times, 04.01.22)
  • Abramovich, who has attended the ongoing Russian and Ukrainian peace talks being hosted by Erdogan in Istanbul, has reportedly moved not one, but two superyachts to Turkish waters. Reports emerged that he has flown his lavish private jet to Turkey, a country that has not sanctioned Russian oligarchs. Even financial safe havens such as the Cayman Islands are implementing sanctions. But Erdogan last week seemed to make a point of rolling out a red carpet for the Russians. “Certain capital groups,” he said, could “park their facilities with us.” (The Washington Post, 04.01.22)
  • See also section on “Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with ‘far abroad’ countries” below.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • Pessimism that Russia would tame its punishing attacks on Ukraine was growing this week, amid mixed signals from the Kremlin and continued fighting. Russian forces focused their strikes on four areas, including the capital, Kyiv, a senior U.S. defense official said March 31. The other three areas are Chernihiv in the north, Izyum (to the south of Kharkiv) and Donbas in the east. Russians aircraft sorties had increased in the preceding 24 hours to over 300, the official said, stressing that “Kyiv is still very much under threat from airstrikes,” despite Russia’s comments about sharply reducing combat operations in the area. (The New York Times, 03.30.22, CNN, 03.31.22)
    • Russia has decided to “dramatically” scale back its military activities in the Kyiv area, a top Moscow Defense Ministry official said March 29 following a fresh round of peace talks with Ukrainian counterparts in Istanbul. Alexander Fomin, Russia’s deputy defense minister, said the move was intended to “increase mutual trust” as he announced it in Turkey after the face-to-face talks. (Financial Times, 03.29.22)
    • Russian forces in Ukraine are not withdrawing but regrouping, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said March 31, commenting on Moscow's announcements about a scaling down of military operations around Kyiv. "According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region," Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels. He also said Moscow was “maintaining pressure” on the Ukrainian capital and that “Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions, so we can only judge Russia by its actions not its words.” (Reuters, 03.31.22, Financial Times, 03.31.22)
    • The Pentagon likewise cast doubt on the sincerity of Russian officials who said that they will reduce attacks in northern Ukraine, asserting March 29 that only a “small number” of Russian forces had withdrawn from near Kyiv and that Russia is probably repositioning for future attacks. President Joe Biden said March 29 that he would not “read anything” into Russia’s vow to reduce military attacks near Kyiv and Chernihiv until that happens. (The Washington Post, 03.29.22, The Washington Post, 03.29.22)
    • Russian forces continued to assault strategic locations March 26-27, while regrouping around Kyiv and continuing a street-by-street advance on the devastated port of Mariupol. Over the weekend, Russia also stepped up its missile attacks on fuel and food depots, hitting Lviv, close to the Polish border, as well as Lutsk, Zhytomyr and Rivne in the west and Kharkiv in the east. Around 30 separate strikes were reported on the Kyiv region over the past day. (Financial Times, 03.28.22)
    • A top Ukrainian official accused Russian troops on April 1 of taking children hostage and using them as human shields during a tactical repositioning from the Kyiv area. "The enemies have been using Ukrainian children as a living shield when moving their convoys, their vehicles, according to reports by local civilians," Ukraine's defense ministry spokesperson Col. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said during a media briefing. (Business Insider, 04.01.22)
  • Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Russia is consolidating and preparing "powerful strikes" in the country's south, including besieged Mariupol, which would be “very difficult” for Ukraine. “They are moving away from the areas where we are beating them to focus on others that are very important … where it can be difficult for us," he said in a late-night address March 31. Zelensky said Russian forces were “accumulating the potential” for “powerful attacks” in Donbas, Mariupol and around Kharkiv. Washington echoed that assessment, with a senior U.S. defense official saying Russia's focus on Donbas could herald a "longer, more prolonged conflict." (AFP/The Moscow Times, 04.01.22)
  • Local authorities in the Russian city of Belgorod claimed that two Ukrainian military helicopters carried out a cross-border air raid on a fuel depot on April 1, in what would be the first Ukrainian strike on Russian soil since Putin invaded Ukraine in February. (Financial Times, 04.01.22)
    • Ukraine’s defense ministry is refusing to say whether it’s responsible for a huge fire at an oil depot in Belgorod after Russian officials accused the country of carrying out its first attack on Russian soil. “I’ll not confirm or disprove this information,” defense spokesman Col. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also said on April 1 he could not confirm nor deny Ukraine's alleged involvement in the strike. "I can neither confirm nor reject the claim that Ukraine was involved in this simply because I do not possess all the military information," he said. (NPR, 04.01.22, Reuters, 04.01.22)
  • Increasingly, Ukrainians are confronting an uncomfortable truth: The military’s understandable impulse to defend against Russian attacks could be putting civilians in the crosshairs. Virtually every neighborhood in most Ukrainian cities has become militarized, some more than others, making them potential targets for Russian forces trying to take out Ukrainian defenses. “I am very reluctant to suggest that Ukraine is responsible for civilian casualties, because Ukraine is fighting to defend its country from an aggressor,” said William Schabas, an international law professor at Middlesex University in London. “But to the extent that Ukraine brings the battlefield to the civilian neighborhoods, it increases the danger to civilians.” (The Washington Post, 03.28.22)
  • Kyiv has said it will investigate a video that surfaced March 27 and appears to show Ukrainian forces shooting Russian prisoners of war. The video was filmed near a dairy plant in the village of Malaya Rohan, in the Kharkiv region, according to geolocation by open source researcher Erich Auerbach and verification by The Washington Post. It first appeared online two days after Ukrainian forces announced that they had retaken the village. (The Washington Post, 03.28.22)
  • Morale among Russian troops fighting in Ukraine continues to suffer amid growing dissatisfaction across all ranks, the head of the British armed forces said, although that discontent is still far from turning into a substantial revolt. “We are, unsurprisingly, seeing disquiet at all levels within Russia’s armed forces,” said Admiral Tony Radakin, chief of the defense staff, the UK’s most senior military officer. (Financial Times, 03.31.22)
  • The head of Britain's GCHQ spy service said March 30 that new intelligence showed some Russian soldiers in Ukraine had refused to carry out orders, sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down one of their own aircraft. "We’ve seen Russian soldiers short of weapons and morale," Fleming said, adding that Putin had "massively misjudged the situation,” including his forces’ capabilities, Ukraine’s capacity for resistance and the resolve of the West. "We believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth,” he said. (Reuters, 03.30.22)
  • “One reason that Putin may not be fully aware of the events on the ground is because a growing blame game between different parts of the Russian military and intelligence services has made it harder for the truth to emerge, Western officials said. “Who is to blame is a question that is happening between agencies and between levels, with everyone blaming other organizations and different levels of command,” one official said. (Financial Times, 03.31.22)
    • See also section on “Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations” below.
  • Russia is running its military campaign against Ukraine out of Moscow, with no central war commander on the ground to call the shots, according to American officials who have studied the five-week-old war. That centralized approach may go a long way to explain why the Russian war effort has struggled in the face of stiffer-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, the officials said. The lack of a unifying military leader in Ukraine has meant that Russian air, ground and sea units are not in sync. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • Ukrainian and Western officials say the war in Ukraine is proving extraordinarily lethal for Russian generals, who are being aggressively targeted by Ukrainian forces and killed at a rate not seen since World War II. Ukrainian officials say their forces have killed seven generals on the battlefield. A senior Western official, briefing reporters on the topic, confirmed the names, ranks and “killed in action” status of the seven. Russian officials and Russian media have confirmed the death of only one general. Russian TV broadcast images on March 28 allegedly showing Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol meeting a man it said is Lt. Gen. Andrei Mordvichev, one of the generals Ukrainian authorities say have been killed. (The Washington Post, 03.26.22, AFP/The Moscow Times, 03.28.22)
  • Following a conference call with fellow defense ministers from more than 35 nations on March 31, the U.K.’s Ben Wallace said there would be more lethal aid going into Ukraine. “The reputation of this great army of Russia has been trashed. He has not only got to live with the consequences of what he is doing to Ukraine, but he has also got to live with the consequences of what he has done to his own army,” Wallace said. (Financial Times, 03.31.22)
  • Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis is getting worse. More than 4 million people have fled the country since the Russian invasion began, including 2 million children, with another 2.5 million children displaced within the country, according to the latest figures from the U.N. refugee agency and UNICEF. “The situation inside Ukraine is spiraling,” UNICEF’s executive director, Catherine Russell, has said. (The New York Times, 03.30.22, The New York Times, 03.30.22)
    • The U.N.’s top refugee official visited Ukraine for the first time since the Russian invasion and expressed gratitude to the countries that have taken in Ukrainians. Filippo Grandi, the high commissioner for refugees, said more than 10.5 million people had been displaced either within Ukraine or abroad, around a quarter of the population, and that 13 million people inside the country need urgent humanitarian assistance. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
    • A group of 11 countries from Central and Eastern Europe called on March 29 for the creation of a new EU fund to help cover health care costs for Ukrainian refugees. (Politico, 03.29.22)
    • Dozens of medical workers and patients in Ukraine have been killed in more than 80 attacks since Russia invaded, the World Health Organization said March 30. (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
  • Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s minister of reintegration of temporarily occupied territories, claimed that 45,000 Ukrainian citizens have been forcibly deported to Russia, a figure CNN could not immediately verify. The Russian military says that thousands have been "evacuated" to Russia from separatist-held regions and "dangerous areas" of Ukraine. (CNN, 03.31.22)
  • U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman charged March 29 that Russia’s war in Ukraine has created a critical food shortage there, with ripple effects of a “global food crisis” worldwide. At a U.N. meeting March 29 on the impact of Russia’s war on global food security, Sherman said that Russia has bombed at least three civilian ships carrying goods out of the Black Sea. She said that the Russian Navy is blocking access to Ukraine’s ports, cutting off Ukraine’s ability to export grain and preventing about 94 ships with food from reaching the Mediterranean Sea. (CNN, 03.29.22)
    • The U.N. food chief warned March 29 the war in Ukraine has created “a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe” and will have a global impact “beyond anything we’ve seen since World War II" because many of the Ukrainian farmers who produce a significant amount of the world’s wheat are now fighting. David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, told the U.N. Security Council that already high food prices are skyrocketing. (AP, 03.29.22)
    • In the five weeks since Russia’s invasion began, Ukraine, a major grain producer, has missed out on at least $1.5 billion in grain exports, the country's deputy agriculture minister, Taras Vysotskiy, estimated March 31. Vysotskiy said the country has 13 million tons of соrn and 3.8 million tons of wheat but cannot export them using its usual routes, as seaports are blocked because of the war. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
    • U.S. government images seen by Reuters showed what a U.S. official said was damage to grain storage facilities in eastern Ukraine and was indicative of the severity of Russian attacks that are impacting the global food supply. The two black-and-white images showed long rectangular buildings in eastern Ukraine, first seen intact in January and then with damaged roofs and "impact craters" in March. (Reuters/Yahoo, 03.31.22)
  • Ukraine’s state-owned gas company Naftogaz provides a window into the extent of Ukraine’s destruction: Naftogaz serves 12 million households but has been forced to cut off 300,000 that have been heavily damaged by Russian missiles, chief executive Yuriy Vitrenko has said. (The Washington Post, 03.28.22)
  • With Russia’s full-scale invasion now into its second month, suspicion has settled like a fog over Ukraine, joining anger and unity as the dominant emotions. Ukrainians have been shaken by reports of dyversanti—saboteurs and diversionary groups working for Russia who mix into the civilian population, sow confusion and mistrust and possibly even alert the enemy to potential targets. Civilians who were already living in fear are seeing spies everywhere. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • The Pentagon believes that Russia currently has about 1,000 mercenaries from the Wagner Group in Ukraine’s Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting a war since 2014. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that the Pentagon believes Wagner has been recruiting in Syria and Libya for more mercenaries to go fight. (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
  • Hundreds of Syrian fighters are en route to join Russian forces in Ukraine, effectively returning the favor to Moscow for helping President Bashar al-Assad crush rebels in an 11-year civil war, according to two people monitoring the flow of mercenaries. A first contingent of soldiers has already arrived in Russia for military training before heading to Ukraine, according to a Western diplomat and a Damascus-based ally of the Syrian government. It includes at least 300 soldiers from a Syrian army division that has worked closely with Russian officers in Syria. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • Turkey and Romania have scrambled in recent days to neutralize potentially explosive mines amid concerns that the weapons may be drifting across the Black Sea from Ukraine’s shores toward neighboring countries. Defense ministries for both countries, in separate announcements March 28, said they had dispatched their naval forces to defuse mines of unknown origin that appeared near their coasts. About 10 days earlier a large storm had reportedly done considerable damage to Ukrainian sea defenses by dislodging mines. (The Washington Post, 03.28.22, Bloomberg, 03.22.22)
  • Ukrainian forces continue to capture, or at least stumble across, examples of some of Russia's most sophisticated ground combat hardware as the conflict in the country rages on. This past weekend, pictures emerged online showing a Russian radar-equipped air defense command post vehicle, part of a larger system known as Barnaul-T, that Ukrainian troops found during a counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region. The fact that this vehicle is intended to serve as a sensor, command-and-control and communications node all rolled into one could make it a particularly valuable source of intelligence for Ukrainian and foreign governments. (The War Zone, 03.30.22)
  • Ukrainians have retaken the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, but it’s a city that now lies in ruins. The area is still extremely dangerous and remains off limits to civilians. As fighting continues in the nearby areas of Bucha and Hostomel, Irpin is still well within range for Russian artillery. As many as 300 civilians were killed in the town before it was taken back from Russian forces this week, the mayor has said. Ukrainian emergency workers retrieved bodies from the ruins, and video they released showed the aftermath of weeks of fighting and Russian bombardment. (CNN, 03.31.22, The New York Times, 03.28.22, The Guardian, 03.30.22)
    • The Russian Defense Ministry says it is “regrouping” its forces around Kyiv. In a statement, the ministry claimed those forces’ aim had been to tie up and weaken Ukrainian troops in that region, preventing them from joining the fighting in eastern Ukraine. “All these goals were achieved,” the ministry said, adding it would now focus on “the final stage of the operation to liberate” the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine. (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
    • Some Russian troops outside Kyiv have been “repositioned” to the north of the city, the Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby, told reporters March 30. But he said that less than 20% of the troops were being repositioned and that the Pentagon believes some of them will head to Belarus to resupply. (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
  • Putin has said that shelling of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol will only end when Ukrainian troops surrender. Putin made the comments during an hour-long phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron late March 29, the Kremlin said in a statement. But French officials said the Russian leader had agreed to consider plans to evacuate civilians from the city. Russia later proposed a one-day ceasefire for March 31. (BBC, 03.31.22)
    • By April 1 it was announced that some civilians had managed to escape the city, but that attempts to orchestrate a large-scale evacuation and deliver aid to the city failed, leaving thousands of people still trapped in a place that has become a symbol of Ukraine’s agony. An adviser to the mayor’s office said that buses with civilians had left the city after Russia had agreed to open the humanitarian corridor. But a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross that had been on its way to Mariupol to facilitate a larger evacuation had to turn back after “conditions made it impossible to proceed,” the organization said in a statement. Past attempts to bring civilians to safety have been upended when fighting resumed. (The New York Times, 04.01.22) 
    • Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said March 31 that about 100,000 people requiring immediate evacuation remain in the city and a convoy of 45 buses sent to provide transportation had been held up at a Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka, a city between Ukrainian-held Zaporizhzhia and Russian-held Berdyansk. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko, no longer in the city himself, said on national television March 28 that about 160,000 civilians were still trapped there. According to figures from his office, which Reuters could not immediately verify, about 140,000 people fled the city before the Russian siege began and 150,000 since then, leaving 170,000 still there.  (CNN, 03.31.22, Reuters, 03.28.22)
    • Referring to merciless tactics employed by Russia in Syria, Jean-Yves Le Drian, French foreign minister, compared Mariupol with “a second Aleppo.” The French presidency said that it was in touch with the Russian and Ukrainian governments as well as humanitarian organizations to get civilians out of Mariupol but that “the handful of hours announced by Russian authorities” earlier this week for a ceasefire were “insufficient” for a safe and orderly evacuation. (Financial Times, 03.28.22, The New York Times, 03.31.22)
    • Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov told CNN on March 31 that there are "constant street battles" in the besieged city, but the Ukrainian army still controls the downtown. People remaining in Mariupol are "living like mouse. They are living underground in shelters, bomb shelters below. So people just do their best to be alive in this situation," he said. (CNN, 03.31.22)
    • A spokesperson for Mariupol’s mayor said March 28 that nearly 5,000 people, including about 210 children, have been killed in the city since Russian forces laid siege to it; it was not immediately clear how the toll was calculated. Mayor Vadym Boychenko’s office said 90% of Mariupol's buildings had been damaged and 40% destroyed. (Reuters, 03.28.22)
    • For nearly three weeks, hundreds of Ukrainians who piled into Mariupol’s landmark theater—with no electricity, no food, no running water and just six bathrooms—escaped the onslaught against their city by working together and sharing what little they had. “Everyone realized we were in the same boat.” (The Wall Street Journal, 03.31.22)
    • Russian media reports said March 28 that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov had arrived in Mariupol to raise morale among fighters there, including those from Chechnya. The reports could not immediately be verified. (AFP/The Moscow Times, 03.28.22)
  • In western Ukraine, fire raged at an oil-storage facility in Lviv following multiple Russian air strikes March 27. Local officials said at least five people were injured, but none died. The city, about 60 kilometers from the Polish border, has become a haven for hundreds of thousands of displaced Ukrainians. Russia expanded its offensive to western Ukraine on March 13, firing missiles near Lviv and hitting a large military base, reportedly killing dozens of people and drawing the war closer to the borders of a NATO country. That attack came the day after the Kremlin threatened to hit Western weapons shipments to Ukraine. The March 27 bombardment came as U.S. President Joe Biden was visiting Poland in a show of support for Ukrainian defenders and refugees and to stress NATO's determination to defend alliance members' territory. (RFE/RL, 03.28.22, CNN, 03.13.22)
  • Over the past 24 hours, Russian forces have carried out a total of 46 strikes on Kharkiv, using artillery, mortar and tank attacks, the head of Kharkiv regional military administration Oleh Synehubov said. (Interfax Ukraine, 04.01.22)
    • An apparent missile strike hit a cultural center being used as a Ukrainian military barracks near central Kharkiv. It destroyed parked vehicles, damaged nearby buildings and scattered earth hundreds of yards in every direction. At least one person was injured. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • Ukraine and Russia resumed peace talks on April 1 in an online format, Ukraine's presidential office said without providing further details. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow was preparing its response to Ukrainian proposals made at March 29 talks in Istanbul. He noted that peace talks with Ukraine needed to continue but that Kyiv had shown "much more understanding" of the situation in Crimea and Donbas and the necessity for neutral status than before. (Reuters, 04.01.22, Reuters, 04.01.22)
    • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that an alleged attack by Ukrainian forces against a fuel depot on Russian territory could jeopardize peace talks. (The Washington Post, 04.01.22)
  • Russia’s lead negotiator said March 30 that peace talks with Ukraine appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough, even as other officials voiced skepticism and pro-Kremlin commentators heaped scorn on the talks—mixed messages that underscored the lack of clarity over Putin’s goals in the invasion and the uncertainty regarding progress in the talks. The Kremlin’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, read a statement broadcast on state television that described Ukraine’s March 29 proposal to declare neutrality as a core concession to Russia, just hours after the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said the talks in Istanbul had produced nothing “very promising.” (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
    • Ukraine's lead negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said after the March 29 talks that he felt "positive." Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on national television March 28 that at a minimum Ukraine would try to resolve “humanitarian questions” at the talks in Istanbul and at a maximum to reach “an agreement on a ceasefire… We are not trading people, land or sovereignty." (Reuters, 04.01.22, Reuters, 03.28.22)
    • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on March 27 put forward a “compromise” with Russia, asking Putin to move his troops back to the contested region of Donbas, “where it all began, and there we will try to solve … the complex issue of Donbas.” Speaking in an interview with Russian journalists, Zelensky also said Ukraine will not discuss two of Putin's demands—the de-militarization and "de-Nazification" of Ukraine, which he found “incomprehensible.” He said a potential deal between Russia and Ukraine could include “security guarantees and neutrality, [and] the non-nuclear status of our state." (Newsweek, 03.28.22)
    • On March 28 the FT reported that Russia is no longer requesting Ukraine be “denazified” and is prepared to let Kyiv join the EU if it remains militarily non-aligned as part of ceasefire negotiations, according to four people briefed on the discussions. Moscow and Kyiv were discussing a pause in hostilities as part of a possible deal that would involve Ukraine abandoning its drive for NATO membership in exchange for security guarantees and the prospect of joining the EU, the people said under the condition of anonymity. The draft ceasefire document does not contain any discussion of three of Russia’s initial core demands—“denazification”, “demilitarization” and legal protection for the Russian language in Ukraine—the people added. (Financial Times, 03.28.22)
  • Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on March 31 that Turkey expected to bring together the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine in the coming weeks, after hosting talks between representatives of both sides on March 29. It would be the highest-level meeting between the two sides since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, played down the notion that a meeting between Putin and Zelensky could take place in April. Peskov said that before such a summit could take place a draft peace agreement would need to be finalized and approved by senior officials from both sides. That seemed to slightly backpedal from an accelerated timeline that the Kremlin’s chief negotiator laid out at the Russia-Ukraine talks in Istanbul on March 29. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
    • Russia’s foreign minister on March 28 dismissed the chances of the two presidents meeting, saying it would be “counterproductive,” and accused Ukraine of only pretending to negotiate in pursuit of a solution. “Just meeting and having a ‘what you think and what I think’ sort of exchange would simply be counterproductive now,” Sergei Lavrov told Serbian media, Interfax reported. (The Washington Post, 03.28.22)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed skepticism about the latest round of talks between Russia and Ukraine in Turkey, saying Moscow’s continued military offensive leaves little room for optimism. “There is what Russia says and what Russia does. We’re focused on the latter, and what Russia has been doing is the brutalization of Ukraine and its people,” said Blinken. (The Washington Post, 03.29.22)
  • Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told EU leaders on April 1 that China pushes for peace talks on Ukraine in "its own way," state broadcaster CCTV reported. Li reiterated that China advocates for the safeguard of international law and international norms, including the territorial integrity of all countries, CCTV reported. (Reuters, 04.01.22)
  • Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and at least two senior Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a March 3 meeting in Kyiv, people familiar with the matter have said. The victims blamed the suspected attack on hard-liners in Moscow who they said wanted to sabotage talks to end the war. A U.S. official said March 28, however, that “intelligence highly suggests” the symptoms were due to an environmental factor, not poisoning; the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to elaborate. Two people with direct knowledge of the matter have said Putin personally approved Abramovich’s involvement in Russia’s peace talks with Ukraine. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.28.22, Reuters, 03.28.22, Financial Times, 03.25.22)
  • Ukrainian border guards captured while defending Snake Island have now been freed in a prisoner exchange, according to Kyiv. The soldiers guarding the small military outpost in the Black Sea became a viral sensation in the first days of the war after they defied threats from a looming Russian vessel by flatly telling it, "Russian warship. Go f*** yourself." Russia and Ukraine exchanged 10 prisoners of war each on March 24 in what Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk called the first full-fledged swap of the month-old conflict. The exchange also freed 19 Ukrainian civilian sailors captured as their ship tried to rescue the Snake Island troops and 11 Russian civilian sailors rescued from a ship that sank near Odessa. (Euronews, 03.25.22, NPR, 03.24.22)

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

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is dominating the news, but the Biden administration’s new defense strategy makes clear China is still the Pentagon’s top focus. A classified version of the updated National Defense Strategy was briefed to lawmakers to justify the Defense Department’s new $773 billion budget request for fiscal 2023. The undersecretary of defense for policy, Colin Kahl, said late March 28 that the unclassified version “will be out in the coming months.” But a public summary calls China “our most consequential strategic competitor,” while saying Russia poses “acute threats.” (Defense News, 03.29.22)
    • President Joe Biden's record peacetime national defense budget request of $813 billion boasts a 4.6% pay raise for troops and the largest research and development budget in history, as Russian aggression in Ukraine spurs demands for more military spending. Biden's request earmarks $773 billion for the Pentagon and an additional $40 billion is earmarked for defense-related programs at the FBI, Department of Energy and other agencies, bringing the national security budget to $813 billion, up from $778 billion last year. (Reuters, 03.28.22)
  • Declassified U.S. intelligence released March 30 showed that aides had misinformed President Vladimir Putin about the war, giving incomplete or overly optimistic reports about the progress of Russian forces, apparently fearful of his reaction. The release of the classified information was part of a months-long campaign of information warfare by the Biden administration and U.S. intelligence services to counter Russian propaganda. It could not be independently verified. (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
    • According to the intelligence, the inadequate information getting to Putin has created mistrust and stoked tensions between him and his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, who was once among the most trusted members of the Kremlin’s inner circle. However, it was not clear whether the release of the intelligence was itself intended to sow anxiety within Putin’s circle as part of the broader information battle between the U.S. and Russia. Nor was it clear if the intelligence was accurate. The Ukraine crisis has been the source of the worst tensions between the two nuclear powers since the Cold War. (The New York Times, 03.30.22, The New York Times, 03.30.22)
    • The inaccurate reports apparently also left Putin genuinely unaware that the Russian military had been using conscripts in Ukraine or that drafted soldiers were among those killed in action, the U.S. intelligence said. (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
    • “One of the Achilles heels of autocracies,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said, “is that you don’t have people in those systems who speak truth to power… And I think that is something that we’re seeing in Russia.” (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
    • Echoing the assessments of U.S. intelligence officials, Biden told reporters on March 31 that Putin “seems to be self-isolated" and "there’s some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisors." But Biden added, "I don’t want to put too much stock in that this time because we don’t have that much hard evidence.” (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
    • The Kremlin on March 31 dismissed American intelligence showing that Putin has been misinformed about his military’s struggles in Ukraine, and warned that such a “complete misunderstanding” of the situation in Moscow could have “bad consequences.” (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • Ukraine is ready to declare neutrality, abandon its drive to join NATO and vow to not develop nuclear weapons if Russia withdraws troops and Kyiv receives security guarantees, President Volodymyr Zelensky said ahead of peace talks in Turkey this week. Speaking in Russian, Zelensky told a group of Russian independent journalists on Sunday that Kyiv was prepared to meet Moscow on some of its demands on the condition that the changes were put to a referendum and third parties promised to protect Ukraine. (Financial Times, 03.28.22)
  • NATO members outside the U.S. are set to boost their military spending following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and pledges from member countries. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.31.22)
  • President Joe Biden’s March 26 speech in Warsaw was intended to show support for European allies, while framing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as part of a global “battle between democracy and autocracy.” But it was an unplanned ad-lib that captured the attention of experts, lawmakers and allies: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden declared—a comment that two White House officials said was not included in the president’s prepared speech. Top administration officials spent the weekend  walking back Biden’s remarks. “We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “It’s up to the Russian people.” But the statement had already sent ripple effects throughout the world. (The New York Times, 03.28.22)
    • The Kremlin on March 28 expressed concern about the comments. "This is a statement that is certainly alarming," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during his daily press briefing. Russia has long claimed that Washington’s ultimate motivation for supporting Kyiv is to topple Putin. “Biden’s comment will only further confirm them in that belief,” Thomas Graham, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told NBC News. Biden had also dubbed Putin "a butcher." (The Moscow Times, 03.28.22, NBC, 03.28.22)
    • “I wouldn’t use this kind of words,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said Sunday, adding that he hoped to obtain a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine through diplomacy. “If we want to do this, we mustn’t escalate,” he said, “neither with words nor with actions.” (The New York Times, 03.28.22)
    • In Berlin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told local TV on Sunday that NATO and Biden "agree completely" that regime change was not a goal of their strategy on Ukraine. The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, also made clear that “we are not after a regime change. That is something for the Russian citizens to decide.” (NBC, 03.28.22)
  • U.S. President Joe Biden told President Volodymr Zelensky of Ukraine that the United States intends to give his government $500 million in direct budgetary aid, according to a White House statement detailing a call between the two leaders. Zelensky said on Twitter that he and Biden spoke for an hour about “the situation on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.” Zelensky said they also “talked about specific defensive support, a new package of enhanced sanctions, macro-financial and humanitarian aid.” (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
    • Five Ukrainian women, all members of parliament, left Kyiv this week for Washington—but only long enough to ask in person for more help before heading back into danger. "We are mothers. We are MPs. We are volunteers. We are coordinators. And we are fighters," Ukrainian MP Maria Ionova told a group of journalists March 30 after meetings with lawmakers and Pentagon and State Department officials. "We do not have time to be diplomatic and must be very direct with you." (Axios, 03.31.22)
  • Hundreds of U.S. Marines have been deployed to Lithuania after completing a training assignment in Norway, the Pentagon said March 29, as the United States again bolstered security in an Eastern European country bordering Russia. (The Washington Post, 03.29.22)
  • "I do not believe that we are in the process of currently training military forces from Ukraine in Poland,” Gen. Tod Wolters, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 29. “There are liaisons that are there that are being given advice, and that's different than I think you're referring to with respect to training." In other words, American service members are verbally helping the Ukrainians, but that’s far different than putting them through drills. If that’s the case, it seems that President Joe Biden on March 28 may have exaggerated the level of direct U.S. military support for Ukraine via Poland. (Politico, 03.29.22)
  • The Russian-backed eastern Ukrainian rebel region of Luhansk said March 27 that it may hold a referendum on joining Russia, drawing a warning from Kyiv that any such vote would have no legal basis and would trigger a stronger international response. Such a move would almost certainly escalate tensions between the Kremlin and the West. The announcement drew mixed reactions from Russian lawmakers, with some saying “now is not the right time,” while others suggested that Ukraine’s two breakaway republics have the constitutional mandate to join Russia. (Reuters, 03.27.22, RFE/RL, 03.27.22, The Moscow Times, 03.28.22)
  • A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that while 39% of Americans think the U.S. should be doing more when it comes to the war in Ukraine, far more prefer to limit U.S. support for Ukraine if it means avoiding military conflict with Russia—62% versus 17% who support giving Ukraine all the support it wants even if it risks wider conflict between Russia and the United States. (Ipsos, 03.24.22)
  • Zelensky invoked Cold War fears of a nuclear attack and cited the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as he urged Australian lawmakers on March 31 to impose harsher sanctions against Russia and to send more military support. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • See also section on “Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with ‘far abroad’ countries” below.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Beijing and Moscow advanced a vision of a new world order March 30 as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his first visit to key ally China since his country launched its invasion of Ukraine. "We, together with you, and with our sympathizers will move toward a multipolar, just, democratic world order," Lavrov said in a video released by the Russian Foreign Ministry ahead of a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. "China-Russia cooperation has no limits," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. (CBS, 03.30.22, AFP, 03.30.22)
    • Moscow and Beijing are "more determined" to develop bilateral ties and boost cooperation, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on March 30 following a meeting in eastern China with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, amid the Ukraine crisis. The two also condemned what they called illegal and counter-productive Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. (Reuters, 03.30.22)
  • Top officials from China and the European Union met April 1 for a virtual summit overshadowed by Russia’s war in Ukraine. In a series of two meetings, EU leaders pressed Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping to rethink their tacit support for the Russian invasion and warned Beijing against offering material support for the war. (The Washington Post, 04.01.22)

Missile defense:

  • A top Pentagon official told lawmakers March 30 the Biden administration is working to accommodate NATO ally Slovakia’s offer to send more S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine. Slovakia has agreed to provide Ukraine with the Soviet-era system to help defend against Russian airstrikes, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing the U.S. is working out Slovakia’s request for some kind of backfill. Wallander asked to provide additional details in the classified session to follow. (Defense News, 03.30.22)

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Recruiters across Syria have been drawing up lists of thousands of interested candidates to be vetted by the Syrian security services and then passed to the Russians. Syria has grown in recent years into an exporter of mercenaries, a grim aftereffect of years of war that gave many men combat experience but so damaged the country’s economy that people now struggle to find work. So they have deployed as guns-for-hire to wars in Libya, Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic—and now Ukraine. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)

Cyber security:

  • Analyses by NetBlocks, a firm in London that monitors internet activity, suggest that the number of devices connected to Ukraine’s internet has fallen by nearly a quarter since Russia’s onslaught began. Alp Toker, NetBlocks’ founder, describes that loss as striking. But it could be a lot worse, for it means that most Ukrainians are still online. (The Economist, 03.26.22)
  • Russia’s biggest internet company, Yandex, has embedded code into apps found on iOS and Android mobile devices that allows information about millions of users to be sent to servers located in its home country. Some experts said that the metadata of the sort collected by Yandex could be used to identify users. Ron Wyden, chair of the U.S. Senate’s finance committee and one of the architects of U.S. internet regulation, heavily criticized Google and Apple for not doing enough to secure smartphones from the Yandex software, which has found its way on to 52,000 apps reaching hundreds of millions of consumers. (Financial Times, 03.28.22)
  • See also section on “Domestic politics, economy and energy” below.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • For all the hardships visited on consumers at home and the financial chokehold put on the government from abroad, Bloomberg Economics expects Russia will earn nearly $321 billion from energy exports this year, an increase of more than a third from 2021. It’s also on track for a record current-account surplus that the Institute of International Finance says may reach as high as $240 billion. (Bloomberg, 04.01.22)
  • The price of diesel fuel this month has hit record highs, further driving inflation for a wide variety of products. Low supplies of the fuel have been caused by shrinking refining capacity triggered by the COVID pandemic, CNBC reported, and the war in Ukraine is now further exacerbating the dearth of supplies. Russia is a major exporter of both diesel and the crude oil that diesel is made from. The price surge is quietly undercutting the American and global economies, pressuring supply chains from manufacturing to retail: Farmers are spending more to keep tractors and combines running; shipping and trucking companies are passing higher costs to retailers, which are beginning to pass them on to shoppers; local governments are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars extra to fill up school buses; construction costs could soon rise, too. (Axios, 03.31.22, The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • Putin signed a decree March 31 stating that nations deemed “unfriendly” must start paying for gas deliveries from April onwards in rubles, using special “K-accounts” set up at Gazprombank, a subsidiary of state energy giant Gazprom, or Moscow will stop supplies. Russia’s sales of gas to Europe—estimated at $350 million a day by energy consultant ICIS—already severely undermine the effect of Western sanctions in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine, in whatever way the purchases are made. “This will either force the West to evade its own sanctions or will effectively mark the end of Russian gas supplies to Europe,” said Bas van Geffen, senior macro strategist at Rabobank. Putin said any country refusing to use the payment mechanism will be in violation of their contracts and face "corresponding repercussions." (Financial Times, 03.31.22, RFE/RL, 03.31.22)
    • Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, on March 31 rejected demands by Russia that European countries pay for its gas in rubles as an unacceptable breach of contract, adding that the maneuver amounted to "blackmail.” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the existing contracts stipulate payment mostly in euros and sometimes in dollars. He said he made clear to Putin in a phone call on March 30 “that it will stay that way.” (Reuters, 03.31.22, RFE/RL, 03.31.22)
    • Germany and Austria on March 30 triggered emergency plans over possible gas supply disruptions amid the payments stand-off with Russia—the first stage of a three-step emergency plan that could culminate in gas rationing. Germany, which gets about half its gas and a third of its oil from Russia, urged consumers and companies to reduce consumption and has warned that it could face a recession if supplies suddenly stopped. Neighboring Austria relies on Russia much more for gas, getting about 80% from the country. Poland, meanwhile, announced steps to end all Russian oil imports by year’s end, in fresh signs of how Russia’s war in Ukraine is affecting Europe’s energy security. (BBC, 03.31.22, AP, 03.30.22)
    • Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said earlier that he had received assurances from Putin that Europe would not have to pay in rubles. Draghi said Putin assured him during a phone call on March 30 that "existing contracts remain in force… European companies will continue to pay in dollars and euros." (RFE/RL, 03.31.22)
    • G7 energy ministers on March 28 rejected demands by Putin that "unfriendly" countries pay for Russian gas with rubles, Habeck said after talks with his counterparts. (Reuters, 03.28.22)
    • Buyers of Russian gas still have weeks to pay for supplies in rubles, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, meaning there will be no immediate halt to deliveries. “I was asked a lot of questions whether this means that if there is no confirmation in rubles, then gas supplies will be cut off from April 1. No, it doesn’t,” Peskov said, according to Russian news agency Interfax. Earlier in the week Peskov had said Russia is “not going to supply gas for free, this is clear… No payment—no gas." But he added that Russia is yet to make a final decision on how to respond should European countries refuse to pay in the Russian currency. (Financial Times, 04.01.22, Reuters, 03.28.22)
  • There is no chance Japan would abandon energy projects jointly developed with Russia in Sakhalin, one of the Japanese prime minister’s most powerful aides, deputy chief cabinet secretary Seiji Kihara, has said. He cited Japan’s reliance on oil and gas imports and the need to “stay strong to be able to impose fresh sanctions” on Russia. (FT, 03.29.22)
  • With analysts warning of a coming oil supply crunch, OPEC and its allies, including Russia, decided on March 31 to stick with their previously agreed plan of modest monthly increases. OPEC+ said it would increase oil output in May by 432,000 barrels a day, a slight uptick from the usual increase of 400,000 barrels a day for technical reasons. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
    • Russia will always be a part of OPEC+, even as governments across the globe shun it over its war in Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates’ energy and infrastructure minister insisted March 28. Suhail Al Mazrouei, a former president of the oil alliance, said no other country could match Russia’s energy output and politics should not distract from the group’s efforts to manage energy markets. “Always, Russia is going to be part of that group and we need to respect them,” he said at an energy forum in Dubai. (CNBC, 03.28.22)
  • Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas utility, Naftogaz, is caught in a complex geopolitical game. Even as Russia rains missiles onto Ukraine, it is still sending approximately 30% of the gas it sells in Europe through the country it has invaded. And although Ukraine’s leaders have called for the continent to immediately halt imports of Russian gas, they are doing nothing to interfere with the gas flowing through pipelines at a rate of 40 billion cubic meters a year to customers including Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. We see it as a deterrent [against] more bombing and more destruction inside Ukraine,” Naftogaz chief executive Yuriy Vitrenko has said. (The Washington Post, 03.28.22)

Climate change:

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has delayed or derailed international collaborations studying climate change in the Arctic, with many Western scientists and scientific organizations cutting ties with Russian research institutions and canceling planned meetings or expeditions in Russia or Russian waters. International tensions over the conflict could cripple research focused on a region that—along with the Antarctic—helps regulate climate across the globe, scientists say. Russia is one of eight countries that control land and ocean territories in the region north of the Arctic Circle. (The Wall Street Journal, 03.26.22)
  • What of the world’s quest for carbon-free energy if 35 nations cooperating on an experimental fusion-power reactor in France cannot ship vital components from Russia? (AP, 03.27.22)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • See sections on punitive measures and energy exports above.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • See news above.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Putin’s approval ratings have reached levels unseen in years, according to an independent poll released March 31, as many Russians rally around the flag in the face of mounting international pressure. Eighty-three percent of Russians said they approved of Putin’s actions, up from 69% in January, according to a poll by the Levada Center, an independent pollster in Moscow. Ratings of many other government institutions, as well as the governing party, have also gone up, the poll indicated. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
    • Some observers believe polls in Russia do not reflect public opinion accurately, with many people giving answers they believe are socially acceptable, but they are widely considered useful tools in gauging the dynamics of people’s moods. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • Russia’s GDP is likely to contract by 10% as a result of the war, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said March 31, in its first forecast since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Those figures represent a stark reversal of the bank’s forecasts in November 2021, which predicted that Russia’s economic output would grow by 3% this year. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • Russia again avoided a bond default March 31 after roughly $447 million in payments for dollar-denominated debt went through. JPMorgan, which is Russia's foreign correspondent bank, processed the payment after checking with the U.S. authorities. JPMorgan declined to comment. (Business Insider, 04.01.22)
  • A recent study of the role played by countries designated “unfriendly” by the Kremlin in the structure of Russia’s foreign trade and foreign investment indicates that they accounted for more than half of Russia’s exports and imports, according to the Kommersant daily. The study, conducted by Loko Invest asset management, also showed that the countries accounted for 75% of all foreign direct investment in Russia, most of which was focused on sectors that account for 50% of Russia’s GDP and 40% of employment. (Russia Matters, 03.31.22)
  • The Russian ruble made a staggering rebound approaching its prewar value on March 30. The Russian currency was trading at 83 per dollar, only two rubles away from the levels it hit on Feb. 23, the day before President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine. The ruble had fallen as low as roughly 150 to the dollar on March 7, when news emerged that the Biden administration would ban U.S. imports of Russian oil and gas. (The New York Times, 03.30.22, Forbes, 03.31.22)
    • Oil and gas revenues have helped to stabilize the ruble, as exports continue flowing to Europe. But stringent curbs introduced by Moscow to prop up its value have been crucial in staving off a deeper currency crisis, according to Oleg Vyugin, chair of the Moscow Exchange’s supervisory board and former deputy governor of the central bank. Some analysts say the rising currency prices do not reflect a general strengthening of Russia’s economic outlook; rather, central bank moves to limit ruble selling and force ruble buying have effectively manufactured demand for the currency. (Financial Times, 03.31.22, The Wall Street Journal, 03.28.22)
    • According to the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden on March 26 said: “As a result of these unprecedented sanctions, the ruble, almost, is immediately reduced to rubble. The Russian economy—[applause] that’s true, by the way. It takes about 200 rubles to equal one dollar. The economy is on track to be cut in half in the coming years. It was ranked—Russia’s economy was ranked the 11th biggest economy in the world before this evasion [sic]—invasion. It will soon not even rank among the top 20 in the world.” (RM, 04.01.22)
  • Finnish telecoms, IT and consumer electronics giant Nokia—which said this month that it would stop its sales in Russia and denounced the invasion of Ukraine—has left equipment and software in Russia connecting the government’s most powerful tool for digital surveillance to the nation’s largest telecommunications network. Called the System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM, the tool is most likely being employed as the Kremlin culls and silences antiwar voices inside Russia. (The New York Times, 03.28.22)
  • Putin on March 25 signed into law a bill introducing jail terms of up to 15 years for publishing "fake" information about Russia's actions abroad, as Moscow's troops continue their military operation in Ukraine. (The Moscow Times, 03.28.22)
  • A municipal lawmaker in the Siberian city of Omsk has been charged with "spreading false information about the use of the Russian Federation's armed forces." The charge against Dmitry Petrenko, who was detained March 29, stems from his recent online posts and articles about Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. A district court in Omsk said March 31 that parole-like restrictions had been imposed on Petrenko until at least May 28 as investigations against him proceed. (RFE/RL, 03.31.22)
  • Editors at prominent Russian student news site DOXA said they were being held like “hostages” and criticized Russia’s war in Ukraine as their 11-month trial in Moscow came to an end, with expectations of long prison sentences. The four journalists are accused of inciting minors to take part in illegal opposition protests and have spent almost a year under house arrest. (The Moscow Times, 03.31.22)
  • Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s leading independent newspapers, is suspending operations until the end of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the publication announced March 28. The independent newspaper, whose editor Dmitry Muratov won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said it had made the decision after receiving two warnings from the government’s telecoms oversight agency, Roskomnadzor. A third warning would result in the newspaper's media license being revoked. (The Moscow Times, 03.28.22)
  • Bloomberg is suspending operations in Russia due to the war in Ukraine, the company announced March 28. Russian media had reported earlier that Bloomberg’s famed terminal—the software system that provides real-time financial data—will no longer be accessible to Russian clients, irrespective of sanctions status, as of the first full week of April. (Russia Matters, 03.28.22)
  • Russia’s telecom regulator said it would fine Google for not removing certain videos from its YouTube video service, stepping up its threats against YouTube, the last major U.S. social media network still active in the country. (The Washington Post, 03.29.22)
  • Russia's telecommunications regulator has doubled down on its warning to Russian-language Wikipedia over an article it says contains "inaccurate information" about the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine. Roskomnadzor said on March 31 it is fining Wikipedia up to 4 million rubles (some $49,000), for refusing to delete information about the Ukraine war launched by Putin on Feb. 24. (Newsweek, 04.01.22)
  • Earlier this month, Maxim Katz, an opposition-minded politician in Moscow, and a team of researchers commissioned a poll on Russians’ public attitudes toward the war in Ukraine; Katz reported that, out of the 31,000 people who were called, 29,400 ended the conversation as soon as they heard the topic. (The New Yorker, 03.29.22)
  • In St. Petersburg there is a new kind of protest that so far has not been stopped by the authorities. Participants make tiny protesters out of clay, paper, wire or other craft material; most of them hold placards against the war in Ukraine. Then their creators—all anonymous—place them in spots around the city and take a photograph, which can be found on Instagram. Now the little picketers are appearing in other Russian cities. So far, there have been no arrests. (The Moscow Times, 03.28.22)
  • The Kremlin denied April 1 that Putin had undergone surgery for thyroid cancer after an investigative report raised suspicion over a presidential hospital surgeon’s frequent visits to his Black Sea residence. (The Moscow Times, 04.01.22)
  • See also section on “Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with ‘far abroad’ countries” below.

Defense and aerospace:

  • Putin on March 31 signed a decree ordering 134,500 new conscripts into the army as part of Russia's annual spring draft. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on March 29 that none of those called up would be sent to any "hot spots,” which includes Ukraine. The issue of conscripts' involvement in the war is highly sensitive. (Reuters, 03.31.22)
  • Russia's defense minister reappeared on television March 26, after his two-week absence from view prompted questions from journalists. The Defense Ministry published a video showing Sergei Shoigu chairing a meeting on Russia's defense procurement. In it, Shoigu refers to a Finance Ministry meeting that took place the previous day. (The Moscow Times, 03.28.22)
  • Russia’s military has been jamming satellite navigation systems used by commercial aircraft since the invasion of Ukraine, highlighting the need for robust alternatives, according to a French safety regulator. Airline pilots have reported disruptions in regions around the Black Sea, eastern Finland and the Kaliningrad enclave, said Benoit Roturier, head of satellite navigation at France’s civil aviation authority DGAC. The interference appears to be caused by Russian trucks carrying jamming equipment typically used to protect troops and installations against GPS-guided missiles, he said. (Bloomberg, 04.01.22)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • After Mikhail Benyash, a Russian lawyer, said he would be defending a group of 12 national guardsmen who refused to join the war in Ukraine, he was inundated with calls from across the country. “A lot of people don’t want to go and fight,” Benyash said by telephone from the southern city of Krasnodar, adding that about 1,000 people had been in touch with his team, as he pursues the first court case to officially reveal dissent inside the ranks of Russia’s security forces over the invasion. (Financial Times, 04.01.22)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Russia will increase its use of non-Western currencies for trade with countries such as India, its foreign minister said on April 1, as he hailed New Delhi as a friend that was not taking a "one-sided view" on the Ukraine war. Sergei Lavrov visited India to shore up support from a country Russia has long regarded as an ally a day after U.S. and British officials pressed India to avoid undermining the dollar-based financial system and sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Lavrov said Russia's central bank had several years ago established a system for the communication of financial information and India had a similar system. "It is absolutely clear that more and more transactions would be done through this system using national currencies, bypassing dollar, euro and other currencies," he said. Russia is the biggest supplier of defense equipment to India and Lavrov said the two countries would use a rupee-ruble mechanism to trade oil, military hardware and other goods. (Reuters, 04.01.22)
    • Lavrov also met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and briefed him on the war. "The Prime Minister reiterated his call for an early cessation of violence, and conveyed India's readiness to contribute in any way to the peace efforts," India's foreign ministry said in a statement late on March 31. (Reuters, 04.01.22)
    • Ahead of the visit, Lavrov was expected to press New Delhi to resist Western pressure to condemn the Ukraine invasion. India has abstained from U.N. resolutions censuring Russia and continues to buy Russian oil and other goods. U.S. President Joe Biden last week described India as "somewhat shaky" on Russia. Lavrov's trip coincides with visits by British foreign secretary Liz Truss and Daleep Singh, Washington's chief sanctions strategist. (AFP, 03.30.22)
    • There will be “consequences” for any country, including India, that conducts local currency transactions through Russia’s central bank or constructs a payment mechanism that subverts or circumvents U.S. sanctions against Russia, American deputy national security adviser for international economics Daleep Singh said in New Delhi on March 31, hours before Lavrov landed. (The Hindu, 04.01.22)
    • A significant increase in Russian oil imports by India could expose New Delhi to a "great risk" as the United States prepares to step up enforcement of sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, a senior U.S. administration official said. While the current U.S. sanctions against Russia do not prevent other countries from buying Russian oil, the warning raises expectations that Washington will attempt to restrict other countries' purchases to normal levels. (Reuters, 03.31.22)
  • Russia was conducting military drills on islands claimed by Tokyo, Japanese media said on Saturday, days after Moscow halted peace talks with Japan because of its sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russia's Eastern Military District said it was conducting military drills on what Moscow calls the Kuril Islands with more than 3,000 troops and hundreds of pieces of army equipment, Russia's Interfax news agency said March 25. It did not say where on the island chain the drills were taking place; Japanese media said they were on territory the Soviet Union seized at the end of World War II that is claimed by Tokyo. (Reuters, 03.26.22)
    • In the northeastern Japanese city of Nemuro, where many of the roughly 17,200 former residents of the disputed islands—known in Japan as the Northern Territories—resettled, the Russian invasion and the plight of millions of Ukrainian refugees resonate deeply. For these displaced residents, whose average age is nearly 87, the hope of returning home in their lifetimes has vanished. (The Washington Post, 03.31.22)
  • A lawmaker from Russia’s ruling party has submitted a bill proposing to recognize all Russian-speakers as “compatriots,” TASS reported March 28, the same day the draft legislation appeared in the database of the State Duma. (Russia Matters, 03.28.22)
  • President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy discussed the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine during their first phone call since the war in Ukraine began, according to the office of the Italian government. Putin also described a system to pay for gas in rubles, a condition that the Italian leader recently rejected, while Draghi “underlined the importance of establishing a ceasefire as soon as possible,” the statement said. (The New York Times, 03.30.22)
  • A month into the war in Ukraine, South Africa, one of the few African countries wielding diplomatic influence outside the continent, has stuck its neck out, adamantly refusing to condemn Russian aggression. Pretoria says it would rather be neutral and allow negotiations to end the conflict. (AFP, 03.28.22)


  • Russia has blocked the extension of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, Michael Carpenter, the U.S. representative to the organization, said March 31, calling the decision "deeply regrettable.” (Interfax-Ukraine, 03.31.22)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday gave a 90-minute interview over Zoom to four prominent journalists from Russia, which was almost immediately banned by the Kremlin's telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor, but is available online. In it, Zelensky accused the Russian government of forging documents that purportedly showed Ukraine's armed forces planned a preemptive strike on Donbas, and he accused the Kremlin of removing at least 2,000 children from Mariupol by force and taking them to Russia—a claim Newsweek has been unable to independently verify. (Newsweek, 03.28.22)
  • Ukraine's president has stripped two generals of their military rank, calling them "traitors" and "antiheroes." Zelensky said in his nightly public address on March 31 the two intelligence officers—Naumov Andriy Olehovych, the former chief of the main department of internal security of the Security Service of Ukraine, and Kryvoruchko Serhiy Oleksandrovych, the former head of the Office of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Kherson region—are no longer generals. (NPR, 04.01.22)
  • Ukraine's military intelligence on March 28 published the names and contact details of 620 people it alleged were officers of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) involved in "criminal activities" in Europe. Reuters could not verify the information. Russia did not immediately comment on the list of names. (Reuters, 03.28.22)
  • Ukraine said Russian forces were seeking to form “occupation administrations” in Moscow-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine as president Volodymyr Zelensky warned of “powerful strikes” on the region. (Financial Times, 04.01.22)
  • Ukraine’s gross domestic product is likely to contract by 20 percent this year, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said on March 31, in its first forecast since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24. Those figures represent a stark reversal of the development bank’s forecasts in November 2021, which predicted that Ukraine’s economic output would grow by 3.5 percent this year. (The New York Times, 03.31.22)
  • With its 200,000-strong Jewish community, Ukraine has deep cultural links with Israel, and Israeli officials estimate that up to 50,000 Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian refugees may arrive in the next three months, with potentially double that number by the end of this year. It would be the largest single wave of immigrants entering Israel since the 1990s when more than a million Jews moved to the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union. (Financial Times, 03.27.22)
  • See also Ukraine-related news in sections above.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Leaders from Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to meet in Brussels on April 6 as tensions rise over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said during a government meeting on March 31 that the two leaders would meet with Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, to begin discussions on a "comprehensive peace treaty" after the two countries fought a six-week war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. (RFE/RL, 03.31.22)
    • Earlier in the week fighting had further escalated between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, with Azerbaijan gaining new positions and Russia issuing a rare rebuke of Baku for violating the ceasefire. (, 03.28.22)
    • Azerbaijan has launched a criminal case against a Russian lawmaker who raised the prospect of attacking the country with a nuclear weapon. Mikhail Delyagin, deputy chair of the State Duma’s Economic Policy Committee, blamed Azerbaijan on March 27 for violating the ceasefire, calling it a “satellite of the Americans” and a “Turkish proxy” that represents “a real threat.” Delyagin added that, “If people don’t understand words, then maybe we need to take action,” speaking on state television. Following the broadcast, he posted a poll on his Telegram channel asking followers if it would be justified to “destroy Azerbaijan’s oil industry with a nuclear weapon.” Delyagin’s comments were swiftly condemned by senior Russian officials at the Kremlin and Foreign Ministry. (, 03.30.22)
  • South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia, will hold a referendum to vote on whether to join Russia, the territory’s de facto leadership has said. “I believe that unification with Russia is our strategic goal,” President Anatoly Bibilov said March 30. Coming amid the invasion of Ukraine, the move raised the specter of a possible further expansion of Russia’s borders. But the fact that calls for joining Russia are regularly heard in South Ossetia, and that this one was made in the heat of election campaigning, also has given it the appearance of a possible campaign stunt. (, 03.31.22, The Moscow Times, 03.31.22)
    • The Kremlin has played down the suggestion that South Ossetia could become part of Russia. “We have not taken legal or any other measures,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists March 31. “This concerns the choice of the South Ossetian people, which we respect.” (The Moscow Times, 03.31.22)
  • Companies exiting Russia due to the war in Ukraine are welcome to move production to Kazakhstan, the country's deputy foreign minister told a German newspaper, saying Kazakhstan would not want to be on the wrong side of a new "iron curtain." (Reuters, 03.28.22)
  • See also section on “Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries” above.