Russia in Review, May 19-26, 2023

5 Things to Know

  1. Two Russian rebel groups linked to the Ukrainian military raided a number of settlements in western Russia this week before being expelled. The rebels used U.S.-made vehicles in the raids, prompting U.S. officials to remind Kyiv that Washington doesn’t condone the use of U.S.-delivered equipment in attacks inside Russia. The U.S. intelligence community believes at least some of these operations — including a May 3 drone attack on the Kremlin — could have been conducted with little, if any, oversight from Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky. American officials also view the September 2022 attack on the Nord Stream pipelines as the work of pro-Ukrainian operatives whose ties to the Ukrainian government have yet to be determined, NYT reported. According to leaked U.S. intelligence documents, Zelensky suggested Ukraine “blow up” the Soviet-built Druzhba pipeline that provides Russian oil to Hungary.
  2. Russia will not achieve its original strategic objective of overthrowing the Ukrainian government, while Ukraine will not achieve its declared goal of recapturing all of its territory in the near term, according to U.S. Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley. “That means fighting is going to continue, it’s going to be bloody, it’s going to be hard. And at some point, both sides will either negotiate a settlement or they’ll come to a military conclusion,” he said. Milley has also cautioned that it would be wrong to view F-16s as “magic weapons” for Ukraine.
  3. U.S. and NATO leaders are discussing an Israeli-style security agreement for Ukraine that would give priority to arms transfers and advanced technology and that would be concluded sometime this summer, WSJ reported. This security agreement would be linked to a process of moving toward future membership in NATO for Ukraine but would stop short of actually making the North Atlantic alliance a party to any conflict with Russia, Western officials told this newspaper. The agreement — based on a proposal known as the Kyiv Security Compact — is expected to be signed following the NATO summit on July 11-12 in Vilnius.
  4. During an announcement that his fighters ‘accomplished their mission’ in Bakhmut, Yevgeny Prigozhin used the opportunity to attack Russia’s elites, including its top brass, for their lack of commitment to what should be a great patriotic war, warning that the common Russians may revolt against them. In a wide-ranging interview, the PMC Wagner chief called for the introduction of martial law and new waves of mobilization because “we are in a state where we could simply piss Russia away.” He also said Russia’s efforts to ‘demilitarize’ and ‘denazify’ Ukraine have backfired but cautioned against using nuclear weapons against Kyiv.
  5. Although it is deploying non-strategic nuclear weapons to Belarusian territory, Russia is not transferring control over these weapons to this republic and Moscow will retain the exclusive right to make decisions on their use, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on May 25. Shoigu made the statement while signing documents defining the procedure for keeping Russian NSNWs in a special storage facility in Belarus. "The transfer of nuclear munitions has begun," Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said, also on May 25. The United States, meanwhile, sees no reason to adjust its nuclear posture and has seen no signs that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons, according to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has been reconnected to Ukraine's electricity grid again after being offline for several hours. Ukraine's nuclear agency Energoatom had accused Russia of carrying out attacks that caused a power cut. (MT/AFP, 05.22.23)
  • The United Nations' nuclear watchdog is pushing for a last-minute agreement to secure Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia NPP ahead of a counteroffensive that could see Kyiv's forces drive directly through the potentially hazardous facility. (WP, 05.23.23)
  • European officials – who met Chinese envoy Li Hui  as he visited Kyiv, Warsaw, Berlin, Paris and Brussels this month - asked Li for Chinese backing of the international efforts to secure the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. (WSJ, 05.26.23)
  • During his recent visit to China, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi discussed the situation at the Zaporizhia NPP  with both Chinese officials and Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev. Grossi is trying to win support for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss ZNPP later in May. (NeiMagzine, 05.26.23)
  • Russia has arrested two Ukrainians who had allegedly planned to target nuclear power plants in the country, the FSB security service said on May 25. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23) 
  • This week’s raid of two Russian rebel groups - that are allied with Ukraine and based there – in Russia’s Belgorod region has prompted Russian forces to evacuate from the Belgorod-22 nuclear facility, which is being operated by Russian MoD’s directorate that used to be called the 12the Main Directorate, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military intelligence claimed, according to Ukrinform. (RM, 05.25.23) See more on that raid in the section “Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts” below.
  • A nuclear reactor of the Kola nuclear power plant in northern Russia, which had an automatic shutdown earlier this week, is ready for reconnection, according to the press service of state nuclear corporation Rosatom. (Bloomberg, 05.23.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • In Teheran, Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina held talks with her Iranian counterpart on strengthening relations between commercial banks. Nabiullina also held talks on the sidelines of an Asian Clearing Union meeting in Tehran. Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber told her that Iran was determined to sideline the dollar in transactions with Russia. (Bloomberg, 05.24.23).

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • At least one person was killed and 23 injured after a Russian missile struck a hospital and veterinary clinic in Ukraine’s central city of Dnipro. Most of the 17 missiles and 31 Shahed drones launched by Russia overnight were shot down by Ukraine’s air defense. (Bloomberg, 05.26.23)
    • "The enemy continued to terrorise Ukraine by launching 36 Shaheds. None reached their target," Zelensky said in a social media post on May 25. "I'm grateful to our air defence forces for the 100 percent result." (AFP, 05.25.23)
  • Officials in Russia’s Belgorod, Rostov and Krasnodar regions on May 26 reported attacks allegedly by Ukrainian forces. (RFE/RL, 05.26.23)
  • Ukrainian civilians forcibly deported to Russian jails are regularly beaten and threatened with death, Russia’s independent news website Meduza reported, citing former inmates. (MT/AFP, 05.26.23)
  • A group of activists said it has mapped more than 250 locations inside Russia where Ukrainian children have been forcibly transferred since the start of Moscow's full-scale invasion. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23)
  • Russia and Ukraine have carried out a prisoner swap near the contested city of Bakhmut. More than 100 Ukrainian soldiers were returned in the exchange, and Wagner's commander Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared to be welcoming returned Russian soldiers. (DW, 05.26.23)
  • PMC Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin on May 25 said he was sending back the body of a U.S. citizen who was killed in fighting in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and that of a Turkish citizen who was found dead in a destroyed building. (Reuters, 05.25.23)
  • The International Criminal Court said it is “profoundly concerned” about Russia’s move to issue a warrant for the arrest of an ICC prosecutor and judges who earlier had issued a war-crimes arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of illegally deporting children from Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 05.20.23)
  • The Ukrainian port of Pivdenniy has halted operations because Russia is not allowing ships to enter it, in effect cutting it out of a deal allowing safe Black Sea grain exports, a Ukrainian official said on May 23. (Reuters, 05.24.23)
  • Customs duties on imports from Ukraine into the EU are to remain suspended for another year, member states agreed in Strasbourg on May 25. " (dpa, 05.25.23)
  • A growing number of Ukrainian hospitals, schools, police stations and other critical buildings are racing to install solar power ahead of what many expect will be another hard winter later this year. (WP, 05.20.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

· In the past month of fighting Ukrainian forces have regained 68 square miles of territory, according to Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. (Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, 05.23.23)

  • On May 21, General Oleksandr Syrskiy, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, admitted that Ukrainian forces controlled only a small part of Bakhmut. (RFE/RL, 05.25.23)
    • Vladimir Putin has hailed his first major victory since the early days of the invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s president said the paramilitary group Wagner had seized the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut with help from Russia’s armed forces. (FT, 05.21.23)
  • On May 22, two Russian rebel groups allied with and based in Ukraine — the Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR) and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), crossed the Ukrainian-Russian border to raid settlements in Russia’s Belgorod region. They had withdrawn by May 24 after Russian forces engaged them, according to Russian officials.  (RM, 05.25.23)
    • On May 22 the Free Russia Legion said it had ''liberated'' the border village of Kozinka with the Russian Volunteer Corps. Those claims could not be confirmed. (RM, 05.25.23)
    • On May 23, Aleksey Baranovsky, a spokesman for the political wing of the Free Russia Legion, said the fighters had captured two more villages, Gorkovsky and Shchetinovka, and controlled about 7.7 square miles in Russia. Those claims also could not be confirmed. (NYT, 05.24.23)
    • On May 23 Russia said it had deployed jets and artillery to destroy the raiders. Regional authorities said 12 civilians were wounded. Videos shared by Belgorod residents showed attack helicopters flying over houses in the area. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23, FT, 05.23.23)
    • On May 24 Russian nationals fighting in support of Ukraine hailed their past raid as a "success.” In northern Ukraine not far from the Russian border, the founder of the Russian Volunteer Corps, Denis Kapustin, known as "White Rex", told journalists: "Any crossing of the Russian state border and successful return you can definitely call a success.” Denys Nikitin (aka Kapustin), a self-proclaimed commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps, said the cross-border incursion from Ukraine into Russia was a "test of strength.” (MT/AFP, 05.24.23, RFE/RL, 05.24.23)
    • A representative of The Free Russia Legion said that Ukrainian officers were aware of the operation but had not directed it. On May 23 Andriy Chernyak, an official from Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, acknowledged for the first time some form of cooperation with the Russian Volunteer Corps and Free Russia Legion. (NYT, 05.23.23, FT, 05.24.23, FT, 05.24.23)
    • Russia said it had killed dozens of the raiding fighters, but the groups' leaders said they suffered two dead and about 12 injured. (RFE/RL, 05.24.23)
    • Viacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod, complained the border was “full of holes”. Gladkov told the resident he agreed and that he had “even more questions for the defense ministry than you do”. “We need to draw conclusions from the mistakes that were made,” Gladkov added. (FT, 05.24.23)
    • Pointing to the attack Prigozhin accused the Russian military of weak defenses. “They easily crossed the border, they could be in Moscow tomorrow,” he said. (Bloomberg, 05.24.23)
    • Igor Girkin, a Russian military blogger also known as Igor Strelkov, wrote that if news of the border attacks were true, ''then the inevitable creation of a continuous front along this border, which will have to be filled from somewhere with combined arms units and formations of the Russian Armed Forces, is on the agenda.'' (NYT, 05.24.23)
    • The United States has long asked Ukraine not to use U.S.-provided military equipment to carry out attacks inside Russian territory, the top U.S. general said on May 25, following accusations by Russia that pro-Ukrainian militia used U.S. armored vehicles. (Reuters, 05.25.23)
      • Denis Nikitin, leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps, told the Financial Times that his fighters were in possession of American-made military vehicles. These included at least two M1224 MaxxPro armored vehicles and several Humvees, he said. (FT, 05.24.23)
      • Pictures and videos verified by The Times appeared to show that the pro-Ukraine fighters had used at least three American-made armored vehicles during the incursion into Russia (NYT, 05.24.23)
  • On May 22 Russian forces targeted the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro overnight with 16 missiles and 20 attack drones, Ukraine's army said. (MT/AFP, 05.22.23)
  • On May 23 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops on the front line in the eastern Donetsk region. (RFE/RL, 05.25.23)
  • On May 24 Russian media reported an attack on Russia’s Ivan Khurs reconnaissance ship by three unmanned maritime drones as it passed through the Bosporus Strait. (Defense Express, 05.24.23)
  • On May 25 Prigozhin announced that Wagner forces have started withdrawing from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Prigozhin has vowed to transfer control of the city to the Russian army by June 1, but Kyiv says it still controls pockets of the city. (BBC, 05.25.23)
    • Wagner lost 20,000 fighters while fighting in Bakhmut. "Throughout the [entire combat] operation, I recruited 50,000 prisoners, of which about 20% died. Exactly the same number died as those who signed up through a contract," Prigozhin told the pro-Kremlin political consultant Konstantin Dolgov during a video interview. Dolgov was fired from the Telega Online video project after the interview aired. (AFP, 05.24.23, WP, 05.26.23)
    • “The SVO [special military operation] was conducted for the sake of ‘denazification,’ and we made Ukraine a nation that is known throughout the world. … As for the  ‘demilitarization:’ if at the beginning of the special operation they had 500 tanks, now they have 5,000 of them. If then 20,000 fighters had fighting skills, now 400,000 have them. How did we demilitarize it? It turns out that we, on the contrary, have militarized Ukraine,” Prigozhin said in an interview with Dolgov that was then transcribed by Meduza. (RM, 05.23.23)
    • In his interview with Dolgov, Prigozhin said there is an “optimistic scenario” for Russia’s war, wherein Western support for Ukraine wears out, and China brokers a peace deal, allowing Russia to keep the occupied Ukrainian lands. “I don’t have much faith in the optimistic scenario,” he said, adding that instead, Ukraine could partially succeed in a highly anticipated counteroffensive, pushing Russian troops closer to the borders that existed before the hostilities began in 2014. "Most likely this scenario will not be good for us," Prigozhin said. "So we need to prepare for a difficult war." (WP, 05.24.23)
    • Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s minister of defense, and Valeriy Gerasimov, chief of Russian general staff “turned the war into personal entertainment,” Prigozhin said. “Because of their whims, five times more guys than had been supposed to die have died. They will be held responsible for their actions, which in Russian are called crimes.” (WSJ, 05.24.23)
  • On May 25, Ukraine’s military said that it shot down dozens of Russian drones aimed at targets across the country before dawn, while Russian officials said that they had thwarted an attack by six Ukrainian aerial and maritime drones taking aim at the home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea. (NYT, 05.25.23. MT/AFP, 05.25.23)
  • Russian forces have blown up a dam on a river in eastern Ukraine, sending water levels rising in what Ukraine’s military on May 26 said was an effort to flood its supply lines downstream. (NYT, 05.26.23)
  • Ukraine’s months-long preparation for its next counteroffensive to try to wrest back occupied territory has allowed Russia to fortify its positions along the almost 1,000km frontline. Russia’s most heavily fortified frontline area is in southern Zaporizhzhia province, where Ukraine is expected to try to break through and sever the “land bridge” connecting Russian territory with occupied Crimea. (FT, 05.22.23)
  • Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, said Kyiv had the weapons needed to launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces, but it was still working to ensure that its arsenal was robust enough to sustain long-term operations. “All I can say is that it will start soon.” (NYT, 05.25.23)
  • “This war, militarily, is not going to be won by Russia. It’s just not,” U.S. Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley told journalists. Russia’s original strategic objectives, including overthrowing the government in Kyiv, “are not achievable militarily, they’re not going to be done,” Milley said. At the same time, there are hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, making Kyiv’s objective of recapturing all of its territory unlikely “in the near term,” he said. “That means fighting is going to continue, it’s going to be bloody, it’s going to be hard. And at some point, both sides will either negotiate a settlement or they’ll come to a military conclusion.” (Arab News, 05.25.23)
    • President Biden's nomination of Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff elevates an innovative military officer with a technological background who could help streamline the Pentagon bureaucracy, lawmakers and analysts said. (WSJ, 05.26.23)
  • U.S. officials said the drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month was likely orchestrated by one of Ukraine’s special military or intelligence units. American spy agencies see an emerging picture of a loose confederation of Ukrainian units able to conduct limited operations inside and outside Russia, either by using their own personnel or partners working under their direction. Some of these missions could have been conducted with little, if any, oversight from Mr. Zelensky, officials said. (NYT, 05.24.23)
  • When asked whether  Ukraine should have weapons that can reach Russian targets in Crimea, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said: "Yes. We have not placed limitations on Ukraine being able to strike on its territory within its internationally recognized borders. "What we have said is that we will not enable Ukraine with U.S. systems, Western systems, to attack Russia. And we believe Crimea is Ukraine." (Reuters, 05.26.23)
    • Russia's Foreign Ministry summoned senior U.S. diplomats on Friday to protest against remarks by Sullivan, whom it accused of "effectively endorsing strikes" on Crimea. (Reuters, 05.26.23)
  • Russian warplanes are dropping Soviet-era bombs, some modified to glide long distances, which are almost impossible to shoot down. (NYT, 05.25.23)
  • Hungarian PM Orban argued that Ukraine’s military effort is doomed and sending further aid will only lead to more deaths. “Emotionally it’s tragic, all of our hearts are with the Ukrainians,” Orban, 59, told Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait on May 23. “But I’m talking as a politician who should save lives.” “There’s no chance to win this war,” he added. Hungary is blocking a €500 million-euro ($540 million) tranche of EU aid to Ukraine. It also opposes new sanctions against Russia. (Bloomberg, 05.23.23)
    • German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius criticized Hungary for blocking further military aid to Ukraine at a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels on May 23. (dpa, 05.23.23
  • Biden announced the new arms package while meeting with Zelensky on the sidelines of the Group of 7 summit meeting in Japan. The $375 million arms package includes ammunition, artillery, armored vehicles and other equipment for Ukraine’s forces, which are preparing for a long-awaited counteroffensive. (NYT, 05.21.23)
  • At the G7 meeting, Zelensky thanked President Biden and other leaders for their military support, including plans for F-16 jets. Biden has pledged to help train Ukrainian pilots to fly the fighters. Biden has defended his resistance until recent days to providing F-16 jets to Ukraine, arguing that the powerful warplanes would not have made any difference in stopping Russian forces from taking Bakhmut (WSJ, 05.22.23, NYT, 05.21.23)
    • “I have a flat assurance from Zelensky that they will not, they will not use it [F-16s] to go on and move into Russian geographic territory,” Biden said at a news conference in Hiroshima, Japan. (USA Today, 05.21.23)
    •  Milley cautioned on May 25 that F-16s won’t act as a “magic weapon” for Ukraine. The Russians have 1,000 fourth-generation fighters,” he told reporters at the Pentagon following a virtual meeting of the multinational Ukraine Defense Contact Group. (Politico, 05.25.23)
    • European allies aim to finalize plans as soon as June to start training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, Denmark’s acting defense minister said. (Bloomberg, 05.23.23)
    • Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said his government intends to start training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s “sooner rather than later.” The Netherlands will likely send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine after pilot training, according to two people familiar with the matter (Bloomberg, 05.22.23, Bloomberg, 05.26.23)
    • It could take less than half as much time -- just four to six months -- to train Ukrainian fighter pilots to fly American-made F-16 warplanes as it took the Biden administration to allow it. (NYT, 05.24.23)
    • Norway will support training programs for Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets. (Reuters, 05.24.23)
    • Training Ukrainian pilots in flying U.S.-built F-16 fighter jets does not make NATO a party to the conflict, the alliance's chief Jens Stoltenberg said (Reuters, 05.25.23)
  • U.S. forces are expected to start training Ukrainians on M1A1 Abrams tanks “in the next week or so,” Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder told VOA on May 23. (VOA, 05.23.23)
  • Germany plans to buy 18 battle tanks and 12 self-propelled howitzers from domestic manufacturers Rheinmetall AG and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH as part of an order worth a total of €843 million ($910 million) to replace equipment sent to Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 05.23.23)
  • Japan held a ceremony on May 24 marking its planned donation of about 100 military vehicles to Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 05.24.23)
  • Finland on May 24 said it would provide Ukraine with 109 million euros ($117 million) in additional military equipment including anti-aircraft weapons and ammunition. (RFE/RL, 05.25.23)
  • Western support for Kyiv will continue “for years”, the UK prime minister Sunak said. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksiy Reznikov, during a surprise visit to Kyiv (RFE/RL, 05.24.23, FT, 05.24.23)

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

  • The EU has discussed sending Ukraine the profits generated by billions of euros of Russian assets that are stuck inside the plumbing of global financial markets. Sanctions have frozen €196.6bn in Russian assets at Euroclear, according to the Belgian government, of which €180bn are Russian central bank assets. (FT, 05.25.23)
  • The European Union may restore access to the SWIFT payment system for Russian state agricultural bank Rosselkhozbank only after the conflict in Ukraine ends, the Russian newspaper Izvestia quoted EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano as saying. (Reuters, 05.22.23)
  • For the first time since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the United States has lifted sanctions imposed against a Russian individual. The Treasury Department announced on May 19 that it had removed tycoon Anatoly Karachinsky, co-founder of the IBS technology group, from its sanctions list. No explanation was given. Karachinsky was sanctioned in April 2022 as a member of the oversight board of Otkrytie Bank. (RFE/RL, 05.20.23)
  • The United States imposed sanctions on Ivan Maslov, who is accused of overseeing the Wagner Group’s operations in Mali. (Bloomberg, 05.26.23)
  • Japan announced fresh sanctions against Russia on May 26 over its invasion of Ukraine, targeting its military as well as the construction and engineering sectors. The asset freeze targets 17 individuals and 78 groups. (AFP, 05.26.23)
  • French tire maker Michelin announced on May 26 that it had agreed to sell its Russian assets to a local distributor in the latest international business exit. (MT/AFP, 05.26.23)
  • Moscow said on May 25 that it was expelling five Swedish diplomats and closing Russia's general consulate in Gothenburg and Sweden's diplomatic mission in St. Petersburg. (AFP, 05.25.23)
  • Russian authorities have confiscated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s $800,000 apartment in annexed Crimea. (MT/AFP, 05.24.23)
  • Dutch prosecutors have seized a plot of land near Amsterdam that belongs to Vladimir Putin’s former son-in-law Jorrit Faassen. Dutch cadaster documents show that the land plot was seized as part of a criminal investigation. (The Guardian, 05.26.23)
  • A German court has ruled that raids conducted last year at the Bavarian villa of Russian-Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov and other locations were unlawful, a law firm representing him said in a statement. (Reuters, 05.26.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies have urged China to “press Russia” to end its invasion of Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory. (RFE/RL, 05.20.23)
  • Chinese envoy Li Hui  - who has visited Kyiv, Warsaw, Berlin, Paris and Brussels this month - carried a clear message: U.S. allies in Europe should assert their autonomy and urge an immediate cease-fire, leaving Russia in possession of the parts of its smaller neighbor that it now occupies, according to Western officials familiar with talks in capitals across the continent. European diplomats said they sought to convey three key messages during their meetings with Li: that China must continue to pressure Russia against using nuclear weapons, that it not supply military aid to Russia and that it condemn Moscow’s aggression. (WSJ, 05.26.23)
    • Poland told Li that China  need to exert pressure on Russia to end its war in Ukraine during a meeting between two top officials in Warsaw. . On May 23, Li discussed China's proposal with French diplomats, saying China wants to "strengthen dialogue and exchanges with all parties" to "gradually build consensus and lay the foundation for a cease-fire." Li's visit to Moscow later this week will mark a homecoming of sorts. (Reuters, 05.19.23, WSJ, 05.24.23)
    • Putin told his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in call on Friday that Russia was open to dialogue over Ukraine, the Kremlin said, shortly after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed  Chinese peace envoy Li to Moscow. (Reuters, 05.26.23)
  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky sought to win over Brazil and India at the G7 summit in Japan, where he called on leaders to unite behind his proposal to end Russia’s war. (FT, 05.21.23)
    • Three key invited guests — Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, India’s Narendra Modi and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo spoke at the G7 summit of the need for peace in general terms without endorsing the G7 view on Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 05.21.23)
    • When Zelensky joined the meeting of G7 leaders on May 21, some speakers including French President Emmanuel Macron proposed the drafting of a “joint communication” to fully align the group behind the Ukrainian peace plan. But as the summit drew to a close, plans for a declaration fizzled out. (FT, 05.22.23)
  • Pope Francis has said an eventual return by Russia of occupied territories in Ukraine is a "political problem" to be resolved by both sides, in his first public comment on Ukraine's request for him to back its plan demanding a total Russian withdrawal.  Russia on Friday indicated that it views Pope Francis’ Ukraine peace initiative positively, but stressed that there are no immediate plans for a Vatican mission to Moscow. (Reuters, 05.26.23, Reuters, 05.26.23)
    • Pope Francis has entrusted Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Bishops' Conference, with the task of leading a mission to help ease tensions in the conflict in Ukraine. (Vatican News, 05.20.23)
  • "This conflict will last for a very long time. For decades, probably. This is a new reality," Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said. He said Russia could not trust any truce with the current rulers of Kyiv as the conflict would simply erupt again and so the very nature of the current government of Ukraine would have to be destroyed. (Reuters, 05.26.23)

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

  • U.S. and NATO leaders are coalescing around a vision for shoring up Ukrainian defenses and seeking to guarantee the country's sovereign future. It is a security model that Western leaders, including President Biden, have compared to what Israel has now. The security agreement—based on a proposal known as the Kyiv Security Compact—is expected to be signed following the NATO summit, officials familiar with the talks said. (WSJ, 05.22.23)
  • Russia on May 21 accused G7 leaders of turning their summit in Japan into a "propaganda show" by inviting Zelensky and whipping up "anti-Russian and anti-Chinese hysteria." (MT/AFP, 05.21.23)
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine's accession to the Western military alliance will not happen while the war is going on but that the membership path is there for the future. (RFE/RL, 05.24.23)
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says he plans to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin "in due course," holding out the prospect of resuming contact after a near-total breakdown in relations since the Ukraine war.” (AFP, 05.26.23)
    • At an event last year, Angela Merkel recalled that after annexing Crimea, Putin had told her that he wanted to destroy the European Union. (WSJ, 05.26.23)
  • Berlin this year will fall $18.5 billion short of a pivotal NATO benchmark for spending 2% of GDP on defense, while Poland will spend almost exactly the same amount above that threshold, according to a new analysis by Germany's IFO Institute. IFO calculated that 2% of German GDP this year would be 81.1 billion euros, and military spending will miss that by 17.1 billion euros. That is NATO's largest shortfall in money value. (WSJ, 05.24.23)
  • Relations between Hungary and Sweden must improve before the Nordic state's bid for NATO membership is approved, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said at the Qatar Economic Forum (Reuters, 05.25.23)
  • Russia's Embassy in Norway on May 23 harshly criticized a planned visit by USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier to Norwegian waters. (MT/AFP, 05.23.23)
  • Sweden has accused Turkey of making impossible demands in its negotiations for approving the Scandinavian nation's entry to NATO. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted that Sweden first hand over approximately 120 individuals affiliated with a Kurdish insurgent movement before his country ratifies its membership in NATO. (WSJ, 05.26.23)
  • The West German model is gaining traction in some European capitals as a way to provide Ukraine with real security, even if it does not immediately regain all its territory. Germany is an example of NATO accepting a country with “significant and unresolved territorial issues” and a form of enemy occupation, said Angela E. Stent, an expert on Russia and Germany and author of “Putin’s World.” (NYT, 05.26.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • On May 23 Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng attended the China-Russia business forum in Shanghai, where he expressed expectations for in-depth exchanges between the Chinese and Russian business communities. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin attended and addressed the forum. The Chinese vice premier also met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko before the opening ceremony. (Xinhua, 05.23.23)
    • The strengthening of Russia-China ties will positively impact the economies of both countries and the bilateral trade turnover may reach $200 billion this year, Mishustin said on May 23. He said Russia will continue exporting hydrocarbons to China on a "long-term basis" and that Moscow is ready to significantly increase agricultural exports to its eastern neighbor. (Reuters, 05.25.23)
    • Mishustin also met Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil who now heads the Shanghai-based New Development Bank. He told her that Russia sees one of the bank's main goals as "efforts to shield trade and economic ties between BRICS countries from the impact of illegitimate collective Western sanctions," according to the Russian government's description of the meeting. (WSJ, 05.24.23)
  • On May 24 Chen Wenqing, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, attended the 11th International Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues in Russia and delivered a speech. Chen also attended a meeting of the heads of delegations of the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and a meeting of the heads of the delegations of the BRICS countries. He held bilateral meetings with Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Naryshkin. Chen and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev also co-chaired the 8th meeting of the China-Russia law-enforcement and security cooperation mechanism. Representatives from 109 countries and international organizations attended the meeting. (Xinhua, 05.25.23)
    • According to Russia's Security Council, Chen discussed the sharing of financial intelligence and plans for cooperation between China's paramilitary police and Russia's National Guard in his meeting with Patrushev. (WSJ, 05.24.23)
  • On May 25 Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Mikhail Mishustin in Beijing. (Xinhua, 05.25.23)
    • China and Russia should continue to firmly support each other on issues concerning their respective core interests, and strengthen coordination in multilateral arenas such as the United Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS and the G20, Xi stressed. (Xinhua, 05.25.23)
    • Mishustin told Xi that Russia and China “stand together against the attempts of the collective West to maintain global dominance, to use illegal sanctions to impose their will on independent states”, according to Interfax. : “Russia is willing to work with China to promote the process of multi-polarization and consolidate the international law-based global order,” Mishustin said. (FT, 05.23.23, Bloomberg, 05.24.23)
  • Russia’s prime minister left China this week without a reward Moscow has long prized: a clear commitment from Beijing on Power of Siberia 2, a grand gas pipeline project to transform energy flows across Asia, PS-2 would generate an estimated $12bn a year for Gazprom, of which the state would receive about $4.6bn in duties and tax, according to Ronald Smith, senior oil and gas analyst at BCS Global Markets. (FT, 05.25.23)
  • While China is Russia's largest trading partner, exports to Russia in 2022 accounted for just 2 percent of China's total exports. April's exports of $9.62 billion were a 153 percent increase from the year before. For the first quarter of this year, machinery and electrical equipment accounted for 60 percent of China's exports to Russia, while energy and mineral resources accounted for 79 percent of China's imports from Russia. Bilateral trade increased more than 30 percent in 2022 to reach $190 billion, mostly as a result of Chinese purchases of Russian oil, gas and coal. (WP, 05.26.23)
  • China has been buying a lot of wheat, with total imports surging more than 60% from a year earlier to about 6 million tons in the first four months of the year. Of that, Russia supplied just a trickle — 30,000 tons. (Bloomberg, 05.22.23)
  • GCHQ’s Jeremy Fleming said so far GCHQ has not seen evidence of Chinese cyber assistance to Russia. “President Xi is clear about his friendship without limits [with Putin] so . . . I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to see President Putin humiliated. The danger for him is that he ends up on the wrong side of history on that bit of the bargain.” (FT, 05.26.23)
  • Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has “set back” China’s ambitions to invade Taiwan, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton said. Clinton warned that re-electing Donald Trump in 2024 would “spell the end of democracy” in the U.S. and the “end of Ukraine”. (FT, 05.21.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • While deploying non-strategic nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus, Russia is not transferring control over these weapons to this republic and Moscow will retain the exclusive right to decide on their use, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on May 25, according to TASS. Shoigu made this document while signing documents defining the procedure for keeping Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons in a special storage facility on the territory of Belarus. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23, RM, 05.25.23)
    • "The transfer of nuclear munitions has begun," Lukashenko told reporters during a visit to Moscow on May 25. (MT/AFP, 05.26.23)
    • The agreement is “the latest example of irresponsible behavior that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine over a year ago,” the State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on May 25. The United States saw no reason to adjust its nuclear posture and had seen no signs that Russia was preparing to use a nuclear weapon, he added. (NYT, 05.26.23)
    • The European Union condemned the NSNW agreement between Russia and Belarus. (Reuters, 05.26.23)
  • “We set this fight up. There are neighbors, and we quarreled with them. You come to a neighbor, you can break his face, you can break dishes. But if … you took an ax and f####ed him on the head with it, then this is already some kind of strange situation. A nuclear bomb is an axe. One should not chase a neighbor with an ax. It must be honest, either you beat the shit out of him, or you admit that he did beat the shit out of you. You have to prove yourself right on the battlefield,” Prigozhin said in an interview with pro-Kremlin political consultant Konstantin Dolgov that was then transcribed by Meduza. (RM, 05.24.23)
  • With the skeleton of Hiroshima’s A-Bomb Dome as a backdrop, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida ended the G7 summit with a call for global peace and a world without nuclear weapons Standing near the spot where the first atomic bomb was detonated in war, Zelensky said Russia must abandon "nuclear blackmail of the world.". (WSJ, 05.21.23, WP, 05.21.23, FT, 05.22.23)


  • Tajik authorities have repatriated 109 women and children, including five citizens of Kazakhstan, from Syria, where they had moved along with their husbands who joined the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in recent years. (RFE/RL, 05.22.23)

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • When asked why we haven’t seen massive cyber attacks from Russia since the invasion, GCHQ’s Jeremy Fleming said: “There’s been plenty of cyber in this conflict. The thing that’s different is . . . that Ukraine has been very effective in defending itself . . . Ukraine has shown that the defender has agency, and it has reached out and got support from a whole range of like-minded countries.” (FT, 05.26.23)
  • The discovery of CosmicEnergy malware targeting electricity networks—similar to that used to knock out Kyiv’s power supply in 2016—shows “the barriers to entry are lowering” for industrial attacks, researchers say. Mandiant said a unique aspect of CosmicEnergy was that there was evidence to suggest it had been developed by a contractor as a red teaming tool for simulated power disruption exercises hosted by Russian cybersecurity company Rostelecom-Solar. (SCMedia, 05.26.23)
  • Entrepreneur Andrey Doronichev was alarmed last year when he saw a video on social media that appeared to show the president of Ukraine surrendering to Russia. The video was quickly debunked as a synthetically generated deepfake. Mr. Doronichev founded a company in San Francisco, Optic, to help identify synthetic or spoofed material (NYT, 05.22.23)
  • President Biden has nominated Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh to jointly run the nation's main electronic spy agency and the military's central cyber mission. (WSJ, 05.23.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • EC’s energy commissioner Kadri Simson said the gas-saving measures were expected to cut EU consumption by a further 60bn cubic meters in 2023 “which is more than the gas volumes we still foresee to import from Russia in 2023, both pipeline and LNG.” (FT, 05.26.23)
  • Russian energy giant Gazprom reported a profit of 1.2 trillion rubles ($15 billion) for 2022, down from 2.1 trillion rubles in the previous year. In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, the group said "profit margins were impacted by an increase in tax payments in the second half of the year." (MT/AFP, 05.23.23)
  • Russia on May 25 summoned the envoys of Germany, Sweden and Denmark over Moscow's frustration with the lack of progress on probes into the sabotaged Nord Stream gas pipelines. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23)
    • American officials view the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines — which carried natural gas from Russia to Europe — as the work of pro-Ukrainian operatives whose ties to the Ukrainian government have yet to be determined. (NYT, 05.24.23)
  • Russian producers seem to be rerouting overseas the crude volumes that are not being processed domestically. The country’s average seaborne oil flows so far in May were about 400,000 barrels a day higher than in February, according to tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. (Bloomberg, 05.22.23)
  • China and India — the most enthusiastic buyers of discounted Russian oil — are also purchasing the most coal, gas and fuel oil. They took more than two-thirds of Russian coal sent to Asia last month, according to Bloomberg calculations based on Kpler data. (Bloomberg, 05.20.23)
  • China and India took more than 30% of their combined imports from Russia, Iran and Venezuela in April, according to data tracked by intelligence firm Kpler. That’s up from just 12% in February 2022, the month Russia invaded Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 05.25.23)
  • Russia has exported almost 20% more coal by sea so far this year than during the run-up and early months of its invasion of Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 05.22.23)
  • The Czech state-run Mero energy firm said on May 23 it has signed a deal to end the country's dependence on Russian oil. Mero will finance a $73 million expansion of the Transalpine oil pipeline (TAL), which supplies oil from the Italian port of Trieste to Central Europe. (AFP, 05.23.23)
  • South Korea has drawn nearly 160,000 tons of the vital-but-lesser-known fuel directly from Russia so far in May, according to Kpler data compiled by Bloomberg. That puts imports on course for the highest monthly total in about a year, although the figure remains well below levels seen before the conflict. (Bloomberg, 05.25.23)
  • The data is stark: In the first quarter of 2023, 96 percent of the oil shipped from the huge Russian Pacific Ocean port of Kozmino was sold above the price cap, for an average price of $73 per barrel Sanctions evasion does not mean sanctions do not work. In the first quarter of 2023, Moscow’s receipts from oil exports fell by $15.6 billion compared to the same quarter in 2022, a drop of 29 percent. (“No, Russia Is Not Massively Skirting Sanctions,” Agathe Demarais, FP, 05.25.23)
  • Ukraine continues to allow Russian oil and gas to cross its territory to serve its European neighbors — generating revenue for Kyiv and Moscow. As surreal as it might seem, Ukraine insists that it has virtually no choice but to maintain its own commercial deals and has lobbied to preserve them. (WP, 05.24.23)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. reporter for The Wall Street Journal, arrested in Russia in March on spying charges that he, his newspaper, and the U.S. government have strongly denied. The Lefortovo district court in Moscow ruled on May 23 that Gershkovich must remain in custody until at least August 30. (RFE/RL, 05.23.23)
    • Lawyers representing Gershkovich, detained in Russia on spying charges, have appealed the latest extension of his arrest. (MT/AFP, 05.26.23)
    • “An informed source” in Moscow told RIA Novosti that WSJ’s coverage of Russia, which the source described as disinformation, could impact the fate of Gershkovich, Meduza reported. (RM, 05.26.23)
  • Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik facing U.S. money-laundering charges is mounting a campaign to be included in any prisoner exchange between the two countries that could free Gershkovich. (WSJ, 05.24.23)
  • Paul Whelan, the former Marine imprisoned in Russia, said he’s confident that the U.S. is working to secure his release. (Bloomberg, 05.21.23)
  • Russian-based mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighter Jeff Monson says he has renounced his U.S. citizenship. (RFE/RL, 05.24.23)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • President Vladimir Putin has agreed on the sale of a majority stake in the Russian side of splintered tech giant Yandex to three sanctioned billionaires and the state-owned VTB Bank, Vladimir Potanin and oil tycoon Vagit Alekperov will join steel magnate Alexei Mordashov and VTB Bank to form the so-called “consortium of billionaires,” according to the news outlets. (MT/AFP, 05.22.23)
  • Investors in Dutch-registered Yandex NV will get to choose whether to keep a stake in the company’s profitable Russian business, take cash or receive a share of its international startups as the company attempts to split its assets, according to people familiar with the matter. (Bloomberg, 05.25.23)
  • Russia’s central bank is being enlisted for the fight under a decorated military officer installed as a deputy governor. Sergey Belov’s role in charge of what are known as “field institutions” that effectively channel funding from the state budget to combat troops draws little attention. (Bloomberg, 05.24.23)
  • The share of Russians who say they are in an “excellent mood” has increased to 15% in April 2023, compared to 12% in November 2022. The same period saw a decrease in the share of those who speak of “tension and irritation” from 22% to 16%, according to Levada polls. (RM, 05.26.23)
  • The Moscow City Court on May 25 registered a new criminal case against jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. According to court documents, Navalny now faces charges of creating an extremist group, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison; calls for extremism; creating a nonprofit organization that violates citizens' rights; financing extremism; involving a minor in criminal activities; and rehabilitating Nazism. (RFE/RL, 05.25.23)
    • Navalny has been placed in punitive solitary confinement for the 16th time since August 2022. (RFE/RL, 05.22.23)
  • Aleksandr Chernyshov, the chief of the Memorial human rights group's successor entity, the Center of Historic Memory, has been detained in the Russian city of Perm on a charge of "attempted smuggling of cultural artifacts." (RFE/RL, 05.22.23)
  • The Supreme Court of Russia's Bashkortostan region has remanded in pretrial detention noted activist Ramila Saitova, who was arrested last week over her online posts against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 05.24.23)
  • Bakhrom Khamroyev, a migrants' rights activist who worked with Russia’s oldest human rights group was sentenced to 14 years in prison on May 23 on charges of terrorism for Facebook posts. (MT/AFP, 05.24.23)
  • A prosecutor in Russia's far western exclave of Kaliningrad has asked a court to sentence a 64-year-old anti-war activist Igor Baryshnikov to eight years in prison on a charge of spreading "fake" information about Russia's armed forces involved in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 05.24.23)
  • Thousands of people in Russia’s majority-Muslim republic of Chechnya took to the streets of the regional capital on May 23 to rally against a recent burning of the Quran. Police in the southwestern Russian city of Volgograd detained Nikita Zhuravel, 19, after he allegedly set fire to a copy of the Quran. A criminal case against Zhuravel on charges of insulting the feelings of religious believers has since been handed over to Chechen investigators. (MT/AFP, 05.24.23)
  • The Supreme Court of Russia has ordered the liquidation of the PARNAS opposition party. (RFE/RL, 05.25.23)
  • More than 100 participants of Russia’s war in Ukraine are running in the ruling, pro-Kremlin party’s primary ahead of this fall’s regional elections. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23)
  • “We are now in a state where we can simply piss (squander) Russia away. Therefore, we must introduce martial law, we must announce new waves of mobilization, we must transfer everyone possible to the production of ammunition. We must stop fattening, stop building new roads, new infrastructure and work only for the war,” Prigozhin said in an interview with pro-Kremlin political consultant Konstantin Dolgov that was then transcribed by Meduza. (RM, 05.24.23)
  • “This bifurcation could end as it ended in 1917 with a revolution… The fаttening of the children of the elite will end with people lifting them up on a pitchfork. I recommend to the elite of the Russian Federation: gather your youths, send them to war, and, then when you go to the funeral, when you start burying them, then people will say, now everything is fair,” Prigozhin said in an interview to pro-Kremlin political consultant Konstantin Dolgov that was then transcribed by Meduza. (RM, 05.24.23)
  • Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery has refused to hand over Andrei Rublev’s “Trinity” icon to the Russian Orthodox Church in defiance of President Vladimir Putin’s orders (MT/AFP, 05.24.23)
  • Russia’s Deputy Science Minister Pyotr Kucherenko has died months after a prominent journalist recalled him criticizing the invasion of Ukraine in private conversations. (MT/AFP, 05.22.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russia has called off a showcase biennial MAKS air show amid reports of security concerns and military equipment shortages arising from the 15-month war in Ukraine, state news agencies reported on May 24. Russia's International Air and Space Salon. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23)
  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • German police have opened an investigation after a Russian journalist and an activist who participated in a Berlin conference reported health problems that suggested possible poisoning, the Welt am Sonntag reported. "A file has been opened based on the information available," a Berlin police spokesman told the Sunday weekly. Berlin police were not immediately available to respond to AFP. (MT/AFP, 05.21.23)
  • Russia announced on May 24 that a court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don will try five foreign men, including three British nationals, accused of fighting alongside Ukrainian forces against Moscow. (MT/AFP, 05.24.23)
  • A court in the Siberian city of Irkutsk on May 25 sentenced five inmates to prison terms between 10 years and 11 years for torturing and raping other inmates at the warden's order, one of a spate of similar cases. (RFE/RL, 05.25.23)
  • A court in the Russian city of Tula, 195 kilometers south of Moscow, has sentenced a Ukrainian national to 16 years in prison on a charge alleging espionage. (RFE/RL, 05.25.23)
  • Anatoly Maslov, the first of three Russian hypersonic missile scientists from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk to be charged with treason, will go on trial on June 1, the St. Petersburg City Court said. (RFE/RL, 05.24.23)
  • Russian lawmakers swiftly approved amendments on May 23 that would expand border guards’ power to seize the passports of Russians traveling outside the country. (MT/AFP, 05.23.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • The Kremlin is pressuring governments including India behind the scenes, threatening to upend defense and energy deals unless they help block expected moves aimed at turning Russia into a financial pariah state over its invasion of Ukraine. The Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental organization that sets standards for combating dirty money, suspended Russia from membership in February and Ukraine is pushing for the body to impose further restrictions by adding Moscow to its “black list” or “gray list.” (Bloomberg, 05.24.23)
  • “Some countries, including our own, are being threatened with penalties for pursuing an independent foreign policy and for adopting a position of non-alignment,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a speech on the outskirts of Johannesburg on May 25. “We will maintain our position on the peaceful resolution of conflict wherever those conflicts occur.” (Bloomberg, 05.25.23)
    • U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking to play down a rift with South Africa over the allegation that Pretoria covertly shipped arms to Russia, signaling a desire to address the dispute privately to avoid further damaging their relationship. (FT, 05.23.23)
  • The U.S. suspects Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group is trying to ship weapons to fighters in Ukraine through the West African nation of Mali, according to State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller. (Bloomberg, 05.23.23)
  • A top Russian official who faces sanctions in the West over Moscow’s war on Ukraine visited Saudi Arabia on May 23 and held talks with his counterpart in the kingdom, state media reported. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev’s visit to Riyadh came just days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed an Arab League summit held in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port city of Jeddah. (AP, 05.25.23)
  • A record total of 6,003 people moved from Russia to Finland last year, according to Statistics Finland, making it the top country of origin for immigration. (AFP, 05.24.23)
  • French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said no foreign power has ever tried to influence her as she sought to shake off accusations that her party’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have influenced her policies. (Bloomberg, 05.24.23)


  • Ukraine's parliament speaker, Ruslan Stefanchuk, on May 25 offered condolences to the descendants of Poles massacred by Ukrainian nationalists in World War II. (Reuters, 05.25.23)
  • In another sign of the widening fissure between the main Orthodox churches in Ukraine and Russia over the Kremlin's war against its neighbor, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) has approved a switch to the revised Julian calendar. (RFE/RL, 05.24.23)
  • Putin donned his historian cap on May 23 when Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin brought a 17th-century French map to his office and presented the artifact as evidence that Ukraine did not exist as a state before the Soviet period. But, even on the terms of Putin's thesis, there was a problem: the document clearly marks part of the territory as being "Ukraine." (MT/AFP, 05.24.23, Business Insider, 05.24.23)
  • Ukraine's Supreme Court elected a new head on May 26 following the removal of his predecessor Vsevolod Kniazev, who has been detained on bribery allegations in the country's biggest anti-corruption case. A total of 108 judges out of 148 voted to appoint 56-year-old Stanyslav Kravchenko, who had been the head of the Cassation Chamber for Criminal Cases, which is part of the Supreme Court. (Reuters, 05.26.23)
    • A search conducted on May 22 by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO) found around $500,000 in cash stored by the alleged accomplices of Kniazev, who stands accused of bribery. (Kyiv Independent, 05.23.23)
  • Ukraine has moved a step closer to putting former tax and customs chief Roman Nasirov on trial on corruption charges after anti-graft investigators referred his case to court. Nasirov, 44, would be the highest-profile former official to go on trial for corruption since Ukraine launched a crackdown on graft as it tries to join the European Union. (Reuters, 05.24.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The leaders of bitter Caucasus rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan mixed words of conciliation with angry disagreement over Nagorno-Karabakh in a Moscow meeting on May 25 in front of Putin. (RFE/RL, 05.25.23)
  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told a press conference on May 22 that any recognition by Yerevan of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan would be dependent on guaranteeing the rights and security of ethnic Armenians living in the mountainous region. (RFE/RL, 05.25.23)
  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on May 22 that his country could withdraw from Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization." I am not ruling out that Armenia will take a decision to withdraw from the CSTO," if the bloc fails to respect its treaty obligations, he told a news conference in Yerevan. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23)
  • Armenia on May 24 called on the UN's top judicial body, the International Court of Justice, to order its archrival Azerbaijan to withdraw a blockade from a key road connecting Yerevan to the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (AFP, 05.25.23)
  • Georgia's prime minister told an international forum on May 24 that his government cannot afford to impose sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine war as they would "devastate" the economy. (MT/AFP, 05.24.23)
  • Georgian Airways plans to launch transit flights connecting Russia to European countries via Tbilisi. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23)
  • Credit Suisse was ordered to pay $926 million to Georgia's former prime minister Ivanishvili on May 26 for losing part of his fortune. (Reuters, 05.26.23)
  • More than 100 Nobel Prize laureates have signed a letter calling for the release of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Belarusian activist Ales Byalyatski. (RFE/RL, 05.22.23)
  • The United States condemned the regime of authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, saying it was “unjustly holding over 1,500 political prisoners.” (RFE/RL, 05.20.23)
  • Five members of a Belarusian regiment fighting with Kyiv's forces have been killed in Bakhmut, a conflict-scarred city in eastern Ukraine, A Belarusian opposition leader living in exile said. (MT/AFP, 05.19.23)
  • Tens of thousands of people rallied in the Moldovan capital in support of closer ties to the European Union (RFE/RL, 05.21.23)
  • Kazakhstan’s president on May 25 criticized the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and appeared to caution against political integration between its members. Speaking at a plenary session of the EAEU in Moscow, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Kazakhstan sees the union as an exclusively economic bloc. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23)
  • Kazakhstan has no plans to join any union states (RFE/RL, 05.26.23)
  • Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry has defended its decision to reject the nomination by Kyiv of Serhiy Hayday, ex-chief of the military administration of Ukraine's Luhansk region, parts of which are under Russian-backed separatists' control, to the post of Ukraine’s ambassador to Kazakhstan. (RFE/RL, 05.23.23)
  • Tajikistan has summoned Russia's ambassador after police allegedly beat and interrogated more than 100 Tajik students at a university in Russia's Far East. (MT/AFP, 05.25.23)

Quotable and notable

  • “While I was previously unaware of my anti-Russian activities, I accept the verdict of Russia, whose commitment to truth, justice and the rule of law speaks for itself,” Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia, deadpanned this week upon being sanctioned by Russia. “My inclusion on this list is deserved, and I appreciate them thinking of me.” Let Republicans think on that. (Bloomberg, 05.24.23)

Slider photo obtained from, shared under a CC 4.0 International license.