Russia in Review, May 26-June 2, 2023

4 Things to Know

  1. Fighting flared up this week between Russian and Ukrainian forces, with the former bombarding Kyiv with missiles and drones and the latter reportedly sending pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters to stage incursions into Russia’s Belgorod region, according to FT and Bloomberg. Ukrainian forces regained control over 51 square miles of their land in the past month, while Russia gained 12 square miles in that period, according to the latest issue of the Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force’s report card
  2. NATO allies are expected to upgrade the formal status of NATO’s relationship with Ukraine with a new NATO-Ukraine Council to be established at the alliance’s next summit, but they disagree over whether to grant Kyiv a clear road map to membership, according to Bloomberg. “It is clear that we cannot talk about accepting new members [who are] in the midst of a war,” Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, said.
  3. The United States will propose abiding by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until its 2026 expiration if Russia does the same, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on June 2. The United States is seeking dialogue with both Russia and China on nuclear arms without preconditions, he said. But the limits on U.S. nuclear forces that the administration might accept will be influenced not only by the size of Russia's nuclear arsenal but also by the pace of China's nuclear buildup, according to the speech, as cited by WSJ.
  4. South Africa is yet undecided whether to host Vladimir Putin for the Aug. 22-24 BRICS summit, given the ICC warrant for the Russian leader's arrest. Even as she hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Cape Town, South Africa’s top diplomat, Naledi Pandor, said her country's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was looking at options on how to host Putin at the summitBloomberg reported. One option that South Africa is considering is switching the venue to Mozambique or China. Another is granting Putin immunity for the duration of his visit, according to Bloomberg.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • IAEA head Rafael Grossi told UNSC on May 30 that he had established basic rules to avoid nuclear catastrophe at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The rules are fairly straightforward — one calls for “no attack of any kind, from or against the plant.” (NYT, 05.30.23)
    • For Russia, Vasily Nebenzia said Grossi’s proposals were in line with measures the Russian Federation has been implementing and said that no attacks had been carried out from the territory of the plant and no heavy weapons or munitions had ever been placed there. (WNN, 05.31.23)
    • For Ukraine, Sergiy Kyslytsya said the rules should include "the withdrawal of troops and all other Russian personnel illegally present at the station." (WNN, 05.31.23)
  • “Ukrainian citizens need to understand that there are other threats as well, for instance, attempts to disrupt the operation of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant or use “dirty” devices related to nuclear technology. We have talked about this more than once. We know what they have in mind,” Vladimir Putin said on May 30 when asked to comment on UAV attacks on Moscow, which Russia blames on Ukraine. (, 05.30.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • On May 30 at least one person has been killed and a number of others injured after a shelling attack on a Russian region of Belgorod bordering Ukraine, the region's governor said May 30 (MT/AFP, 05.30.23)
  • On May 31, one civilian was killed and 11 others were wounded in Russian shelling of Ukraine's Donetsk region, Ukrainian officials said. (RFE/RL, 05.31.23)
  • Three people, including a young girl, were killed in Kyiv on June 1 while desperately trying to take cover in a closed bomb shelter amid fresh Russian strikes, in an incident that sparked anger in the Ukrainian capital. (CNN, 06.01.23)
  • At least 535 children have been killed and 1,000 others injured in Ukraine since Russia invaded last year, the United Nations said on June 1. (United Nations, 06.01.23)
  •  On June 1 several Russian border towns were hit during “mass shelling” that wounded eight people and set fire to some houses as well as damaging the local administration building in the town of Shebekino, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram. Two women were killed and two others seriously wounded in a shelling attack on the Russian border region of Belgorod, the region's governor said. (Bloomberg, 06.01.23, MT/AFP, 06.02.23)
    • Ukranian units continued to bombard Shchebekino on June 2, according to photos posted in Russia’s pro-war Telegram channel “Voyenkor Kotyonok Z” and which could not be verified. Another Russian pro-war Telegram channel, “WarGonzo” claimed that about 100 fighters were trying to cross from Ukraine into the Belgorod region on June 2, though this claim could not be verified either. (RM, 06.02.23)
  • Russia’s relentless bombardment of Ukrainian cities over the past 15 months included more than 1,000 strikes on health care facilities and services, the World Health Organization said on May 30. (NYT, 05.30.23)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says 371 Ukrainian children have been returned to Ukraine after being deported by Russia during the war. (RFE/RL, 05.31.23)
  • About 2,500 people have been evacuated in Russia’s Belgorod region after days of Ukrainian shelling and incursions, according to the local governor, underscoring the rapid transformation of parts of the country’s western border into a war zone. (NYT, 06.02.23)
    • Authorities in Russia’s Belgorod region — a target of frequent shelling attacks — spent nearly four times as much on public entertainment this year than on civil defense, the Mozhem Obyasnit' Telegram news channel reported. (MT/AFP, 06.02.23)
  • A Ukrainian woman seeking to return her forcibly transferred godson and his brother from Russia has been detained and deported from Moscow. (MT/AFP, 05.31.23)
  • U.S. lawmakers and a top U.S. diplomat expressed support on May 31 for the creation of an international tribunal separate from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try crimes of aggression that have taken place during the war in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 06.01.23)
  • Also see “Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts” below.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

·  In the past month of fighting Russian forces have gained 12 square miles of Ukrainian territory while Ukraine has re-gained 63 square miles, according to Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. (Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, 05.30.23)

  • On May 27 Russian forces pounded Kyiv in what local officials described as the largest kamikaze drone attack since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion. Officials said Ukraine’s air defense systems had downed 58 of 59 incoming drones launched against Ukrainian targets, with 40 downed in Kyiv alone. (FT, 05.27.23, RFE/RL, 05.28.23)
  • On May 28 Russia's air-defense systems destroyed several drones as they approached the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar region near the Black Sea, local officials said. (Reuters, 05.28.23)
  • On May 29 Russia hit an airbase in western Ukraine, damaging five aircraft and the runway, and targeted the nation’s capital with ballistic missiles in the second massive rocket and drone attack in as many days. (Bloomberg, 05.29.23)
  • On May 29 Ukrainian forces said they had launched a series of localized counterattacks north and south of the Bakhmut city, regaining ground that took the Russians weeks to seize. "The aim is to tactically encircle Bakhmut," said a platoon commander from Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade, which is leading the counterattack south of the city. (WSJ, 05.29.23)
  • On May 30 Russia said it downed eight drones aimed at Moscow, the biggest attack on the capital since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. No one was seriously injured. The Russian Defense Ministry said that five of the drones had been shot down, and that three had their signals jammed electronically. (NYT, 05.30.23, Bloomberg, 05.30.23)
    • Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Ukraine had not been ''directly involved'' in the attack but was ''happy'' to watch the events taking place across the border.(NYT, 05.30.23)
    • Vladimir Putin has vowed to retaliate, accusing Ukraine of “terrorist activity” and “provoking us to respond with tit-for-tat measures.” (FT, 05.30.23)
    • The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said Russia ''would have preferred to hear at least some words of condemnation'' from Western capitals. The Russian ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, called the U.S. refusal to condemn the attack ''an encouragement for Ukrainian terrorists,'' his embassy said on the Telegram messaging app. (NYT, 07.01.23)
    • Igor Girkin, a former paramilitary leader who had long called for an escalation of the war in Ukraine, said on Telegram, ''The strength of the psychological blow caused by the drone attack on Moscow is not in the scale of destruction, but in the fact that the nation's leadership has promised us not a war, but a special military operation.'' (NYT, 05.30.23)
    • The US and European allies urged caution on whether Ukraine should have the right to strike inside Russia, amid concerns that a potential escalation could drag them into a broader war. (Bloomberg, 05.31.23)
    • The head of the powerful Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin noted that some of the drones crashed in the neighborhoods of Russian political and military elites. ''Let your homes burn,'' he said, referring to military and political elites. (NYT, 05.30.23)
  • On May 31 Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed it had “destroyed” what it claimed was Ukraine’s last warship. The landing ship Yuri Olefirenko was struck by “high-precision” Russian Aerospace Forces weaponry in the Black Sea port of Odesa on May 29. (MT/AFP, 05.31.23)
  • On June 1 Russian forces ramped up their ballistic missile attacks on the Ukrainian capital, killing three civilians and injuring 14 others. That became the 18th Russian air attack on the Ukrainian capital in the past 31 days. (FT, 06.01.23)
  • On June 1 the Russian defense ministry said its forces foiled an attack near the Belgrood region’s Shebekino border crossing at about 3am. Russian troops and artillery killed 30 fighters and destroyed four armored vehicles, a mobile rocket-launcher and a pickup truck during clashes, the ministry said in a statement on Telegram. The Financial Times could not verify Moscow’s claims. However, two Ukraine-based militias have claimed to have crossed over into Belgorod region. (FT, 06.01.23, Bloomberg, 06.01.23)
  • On June 1-2 Russia continued its aerial campaign against the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, launching cruise missiles and drones against the city , according to Ukraine's armed forces. The Ukrainian air force said its air defenses intercepted all 15 of the Russian cruise missiles and all 21 of the Iranian-made Shahed drones. (WSJ, 06.02.23)
  • To retake territory and oust the Russians, the Ukrainians will have to punch through these fortifications. That requires special training and equipment as well as careful reconnaissance to find a weak spot — probably one of a number of reasons the long-awaited counteroffensive has not started yet. (WP, 06.02.23)
  • At least 20,000 Russians have been killed and another 40,000 wounded just in the yearlong grinding battle for the small eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, a senior Western official said on June 1 in a new estimate of casualties. Overall, Western officials now estimate that the total of Russian casualties, including dead and wounded, is well over 200,000 since the beginning of the war in February 2022, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. (NYT, 06.02.23)
  • During a speech in Helsinki on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Russia’s military as “the second-strongest in Ukraine” and that Russia is estimated to have suffered more than 100,000 casualties in the last six months. (WSJ, 06.02.23)
  • Russia’s tank losses during its invasion of neighboring Ukraine surpassed 2,000 this week, according to the latest data from Oryx. (MT/AFP, 05.31.23)
  • The head of Wagner PMC Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that withdrawal of his PMC fighters from Bakhmut in the Donetsk region of Ukraine was 99% completed. In an message published on the Kepka Prigozhina telegram channel, he claimed that the retreat routes from Bakhmut were mined by the Russian military. (Istories, 06.02.23)
  • Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion 15 months ago, it has fired over 5,000 missiles and attack drones at targets across Ukraine, according to a recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (NYT, 06.01.23)
  • U.S. officials say managing the risk of escalation remains one of the most difficult aspects of the war for Biden and his foreign policy advisers. When deciding what new weapons systems to provide Ukraine, they focus on four key factors, officials said. "Do they need it? Can they use it? Do we have it? What is the Russian response going to be?" said a senior State Department official. (WP, 06.01.23)
  • On May 31, the Biden administration announced $300 million in military aid for Ukraine. The package includes additional ammunition for drones and long-range artillery. It also includes additional munitions for Patriot air defense systems as well as munitions for other air defense systems. The aid also includes other artillery support, anti-armor weaponry and tens of millions of rounds of small-arms ammunition, defense officials said. (NYT, 07.01.23)
  • The F-16 jets that the Ukrainian military is touting as a potential game-changer in its conflict with Russia will either be restricted to defense or deployed in very high-risk operations, according to people who’ve flown the planes in combat. (Bloomberg, 05.28.23)
  • In at least 16 instances, Americans have given their lives fighting in Ukraine. Ukraine claimed at the war's outset last year that upward of 20,000 U.S. citizens expressed interest in joining the country's foreign legion, which pays between $500 and $3,500 per month in exchange for a contractual commitment to serve for several months. (WP, 05.29.23)
    • Zelensky on May 29 thanked U.S. citizens who have fought for Kyiv following Russia's full-scale invasion of February 2022. Speaking in English in a video address marking the U.S. Memorial Day holiday (RFE/RL, 05.29.23)
  • Ukraine has asked Germany to supply it with Taurus cruise missiles, an air-launched weapon with a range of some 500 kilometers, a spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry in Berlin said on May 27. (Reuters, 05.27.23)
  • The Swiss parliament rejected an exemption for the transfer of arms to Ukraine on June 1. The laws of neutral Switzerland prohibit support for countries involved in acts of war. Switzerland has therefore so far refused to give Germany permission to pass along Swiss ammunition, purchased years ago for the German Leopard tank, to Ukraine. (dpa, 06.02.23)
  • A Kh-55 cruise missile launched during a Russian barrage of Ukraine crossed into Poland last December then slammed into a patch of forest about 10 miles from a NATO training center, exposing challenges to defending the alliance's airspace, according to Western officials. The details of the missile remained unknown to the public until April, when a horseback rider found the debris in the forest outside the city of Bydgoszcz and local authorities were alerted. Bydgoszcz is home to the NATO’s Joint Force Training Center, which conducts tactical training for alliance members. (WSJ, 05.30.23)

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

  • Berlin is ordering four of the five Russian consulates in Germany to close after Moscow limited the number of German diplomatic staff allowed in Russia, the latest in an escalating tit-for-tat diplomatic dispute between the two countries.. One Russian consulate and the Russian Embassy in Berlin will be allowed to remain open. Russia currently operates consulates in Bonn, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig and Munich. It is not clear which of the five will remain open. (NYT, 05.31.23, Bloomberg, 05.27.23)
  • Two state-owned Russian leasing firms, GTLK Europe DAC and GTLK Europe Capital DAC, based in Ireland have sought to prevent the appointment of a liquidator to wind-up their affairs by lodging a “last minute” application for an examiner to be appointed.  (Bloomberg, 05.30.23)
  • The US Treasury removed an abandoned $120 million Russian superyacht from its sanctions list, clearing the way for the vessel to be auctioned to the highest bidder. The 267-foot Alfa Nero was ditched in Antigua’s Falmouth Harbor in March 2022 after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Last year, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Russian fertilizer billionaire Andrey Guryev, naming him as the owner of Alfa Nero, an allegation the magnate denies. (Bloomberg, 06.01.23)
  • Denmark's autonomous Faroe Islands said June 1 Russian access to its North Atlantic ports would be restricted to vessels dedicated exclusively to fishing, in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine." (AFP, 06.01.23)
  • Nintendo has said it will no longer sell games in Russia through its online store. (MT/AFP, 06.01.23)
  • A Russian court imposed a fine on U.S. messenger service WhatsApp on June 1 for failing to delete banned content. The 3-million-ruble ($37,000) fine was the first imposed on WhatsApp for such an offense. (MT/AFP, 06.01.23)
  • Russia has issued an arrest warrant for United States senator Lindsey Graham for “Russophobic statements,” Russian media reported on May 29. (MT/AFP, 05.30.23)
  • A court in Kyiv on May 29 extended until at least July 1 the pretrial house arrest of Metropolitan Pavlo of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Pavlo, who is accused of inciting religious enmity and denying Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, was sent to house arrest for at least two months on April 1. (RFE/RL, 05.29.23)
  • The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has frozen more assets of Oksana Marchenko, the wife of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk. (Current Time, 06.02.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is prepared to respond in concert with Ukraine and other allies “if and when Russia is ready to work for true peace.” Speaking in Helsinki, Blinken said a cease fire “that simply freezes current lines in place” would “legitimize Putin’s land-grab. It will reward the aggressor and punish the victim.” (Bloomberg, 06.02.23)
  • Speaking from the capital of NATO’s newest member, Finland, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on June 2 said that strengthening Ukraine’s defenses against Russia was a “prerequisite” for diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine and warned against the allure of short-term cease-fires that might play to Moscow’s military advantage. (NYT, 06.02.23)
  • A top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected the idea that Kyiv must recognize “new territorial realities” as a pathway to potential peace with Russia. Andriy Yermak was responding to comments by Mikhail Galuzin, Russian deputy foreign minister, who also told Tass that Ukraine should give up its hopes of joining NATO and the European Union, recognize Russian as a state language, and stop taking weapons donations from the West. (Bloomberg, 05.27.23)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told China's special envoy Li Hui on May 26 that there were "serious obstacles" to resuming peace talks, blaming Ukraine and Western countries.  Lavrov thanked Li Hui, China’s special representative for Eurasian Affairs a, for Beijing’s “balanced position” on the war, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow. Russia was committed to a “political and diplomatic resolution” of the conflict, it said. (MT/AFP, 05.26.23, Bloomberg, 05.27.23, WSJ, 05.27.23)
  • Putin and Zelensky have agreed to meet the delegation of leaders from Egypt, Senegal, the Republic of Congo, South Africa, Zambia and Uganda who intend to travel to Moscow and Kyiv next month to discuss peace. Jean-Yves Ollivier, a French dealmaker who is brokering the peace initiative, said the group of six will travel under the auspices of the Brazzaville Foundation that he founded (FT, 05.26.23)
  • Ukraine and its allies are planning a summit of global leaders that would exclude Russia, aimed at garnering support for Kyiv’s terms for ending the war, according to a senior Ukrainian presidential adviser and European diplomats. (WSJ, 05.30.23)
  • French President Emmanuel Macron has called for advancing peace negotiations on the war in Ukraine on Kyiv’s terms. Speaking at the GLOBSEC security conference in Bratislava on May 31, Macron said there should be no compromises in terms of Ukraine's territorial integrity side. (RFE/RL, 05.31.23)
  • Hungary’s premier repeated a call for a cease fire before Ukraine’s expected counteroffensive (Bloomberg, 06.02.23)
  • In May, support for the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine remained virtually unchanged: 43% of respondents said they definitely supported them (same as in April), 33% were more supportive than unsupportive (compared to 32% in April), 18% did not support them (in April that figure was 16%), according to recent Levada polls. The share of respondents who support the continuation of hostilities increased from 38% in April to 48% in May. The share of respondents who favor peace negotiations declined from 51% to 45% during that period. (RM, 06.02.23)

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

  • “Ukraine is ready to be in NATO. We are ready for when NATO is ready … We need all the unity through the alliance and we are working on it,” Volodymyr Zelensky said at the European Political Community summit in Moldova on June 1. “In Vilnius, a clear invitation to Ukraine is needed,” Zelensky told a meeting of close to 50 other European leaders, referring to NATO’s annual summit in the Lithuanian capital next month. (FT, 06.01.23)
  • As part of the Vilnius summit package, NATO allies are expected to upgrade the formal status of NATO’s relationship with Ukraine with a new NATO-Ukraine Council, allowing the country to directly take part in broader discussions about the alliance’s security. NATO leaders are also expected to agree to a long-term fund with a total of €500 million ($534 million) a year to help Ukraine with non-lethal aid and other support (Bloomberg, 06.01.23)
  • Under the Kyiv Security Compact allies would commit to enabling Ukraine’s self-defense with binding commitments to provide the necessary military and non-military resources.  Emmanuel Macron appeared to back such a proposal when he urged allies to provide Ukraine with “tangible, credible security guarantees” — somewhere between those similar to what is offered by the U.S. to Israel and “full-fledged NATO membership.” Macron acknowledged on May 31 that there would not be consensus at the Vilnius summit about full NATO membership for Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 06.01.23, FT, 06.01.23)
    • France’s wish “is that we clearly design a path with stages and progressions so that Ukraine can, when the time comes, join us in good security conditions,” Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said While Ukraine joining NATO is “not something for today,” Colonna said, “we need to do more than 2008,” referring to an agreement that year by allies that Ukraine would eventually join. (Bloomberg, 06.01.23)
  • A U.S. official said that while the Israeli security model had been floated at a certain point, the discussions for how to guarantee Ukraine's long-term security have evolved. The Ukrainians are looking to ensure that once the conflict ends, they aren't going to be left to fend for themselves should Russia launch another invasion, the official said. The focus, U.S. officials say, has been to provide support for Ukraine on the ground and not to explore the prospects for Ukraine's NATO membership. (WSJ, 06.02.23)
  • The Biden administration and its NATO allies are developing plans for securing ongoing military support to Ukraine beyond the country's current offensive, hoping that long-term security pacts will create a strong deterrent against future Russian aggression and potentially alter the battlefield calculus of Putin. (WP, 06.01.23)
  • Asked about whether a pathway to NATO would be approved at a coming summit of alliance leaders in Lithuania, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters, "I fully anticipate that will be part of the conversation in Vilnius." (WSJ, 06.02.23)
  • Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, said on June 1 that while NATO remained open to new members, “it is clear that we cannot talk about accepting new members [who are] in the midst of a war.” (FT, 06.01.23)
  • NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg conceded that allies were split on the precise timetable and tools needed to get Ukraine into the alliance.  Foreign ministers of North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries had  a two-day meeting in Oslo, where they discussed Ukraine’s bid to join the military alliance as well as how to boost defense spending. (FT, 05.31.23, Bloomberg, 05.31.23)
  • President Joe Biden, speaking at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, said “the American people’s support for Ukraine will not waver.” Consider, he said, what would happen if support “wavers and Ukraine goes down. What about Belarus? What about the rest of Eastern Europe?” (Bloomberg, 06.02.23)
  • Adrian Bird, chief of U.K.’s Defense Intelligence, stressed that the U.K.’s own backyard should be its primary concern. “The U.K.’s non-discretionary security priority must be our home region of the Euro-Atlantic, and here we assess that Russia will remain the greatest threat to the U.K. mainland out to 2030,” he said. (FT, 05.31.23)
  • NATO must compel its member nations to grow their military spending if the alliance is to deter Russia effectively beyond the war in Ukraine and manage other threats to transatlantic security, U.K.’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said, outlining his ambitions for the bloc's future as it considers its next leader. (WP, 06.02.23)
  • British public officials are a "legitimate military target" because of the UK's support for Ukraine, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has warned. Mr. Medvedev, deputy chairman of Vladimir Putin's security council, claimed the UK's support for Kyiv amounted to an "undeclared war" against Russia. (Bloomberg, 05.31.23)
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Turkey on May 30 to take immediate action on Sweden's bid to join NATO, saying there was no reason for further delay in bolstering the transatlantic alliance at a time of profound tension with Russia. (WP, 05.31.23)
  • NATO allies need to sign more contracts with defense companies to boost production given their ammunition stocks are running dry, the military bloc’s chief Jens Stoltenberg said, as he urged countries to spend at least 2% of GDP as soon as possible. (Bloomberg, 06.02.23)
  • When asked to comment on Henry Kissinger’s recent assessments, Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova noted that the 100-year old U.S. statesman “was not afraid” to describe the invitation to Ukraine to join NATO a serious mistake, but insisted he was wrong that Russia would agree to West’s terms for the end of the war if they allowed Russia to keep Sevastopol. (RM, 05.30.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • China has rebuffed a U.S. request for a meeting between their defense chiefs on the sidelines of an annual security forum in Singapore this weekend, the Pentagon said on May 29, showing the limits of a tentative rapprochement between the two rival powers. (WSJ, 05.30.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • The United States is seeking dialogue with both Russia and China on nuclear arms without preconditions, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. In an appeal to Moscow and Bejing Sullivan said the U.S. wants to establish a framework for nuclear arms reduction before the last remaining arms-control treaty between the U.S. and Russia expires in 2026. Sullivan also said that the US is simultaneously working to modernize its nuclear force but not to increase its size. The U.S. would abide by nuclear weapons limits set by a treaty set to expire in 2026, as long as Russia does the same.  A preview of Sullivan’s speech by news agencies said US will abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until its 2026 expiration if Russia does the same. He was also going to sat that limits on U.S. nuclear forces that the administration might accept at that point will be influenced not only by the size of Russia's nuclear arsenal but also by the pace of China's nuclear buildup, according to senior administration officials familiar with the address. (WSJ, 06.02.23, Reuters, 06.02.23, Time, 06.02.23, CNN, 06.02.23, Reuters, 06.02.23)
  • The United States will stop giving Russia some notifications required under the New START arms control treaty to retaliate for Moscow's "ongoing violations" of the accord, the State Department said on June 1. (RFE/RL, 06.02.23)
  • Russia's ambassador to the UK Andrei Kelin said the actions of NATO countries, "especially" the UK, risk lengthening and triggering a "new dimension" in the war. He said Russia had "enormous resources" and despite the war already raging for over a year, he claimed his country had not yet started to "act very seriously". "Sooner or later, of course, this escalation may get a new dimension which we do not need and we do not want. We can make peace tomorrow." (AP, 05.28.23)
  • Russia's Embassy in Washington on May 27 brushed off criticism from President Biden about its moves to place nuclear weapons in Belarus, Moscow's main ally in the war against Ukraine. (WSJ, 05.27.23)
  • Belarus’s authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko said that if any other country wanted to join a Russia-Belarus union there could be "nuclear weapons for everyone." (Reuters, 05.29.23)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Iran is arming militants in Syria for a new phase of lethal attacks against U.S. troops in the country, while also working with Russia on a broader strategy to drive Americans from the region, intelligence officials and leaked classified documents say. High-ranking Russian, Iranian and Syrian military and intelligence officials met in November 2022 and agreed on establishing a "coordination center" for directing the campaign, according to a classified intelligence assessment prepared in January. (WP, 06.01.23)

Cyber security/AI:

  • The Pentagon disclosed on June 1 that it has signed a contract to provide SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service in Ukraine, nearly eight months after Elon Musk, the company's owner, threatened to terminate access unless the U.S. government paid for it. (WP, 06.02.23)
  • State Department's new Strategic Framework for Space Diplomacy stresses the role of cybersecurity in space diplomacy. The framework notes that China and Russia are key competitors with the United States in space. It also mentions a Russian cyberattack that targeted a satellite broadband service at the outset of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (WP, 06.01.23)
  • In his presentation at the Future Combat Air & Space Capabilities Summit in London in May, Col Tucker ‘Cinco’ Hamilton of the U.S. Air Force described how during a simulation meant to test an AI-enabled drone, the latter ‘killed’ its human operator killed the operator “because that person was keeping it from accomplishing its objective.” (, May 2023)
  • Palantir Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Officer Alex Karp said new AI developments at his company are so powerful that “I’m not sure we should even sell this to some of our clients.” (Bloomberg, 06.02.23)
  • As many as 30% of employees in the Russian presidential administration continue to use iPhones for personal communication, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 1. Peskov’s comments came after FSB announced that it had detected malware in at least 1,000 iPhones, including those used by members of Russia’s diplomatic missions. (MT/AFP, 06.01.23, RFE/RL, 06.01.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russian crude oil flows to international markets are edging lower, but still show no substantive sign of the output cuts that the Kremlin insists the country is making. Four-week average seaborne shipments fell for the first time in six weeks in the period to May 28, slipping to 3.64 million barrels a day. But crude flows to international markets remain elevated and are still more than 1.4 million barrels a day higher than they were at the end of last year and 270,000 barrels a day up in February, the baseline month for the pledged cut. (Bloomberg, 05.30.23)
  • Tensions are rising between Saudi Arabia and Russia as Moscow keeps pumping huge volumes of cheaper crude into the market that is undermining Riyadh's efforts to bolster energy prices, people familiar with the matter say. (WSJ, 05.27.23)
  • Taman, a port in Russia’s southern Krasnodar region, will suspend exports of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) — a highly explosive substance — due to an increased number of attacks on areas bordering Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 06.02.23)
  • According to Vedomosti, Russian oilfield services earned 1.79 trillion rubles ($22.2 billion) in 2022, the highest figure since at least 2018. The international presence in the Russian oilfield services sector has shrunk from 15% to 9%, primarily due to exits by U.S. companies Baker Hughes and Halliburton, according to Vedomosti. (MT/AFP, 06.02.23)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Brazil's leftist government is torn between dueling extradition demands from the U.S. and Russia for an alleged spy, whose ultimate destination could shape negotiations to free Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. Brazilian and U.S. authorities say Sergey Cherkasov posed as a Brazilian student under the name of Victor Muller Ferreira in Washington in order to conduct espionage against the West on behalf of Russia. (WSJ, 05.28.23)
  • Moscow now holds at least two Americans [Whelan and Gershkovich] that the U.S. would like to free, but there is no obvious Russian candidate for an exchange in U.S. custody. While the U.S. is engaging with countries that hold Russian citizens in custody, and U.S. officials have said they are open to incorporating those prisoners in a deal, Russian officials have given no public indication of their intentions. (WSJ, 05.31.23)
  • A new CSIS panel, launched partly in response to Russia's detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, aims to help tackle the challenges the U.S. faces over the rising number of Americans unjustly detained abroad. (WSJ, 06.01.23)
  • Artem Uss's escape from Italy to Russia stemmed in part from an overburdened justice system where imprisonment is seen as a measure of last resort. In addition, Rome underestimated Uss's importance to both Moscow and Washington and didn't take enough precautions, some legal experts say. Uss fled house arrest in Italy with the help of a Serbian criminal gang.  (MT/AFP, 05.31.23, WSJ, 05.31.23)
  • United States is one of only 17 countries that still impose compulsory work, according to a report released this week by Walk Free, an Australian human rights groups. The report also finds evidence of state-imposed forced labor in Belarus, Brazil, China, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mongolia, Myanmar, Poland, Russia, Rwanda, Turkmenistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. (WP, 05.27.23)
  • Two New York lawyers, husband and wife Arthur Arcadian and Ilona Dzhamgarova, have been sentenced to six months and two years in prison, respectively, for assisting asylum seekers, mostly from the former Soviet Union, to prepare false affidavits and coaching their clients to lie under oath. (RFE/RL, 06.01.23)
  • Tara Reade, American woman who accused U.S. President Joe Biden of sexual harassment when she worked in his Senate office says she is moving to Russia. (MT/AFP, 05.31.23)

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • The share of Russians who believe that things in the country are going in the right direction declined by 1 percentage point from 68% in April to 67% in May, according to Levada’s polls. The same period saw the share of Russians that approve Vladimir Putin's performance as president of the Russian Federation decline by 1 percentage point to 82%, When asked to name several politicians they trust the most, 42% named Putin in May compared to 40% in April. Some 18% named PM Mishustin, 14% named foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, 11% named defense minister Sergei Shoigu and 4% named PMC Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to Levada. (RM, 06.01.23)
  • FilterLabs AI, which uses messages on the Telegram app, posts on social media and discussions on internet forums to track Russian public sentiment on a range of topics, has found that views on war casualties have become increasingly negative since late February. FilterLabs gathers  data from small local internet forums, social media companies and messaging apps to determine public sentiment. (NYT, 05.26.23)
  • President Vladimir Putin had used a web of offshore companies to hand out homes near his residence outside Moscow to his ex-wife and daughters, the investigative outlet Proekt reported on June 1. (MT/AFP, 06.01.23)
  • The Kremlin has signed a deal to build a bomb shelter on the grounds of Moscow’s most elite hospital days after unprecedented drone strikes on the Russian capital. (MT/AFP, 06.02.23)
  • The Russian edition of Forbes released its ranking of the richest among the successors to Russian billionaires. Yusuf Alekperov, son of Lukoil’s largest shareholder Vagit Alekperov tops the list with 20.5 billion USD to inherit. (, 05.30.23)
  • A Moscow court on May 30 rejected requests by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk to have their pretrial detention changed to a different form of restraint such as house arrest. The two will remain in detention until at least July 4 on suspicion of justification of terrorism over the production of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon. (RFE/RL, 05.30.23)
  • Alexey Navalny’s trial for “extremism” will take place not in a court in Moscow, but in the penal colony in the Vladimir region where the politician is currently serving his sentence.  (Meduza, 05.31.23)
  • Russia's Justice Ministry has included Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation on its list of “undesirable” organizations.” (Meduza, 06.01.23)
  • Navalny said that he and other inmates in his prison colony are forced to listen to pro-war and anti-Semitic songs several times a day as part of the prison’s “re-education” efforts. (MT/AFP, 05.30.23)
  • On May 30, Russian lawmakers submitted a bill to parliament that would ban legal or surgical sex changes. (MT/AFP, 05.31.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russian economic writer Boris Grozovsky’s research indicates Russia's military spending increased by 2.9 trillion rubles compared to 2021, reaching 8.4 trillion, with expectations it will hit 9-10 trillion rubles in 2023. (IStories, 01.06.23)
  • The Moscow and Leningrad military districts will be reestablished this year. Also, one combined-arms army, one air force army, five divisions and 26 brigades will be formed this year, said Colonel General Yevgeny Burdinsky, head of the Main Organizational and Mobilization Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. (NVO, 06.03.23)
  • New Russian private-security companies are smaller than Wagner, with just thousands of recruits collectively. However, in sending men to the front lines, they are demonstrating loyalty to Putin, analysts said, when Russia needs fresh forces to respond to a coming Ukrainian offensive. (WSJ, 05.29.23)
  • PMCs Potok and Fakel have recruits from among Gazprom’s security guards, many of whom were signed up at work, promised job perks, pay and equipment provided by the company. (FT, 06.02.23)
  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian investigative authorities on June 1 named Roman Popkov, a journalist and former leader of the radical leftist National Bolshevik Party, as the organizer of assassination of pro-war blogger Vladlen Tatarsky. Also, a court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of Darya Trepova, the woman suspected in the assassination of Tatarsky. (AFP, 06.01.23, RFE/RL, 06.01.23)
  • A Russian military court has sentenced eight mobilized soldiers to prison terms of up to seven years for deserting their unit in eastern Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 05.30.23)

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • BRICS nations asked the bloc’s specially created bank to provide guidance on a how a potential new shared currency might work, including how it could shield other member countries from the impact of sanctions such as those imposed on Russia. The foreign ministers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa convened in Cape Town earlier on June 1 to discuss how the bloc can win greater global influence and to challenge the US. Prior to participating in the BRICS meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited  Burundi, Kenya and Mozambique to meet their leaders. (Bloomberg, 06.01.23, Bloomberg, 06.01.23, Bloomberg, 05.30.23)
    • South Africa is still undecided on whether to host Vladimir Putin for the Aug. 22-24 BRICS summit, given the ICC warrant issued for the Russian leader. Even as he hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Cape Town, South Africa’s top diplomat Naledi Pandor said her country's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was looking at options on how to host Putin at the BRICS summit, Bloomberg reported. One option that South Africa is considering is switching the venue of the summit to Mozambique or China. The other one is granting Putin immunity for the duration of his visit, according to Bloomberg. (RM, 06.02.23)
      • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has set up a three-member independent panel to investigate whether arms were picked up by a Russian vessel when it docked south of Cape Town in December. (Bloomberg, 05.28.23)
      • South Africa’s president will send four of his cabinet ministers to Group of Seven nations to explain the country’s non-aligned position on Russia’s war on Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 06.01.23)
  • Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on May 26 declined an invitation to attend the International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg on June 14-17 during a telephone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. (AFP, 05.26.23)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 28 congratulated Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has collaborated closely with Russia on key international issues despite disagreements, on his re-election. (MT/AFP, 05.29.23)
  • The Kremlin on May 31 called for the rights of ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo to be respected, following clashes this week over local election results that left more than 80 people injured." (MT/AFP, 05.31.23)
  • Poland's president said on May 29 that he would sign a bill authorizing a panel to investigate Russian influence, despite opposition criticism that it creates a witch hunt against government opponents in an election year.  Then, however, Poland’s leader proposed measures to soften parts of the law. (Bloomberg, 06.02.23, Reuters, 05.29.23)
  • Bulgaria's Supreme Court has rejected a request for political asylum by 27-year-old Russian Alexander Stotsky, who fled Russia immediately after the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 05.30.23)
  • Yango, a ride-hailing firm with Russian origins has nabbed a 4-8% share of the market from Uber Technologies Inc. and its local subsidiary in Dubai. (Bloomberg, 05.31.23)
  • Russian steel tycoon Vladimir Lisin has become the latest high-profile businessman to set up in Abu Dhabi. The billionaire helped to register multiple offices in the oil-rich emirate this month and created two SPVs — Serenity II Holdings and Nebula II Holdings — in Abu Dhabi Global Market, according to the business hub’s registry. (Bloomberg, 05.31.23)
  • French authorities have put up for sale a luxurious multi-million-euro chateau seized from the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky who died in 2013. It was confiscated by French authorities in 2015, two years after Berezovsky was found dead (MT/AFP, 06.02.23)


  • Ukraine reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a fresh disbursement of aid as part of a broader loan program to the war-battered nation.  The staff-level agreement paves the way for Ukraine to receive some $900 million next month. (Bloomberg, 05.31.23)
  • The EU agriculture commissioner says it is necessary to extend Ukraine grain-import restrictions until at least the end of October, despite fierce opposition from Kyiv. Ukraine called on the European Union to stop a ban on exports of its crops to several Eastern European neighbors, arguing that the restrictions are a boon for Russia. (Bloomberg, 06.02.23, AFP, 05.31.23)
  • Ukrainian lawmakers on May 29 approved a bill proposed by President Volodymyr Zelensky to impose sanctions on Iran for 50 years. (RFE/RL, 05.29.23)
  • In another move to distance their country from Russia, Ukrainian lawmakers on May 29 approved a bill proposed by President Volodymyr Zelensky to set May 8 as the Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism in World War II, instead of the Soviet-inherited celebrations of Victory Day on May 9. (RFE/RL, 05.29.23)
  • Russia has issued 1.5 million passports in occupied Ukrainian territories, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on May 30. (MT/AFP, 05.30.23)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 29 signed into law a bill legalizing elections planned for later this year on Ukrainian territories that Moscow took over during its ongoing invasion. (RFE/RL, 05.29.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Belarus and Russia have no plans to adopt a joint currency in the near future, Belarus's strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko announced on May 29. (AP, 05.29.23)
    • Kazakh President Kasym-Zhomart Tokaev has called a proposal by Lukashenko for Kazakhstan to join the so-called Russia-Belarus Union State a "joke" that has no resonance in the Central Asian country. (RFE/RL, 05.29.23)
  • Poland has imposed sanctions on a further 365 Belarusian citizens over the imprisonment of Andrzej Poczobut, journalist of Polish origin in Belarus, the Interior Ministry said on May 29, amid rising tensions between Warsaw and Minsk. (Reuters, 05.29.23)
  • EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the start of the European Political Community summit on June 1 in Moldova that Chisinau has a clear journey to joining the European Union and "must work toward reforms to fulfill the path to integration." NATO will monitor the skies over Moldova as more than 40 European leaders attend the summit. (RFE/RL, 06.01.23, Reuters, 06.01.23)
  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says "in its war with Ukraine, we are not Russia's ally." (RFE/RL, 06.02.23)
  • Lawmakers in Kazakhstan are poised to scrap an article in the Criminal Code that envisions prosecution for insulting former President Nursultan Nazarbayev. (RFE/RL, 06.01.23)

Quotable and notable

  • “In December 2019, I had harsh words for NATO, underlining at the time the divisions that existed at its heart between Turkey and several other powers by speaking of brain death,” Emmanuel Macron said in a speech at the GLOBSEC summit in Bratislava on May 31.  “I could say today that Vladimir Putin has revived it with the worst of electroshocks.” (Bloomberg, 05.31.23)
  • “We don’t want a third world war. And even if we don’t have that, we don’t want a new cold war,” Celso Amorim, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da adviser told the Financial Times. “All concerns of countries in the region should be taken into account, if you want peace. The only other alternative is total military victory against Russia. Do you know what comes after? I don’t.” “We cannot judge the situation by the last 1.5 years. This is a situation of decades. [Russia has] concerns that have to be taken into account. That is not the fault of Ukraine. Ukraine is a victim, a victim of the remnants of the cold war.” (FT, 06.02/.23)

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