Russia in Review, Sept. 22-29, 2023

4 Things to Know

  1.  More than four-fifths of the Armenian population of the self-recognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) have left their homes out of fear for their lives to seek refuge in Armenia after the Azerbaijani military violated the trilateral ceasefire agreement of November 2020 to attack and overwhelm the breakaway republic’s meagre defense forces. The latter were forced to lay down their arms in the absence of help from either the Republic of Armenia or the country’s one-time security guarantor, Russia. A total of 97,700 out of Karabakh’s 120,000-strong Armenian population had already arrived in the Republic of Armenia as of the evening of Sept. 29, heralding a likely end to more than two millennia of continuous habitation of this region by Armenians.
  2. In the past month, Russian forces have gained 31 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukraine gained 16, according to the Sept. 26 issue of the Russia-Ukraine War Report Card published by the Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force.  On Sept. 29  “heavy fighting” continued at Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, according to Ukraine’s DeepState OSINT Telegram channel. The Ukrainian military claimed last week that its forces had breached the main Russian defensive line near the village of Verbove, which is located near Robotyne, but searches of open sources produced no evidence of that purported breach significantly expanding this week.
  3. The head of Russia’s leading nuclear research center said Russia should consider resumption of atomic tests and called for revising Russia’s nuclear deterrence doctrine. Director of the Kurchatov Center Mikhail Kovalchuk—whose brother Yuri reportedly advised Putin to reinvade Ukraine—claimed that Americans “immediately” entered negotiations with the Soviets after the USSR tested a 50-megaton thermonuclear bomb in October 1961. “It’s enough to carry out tests on Novaya Zemlya ... at least once. And everything will fall into place,” the Kurchatov chief was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying on Sept. 28. Kovalchuk also said Russia’s nuclear deterrence policy should be aligned with geopolitical realities, which he said include the West’s increasingly aggressive attitude toward Russia.
  4. Russia’s use of Chinese currency for its imports has increased almost 21-fold, according to new study by the European Bank for Reconstruction and DevelopmentBy the end of 2022, 20% of Russia’s imports were invoiced in yuan—up from 3% a year previously, FT reported, citing the new study. Russia’s rising trade in yuan may end up undermining the U.S. dollar, according to the study, as cited by Bloomberg.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • The IAEA's annual General Conference on Sept. 28 adopted a resolution that calls for "the urgent withdrawal of all unauthorized military and other unauthorized personnel from Ukraine's ZNPP and for the plant to be immediately returned to the full control of the competent Ukrainian authorities." (DW, 09.28.23)
    • General Director of Rosatom Alexey Likhachev took part in the conference, according to the corporation’s website. During the conference, Likhachev “highly appreciated the activities of the IAEA under the leadership of Rafael Grossi, including the Agency’s efforts to prevent threats to the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant,” according to Rosatom’s website. (RM, 09.29.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • North Korea enshrined its policy of exponentially growing its nuclear forces into its constitution. (Bloomberg, 09.27.23)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he will visit Pyongyang in October. (Bloomberg, 09.23.23)
  • An unscheduled Russian military VIP plane touched down in Pyongyang this week. The tail number on the Ilyushin plane indicates it was the same aircraft Russia sent to North Korea in August, just days after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu traveled to Pyongyang. (Bloomberg, 09.28.23)
  • South Korea’s unification minister Kim Yung-ho said Seoul was “making efforts to persuade Beijing to . . . play a constructive role to rein in Pyongyang” and expected “some positive results.” But he admitted “the existing international sanctions are not working,” blaming China and Russia for keeping open a “back door” for North Korea. (FT, 09.29.23)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Iran's decision to bar some UN nuclear inspectors suggests it is not interested in being a responsible actor when it comes to its atomic program, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sept. 22. On Sept. 23, the head of IAEA condemned Tehran's move to bar multiple inspectors assigned to the country. (Reuters, 09.23.23)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • The number of births in Ukraine during the first six months of this year was 28% lower than the same period before the war—the sharpest fall since Ukraine gained independence in 1991. By 2022 Ukraine's fertility rate had dropped to about 1.2. At worst, Ukraine's population could slip under 30 million within the next two decades, from about 43 million on the eve of the war. (WSJ, 09.25.23)
  • Residents in Russia-annexed Crimea were turned away from a bomb shelter during an air raid alert the evening of Sept. 25, video shared on social media showed. (MT/AFP, 09.26.23)
  • Ukraine and Russia repeatedly clashed during hearings this week over whether the United Nations' highest court has jurisdiction to hear a complaint that Moscow abused the 1948 Genocide Convention to justify its invasion of Ukraine last year. Kyiv is asking the court to order Russia to halt its attacks, even though it is unlikely Moscow would comply. lawyers for Russia urged the court to drop the complaint. (NYT, 09.29.23)
  • The U.S. Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany has quietly started admitting Ukrainian Army soldiers who were wounded in combat, most of them American volunteers. Though the number so far is small—currently 14—it marks a notable new step in the United States’ deepening involvement in the conflict. (NYT, 09.23.23)
  • On Sept. 26 morning Russian drones targeted southern Ukraine, hitting port infrastructure, warehouses and dozens of trucks near the Black Sea. The most consequential attack appeared to have been on Izmail in the Danube River delta. Russia launched 38 drones overnight, 26 of which were intercepted, Ukraine’s Air Force said on the Telegram messaging app. (NYT, 09.26.23)
  • On Sept. 28, Russian troops launched a missile attack on the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv, damaging infrastructure. Meanwhile, Roman Starovoit, the governor of Russia's Kursk region that borders Ukraine, said on Sept. 29 that a Ukrainian drone attack on a power substation in the region's Belovsky district left five settlements without electricity. (RFE/RL, 09.29.23)
  • A missile that killed two people in a Polish village in November, raising fears of a dangerous spike in the Ukraine conflict, belonged to Kyiv's forces, Warsaw said on Sept. 28. Two workers at a grain drying facility died in the blast in Przewodow. (MT/AFP, 09.28.23)
  • Ukraine has stepped up its use of a new shipping route that has allowed it to begin reviving grain exports to circumvent a de facto Russian blockade of its Black Sea ports. Two ships successfully used the new route last week without incident, and three more cargo vessels have entered Ukrainian waters in recent days, according to officials. (NYT, 09.24.23)
  • Poland remains ready to help export grain from Ukraine to global markets outside of Europe despite an ongoing dispute over access to the Polish market, President Andrzej Duda said. Duda defended his government's decision to maintain a ban on the sale of Ukrainian grain in Poland. (RFE/RL, 09.24.23)
  • Russian sovereign assets frozen by the West “ought to” be used for Ukraine’s post-war recovery, Penny Pritzker, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special representative for the country’s rebuilding has said. (FT, 09.25.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • In the past month, Russian forces have gained 31 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukraine gained 16, according to the Sept. 26 issue of the Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. (Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, 09.26.23)
  • On Sept. 23, a Ukrainian air assault unit commander fighting in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region said that over the past week, the Ukrainian vehicles pushed through the "Surovikin line" near Verbove. Russia still has substantial defenses built south of the line, such as those surrounding Tokmak, about 25 miles southwest of Verbove. The commander also said that sending through the vehicles, including German Marders and American Strykers, has come at a high cost." (WP, 09.24.23)
  • On Sept. 25, the Ukrainian general staff said that Ukrainian forces moved forward near the village of Verbove in the southern Zaporizhzhia region. (Bloomberg, 09.25.23)
  • On Sept. 25, Ukraine’s air force said 20 out of the 33 missiles and drones targeting Odesa and other regions in the overnight strikes had been intercepted by air defense systems. (FT, 09.25.23)
  • On Sept. 25, Moscow accused Washington and London of helping Ukraine coordinate a missile strike on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in annexed Crimea last week. (MT/AFP, 09.27.23)
  • On Sept. 27, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces are making gains against Russian troops in the eastern region of Donetsk. (RFE/RL, 09.27.23)
  • On Sept. 27, In its latest Defense Intelligence Update, the U.K. government said that Russia has likely sent elements of its new Combined Arms Army into action since mid-September. However, according to the update, its troops are “apparently being deployed piecemeal to reinforce the over-stretched line” and “a concerted new Russian offensive is less likely over the coming weeks.” (Bloomberg, 09.27.23)
  • On Sept. 28 Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast and in western Zaporizhia Oblast, according to ISW’s latest assessment. (RM, 09.29.23)
  • On Sept. 28, Russia launched a large drone attack overnight targeting southern and central parts of the country. Ukraine’s Air Force said 34 of the 44 drones had been shot down. (NYT, 09.28.23)
  • On Sept. 28, Russian authorities said on Sept. 28 that an attempted incursion on the country’s southwestern border region of Belgorod with Ukraine had been thwarted. (MT/AFP, 09.28.23)
  • On Sept. 28, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Kyiv that Ukrainian forces were “gradually gaining ground.” (RFE/RL, 09.28.23)
  • On Sept. 29  “heavy foghting fighting” continued at Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast according to Ukraine’s DeepState OSINT Telegram channel. Also on Sept. 29 pro-war Russian telegram channels “Rybar” reported heavy fighting north and south of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region with Ukranian forces attacking Kliischiivka. Ukraine’s DeepState also confirmed fighting at this village on Sept. 29. (RM, 09.29.23)
  • On Sept. 29, Vladimir Putin appointed a former senior Wagner commander to lead Russian militia operations in Ukraine, a first indication of how the Kremlin seeks to repurpose the notorious paramilitary group a month after its founder died in a plane crash. The Russian president convened Andrei Troshev to a meeting, telling him that he would lead “volunteer units that can fulfill various combat tasks” in Ukraine and elsewhere, according to a transcript published by the Kremlin. During the war in Ukraine, Troshev did not take part in battles and was not involved in planning operations, his former colleagues at Wagner told Istories. (Istories, 09.29.23, FT, 09.29.23)
    • An Ukrainian serviceman told CNN that Wagner mercenary fighters had returned to the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. (MT/AFP, 09.27.23)
    • Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, a deputy defense minister who attended the late-night meeting with Putin in the Kremlin on Sept. 28, has made rare visits to several of Russia’s African client states in the wake of the coup and told leaders the military would replace Wagner. (FT, 09.29.23)
  • On Sept. 29 pro-war Russian telegram channels “Dva Mayora” and "Rybar” claimed a 50-strong raiding unit of the Ukrainian armed forces tried to enter Russia’s Bryansk region. The channel produced no evidence to back its claim. (RM, 09.29.23)
  • Russian air defense systems took out a Russian Su-35 multirole fighter jet around the occupied Ukrainian city of Tokmak, Russian and Ukrainian military bloggers as well as open-source intelligence accounts reported on Friday. (Newsweek, 09.29.23) 
  • On Sept. 29, Ukraine’s government opened a forum for international weapons manufacturers, encouraging them to see a business opportunity in reviving Ukraine’s domestic arms industry in ways that would diminish the country’s reliance on military aid. The forum is expected to draw representatives of 165 military contractors from 26 nations, according to Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister. (NYT, 09.29.23)
  • House Republicans moved to strip $300 million in Ukraine aid from their defense spending bill and set up a separate vote on the funds, according to the The Hill. The House Rules Committee convened a last-minute meeting on Sept. 27  to remove the funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative from the Department of Defense appropriations bill, according to this newspaper. On Sept. 28  House of Representatives voted 311-117 to pass a measure appropriating $300 million in Ukraine funds, WSJ reported. (RM, 09.29.23)
    • A looming U.S. government shutdown is likely to affect the training of Ukrainian pilots who are in the United States to learn to fly F-16 fighter jets, potentially causing delays, a Pentagon spokeswoman said on Sept. 28. (NYT, 09.29.23)
  • The first U.S.-made M1 Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine to help with its counteroffensive. The tanks carry ammunition made with depleted uranium. (WSJ, 09.26.23, NYT, 09.26.23)
  • The decision to send ATACMS to Ukraine was made before Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visited the U.S., but the Biden administration chose not to announce it publicly. One person said this was to avoid tipping off the Russians. (FT, 09.24.23)
  • "I think he (JSC Milley) carried the department on Ukraine," said Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, the general who was responsible at that time for U.S. forces in the Middle East. "If there was something close to an irreplaceable person, it'd be Mark Milley on Ukraine." (WP, 09.24.23)
  • Sébastien Lecornu, France’s defense minister, was in Kyiv on Sept. 28, where he visited a memorial to soldiers killed in the war. And officials said that Grant Shapps, Britain’s new defense secretary had met with Mr. Zelensky in Kyiv to discuss ongoing defense support and bolstering Ukraine’s air defenses. (NYT, 09.28.23)
  • Bulgaria's parliament approved on Sept. 27 a decision to provide missiles for S-300 air-defense systems to Ukraine. The missiles are defective and more than 30 years old, but Ukraine can use them for spare. (RFE/RL, 09.27.23)
  • India is planning to add more self-propelled long-range artillery to its arsenal after officials conducted a study indicating their effectiveness in shaping Russia’s war in Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 09.29.23)

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

  • In an effort to undermine Russia’s ability to deploy the drones, the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions on Sept. 27 targeting several companies and people in Iran, Hong Kong, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates for their roles in enabling Iran to acquire an electrical device used in the drones. The sanctions also prohibit U.S. citizens and companies from conducting any transactions with the designated parties. (NYT, 09.28.23)
  • The U.S. Department of Justice has stepped up its probe into Credit Suisse Group and UBS Group AG over suspected compliance failures that allowed Russian clients to evade sanctions, according to people familiar with the situation. (Bloomberg, 09.27.23)
  • The U.K. on Sept. 29 announced new sanctions against almost a dozen senior Russian officials and the country's election commission over "sham" elections held in occupied Ukrainian territory. London said it was targeting the 11 officials and electoral organization after they "all directly acted to undermine Ukraine and threaten its territorial integrity.” (MT/AFP, 09.29.23)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said pressure on the Kremlin’s “military-industrial complex” needs to be ramped up further and indicated his forces would continue to attack Russian targets.” (Bloomberg, 09.27.23)
  • Swedish prosecutors on Sept. 28 called for a Russian-Swede to be sentenced to up to five years in prison for allegedly passing Western technology to Russia's military. Sergei Skvortsov, who was arrested in November 2022, has lived in Sweden since the 1990s where he has run import-export companies. (MT/AFP, 09.28.23)
  • Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange company, said on Sept. 27 it will sell all of its Russian operations to a newly established company, CommEx. (RFE/RL, 09.27.23)
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Sept. 27 that it has banned 23 British nationals, including the chief of the Defense Staff, Admiral Tony Radakin, from entering Russia, saying they have been responsible for training Ukrainian armed forces or have coordinated activities to collect data to fight against Russia. (RFE/RL, 09.27.23)
  • The Russian Interior Ministry added the president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Piotr Hofmanski, to its wanted list for unspecified reasons on Sept. 25. (RFE/RL, 09.25.23)
  • Putin has signed a decree allowing for the sale of Italian banking group Intesa Sanpaolo’s Russian operations. (MT/AFP, 09.29.23)
  • Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev says his country will not help Russia circumvent Western sanctions imposed over the war in Ukraine amid suspicions that Moscow is still receiving goods via Central Asian nations. "Kazakhstan has unambiguously stated that it will follow the sanctions regime," Toqaev said on Sept. 28 following talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. (RFE/RL, 09.28.23)
  • European soccer’s governing body is facing angry criticism and open defiance from some of its member nations after a vote by its executive committee earlier this week partially lifted a blanket ban on Russian teams that was imposed after last year’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. (NYT, 09.29.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • “Of course, we recognized the sovereignty of Ukraine back in 1991, on the basis of the Declaration of Independence. One of the main points for us in the declaration was that Ukraine would be a non-bloc, non-alliance country; it would not join any military alliances. In that version, on those conditions, we support Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a press conference at UN. While at UN Lavrov also said Ukraine's proposed peace plan as well as the latest UN proposals to revive the Black Sea grain initiative were both "not realistic." (, 09.23.23, RFE/RL, 09.24.23)

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

  • Putin's invasion has been, William Burns says, a strategic blunder with Russia's "military weaknesses laid bare; its economy badly damaged for years to come; its future as a junior partner and economic colony of China being shaped by Putin's mistakes; its revanchist ambitions blunted by a NATO which has only grown bigger and stronger." Putin thought his window of opportunity regarding Ukraine was closing. (WP, 09.27.23)
    • We are, Burns says, in a "profound transformation of espionage tradecraft": "We recently used social media—our first video post to Telegram, in fact—to let brave Russians know how to contact us safely on the dark web. We had 2.5 million views in the first week." (WP, 09.27.23)
  • The increasingly stark divide within the Republican Party on Ukraine was apparent onstage on Sept. 27 at the second GOP presidential primary debate, as candidates sparred over whether to continue supporting the Eastern European country's efforts to defend itself against an ongoing Russian invasion. (WP, 09.28.23)
    • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed that he would end the war, though he did not specify how he would do so. "It's in our interest to end this war and that's what I will do as president," DeSantis said. "We are not going to have a blank check. We will not have U.S. troops and we're gonna make the Europeans do what they need to do."
    • Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley said the war has "never been a territorial dispute. "A win for Russia is a win for China. A win for Russia is a win for China,” she said.
    •  Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), laid out a case for continuing to support Ukraine. "Ninety percent of the resources that we send over to Ukraine is guaranteed as a loan," Scott said. "Our national vital interest is in degrading the Russian military. By degrading the Russian military, we actually keep our homeland safer … An attack on NATO territory would bring us and our troops [into the war]. By degrading the Russian military, we reduce, if not eliminate, an attack on NATO territory."
    • Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said they needed to "level with the American people" about the war in Ukraine." Just because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is … an evil dictator does not mean that Ukraine is good," he said. "China is the real enemy and we're driving Russia further into China's arms," he said, calling for a "reasonable peace plan" to end the war.
    • Former vice president Mike Pence said: “If you let Putin have Ukraine, that's a green light to China [to] take Taiwan! Peace comes through strength!"
    • When asked if the United States has focused too much on Ukraine and not enough on the threat from China, Russia and Iran forming closer ties, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie said: "They're all connected. The Chinese are paying for the Russian war in Ukraine. The Iranians are supplying more sophisticated weapons, and so are the North Koreans now as well, with the encouragement of the Chinese. … We need to say right now that the Chinese-Russian alliance is something we have to fight,” he said.
  • Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis said he opposes NATO membership for Ukraine, saying he doesn’t think it’s in the U.S.’s security interest. “I don’t think NATO membership is in our interest, to me,” DeSantis said on The Glenn Beck Program podcast. “All that would do was add more obligations to us, so if you’re adding more obligations, then what are the benefits that we’re getting in return?” DeSantis also reiterated in the episode that he doesn’t believe the U.S. should give a “blank check” to Ukraine unless it’s using leverage to bring the conflict to a conclusion. (Bloomberg, 09.23.23)
  • Western powers, through their support for Ukraine, are "de facto" fighting against Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sept. 23, as Kyiv claimed fresh advances on the ground. "You can call it anything you want, but they are fighting with us, they are straight-up fighting with us," Lavrov told journalists at the United Nations. "We call it a hybrid war, but that doesn't change things." (MT/AFP, 09.24.23)
  • “We will strengthen our defense readiness and develop the European defense technological and industrial base, including with more investments,” according to the draft of the declaration EU leaders will discuss in Granada, Spain, next week. (Bloomberg, 09.27.23)
  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taunted Russian President Vladimir Putin over the expansion of NATO since launching his invasion of Ukraine. "Too bad, Vladimir. You brought it on yourself," Clinton said on Sept. 26. (RFE/RL, 09.27.23)
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban renewed a demand for “respect” from Sweden before his country ratified the Nordic country’s bid to join the NATO military alliance. (Bloomberg, 09.25.23)
  • Jan Marsalek, the former chief operating officer of Wirecard who disappeared after the German payments company collapsed, was on Sept. 26 named as a connection to five Bulgarian nationals living in the U.K. who have been charged in London with suspected spying for Russia. The Five nationals appeared in a London court that day and were remanded in custody until their next hearing in mid-October. (RFE/RL, 09.26.23, FT, 09.26.23)


China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Russia is using Chinese currency for at least a fifth of its imports, a new study has found, illustrating both Moscow’s increasing reliance on Beijing and its efforts to evade Western sanctions. By the end of 2022, 20 percent of Russia’s imports were invoiced in yuan—up from 3 percent a year previously, according to a research paper published this morning by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. (FT, 09.25.23)
    • Russia’s rising trade in the yuan in the wake of the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions may end up undermining the U.S. dollar, according to EBRD. “You see that this increase in the usage of the Chinese currency is coming at the expense of the U.S. dollar,” EBRD Chief Economist Beata Javorcik said in an interview. (Bloomberg, 09.27.23)
  • Kommersant learned that restrictions on the export of drones to Russia—which were introduced by China from Sept. 1—led to the suspension of supplies of components and drones weighing more than 4 kilograms. Large Russian drone manufacturers have managed to create significant reserves and hope that their suppliers in China will be able to obtain licenses for exports to the Russian Federation, but registration may take up to a year. To do this, it is necessary to prove that the drone will not be used for military purposes. (Kommersant, 09.18,23)
  • Russia currently has 150,000 excess shipping containers that rail depots are struggling to manage, reflecting a surge in Chinese goods flowing into the country but much less moving out. (Bloomberg, 09.28.23)
  • The first-ever giant panda cub that was born at the Moscow Zoo last month is a female, the Moscow Zoo confirmed on Sept. 24. (Xinhua, 09.25.23)


  • U.S. Naval Forces Europe, in conjunction with the Danish Defense Forces, conducted advanced convoy protection drills using the state-of-the-art, modular SM-6 missile launcher this week in Bornholm, Denmark. (Naval News, 09.21.23)
    • This deployment would have violated the INF treaty if it had still been functioning, according to Russia’s Kommersant daily. Russian authorities, whom the U.S. had repeatedly accused of violating the INF by allegedly deploying 9М729 missiles, claimed earlier that they would not deploy missiles, which would violate the now-defunct treaty by having a range of between 500 and 5550 km, unless the U.S. did, according to Kommersant. (RM, 09.27.23)

Nuclear arms:

  • Head of Russia’s leading nuclear research center said Russia should consider resumption of nuclear tests, claiming that even one such a test could compel Washington to enter negotiations with Russia. Director of the Kurchatov Center Mikhail Kovalchuk -- whose brother Yuri is Putin’s long-time confidant who reportedly influenced the Russian leader’s decision to reinvade Ukraine – claimed that Americans “immediately” entered negotiations with Soviets after USSR tested a 50-megaton thermonuclear bomb in  October 1961.  It was in August 1963 that US, UK and USSR signed the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water.  “The situation is exactly the same now [as it was  in 1961]. It’s enough to carry out tests on Novaya Zemlya... at least once. And everything will fall into place,” the Kurchatov chief was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying on Sept. 28. Kovalchuk made his comments amid reports Russia has significantly increased construction at a the Arctic island of Novaya Zemply where it conducted nuclear tests in Soviet times. Mikhail Kovalchuk also said Russia’s nuclear deterrence policy should be aligned with the geopolitical realities, which he said include West’s increasingly aggressive attitude towards Russia. (RM, 09.29.23)
  • “To this day, the nuclear missile shield protects our country. And the very fact of its existence makes the dreams of some politicians in the West about the strategic defeat of Russia absolutely absurd,” said Sergei Naryshkin, director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, on Sept. 28. (RIA Novosti, 09.28.23)
  • The U.S. Department of Energy said it’s willing to prove its engineers aren’t breaking a three-decade moratorium against testing nuclear weapons, in a bid to encourage China and Russia to be more transparent and defuse military tensions. (Bloomberg, 09.28.23)


  • Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) said on Sept. 25 that a court in the central city of Satbayev had sentenced a local man to six years in prison earlier this month for joining the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. (RFE/RL, 09.25.23)

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova has urged Google, Microsoft, Meta, and TikTok to do more to tackle what she called Russia's "multimillion-euro weapon of mass manipulation" ahead of elections in Europe. (Reuters, 09.26.23)
  • A mass cyberattack on Russia’s air booking system Leonardo sparked flight delays among major carriers on Sept. 28. Russia's flagship airline Aeroflot said the denial-of-service attack resulted in delays of up to an hour for departures at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. Aeroflot’s subsidiary Rossiya Airlines reported similar delays at Sheremetyevo, according to Interfax. (MT/AFP, 09.28.23)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia has succeeded in avoiding G-7 sanctions on most of its oil exports, a shift in trade flows that will boost the Kremlin’s revenues as crude rises towards $100 a barrel. Almost three-quarters of all seaborne Russian crude flows traveled without Western insurance in August, a lever used to enforce the G-7’s $60-a-barrel oil price cap, according to an analysis of shipping and insurance records by FT. That is up from about 50 percent this spring, according to data from freight analytics company Kpler and insurance companies. The rise implies that Moscow is becoming more adept at circumventing the cap, allowing it to sell more of its oil at prices closer to international market rates. (FT, 09.25.23)
    • Russian oil is continuing to rise, defying an increasingly redundant price cap put in place by the Group of Seven and its allies. Russia’s flagship Urals grade is trading at $85.35 a barrel from the Baltic port of Primorsk and $86 from the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. (Bloomberg, 09.28.23)
  • Russia’s daily diesel exports plunged by 28% in the first 20 days of Sept., before the government banned overseas shipments of the fuel in a move to curb domestic prices. The nation’s oil companies exported an average of about 65,700 tons of diesel a day from Sept. 1 to 20 via seaports and railways, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. (Bloomberg, 09.25.23)
  • Saudi Arabia and Russia have raked in billions of dollars in extra oil revenue in recent months—despite pumping fewer barrels—after their production cuts sent crude prices soaring. Russian oil revenue is likely up by about $2.8 billion this quarter, according to calculations by consulting firm Energy Aspects. (WSJ, 09.29.23)
  • Bulgarian lawmakers on Sept. 28 approved a motion to gradually end imports of Russian crude, bringing the country in line with other European Union members. The move will force Lukoil PJSC’s local Neftohim refinery, the biggest in southeast Europe, to look for alternative feedstock. (Bloomberg, 09.28.23)
  • Sweden's security service is the lead agency inquiring into the Nord Stream pipeline explosions under public prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist, and the country made "extensive seizures" from the crime scene, it has said. "We hope to conclude the investigation shortly, but there is still a lot to do, and nothing will happen for the next four weeks," Ljungqvist told Reuters last week. He had earlier said the "main scenario" included a state actor's involvement, the report said. (WP, 09.25.23)

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • A bipartisan group of senators is introducing a resolution pressing Russia to release Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich. The resolution, led by Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who is stepping in as temporary chairman of the panel, calls on Moscow to "immediately release" Gershkovich. (WSJ, 09.29.23)
  • The FBI's former top spy hunter in New York, who last month pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate U.S. penalties and launder funds for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, whom he once investigated, pleaded guilty on Sept. 22 in a separate case charging him with hiding secret cash payments while overseeing highly sensitive cases. Charles F. McGonigal, 55, pleaded guilty to one count of concealing material facts, an offense punishable by up to five years in prison. (WP, 09.24.23)
  • Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut landed back on Earth on Sept. 27 after spending a year at the International Space Station (ISS), Russia's Roscosmos space agency said. "Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Francisco Rubio, who spent a year on board the ISS, landed near the city of Jezkazgan in Kazakhstan," Roscosmos said. It said the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft carrying them reached Earth at 11:17 GMT in a landing that took place in "normal mode." (MT/AFP, 09.27.23)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Some 62% of respondents to a September poll by the Levada Center believe that things in Russia are going in the right direction, which is the same as in August, while 26% said the country is moving in the wrong direction, slightly up from 24% in August. The public’s assessment of Vladimir Putin has not changed, with an 80% approval rating in both August and September. Putin was also named by 38% of respondents when asked an open-ended question to name several trusted political leaders in September, 6 percentage points less than in August. Some 14% named Prime Minister Mikahil Mishustin (18% in August), while Lavrov was trusted by 14% in September, compared to 13% in August. (RM, 09.28.23)
  • Putin urged the government to respond "more promptly" to rising fuel prices Sept. 27, as the cost of wholesale petrol continued to grow despite an export ban. (MT/AFP, 09.27.23)
  • A Russian court has rejected Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s appeal against a decision to imprison him on extremism charges for almost two decades. On Aug. 4, judges of the Moscow City Court convicted Navalny on extremism charges and sentenced him to 19 years in prison, ruling that his previously handed prison sentences will be served concurrently in Russia's harshest prison regime. (RFE/RL, 09.26.23)
    • Navalny says he was informed a day after a court rejected his appeal against a 19-year sentence that he will be transferred to the strictest possible prison cell for one year. (RFE/RL, 09.27.23)
  • Longtime Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza has arrived at a maximum-security prison in Siberia to serve a 25-year sentence for treason and criticism of the invasion of Ukraine and was immediately placed in a punishment cell, a lawyer said. (Current Time, 09.24.23)
  • Jailed Russian journalist Ivan Safronov has turned up in a Siberian hospital as he awaits transfer to a prison colony, his supporters said Sept. 26. (MT/AFP, 09.26.23)
  • Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov, during a visit to the region of Karachai-Cherkessia this month, agreed to revise a section of a new high-school history textbook that had provoked a stormy reaction across the North Caucasus. The widely criticized textbook minimizes Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's brutal deportations of many ethnic minorities. (RFE/RL, 09.29.23)
  • The Rosatom State Corporation has published public annual reports for 2022. As noted in the report, the State Corporation’s revenue from new businesses in 2022 was twice as high as the previous year at a record 697.5 billion rubles (in 2021 – 329.1 billion rubles). Revenue from foreign orders in the reporting year reached 11.8 billion SEPT. dollars, which is 31% more than in 2021. (Rosatom, 09.25.23)
    • “Rosatom fulfills its obligations under concluded contracts to foreign customers in full,” the Rosatom state corporation emphasized in connection with media reports that the Russian Federation stopped uranium supplies to the United States from the ports of St. Petersburg due to the lack of insurance coverage. (RIA Novosti, 09.28,23)
  • Former Russian Economy Minister Yevgeny Yasin, a leading ideologue of economic reforms during Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the late 1980s, died at the age of 89 in Moscow on Sept. 25. (RFE/RL, 09.25.23)

Defense and aerospace:

  • According to a Finance Ministry document published Sept. 28, defense spending is set to jump by over 68% year-on-year to almost 10.8 trillion rubles ($111.15 billion) in 2024."It is obvious that such an increase is necessary, absolutely necessary, because we are in a state of hybrid war, we are continuing the special military operation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. (MT/AFP, 09.28.23)
    • Russia is spending heavily to fight the war in Ukraine. In the first quarter of this year, spending jumped 35%, increasing by nearly two trillion rubles, or some $20.7 billion, compared with a year earlier, according to Oxford Economics. (WSJ, 09.29.23)
  • Russian industries providing goods for the military are expected to increase their output by almost a third in 2023, according to government forecasts seen by Bloomberg News that cover the next three years. The output for products such as computers, electronics and optics are projected to grow by 34% compared to the previous year. The spike in output of these goods has been dramatic, rising 40%-65% in some months, Federal Statistics Service data show. (Bloomberg, 09.27.23)
  • Putin decreed to conduct the autumn conscription of Russian citizens for military service from Oct. 1, 2023, to Dec. 31, 2023, according to NVO. (RM, 09.29.23)
    • The Russian military will not mobilize reserves as it gears up for an annual call-up of young men for compulsory military service, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Sept. 29. The fall military call-up will begin as scheduled ... and no conscripts will be sent to fight in Ukraine during their 12-month training period, he added. (MT/AFP, 09.29.23)
  • Also see section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian feminist and anti-war activist Anastasia Yemelyanova was found dead in Turkey, her colleagues said late Sept. 24. Yemelyanova’s fiancé was detained on charges of murder in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum. (MT/AFP, 09.25.23)
  • A jailed Russian oligarch is seeking almost $14 billion in damages in London’s High Court from defendants including U.S. private equity group TPG over an alleged Kremlin-led conspiracy to seize his assets. Lawyers for Ziyavudin Magomedov claimed in filings made public this week that TPG founder David Bonderman was part of a conspiracy to sell a stake in Fesco, which controls the Pacific port of Vladivostok, that Magomedov was entitled to. (FT, 09.25.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Russia hosted Taliban leaders for talks on regional security Sept. 29. "For our part, we will continue to develop multifaceted contacts with Afghanistan," Lavrov said in a written greeting to participants of the talks, held in the city of Kazan. (MT/AFP, 09.29.23)
  • Bujar Osmani, the chair of the OSCE, has vowed not to let the world’s largest security body “collapse” as vetoes by Russia in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine leave it in a state of paralysis. Osmani’s mandate expires in December and his replacement requires unanimous backing from OSCE members, including Russia. Moscow has blocked the only candidate, Estonia’s foreign minister Margus Tsahkna. (FT, 09.24.23)
  • Slovakia’s ex-prime minister Robert Fico, who wants to end his country’s support for Ukraine, is hoping to benefit from the political paralysis in Slovakia to stage a stunning return to power after the Sept. 30 snap election. A poll conducted by Ipsos for Dennik N, found that the Direction-Social Democracy party (SMER), led by Fico, received 20.6% of support, compared to 19.8% for Progressive Slovakia (PS), the liberal challenger. (FT, 09.29.23, Kyiv Independent, 09.28.23)
  • Bulgaria accused Russia of boosting euroskeptic sentiment aimed at blocking the country’s deeper integration in the European Union and adopting the bloc’s single currency. (Bloomberg, 09.29.23)
  • About 90 Russian men have been granted asylum in Germany in their bids to avoid military conscription back home, the Interior Ministry in Berlin said on Sept. 23. Some 3,500 men have applied for such status. (RFE/RL, 09.23.23)
  • Norwegian police on Sept. 22 detained a former fighter for Russia's private mercenary force, the Wagner group. Andrei Medvedev fled to Norway from Russia after fighting with Wagner in Ukraine. Just hours before his detention, Medvedev reportedly told a journalist he feared being extradited to Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 09.23.23)


  • Despite Russia's war in Ukraine and a nationwide state of martial law, some Western politicians are pushing the government in Kyiv to hold parliamentary and presidential elections. The proposal was pressed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), during a visit to Kyiv last month with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). (WP, 09.24.23)
  • The European Union faces a “very divisive” period if it pursues sweeping reforms to adapt to Ukraine and other new members joining the bloc in the future, according to Former European Commission president José Manuel Barroso. (FT, 09.24.23)
  • The White House has urged Ukraine to make a series of changes intended to prevent waste and shore-up anti-corruption efforts. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv confirmed that the United States had issued a list of “priority reforms.” A deputy national security adviser, Mike Pyle, sent the four-page list to the Multi-Donor Coordination Platform, a Brussels-based group coordinating aid. The list suggested future aid would be linked to implementing the changes and outlined a series of deadlines for targets to be met. (NYT, 09.26.23)
  • On Sept. 25 Ukraine’s new defense minister Rustem Umerov, announced a "complete reboot," including "significant personnel changes in the ministry." (WSJ, 09.27.23.)
  • The chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, has defended the country's "anti-oligarch" law but said that Kyiv has agreed to defer its implementation in keeping with the recommendations of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. The law essentially gives tycoons the choice of refraining from politics or selling their media assets and lists people who meet certain criteria, such as having significant economic or political weight, to be registered as oligarchs. (RFE/RL, 09.23.23)
  • Zelensky said on Sept. 23 that he held an impromptu meeting in Ireland's Shannon Airport with the head of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and that they discussed Russian-funded armed groups. (Reuters, 09.23.23)
  • Anthony Rota, the speaker of Canada’s House of Commons resigned Sept. 26 after he honored Yaroslav Hunka, a Ukrainian World War II veteran and former Nazi, during Zelensky’s visit to Parliament last week. After the address, Rota called Hunka a “hero.” The crowd stood in ovation—twice. Zelensky, who is Jewish and has relatives who were killed by the Nazis, pumped his fist. But Jewish groups condemned the honor, saying that Hunka had been a member of a Waffen-SS unit—the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division. (WP, 09.26.23, WP, 09.25.23)
    • A Polish government minister said this week he had "taken steps" toward the possible extradition of Hunka. (WP, 09.28.23)
    • The Kremlin said Sept. 27 that Hunka should be brought to justice. (MT/AFP, 09.27.23)
  • Pope Francis suggested on Sept. 23 that some countries were "playing games" with Ukraine by first providing weapons and then considering backing out of their commitments. (Reuters, 09.24.23)
    • Pope Francis' recent praise of the 18th-century Russian empire that subjugated Ukraine stirred outrage well beyond Ukraine itself. "Central Europeans—people from Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czech Republic—we are shocked," said Michal Klosowski, a Catholic journalist in Warsaw. (WSJ, 09.23.23)
  • The most scrutinized Biden-family deals have been the ones struck by Hunter Biden in Ukraine and in China. Hunter Biden received millions of dollars in exchange for access to what Hunter Biden and at least one of his business associates have referred to as the Biden "brand." The Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid him up to $1 million annually to be on its board from early 2014 to 2019, when it was under regulatory scrutiny. (WSJ, 09.29.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • An exodus of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh continued 10 days after a lightning military offensive that gave Azerbaijan complete control over its breakaway region. A total of 97,700 out of Karabakh’s 120,000-strong Armenian population had arrived in the Republic of Armenia as of the evening of Sept. 29. Armenian premier Pashinian has accused Azerbaijan of "ethnic cleansing" and warned that no Armenian will remain in the breakaway region in the following days. (RFE/RL, 09.29.23, WP, 09.29.23)
  • At least 18 Karabakh civillians, includign 6 children, were killed by Azerbaijani military oN Sept. 19-20 alone, according to Armenian officials. Another 68 Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians waiting for gasoline died as a result of a fuel depot explosion in Stepanakert on Sept. 25, while 290 were injured, according to the office of the Nagorno-Karabakh ombudsman. An additional 105 people were still missing Sept. 26. (WP, 09.26.23)
  • The leader of the self-declared Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh signed a decree Sept. 28 officially dissolving the breakaway state on Jan. 1.  (RM, WP, 09.28.23)
  • “The ethnic cleansing of Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh is underway, that’s happening just now,” Pashinian told the U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power and Acting Assistant Secretary of State Yuri Kim at talks Sept. 25. (Bloomberg, 09.26.23)
  • U.S. Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, who led a congressional delegation to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, called on Sept. 23 for international monitors to be sent to observe conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh. (RFE/RL, 09.23.23)
  • Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call that he’s ready to organize a visit to Nagorno-Karabakh by the U.N. representative in Baku. (Bloomberg, 09.27.23)
  • Azerbaijan's State Border Service said on Sept. 27 that it has detained billionaire Ruben Vardanian, a former Russian citizen of Armenian descent, who served as prime minister in the de facto government of Nagorno-Karabakh for less than four months. Ex-commander of Karabakh’s self defense forces David Manukyan was also seized by Azerbaijanis.  (RFE/RL, 09.27.23,, 09.29.23)
  • Armenia’s Security Council said Pashinian would conduct previously arranged talks with Aliyev in Grenada, Spain, on Oct. 5, with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and EU chief Charles Michel also participating. (RFE/RL, 09.24.23)
  • Pashinian said in a televised address to the nation that his country is no longer being protected by its regional allies and security blocs in its decades-long conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan. (Bloomberg, 09.24.23)
  • The Kremlin said Sept. 28 that a decision by Armenia to join the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Putin, would be "extremely hostile." (MT/AFP, 09.28.23)
  • Lavrov charged that Western powers were "pulling the strings" to undermine Russian influence in Armenia. (MT/AFP, 09.24.23)
  • Less than a decade after Moldova’s financial system almost collapsed following the theft of nearly $1 billion from major banks, the architect of that catastrophe, the Israeli-born Moldovan businessman Ilan Shor, had somehow seized an entire region of Moldova, Gagauzia. (NYT, 09.24.23)
  • Belarus said on Sept. 28 that a Polish helicopter violated its airspace, but Warsaw said none of its helicopters had crossed the border between the two countries. (RFE/RL, 09.28.23)
  • Yury Harauski, a former member of Belarusian authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s special security forces, was acquitted in Switzerland on Sept. 28 of involvement in the disappearances of prominent opposition figures more than two decades ago in Belarus. (RFE/RL, 09.28.23)
  • Switzerland's federal prosecutor has filed an indictment against Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's former president, accusing her of taking bribes and running an elaborate criminal organization known as "The Office." (Reuters, 09.28.23)


IV. Quotable and notable

  • NYT journalist Andrew Higgins: “The inescapable reality for Armenia [is that...] while it might want to reduce its reliance on an untrustworthy Russian ally that, preoccupied by the war in Ukraine, did nothing to prevent last week’s debacle, the West offers no plausible alternative.” (NYT, 09.29.23)
  • WP columnist David Ignatius: "Armenia's pivot West was probably badly timed. It alienated the Russians without bringing reliable Western help." (WP, 09.22.23)
  • “The dramatic photos of many frightened people at Stepanakert airport (in Karabakh) are an obvious visual rhyme with the photos of crowds at Kabul airport in 2021," Alexander Baunov, a former Russian diplomat, told Reuters. "Moscow concluded from the Kabul pictures that America was weak and that the historical chance to deal with Ukraine had come. Who will draw what conclusions from the Karabakh pictures?" (WP, 09.28.23)
  • "I've read Mao Tse Tung. I've read Karl Marx. I've read Lenin. That doesn't make me a communist," JSC Gen. Mark Milley said in 2021. "So what is wrong with" having "some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?" (WP, 09.24.23)


V. Useful charts


chart Source:







% change in Aug-Sep

Share of those who named Putin when asked by Levada to name several politicians that they trust most







The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2:00pm Eastern Time on Sept. 29, 2023.

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

Slider photo shared by Angel X. via Wikimedia Commons, under a CC BY 4.0 license.