JWG via DTN 15 January 2023 JT and Rae have been reading the tar baby saga and are trying hard…
Russia September 2022- December 2023
The imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny resurfaces with darkly humorous comments
“I am your new Santa Claus,” Navalny said in a tweet, referring to his location above the Arctic Circle in the prison in the town of Kharp.
Alexei Navalny discovered in remote Arctic penal colony
Jailed Russian opposition leader ‘doing well’, according to aides, nearly three weeks after going missing
Russia designates author Boris Akunin ‘terrorist and extremist’
The popular novelist has criticised Russia’s war on Ukraine and previously called Vladimir Putin a ‘deranged dictator’
Putin, Netanyahu Talk Amid Rising Tensions Over Israel-Hamas War
Israel’s leader assails ‘dangerous’ Russia-Iran cooperation
Call comes after US vetoes UN resolution demanding cease-fire
(Bloomberg) Relations between Russia and Israel have come under strain since Hamas attacked southern Israeli communities from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and abducting 240. Israel has said Iran bears some responsibility because it has trained and funded Hamas militants.
In Russia, the shift in public opinion is unmistakable
By Mikhail Zygar, a Russian writer living in exile, is the author of “All the Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin” and “War and Punishment: Putin, Zelensky, and the Path to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.”
(WaPo) Twenty months ago, after Vladimir Putin had launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many high-ranking Russians believed that the end was near. The economy faced disaster, as they saw it, and the Putin regime was on the brink of collapse.
Today, the mood has changed dramatically. Business leaders, officials and ordinary people tell me that the economy has stabilized, defying the Western sanctions that were once expected to have a devastating effect. Putin’s regime, they say, looks more stable than at any other time in the past two years.
… It is the war in the Middle East, however, that has convinced Russian business leaders that Putin is winning. In their view, public opinion in the West is shifting away from Ukraine. Putin, meanwhile, will strengthen his standing in the eyes of the Global South. His claims that the United States is to blame for the crisis in Gaza resonate with millions of people around the world.
In Russia, more Kremlin critics are being imprisoned as intolerance of dissent grows
(AP) Russia under President Vladimir Putin has been closing in on those who challenge the Kremlin. Protesters and activists have been arrested or imprisoned, independent news outlets have been silenced, and various groups have been added to registers of “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations.”
The crackdown has been going on for years.
But it increased within days of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, when Russia adopted a law criminalizing the spreading of “false information” about the military, effectively outlawing any public expression about the war that deviated from the official narrative. Scores of people have been prosecuted under the new law, and those implicated in high-profile cases have been given long prison terms.
For Putin foe Alexey Navalny, Ukraine has long been a volatile issue
Russian opposition activist Alexey Navalny, whose mother is Russian and whose father was born in Ukraine, has a complicated relationship with Ukraine.
(WaPo) The following article is adapted from The Dissident: Alexey Navalny, Profile of a Political Prisoner, to be released by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, on Oct. 31:
He is the imprisoned opposition leader who more than any other Russian political figure has challenged Vladimir Putin’s rule. He has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said that Moscow must withdraw its troops and pay reparations. He is half-Ukrainian.
Any yet Alexey Navalny is widely distrusted, if not despised, in Ukraine.
For Navalny, like millions of other Russians with Ukrainian roots, Putin’s war has been a blood-soaked tragedy. It has also put him in political quandary — compelled to change and clarify earlier statements that appeared to deny Ukrainian nationhood as he espoused the idea that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are all one people, and that Crimea, annexed by Putin, was an integral part of Russia wrongfully given to Ukraine by a Soviet leader.
Questions about Russia’s clout in ex-USSR grow after Karabakh crisis
Some Armenians blame Russia for crisis
Say Russian peacekeepers should have stopped Azerbaijan
Moscow blames Armenian PM, defends behaviour
Questions about Moscow’s clout in region grow
(Reuters) – Russian foreign policy hawks savoured chaotic scenes at Kabul airport when U.S. forces quit Afghanistan two years ago. Images of fleeing Armenians at Russia’s own peacekeeping base at an airport in Nagorno-Karabakh have been harder for them to watch.
Just as Washington’s retreat prompted some Americans to fret over U.S. power and emboldened its foes, the apparent impotence of Russian peacekeepers stationed in Karabakh to prevent Turkish-backed Azerbaijani forces from sweeping in to seize the area by force is awkward for Moscow.
Notorious Russian general, master spy duo organise in Africa after Prigozhin’s demise
(France24) In recent weeks, Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and General Andrei Averyanov from the GRU military intelligence agency have made several trips to Africa. The two are increasingly seen as the main organisers of the post-Prigozhin era of Russian relationships with Africa following the Wagner Group chief’s demise in a fiery plane crash at the end of August.
After Prigozhin’s Death, a High-Stakes Scramble for His Empire
(NYT) A shadowy fight is playing out on three continents for control of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s sprawling interests as head of the Wagner mercenary group. The biggest prize: his lucrative operations in Africa.
Interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials in Washington, Europe, Africa and Russia — as well as four Russians who worked for Mr. Prigozhin — portray a tug of war over his assets among major players in Russia’s power structure, including two different intelligence agencies. Many of those interviewed spoke on condition of anonymity, to discuss sensitive diplomatic and intelligence issues.
Wagner chief Prigozhin is buried in secret as Kremlin seeks to avoid unrest
Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin was buried in an unusually secret ceremony in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, with his press service announcing that the event was closed to outsiders, after a series of hearses and funeral corteges laid false trails at several local cemeteries and other locations tracked throughout the day by local journalists.
What will replace Russia’s Wagner mercenary army?
The powerful private military company is already being torn apart by Russia’s military, intelligence services, and state-run corporations financed by Kremlin allies or oligarchs.
(Al Jazeera) …observers tell Al Jazeera that Wagner’s battle-tested fighters are too valuable to just be disbanded and let go. What and who is left of Wagner is already being torn apart by Russia’s military, intelligence services, state-run corporations and private military companies (PMCs) financed by Kremlin allies or oligarchs – and even Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko may get his share.
Who was Dmitry Utkin, a key Wagner mercenary who died alongside Prigozhin?
Russia confirms Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death in plane crash
Russia will struggle to salvage the Wagner empire
Charismatic leader is gone but Wagner will survive in Africa, analysts say
Russia says genetic tests confirm Prigozhin died in plane crash
(Reuters) – Russian investigators said on Sunday that genetic tests had confirmed that Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of the Wagner mercenary group, was among the 10 people killed in a plane crash last week. … “According to their results, the identities of all 10 dead were established. They correspond to the list stated in the flight sheet,” it said.
There had been some speculation, especially on pro-Wagner Telegram channels, about whether Prigozhin – who was known to take various security precautions in anticipation of a possible attempt on his life – had really been on the doomed flight.
Old video sparks wild theories on fate of Russia’s Prigozhin
(Reuters) – A 40-second clip of an old interview in which Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said he would rather be killed than lie to his country, and talked about a plane disintegrating in the sky, unleashed a flood of online theorizing on Sunday about his presumed death.
Before Prigozhin plane crash, Russia was preparing for life after Wagner
(WaPo) With Wagner boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin and two of the group’s other key leaders presumed dead, a power vacuum has opened, leaving the Kremlin, internal Wagner factions and outside paramilitary forces to jockey for control of a lucrative but opaque global empire.
Prigozhin styled himself as the group’s irreplaceable leader, at the center of an intricate web of mercenaries, mining companies, political consultants and disinformation operatives. He also built ties with African governments, allowing Wagner to serve Moscow’s interests across the continent, often at gunpoint.
“There are some competent people who would love to go in and graft his budgets, but there is no figure similar to Prigozhin, one that has an enormous stream of money, or similar working efficiency and enthusiasm,” said Denis Korotkov, a veteran Russian journalist who has reported on Wagner for the last decade. …
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s mysterious plane crash, at least two paramilitary groups — both controlled by, or linked to, the Defense Ministry and Putin loyalists — had begun hiring people for operations in Africa, a sign that the Kremlin was planning to absorb Prigozhin’s security contracts in the region. …
Prigozhin spent his last days touring African countries, an apparent effort to prevent Russia’s top brass from co-opting that part of his business
“Prigozhin, of course, knew about these plans and allegedly tried to interfere with them, which was the purpose of his last business trip to Mali,” Yapparova said.
But his personal pitch to African leaders appears to have fallen short. In Mali and the Central African Republic, where Wagner is most prominent, officials have stressed continuity.
Nerve agents, poison and window falls. Over the years, Kremlin foes have been attacked or killed
(AP) — The attacks range from the exotic — poisoned by drinking polonium-laced tea or touching a deadly nerve agent — to the more mundane of getting shot at close range. Some take a fatal plunge from an open window.
Over the years, Kremlin political critics, turncoat spies and investigative journalists have been killed or assaulted in a variety of ways.
None, however, has been known to perish in an air accident. But on Wednesday, a private plane carrying a mercenary chief who staged a brief rebellion in Russia plummeted into a field from tens of thousands of feet after breaking apart.
Jet believed to be carrying Wagner boss Prigozhin crashes in Russia
A private plane carrying Wagner mercenary group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has crashed, taking the lives of all on board, Moscow officials said Wednesday night.
Russia removes Sergei Surovikin as head of aerospace [air force and air defence] forces
Informally, he had already been sidelined from that role since being detained after the mutiny.
Russia threatens to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions
Former President Dmitry Medvedev fires broadside at NATO and the West in lengthy opinion piece.
Moscow could annex Georgia’s Russian-backed breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia, warned Kremlin security council Deputy Chair Dmitry Medvedev.
The former Russian president and prime minister accused NATO of escalating tensions by discussing Georgia’s potential membership to the alliance, something Georgia has shown interest in.
“In Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the idea of joining Russia is still popular. And it may well be implemented, if there are good reasons for it,” Medvedev said in a scattergun opinion piece published Wednesday morning on Russian news site Argumenty i Fakty in which he attacked NATO and the West at length.
Georgia has repeatedly expressed interest in joining both NATO and the EU over the years. In 2008, a national referendum found that 77 percent of voters backed Georgia joining NATO, and following the poll, the transatlantic military alliance issued conclusions in which it said the country would ultimately become a member, but progress on its accession has since stalled.
Russia invaded Georgia too, and it never left
(GZERO media) Georgia marks the 15th anniversary of the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian war this month. In 2008, a conflict between Russian-backed separatist forces in Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia and Georgian troops sparked a Russian invasion of the South Caucasus country. To this day, 20% of Georgia remains occupied by pro-Russian forces.
The war was just one piece of the struggle in a long, complicated chain of events leading to the first full-scale, conventional war in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
…Tinatin Japaridze, a Eurasian political risk analyst at Eurasia Group and a native Georgian, discussed whether the war in Ukraine could have been prevented if the West had responded more effectively in 2008 to Russia’s unprovoked aggression against its southern neighbor.
Russia’s first lunar mission in 47 years smashes into the moon in failure
(Reuters) – Russia’s first moon mission in 47 years failed when its Luna-25 space craft spun out of control and crashed into the moon after a problem preparing for pre-landing orbit, underscoring the post-Soviet decline of a once mighty space programme.
Putin to discuss capital controls to help prop up rouble, report says
Proposals said to include forcing large exporters to convert up to 80% of their foreign currency into roubles
Russia’s central bank hikes interest rates by 3.5 percentage points as rouble falls
Emergency decision is intended to halt slide after currency dropped to weakest point in almost 17 months
Analysis: Interest rate hike just a sticking plaster for Russia’s war-fuelled economic woes
Larry Elliott,Economics editor
Further tough decisions will be needed while the Kremlin continues to spend large sums on its Ukraine invasion
Russia’s central bank to hold extraordinary meeting after rouble falls to 16-month low
(The Guardian) The currency has been steadily losing value since the beginning of the year and slid past the psychologically important level of 100 to the dollar on Monday morning.
Russia expected to hike interest rates to curb ruble’s slide
The central bank has called an emergency meeting for Tuesday as currency hits a 16-month low versus the dollar.
Russia’s central bankers are expected to hike interest rates at an emergency meeting on Tuesday to respond to an accelerated weakening of the ruble and a deteriorating economy, as the war against Ukraine and sanctions bite hard
(Politico Eu) The big paradox for policy experts in Moscow is that the currency is plummeting just as oil prices — Russia’s export lifeblood and budgetary mainstay — have risen. Prices for Russian Urals grade crude are rallying beyond an internationally agreed price cap of $60 per barrel, but the ruble spiked to more than 102 to the dollar on Tuesday. That’s almost half the value it fetched in June 2022, when it traded at 54 to the dollar. The central bank last raised its key interest rate to 8.5 percent from 7.5 percent on July 21, its first hike since September 2022.
Russia is further than ever from becoming a normal country
By Leigh Sarty:
There are sound historical reasons why Russia has been wary of the West, but under Putin’s direction, the country has become a shrill, paranoid, and destructive dictatorship.
(The Line) Russia’s war on Ukraine has exposed the ugly face of what some analysts (optimistically) call “late Putinism”: a tired dictatorship reduced to brutal excess abroad and deadening oppression at home. Against this backdrop, last week’s sentencing of political activist Alexei Navalny to an additional nineteen years in prison would appear simply to be par for the course. Yet I find myself stewing over this latest outrage. The Russophile within me moved to vent. How did it come to this? Why has a people whose leaders once spoke of becoming “a normal country” and joining the West succumbed to Vladimir Putin’s quasi-fascist pronouncements and anti-Western designs?
‘Stalinist’ sentence, as Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny jailed for 19 more years
(Euronews) Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses to refer to Alexei Navalny by name even, typically calling him “that gentleman”.
A Russian court convicted imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny of extremism charges and sentenced him to an additional 19 years in prison Friday.
Navalny is already serving a nine-year term on a variety of charges that he says were politically motivated.
The new charges against the politician relate to the activities of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation and statements by his top associates.
Amid the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed a wave of unprecedented repression on dissent, reminiscent of the Soviet era.
Almost all major opponents have now been thrown into prison or driven into exile. Thousands of ordinary citizens have also been prosecuted for denouncing the conflict, some receiving heavy sentences.
Second Russia-Africa Summit Lays Bare Russia’s Waning Influence
Trade volumes between Russia and African nations have fallen since the last event in 2019, while the war in Ukraine and Wagner’s activities on the continent have strained political ties.
(Carnegie) The heightened interest in this year’s Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg last week is not hard to explain. The fallout from the fighting in Ukraine has had serious consequences for Africa, the most obvious being the disruption to grain exports via the Black Sea (before the war, fifteen African states received more than half of their grain imports from either Ukraine and/or Russia).
Prigozhin hails Niger coup, touts Wagner services
Prigozhin voice message released on social media
Says Niger right to rid itself of ‘colonisers’
Boasts of his fighters’ ability to restore order
Photos purport to show him in St Petersburg
He appears to remain free, active despite failed mutiny
(Reuters) Prigozhin, 62, appears to continue to enjoy freedom of movement despite what the Kremlin said last month was a post-mutiny deal that would see him relocate to neighbouring Belarus where some of his men have already started training the army.
Obscure traders ship half Russia’s oil exports to India, China after sanctions
(Reuters) – A Liberian-flagged oil tanker set sail in May from Russia’s Ust-Luga port carrying crude on behalf of a little-known trading company based in Hong Kong. Before the ship had even reached its destination in India, the cargo changed hands.
The new owner of the 100,000 tonnes of Urals crude carried on the Leopard I was a similarly low-profile outfit, Guron Trading, also based in Hong Kong, according to two trading sources.
The number of little-known trading firms relied on by Moscow to export large volumes of crude exports to Asia has mushroomed in recent months, since sanctions over the Ukraine war led major oil firms and commodity houses to withdraw from business with producers in Russia, reporting by Reuters has found. At least 40 middlemen, including companies with no prior record of involvement in the business, handled Russian oil trading between March and June, according to a Reuters tally
What to make of the Wagner Group’s threats against Poland
(DW) At a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed mercenaries of the Wagner Group were planning a westward “excursion.” How serious are the risks to NATO member Poland?
At a July 23 meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg, Russia, the latter said that the Wagner Group fighters currently in Belarusian exile had increased the pressure to go westwards. He quoted the mercenaries as saying: “Let’s go on an excursion to Warsaw and Rzeszow.”
Putin had already addressed the “Polish issue” on July 21 when he addressed a meeting of the Russian security council. He presented his take on the situation, claiming that NATO member Poland had plans to seize territory in the western regions of Ukraine and thus intervene directly in the conflict there. He said that Poland had similar plans for Belarus.
Belarusian political expert Valery Karbalevich thinks that the two presidents talked mainly about what to do with the Wagner mercenaries on Belarusian territory and that the threats against Poland were part of an elaborate mise-en-scene. According to Karbalevich, Lukashenko was trying to make clear that the Wagner fighters had said that they wanted to enter Polish territory, but he had stopped them.
Prigozhin says Wagner mercenaries will no longer fight in Ukraine war and will head to Africa
Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was shown in a video welcoming his Wagner fighters to Belarus and telling them they would for now take no further part in the Ukraine war, Reuters reports.
In the video, the authenticity of which the Guardian or Reuters could not immediately verify, a man whose voice and Russian sounded like Prigozhin’s is heard welcoming his men. The video was reposted by his press service on Telegram.
Is Russia Losing Its Grip on Central Asia?
What China’s Growing Regional Ambitions Mean for Moscow
By Temur Umarov and Alexander Gabuev
(Foreign Affairs) In truth, Chinese and Russian power plays in Central Asia are complex and subtle. China’s clout is growing, but Beijing is nowhere near usurping Moscow as Central Asia’s true hegemon. Moreover, whatever rivalry exists is far outweighed by overlapping interests and avenues for cooperation. Russia may be transforming into the junior party in a deepening, asymmetrical partnership with China, but in Central Asia it is still the dominant power, and it is becoming more, not less, willing to coordinate with China.
If Beijing’s expanding influence in the region reveals anything, it is that Central Asian states, more than three decades after their independence from the Soviet Union, are beginning to emerge as regional political actors in their own right, rather than as the objects of clashing great-power interests and ambitions. All five countries in the region must navigate a rising China, a belligerent Russia, and a deepening schism between these two neighbors and the West.
VP of Russian bank Kristina Baikova, 28, falls to her death from window of Moscow apartment
The trend of senior executives and people critical of Putin dying in strange circumstances has been dubbed “Sudden Russian death Syndrome” with some two dozen officials and oligarchs reportedly dying in mysterious circumstances in 2022 alone.
Will Russia’s Break With the West Be Permanent?
Putin’s zeal for detaching Russia from Europe and the United States is mostly beyond the West’s control. Breaking with the West has become synonymous with his regime, a part of its political and ideological essence.
By Michael Kimmage and Maria Lipman
(Foreign Affairs) Although it is not the only driver of Russia’s dramatic break with Europe and the United States, the war has radically exacerbated this rupture. Russia’s internal transformation under Russian President Vladimir Putin long predates Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and its consequences will be felt long after the war is over. This transformation is Russia’s departure from the West—a shift even more all-encompassing than was the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. One half of this story is Russia’s separation from Europe and the United States and its loss of contact with people, governments, institutions, and companies in the West. The other half is the newly anti-Western tenor of Russian life, a trend that is both spontaneous and government mandated. The speed with which these changes have taken place is unprecedented in Russian history.
Attackers Hit Russian Border Towns; Anti-Putin Russians Say They Did It
(NYT) The local governor blamed a Ukrainian sabotage group, while Kyiv’s military intelligence agency said that “opposition-minded citizens of Russia” were responsible.
The governor of the Russian region of Belgorod said that a security operation was continuing on Tuesday, a day after anti-Kremlin Russian fighters allied with Ukraine appeared to have mounted a rare ground assault inside Russia.
Ethnic minorities in Russia are campaigning for the breakup of the country
Russia’s long persecuted ethnic minorities — Buryats, Chechens and Yakuts — have seized on the war in Ukraine to make a case for the independence of their own regions. They say the conflict has laid bare Russia’s violent and imperial mentality, not just in Eastern Europe, but within its own borders.
(The World) More than a year of war has changed Ukraine forever — but it is also reshaping Russia, with opinion starkly divided on what should happen to the country after the conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is hoping its borders will be expanded and his own grip on power will be strengthened. Many outside Russia are pushing for a future without Putin, in which Moscow will never again be in a position to invade its neighbors.
But some Russians themselves are calling for a restructuring of the country and a rethinking of Russian national identity — often at great personal risk.
About 70% of Russians are ethnically Slavic, but the country is also home to almost 200 other ethnic groups, like Buryats, who have historically been badly treated.
Georgian politicians from Russian-occupied Abkhazia run a ‘government-in-exile’
Many people living in Georgia who fled Abkhazia in 1993 now say they are dissatisfied with the politicians in charge of their needs.
Zhemal Gamakharia, chairman of Abkhazia’s Supreme Council, a regional-level parliament, said Abkhazia’s politicians who carry out their duties in exile in Tbilisi cannot hold new elections until Georgia regains control of Abkhazia. The politicians have been in power while living in exile for nearly 30 years.
Timothy Snyder: Putin’s legal troubles
A quick survey of recent and drastic problems
1. The creation of a group of more than thirty states preparing the way for a special tribunal for the crime of aggression. A working group will meet tomorrow, March 21st. Aggression is one of the core crimes to be tried by the International Criminal Court at the Hague, and is defined by “the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The crime so defined is committed by individuals rather than states, so it would seem to apply to Vladimir Putin and other high political and military officials of the Russian Federation.
2. The appearance, on 16 March, of the “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine” to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations. It documented “willful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape, and unlawful transfers of detainees from the areas that came under the control of Russian authorities in Ukraine.”
3. The issuance by the International Criminal Court, on 17 March, of an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes, the first charge being the abduction of children from Ukraine. This has been one of the ghastlier Russian practices, one to which I and others have been trying to draw attention for a year. The issuance of an arrest warrant by the ICC is the most politically consequential of recent events, since it defines Putin as a wanted suspected war criminal subject to arrest by any country that acknowledges the ICC (which is most of them).
‘Russia has lost its soft power’: how war in Ukraine destabilises old Soviet allies
Protests in Georgia last week were just the latest indication of how Putin’s disastrous invasion has damaged relations with former Eastern bloc nations
From Yerevan to Chișinău, and Tbilisi to Astana, the invasion of Ukraine has amplified fears of Russian aggression in some countries and forced others, considered allies, to at least reappraise Moscow’s role as a stable partner. And it has accelerated a trend among young people who were born after the Soviet Union era to take a more vocal stance against Russian influence in the region.
In 2020, Vladimir Putin negotiated a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan in a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The settlement gave Moscow a military presence through 2,000 peacekeepers and painted Putin as a deft negotiator.
Now, with Moscow’s attention focused firmly on Ukraine, tensions are rising again in the vacuum left behind, with Azerbaijan now appearing to be emboldened by Russia’s inactivity.
In Moldova, President Maia Sandu has warned that Russia has been planning a coup d’etat. …
In central Asia, which includes some of Moscow’s most committed partners, the war had also affected Russia’s image. … Russia has notably stepped up its diplomatic outreach to the region, with Putin visiting all five central Asian nations and holding more than 50 meetings (online and in person) with central Asian leaders in 2022.
The invasion has stalled, but Putin’s war on dissent marches on (paywall)
Russian society is almost as closed and repressive as it was in Soviet times
Moldova president accuses Russia of plotting to oust pro-EU government
Maia Sandu says plan revealed by Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been confirmed
Russians abandon wartime Russia in historic exodus
By Francesca Ebel and Mary Ilyushina
(WaPo) As Russian troops stormed into Ukraine last February, sending millions of Ukrainians fleeing for their lives, thousands of Russians also raced to pack their bags and leave home, fearing the Kremlin would shut the borders and impose martial law.
Some had long opposed rising authoritarianism, and the invasion was a last straw. Others were driven by economic interest, to preserve livelihoods or escape the bite of sanctions. Then, last autumn, a military mobilization spurred hundreds of thousands of men to run.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has set off a historic exodus of his own people. Initial data shows that at least 500,000, and perhaps nearly 1 million, have left in the year since the invasion began — a tidal wave on scale with emigration following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Now, as then, the departures stand to redefine the country for generations. And the flood may still be in its early stages. The war seems nowhere near finished. Any new conscription effort by the Kremlin will spark new departures, as will worsening economic conditions, which are expected as the conflict drags on.
The huge outflow has swelled existing Russian expatriate communities across the world, and created new ones.
With the government severely restricting dissent, and implementing punishment for criticism of the war, those remaining in the depleted political opposition also faced a choice this year: prison or exile. Most chose exile. Activists and journalists are now clustered in cities such as Berlin and the capitals of Lithuania, Latvia and Georgia.
“This exodus is a terrible blow for Russia,” said Tamara Eidelman, a Russian historian who moved to Portugal after the invasion. “The layer that could have changed something in the country has now been washed away.”
Owing to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and the West’s response, hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of assets are up for grabs in Russia. As ownership changes hands, the country’s shrinking wealth will become even more concentrated among the kleptocrats who have remained.
(Project Syndicate) Largely under reported, a radical redistribution of property is underway in the country. Just as the Kremlin’s war of aggression in Ukraine is increasing President Vladimir Putin’s control of society, it is severely damaging economic efficiency, with international sanctions hitting energy, banking, armaments, and other core industries with increasing force.
Ian Bremmer: Russia’s resilient economy won’t fall apart anytime soon
How badly has the Russian economy been affected from the war in Ukraine?
Well, I mean, badly in the sense that half of Russian military capabilities, uh, in terms of things like ammunition and ballistic missiles and, you know, even standing army that’s capable has been chewed up by a year of war. So Russia is gonna have to now rebuild that, and that does mean that their exports to other countries, they were the second largest defense export in the world, is gonna seriously take a hit. But near-term, less than 4% GDP contraction in 2022, which means that Russia’s position of having all of these critical resources that everyone else in the world still really needs gives them a lot of resilience in terms of their economy. They’re not gonna fall apart any time soon.
Alexey Navalny: ‘Russia’s prison system is just like the Soviet Gulag, only with a chapel in every zone’
(Meduza) Alexey Navalny, the imprisoned opposition politician serving a sentence in Russia’s Vladimir Region, writes that he is struck by the memoirs of Anatoly Marchenko, a Soviet-era dissident whose experience of the Gulag mirrors Navalny’s own life in the penal colony.
Navalny says Kremlin wants to break him in jail. His team fears worse.
(WaPo) Even from jail, Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, gets more done than most people. He has announced a new media platform with nearly 1.8 million YouTube subscribers, filed more than 10 lawsuits against Russian authorities, and is now the leading voice inside Russia against the war in Ukraine.
But he is gaunt and painfully thin. His health is declining, amid what supporters allege is harassment and sleep deprivation. He has been sent to harsh punishment cells 10 times for up to 15 days, and was even forced to take legal action to get winter boots.
Russia Freed Prisoners to Fight Its War. Here’s How Some Fared.
Tens of thousands of inmates have joined a mercenary group fighting with the Kremlin’s decimated forces in Ukraine. Some of them are returning to civilian life with military training and, in many cases, battlefield traumas.
(NYT) Dozens of survivors from the first inmate assault units began filtering back to Russia this month with medals, sizable payouts and documents that Wagner claims grant them freedom. The releases are likely to accelerate as Wagner’s six-month service contracts expire, potentially confronting Russian society with the challenge of reintegrating thousands of traumatized men with military training, a history of crime and few job prospects.
“These are psychologically broken people who are returning with a sense of righteousness, a belief that they have killed to defend the Motherland,” said Yana Gelmel, a Russian prisoner rights lawyer who works with enlisted inmates. “These can be very dangerous people.”
No Russian and no Russians: Ukraine invasion has supercharged Latvian nationalism
Back to the U.S.S.R.: Paule Robitaille writes that Soviet Union symbols used to be tolerated, now they’re reminders of Putin’s aggression
Symbols of the old Soviet Union used to be tolerated in Latvia, but these days they’re reminders of Putin’s aggression. Last August, Latvia toppled a towering Soviet-era obelisk commemorating the Red Army victory over Nazi Germany, the latest in a series of monuments that have been pulled down in Eastern Europe amid growing hostility toward Russia.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine revives two completely different perceptions of history. For many, it is a continuation of World War Two. For Russian speakers, the victory monuments are symbols of their parents and grandparents who liberated the country from the Nazis. For the ethnic Latvians, the Soviet liberation is the beginning of a terrible occupation,” says Boris Cilevics, ex-member of Parliament and leader of Russian community.
Back to the U.S.S.R.: Russophobia is at its peak in Georgia
Quebec journalist Paule Robitaille undertakes a journey through the former Soviet Union, where she lived from 1990 to 1996. As we approach next month’s first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she examines how Moscow’s aggression is changing the lives of these people and the fragile equilibrium within these countries.
There may be as many as 100,000 Russians in Georgia. For this tiny country of 3.5 million, it feels like an invasion. They occupy hotels and apartments alongside tens of thousands of Belarussians and Ukrainian refugees. It would be as if Canada took in a million newcomers all at once. [Russians flock to Georgia, again, as Putin escalates war -New waves of Russians have arrived in Georgia, desperate to avoid joining troops in Ukraine.]
While the world fears a global recession, the Georgian economy has taken off like a rocket, with growth reaching 10 per cent in 2022 — fueled by record inflows from Russia and spending by that army of hipsters. The lari, the national currency, is stronger than it’s been in years.
The flow of human capital is even more impressive.
The Georgian government walks on eggshells for fear of provoking the Russian bear. There will be no visa requirement imposed, no immigration quotas. Russians can for all intents and purposes stay here unconditionally. On the conflict in Ukraine, the prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, is deliberately vague, refusing both to condemn the invasion or to offer his support for President Zelenskyy.
This stands in stark contrast to surging popular support for Ukraine. Ukrainian flags are everywhere. “The fight of the Ukrainians is also our fight,” many tell me.
As Russia bombs Ukraine’s infrastructure, its own services crumble
(WaPo) While disasters now raise suspicions of sabotage linked to the war in Ukraine, poorly maintained infrastructure is a long-standing and persistent problem in Russia — the result of old Soviet-era systems in need of repair and costly maintenance, decades of endemic corruption, and the government’s prioritization of defense and security budgets, as well as the development of major cities over regional towns.
Russia and Central Asia: Never Closer, or Drifting Apart?
Moscow had every opportunity to make the Central Asian nations gravitate toward it of their own accord. Yet now Russian soft power in Central Asia is dissipating before our eyes.
(Carnegie) With every missile it fires at Ukrainian cities, the Kremlin is destroying Russia’s influence around the world, above all in the post-Soviet space.
None of the Central Asian nations have supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and all are adhering to Western sanctions against Russia.
The region is also distancing itself from Russian integration projects. In October, Kyrgyzstan canceled military exercises on its territory that were due to be held by the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and in December, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev postponed a visit to Bishkek, in doing so avoiding meeting Vladimir Putin there. The focus is increasingly now on non-Russian projects, such as the Organization of Turkic States. …
For Central Asia, adhering to sanctions isn’t about supporting the West or going against Russia; it’s an attempt to save their economies from collapse and isolation.
Russian official staggeringly admits ‘we have no socks, shorts, doctors, or intelligence’
(Daily Express) One of the Kremlin’s most prominent nationalist politicians said the Russian military does not have an adequate number of doctors or other adequate supplies in an extraordinary tirade against the state of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. During a meeting on Saturday with the mothers of soldiers mobilised for the war, Leonid Slutsky, leader of the populist Liberal Democratic Party and chairman of the foreign relations committee in the lower house of parliament, has been a staunch supporter of the invasion – but offered a surprising public admission of issues facing the Russian military.
He said at the meeting: “There are not enough doctors in the military units; everyone says this. I cannot say they do not exist at all, but they are practically not seen there.
“We must understand that the whole world is watching us. We are the largest state and when we do not have socks, shorts, doctors, intelligence, communications, or simply care for our children, questions arise that will be very difficult to answer.”
Western sanctions catch up with Russia’s wartime economy
By Catherine Belton and Robyn Dixon
(WaPo) For months, Putin claimed that the “economic blitzkrieg” against Russia had failed, but Western sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine are digging ever deeper into Russia’s economy, exacerbating equipment shortages for its army and hampering its ability to launch any new ground offensive or build new missiles, economists and Russian business executives said.
“All objective indicators show there is a very strong drop in economic activity,” said Vladimir Milov, a former Russian deputy energy minister who is now a leading opposition politician in exile. “The spiral is escalating, and there is no way out of this now.”
The Western ban on technology imports is affecting most sectors of the economy, while the Kremlin’s forced mobilization of more than 300,000 Russian conscripts to serve in Ukraine, combined with the departure of at least as many abroad fleeing the draft, has dealt a further blow, economists said. In addition, Putin’s own restrictions on gas supplies to Europe, followed by the unexplained explosion of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, has led to a sharp drop in gas production — down 20 percent in October compared with the previous year. Meanwhile, oil sales to Europe are plummeting ahead of the European Union embargo expected to be imposed Dec. 5.
Russia risks becoming ungovernable and descending into chaos
By Arkady Ostrovsky, Russia editor, The Economist
There is growing opposition to President Putin at home
After months of Ukraine’s fierce resistance, its statehood and its identity are stronger than ever, and all the things that Mr Putin had intended to inflict on Ukraine are afflicting his own country.
Mr Putin’s war is turning Russia into a failed state, with uncontrolled borders, private military formations, a fleeing population, moral decay and the possibility of civil conflict. And though confidence among Western leaders in Ukraine’s ability to withstand Mr Putin’s terror has gone up, there is growing concern about Russia’s own ability to survive the war. It could become ungovernable and descend into chaos. (paywall)
Russia’s Road to Economic Ruin
The Long-Term Costs of the Ukraine War Will Be Staggering
By Konstantin Sonin
(Foreign Affairs) … No matter the outcome, however, Russia will emerge from the war with its government exercising authority over the private sector to an extent that is unprecedented anywhere in the world aside from Cuba and North Korea. The Russian government will be omnipresent yet simultaneously not strong enough to protect businesses from mafia groups consisting of demobilized soldiers armed with weapons they acquired during the war. Particularly at first, they will target the most profitable enterprises, both at the national and local level.
For the Russian economy to grow, it will need not only major institutional reforms but also the kind of clean slate that Russia was left with in 1991.
The collapse of the Soviet state made institutions of that era irrelevant. A long and painful process of building new institutions, increasing state capacity, and reducing corruption followed—until Putin came to power and eventually dismantled market institutions and built his own system of patronage. The lesson is grim: even if Putin loses power and a successor ushers in significant reforms, it will take at least a decade for Russia to return to the levels of private-sector production and quality of life the country experienced just a year ago.
The Russian Empire Must Die
A better future requires Putin’s defeat—and the end to imperial aspirations.
By Anne Applebaum
(The Atlantic) Ideas move across time and space, sometimes in unexpected ways. The notion that a country should be different—differently ruled, differently organized—can come from old books, from foreign travel, or just from its citizens’ imaginations. At the height of the Russian empire, in the 19th century, under the rule of some of the most ponderous autocrats of their time, a plethora of reform movements flowered: social democrats, peasant reformers, advocates of constitutions and parliaments. Even some of the people born into the Russian imperial elite came to think differently from others in their social class.
…even the decades of fear and poverty that followed the Russian Revolution did not eliminate the belief that another kind of state was possible. New generations of thinkers kept emerging out of the Soviet gloom. Some of them would help start the modern human-rights movement. Others, like the founders and students of the Moscow School of Civic Education, would try to create an alternative Russia in the years following the Soviet Union’s collapse.
… Outside the country, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Russians are beginning to understand how closely the empire and the autocracy are linked. Some of the new exiles have given up on politics altogether, and many are just dodging the draft. But a large cohort oppose the war from abroad, through Russian-language websites that report on the war and try to get information to Russians in Russia. TV Rain, shut down by the government in March, is up and running again, online, based in Riga. Navalny’s team, the remnants of his large national organization, is making videos that have millions of viewers on YouTube, which can still be accessed in Russia.
… In at least one respect, all of these 21st-century exiles are unlike their 20th-century predecessors: They remain abroad, or in jail, because of a terrible war of imperial conquest. Many therefore oppose not just the regime, but the empire; for the first time, some argue that it is not just the regime that should change, but the definition of the nation. Kasparov is one of many who argue that only military defeat can bring political change. He now believes that democracy will be possible only “when Crimea is liberated and the Ukrainian flag is flying over Sevastopol.”
Head of Russia’s mobilization against Ukraine latest to die under ‘suspicious’ circumstances
Lt. Col. Roman Malyk was found dead on October 14 near a fence at his home in the Primorsky region of Russia
Suspicious deaths of high-profile Russians have been a reoccurring matter since the beginning of president Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine in February. From falling out of windows to being stabbed by a jealous wife, the official causes of the deaths of more than 11 executives remain a mystery.
Just days before, on Oct. 12, top gas industry executive-turned Putin loyalist Nikolay Petrunin allegedly died from COVID-19 complications after being in a coma for a month, the Daily Mail wrote, although the reports cannot be confirmed.
Moral Career: Why Are Russia’s Technocrats Silent on the War?
In the system of Russian state administration, excessive reflection and compunction are, if anything, a distraction from focusing on the result, and therefore a disadvantage. Efficiency and loyalty are the two main criteria for success.
(Carnegie Endowment) Ever since their country invaded Ukraine, there has been a deafening silence from the group of Western-educated technocrats who are in charge of running Russia’s economy. Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, Sberbank CEO German Gref, central bank head Elvira Nabiullina, and all the other apolitical technocrats refrain from public criticism, remaining a convenient asset for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
They are successfully steering the Russian economy through the current turmoil, all while studiously avoiding anything political. As a result of their efforts, the Russian financial system remains relatively stable despite mounting sanctions, while the country’s GDP is declining gradually instead of an initially expected collapse. It seems they can tackle the self-made crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even while ignoring its cause.
Do Russia’s conscripts deserve our sympathy?
Ukrainians and anti-war Russians have a common enemy
(The Spectator) As one looks at the photos and films of drunk bewildered ‘conscripts’ bussed off to the front, or the shots of their howling women, it’s clear that war – a war many of them didn’t seek – has come home to the Russians now, and few could quibble with that. One’s feeling may be of justice satisfied, but the compassion previously extended to the Ukrainians should surely be spread more widely now. For if anything has become blindingly obvious in the last few days it’s that, whatever the situation on the battlefield, the entire region’s fighting men, young and old, skilled and unskilled, Ukrainian and Russian – yes, them and their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters – now share one common enemy. How long it will take them to realise this fact is something that concerns all of us.
What Mobilization Means for Russia
The End of Putin’s Bargain With the People
By Michael Kimmage and Maria Lipman
(Foreign Affairs) Russia has had many setbacks in Ukraine, but it is not a defeated country. It has the wealth and the population and the industrial capacity to keep the war going—but only if it mobilizes. It bears emphasis that calling for mobilization is much simpler than carrying it out, something Russia has not done for decades. Even if the military can master the logistics—and the experience of the first days suggests that the likelihood of this is slim—mobilization will be only as good as the strategy behind it. Mobilization for the sake of a losing strategy will create more problems for Putin than it will solve. It could even undermine Putin’s ability to govern.
At the very least, mobilization will bring politics back to Russia. It will eat away at the public indifference that has long been crucial to Putinism. … Political pressure will come to the Kremlin not just from opponents of the war but also from those dismayed by the military’s startling incompetence and seeming lack of determination. The first group has almost no political power. The second, however, has the potential to coalesce into a challenge to Putin. In the past week, some of the most ardent supporters of Putin and the war have expressed concern that the mobilization campaign seems poorly planned. … To steer clear of that risk to Putin’s power and the threat of large-scale resistance, the Kremlin will have to repress the Russian population much more than it has previously done.
‘We are not afraid’: Russians flee to Mongolia to evade Ukraine mobilisation
(Reuters) – Thousands of Russians have fled into Mongolia across its northern frontier in a bid to evade conscription to Ukraine, putting further pressure on the government in Ulaanbaatar and its efforts to distance itself from the conflict.
Officials say 98,000 Russians enter Kazakhstan after call-up
(AP) — Kazakhstan and Georgia, both part of the former Soviet Union, appeared to be the most popular destinations for those crossing by car, bicycle or on foot.
Those with visas for Finland or Norway also have been coming in by land. Plane tickets abroad had sold out quickly despite steep prices.
Iran and Russia protests expose their authoritarian regimes’ frailty
No doubt Putin will continue to brutally quash dissent. But he cannot suppress the persistent evidence of discontent within Russia over the conduct of the war. What with Russia’s faltering economy and near total isolation in the international community — when China is said to have expressed “concern and questions” about the conflict, you know Russia is truly the odd one out — Putin is in a much weaker position than he was earlier this year. Now is the time to maintain support for Ukraine’s offensive.
Police clash with people opposed to mobilisation in Russia’s Dagestan
(Reuters) – Police clashed on Sunday with people opposed to the mobilisation in the southern Russian region of Dagestan, underscoring the level of discontent with President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send hundreds of thousands more men to fight in Ukraine.
Russia’s first military mobilisation since World War Two, announced by Putin on Wednesday, has triggered protests in dozens of cities across the country. Public anger has appeared to be particularly strong in poor ethnic minority regions like Dagestan, a Muslim-majority region located on the shores of the Caspian Sea in the mountainous north Caucasus.
Putin’s call-up fuels Russians’ anger, protests and violence
(AP) — Long lines of cars on roads snaking to Russia’s border crossings with Georgia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, and similar queues at airports.
Angry demonstrations — not just in Moscow and St. Petersburg — but in the remote far north province of Yakutia and in the southern region of Dagestan, with women chasing a police officer and shouting, “No to war!”
A gunman who opened fire in an enlistment office in a Siberian city and gravely wounded the military commandant, saying, “We will all go home now.”
Five days after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization to call up hundreds of thousands of reservists to fight in Ukraine, the move has triggered outraged protests, a fearful exodus and acts of violence across the vast country.
The nuclear threat might change the mood in Russia itself, stoking widespread fear
Putin’s propaganda glories in devastation but, like the Nazis, he is sowing the seeds of self-destruction
(The Guardian) … It’s now clear the “partial” mobilisation is not partial at all; people are being grabbed on the streets and packed off to war. On social media, the sentiment towards mobilisation is highly negative. In polling, even the most pro-Putin Russians are against it.
More than 2,000 people detained during protests in Russia, says human rights group
More than 2,000 people in total have been detained across Russia for protesting against President Vladimir Putin’s partial military mobilisation, including 798 people detained in 33 towns on Saturday, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info.
Reuters reports that frustrations even spread to pro-Kremlin media, with one editor at the state-run RT news channel saying problems such as call-up papers being sent to the wrong men were “infuriating people”.
When Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was asked on Saturday why so many Russians were leaving the country, he pointed to the right of freedom of movement.
Russian mobilization blasted for rounding up sick, disabled and elderly
Scuffles broke out Sunday in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, where screaming women struggled with police, trying to prevent them from dragging male protesters to police vans, in rare signs of dissent that underscored the dangers of regional unrest over the mobilization.
A way to get rid of us’: Crimean Tatars decry Russia’s mobilisation
Members of ethnic group, which has largely opposed Russian rule since 2014, say they are being disproportionately targeted
Kremlin stages votes in Ukraine, sees protests in Russia
(AP) — Russian forces launched new strikes on Ukrainian cities Saturday as Kremlin-orchestrated votes took place in four occupied regions to create a pretext for their annexation by Moscow.
In cities across Russia, police arrested hundreds of people who tried to protest a mobilization order aimed at beefing up the country’s troops in Ukraine. Other Russians reported for duty, while the foreign minister told the U.N. General Assembly his country had “no choice” but to take military action against its neighbor
Thousands of Russians head for Finland amid Putin’s Ukraine mobilization push
Number of Russians crossing into Finland heavy Friday ahead of plan to stop issuing tourist visas
(CBC) Traffic into Finland over its border with Russia was heavy on Friday. But the Finnish government, wary of becoming a major transit nation, plans to stop all Russians from entering on tourist visas within the coming days, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told a news conference in New York.
Exceptions may still apply on humanitarian grounds, but avoiding the military conscription was unlikely to constitute grounds for asylum, he said.
Kharkiv Retreat: What Will Military Losses Mean for Russia’s Domestic Politics?
More frequent military failures and defeats will exacerbate the split between the war’s supporters and increase the risks for Putin’s political leadership.
(Carnegie) More frequent military failures and defeats will exacerbate the split between the realms of “peace” and “war” and increase the risks for Putin’s political leadership. By trying to be the chosen one for both peace and war, he could end up as no one’s choice. For now, as long as the indignation and panic aren’t channeled personally against Putin, the Kremlin is unlikely to embark upon the destruction of the pro-war activists. But make no mistake: this panic will intoxicate the ruling elites and erode their faith in Putin’s capacity to control the situation.
Another Russian Businessman Dies Under Mysterious Circumstances
(OCCRP) Aviation Director for Russia’s Far East and Arctic Development Corporation (KRDV), Ivan Pechorin, died in what seemed to be a maritime accident, continuing a string of mystery deaths of Russian executives and affluent individuals.
This year, more than a dozen Russian business people died in bizarre ways.
It started with the alleged suicide of the head of transport of Gazprom Invest, Leonid Shulman, who was found dead in “a pool of his own blood” at his house in the village of Leninskoye on January 29, according to The Russian Crimes news outlet. A suicide note was allegeedly found next to his body.
Less than a month later, on February 24, Shulman’s colleague, General Director of the Unified Settlement Center (UCC) of Gazprom for Corporate Security, considered as the company’s treasury, Alexander Tyulyakov, was found dead, also with a suicide note, in the garage of his St. Petersburg residence.
Only a few days later, a Ukraine-born oligarch, Mikhail Watford, was found dead at his house in Surrey. The U.K. police treats his death as unexplained, according to The Guardian.
Police pursue local Russian lawmakers who urged charging Putin with treason
A group of district council members in St. Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin’s hometown, called for the Russian leader to be charged with treason and removed from office in a rare but brazen protest against the war in Ukraine.