Russia in Review, Dec. 17, 2021-Jan. 7, 2022

This Week’s Highlights

  • During their 50-minute phone conversation Dec. 30, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a “serious and substantive” exchange to set the groundwork for three sets of upcoming talks in early January, a senior Biden administration official said, RFE/RL reports. U.S. and Russian officials will hold security talks in Geneva on Jan. 10 that will focus on nuclear arms control and Ukraine. Russia and NATO are to hold separate talks on Jan. 12, while Russia and the OSCE will meet on Jan. 13, according to a U.S. spokesperson. Following the Dec. 30 phone conversation between Biden and Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia will move to “eliminate unacceptable threats” if the United States and NATO do not respond to the Kremlin’s security demands, Al Jazeera reports. 
  • The world's five leading nuclear powers—all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—have issued a pledge to prevent nuclear war and avoid a nuclear arms race, adding that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," RFE/RL reports.
  • Vladislav Klyushin's cybersecurity work and Kremlin ties could make this Russian national who is now in U.S. custody a useful source of information for U.S. officials, according to several people familiar with Russian intelligence matters, Bloomberg reports. Most critically, these people said, if he chooses to cooperate, he could provide Americans with their closest view yet of 2016 election manipulation.
  • Strategic command-and-staff exercises headlined Grom (Thunder) with the participation of all three components of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces will take place in early 2022, TASS reports.
  • Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said early on Jan. 7 that order had "basically" been restored in the country which was gripped by protests over the weekend, triggered by rising fuel prices. Tokayev also on Jan. 7 ridiculed calls from abroad for negotiations as "nonsense” and blamed "so-called free media" and unnamed foreign figures for instigating the violence. Tokayev gave "special thanks" to Vladimir Putin after the CSTO sent troops to Kazakhstan to help quell the unrest. The Kazakh interior ministry said 26 "armed criminals" had been killed in the unrest.  It said 18 security officers had been killed and more than 740 wounded, and more than 3,800 people detained.
  • The Biden administration is studying whether and how the United States could support an anti-Russian insurgency inside Ukraine if Putin invades Ukraine, The Washington Post reports. Additionally, the Pentagon is working on a plan to provide Ukraine with battlefield intelligence that could help the country more quickly respond to a possible Russian invasion, senior administration officials said, according to The New York Times. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke on Jan. 6 with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu and discussed "risk reduction near Ukraine’s borders," the Pentagon said in a brief statement, RFE/RL reports.
  • On Dec. 28 the Russian Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial International, a venerable rights group that was set up to try and catalog the breadth of Stalin-era repressions, RFE/RL reports. The Moscow City Court then ordered the closure of the Memorial Human Rights Center on Dec. 29. The ruling on was based on the finding that the organization had violated the country’s draconian "foreign agent" law. Memorial has vowed to find legal ways to continue its work, according to the Financial Times.

Most of the items in this issue’s individual sections are aligned by location and in chronological order due to the length of the period covered.


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

Nuclear security:

  • The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration has released the NNSA’s Plan to Reduce Global Nuclear Threats (NPCR) FY 2022-2026, which says: “Although DOE/NNSA and the U.S. Government worked with Russia for many years on cooperative threat reduction programs to secure nuclear weapons, materials, facilities and expertise, there remains a concern about Russia’s sustainment of those nuclear security efforts.” (Russia Matters, 12.21.21)
  • The United States announced that "there is now enough worldwide supply of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) made without using highly enriched uranium (HEU) to meet the needs of patients in the United States." According to the DoE statement, this certification will trigger the ban on export of U.S. HEU for medical isotope production. (IPFM Blog, 12.20.21)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Moscow believes there is a good chance of reinstating the JCPOA, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Dec. 22.  (TASS, 12.22.21)
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Russia on Jan. 19 after receiving an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin, an Iranian government spokesman said Dec. 28. Putin has invited Raisi to Moscow "in the framework of strategic interaction between Iran and Russia," Ali Bahadori Jahromi said. The visit would address "bilateral, regional and national cooperation" and in particular "economic and commercial" cooperation, Bahadori Jahromi said. (RFE/RL, 12.29.21)
  • French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has expressed optimism over an eventual return to a hobbled nuclear deal with Iran but warned that "time is running out" on those international negotiations. "I remain convinced we can reach a deal. Bits of progress have been made in the last few days," Le Drian said Jan. 7. The U.S. said this week that a round of talks begun on Jan. 3 had seen "modest progress." (RFE/RL, 01.07.22)

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

  • On Dec. 20, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia demands immediate talks with the U.S. on security guarantees from NATO while Putin’s chief arms control negotiator Konstantin Gavrilov warned of a “military response” if the alliance continues to step on Moscow’s “sore spots.” (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.20.21)
  • On Dec. 20., U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told his Russian counterpart that Washington is ready to engage in diplomacy over Russia's buildup of troops near Ukraine, but that any dialogue must take place in coordination with its allies and partners in Europe. (RFE/RL, 12.21.21)
  • On Dec. 21 Putin said he hoped for constructive talks with Washington and Brussels on Moscow's security concerns, which include opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine. "Armed conflicts and bloodshed are absolutely not something we would choose. We do not want such a scenario," Putin said. He said Russia's proposals were no ultimatum, but added it had nowhere to retreat over Ukraine, which Moscow considers part of its sphere of influence. In a meeting with Defense Ministry officials, Putin took a much sharper tone, warning that if the West continued its "obviously aggressive stance," Russia would take "appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures." (RFE/RL, 12.21.21)
  • "We are very clear that Russia should not invade the sovereignty of Ukraine, that we must stand up—and we are standing up—for its territorial integrity," U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said Dec. 21. "We are working with our allies in that regard, and we've been very clear that we are prepared to issue sanctions like you've not seen before." (CBC, 12.21.21)
  • Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Dec. 21 that over 120 American private military contractors were helping Ukrainian special forces and “radical armed groups” in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian media. Speaking to a meeting of military top brass and Putin, Shoigu added that the contractors were reportedly preparing “provocations” with the use of unidentified chemicals. The Pentagon flatly rejected the claim that American military contractors are smuggling chemicals into eastern Ukraine to incite a “provocation,” as did Ukraine. (Russia Matters, 12.22.21, Politico, 12.21.21)
  • Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Dec. 22: “Do we have missiles, ships, cannons, armies? At the moment we don’t and at the moment NATO has different strategic priorities.” Draghi said economic sanctions would be the only possible “deterrence” but Europe is not in a position to give up Russian gas supplies. “It would not be the right moment,” he said. (Financial Times, 12.22.21)
  • On Dec. 22 Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said his government has neither discussed nor taken any decision on an eventual deployment of NATO troops in the Black Sea country as a response to Russia's troop buildup near the border with Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.22.21)
  • On Dec. 23 Putin demanded that the West provide Russia with security guarantees “immediately.” “You should give us guarantees. You! And without any delay! Now!” he said, responding to a question by a reporter from British broadcaster Sky News during his annual press conference. “The U.S. is placing rockets at our doorstep ... How would the U.S. react if we delivered rockets near their borders with Canada or Mexico?” he said. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.23.21, RFE/RL, 12.23.21)
  • On Dec. 26 Putin warned that Moscow would have to take adequate measures if the West continues its “aggressive” course “on the threshold of our home.” Asked to specify what Moscow's response could be, he said in comments aired by Russian state TV on Dec. 26 that “it could be diverse,” adding: “It will depend on what proposals our military experts submit to me.” (RFE/RL, 12.26.21)
  • On Dec. 27 U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, for fiscal year 2022, which authorizes $770 billion in defense spending. The NDAA includes $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides support to Ukraine's armed forces, $4 billion for the European Defense Initiative and $150 million for Baltic security cooperation. (Reuters, 12.27.21)
  • In his Dec. 27 comments Lavrov said Russia wants to include military officials in any talks with NATO. (RFE/RL, 12.27.21)
  • A spokesperson for the White House's National Security Council said on Dec. 27 that U.S. and Russian officials will hold security talks on Jan. 10 amid mounting tensions over Ukraine. The bilateral talks will focus on nuclear arms control and Ukraine. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov confirmed the date of the talks, saying they will be held in Geneva. Russia and NATO are to hold separate talks on Jan. 12, while Russia and the OSCE, which includes the U.S. and its European allies, will meet on Jan. 13, the U.S. spokesperson said. (RFE/RL, 12.28.21)
  • Putin told Biden on Dec. 30 that he is "convinced" that "effective dialogue" between Moscow and Washington is possible, hours ahead of telephone talks on Dec. 30. "I am convinced that ... we can move forward and establish an effective Russian-American dialogue based on mutual respect and consideration of each other's national interests," Putin said, according to a Kremlin statement carrying his holiday messages to world leaders. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.30.21)
  • During the Dec. 30 50-minute phone conversation between Biden and Putin:
    • Biden urged Putin to de-escalate simmering tensions in a phone call aimed at intensifying diplomacy amid a buildup of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine and the Kremlin’s demands for sweeping security guarantees. (RFE/RL, 12.31.21)
    • Biden said Dec. 31 that he warned Putin there would be "a heavy price to pay" if Russia invades Ukraine again. Biden said he "made it clear" that any further military action by the Kremlin would result in "severe sanctions" but did not go as far as to say that Washington would respond to Russia's continued military presence near the border with Ukraine. "I'm not going to negotiate here in public," Biden said. "But we made it clear he cannot, I'll emphasize, cannot invade Ukraine." (The Washington Post, 12.31.21)
    • Biden reiterated that any invasion of Ukraine would be met with crushing economic sanctions from the U.S. and its partners as well as a greater NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe. Biden "made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine," press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. Putin told Biden in response that the introduction of “massive” sanctions against Russia by the U.S. in the event of an escalation in Ukraine could threaten “a complete breakdown of Russian-American relations,” the Kremlin’s account of the conversation said. Putin told Biden that any sanctions would be a “colossal mistake” that would lead to a “total severance of relations” between Russia and the U.S., Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said. (RFE/RL, 12.31.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.31.21)
    • The two leaders held a “serious and substantive” exchange to set the groundwork for three sets of upcoming talks in January, a senior Biden administration official said. “Biden very much saw this call as setting the conditions for … pragmatic, results-oriented diplomacy” at the upcoming meetings, the official said. “Both leaders acknowledged that there were likely to be areas where we could make meaningful progress as well as areas where agreements may be impossible, and that the upcoming talks would determine more precisely the contours of each of those categories,” the official said. (RFE/RL, 12.31.21)
      • U.S. and Russian officials will meet Jan. 9-10 in Geneva to discuss arms control and mounting tensions over Ukraine under their bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue. Russia's delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, and the U.S. delegation by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Then a separate meeting of the Russia-NATO Council will be held in Brussels on Jan. 12, followed a day later by a meeting in Vienna within the framework of the OSCE, which includes the U.S., its European allies, Ukraine and Russia. Deputy foreign and defense ministers will be representing Russia at the security guarantee talks with NATO, while the Russian representative to the OSCE will be doing so at the relevant talks with the OSCE, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko will represent the Foreign Ministry at the NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels on Jan. 12. (Interfax, 12.31.21, TASS, 01.04.22, RFE/RL, 12.31.21)
    • In a readout after the call, the Kremlin stressed that Biden told Putin that U.S. offensive weapons would not be deployed in Ukraine. The White House, however, said Biden merely reaffirmed existing policy. "President Biden made clear that the U.S. is continuing to provide defensive security assistance to Ukraine and is not introducing offensive strike weapons. This was not a new commitment," a U.S. official told AFP. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.31.21)
    • During the conversation, Putin repeatedly accused the U.S. and NATO nations of placing offensive weapons near Russia’s borders, imperiling the country’s security. It is a charge that Russian officials have made repeatedly in recent times, at first puzzling American officials. At first it appeared they might be referring to Javelin anti-tank weapons and other small munitions the U.S. has provided to Ukraine to deter an attack. But over time, it has become increasingly clear that the Russians are referring to nuclear and non-nuclear “global strike” weapons, including intermediate-range nuclear missiles that were prohibited by a treaty that Moscow violated for several years, and Trump abandoned. Some U.S. officials say that Putin’s concern may provide some basis for new negotiations with Russia—especially because there are no current plans to deploy a new generation of such weapons on European soil. (The New York Times, 12.30.21)
    • Ushakov said that during the Dec. 30 talk Biden reiterated the Regan/Gorbachev formula that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” which he and Putin reaffirmed during their June 2021 summit. (Russia Matters, 12.30.21)
    • Ushakov said Russia was satisfied with the phone conversation and the prospects for further diplomacy early next year, which he said centered on security guarantees that Moscow wants from the West. (RFE/RL, 12.31.21)
    • Ushakov said Biden had observed more than once during the call that “it’s impossible to win” a nuclear war—something Biden has often said in public. (The New York Times, 12.30.21)
    • Ushakov said that “for now, it’s not clear” if the two sides were moving toward a compromise but said Russia had no specific deadline for talks. (The New York Times, 12.30.21)
  • Lavrov said on Dec. 31 that Russia will move to “eliminate unacceptable threats” if the U.S. and NATO do not respond to the Kremlin’s security demands.  (Al Jazeera, 12.31.21)
  • Brussels wants to avoid being left out of talks between the U.S. and Russia over security on the continent, Josep Borrell, head of the EU’s foreign and security arm, said. The EU’s top diplomat has warned Russia and the U.S. against creating “spheres of influence” in Europe ahead of talks between the two countries next week regarding proposals from Moscow that would reshape the continent’s defense and security architecture. “We are no longer in Yalta times,” Borrel said Jan. 5 in Ukraine. “Spheres of influence for two big powers do not belong . . . in 2022.” Meanwhile, German chancellor Olaf Scholz’s new foreign policy adviser Jens Plötner and his French counterpart Emmanuel Bonne are traveling this week to Moscow for talks with senior Russian officials. (Financial Times, 01.05.22, RFE/RL, 01.03.22, Financial Times, 01.04.22)
  • Finland’s president Sauli Niinisto and prime minister Sanna Marin used their new year addresses to underscore that Finland retained the option of seeking NATO membership at any time. “Let it be stated once again: Finland’s room to maneuver and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and of applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide,” Niinisto said. (Financial Times, 01.02.22)
  • The leader of Sweden’s main opposition party urged the Scandinavian country to emulate neighbor Finland and stress it has the right to join the NATO military alliance in the face of pressure from Russia. Ulf Kristersson, head of the center-right Moderates, said Sweden’s political parties should show a common front against Russian warnings that Stockholm and Helsinki should not seek NATO membership. (Financial Times, 01.04.22)
  • “My hope is that we will see a de-escalation in the security situation in and around Ukraine and that the discussions will lead to outcomes that reassure all parties about the peace and security in Europe and the inviolability of sovereign borders,” John Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Russia, said. (The Wall Street Journal, 01.05.22)
  • The 30 members of NATO are united against Russian military action in Ukraine, the United States' mission to the alliance said Jan. 7 after a videoconference of alliance foreign ministers. "Ahead of the forthcoming NATO-Russia Council, they underlined the need for diplomacy, dialogue and de-escalation,” the mission said on Twitter. (RFE/RL, 01.07.22)
  • The European Commission chief and the EU's new French leadership have stressed the need for European involvement as Russia and the West continue to square off diplomatically over the possible threat of escalated conflict in Ukraine. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Jan. 7 that "one thing is clear: no solution without Europe. Whatever the solution, Europe has to be involved." Speaking alongside von der Leyen, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed direct U.S.-Russian talks slated for next week but stressed that "European security architecture" is "up to us to build." (RFE/RL, 01.07.22)
  • A British warship hit a Russian hunter-killer submarine with the ship’s sonar equipment while on patrol in the North Atlantic, the U.K. Defense Ministry has revealed. The Royal Navy’s HMS Northumberland was tracking the Russian submarine in late 2020 when the Type 23 frigate’s towed array sonar—a long cable with hydrophones that trails underwater behind a ship—collided with the submarine. (RFE/RL, 01.07.22)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • China and Russia are boosting cooperation in space exploration, in the energy segment and in the trade sphere, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in the New Year greetings to Putin. (TASS, 12.31.21)
  • Both China and Russia are able to ensure global order and withstand pressure from individual countries seeking hegemony and dominance worldwide, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Dec. 30. (TASS, 12.30.21)
  • Russia and China effectively interacted in the outgoing year despite the pandemic, Putin said in his greetings to Xi on the occasion of the New Year and the upcoming Spring Festival. "Despite the pandemic-related challenges, Russia and China’s interaction was exceedingly productive. A dynamic political dialogue continued at all levels, trade was up at an all-time high and cross years of Scientific, Technological and Innovative Cooperation led to good practical results," the message reads. (TASS, 12.30.21)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • The world's five leading nuclear powers—all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—have issued a pledge to stop the spread of atomic weapons and to do all they can to ensure a nuclear war never occurs. In a rare joint statement issued on Jan. 3, just ahead of the review of a key nuclear treaty this year, France, the U.S., Russia, China and the U.K. said they were determined to prevent nuclear war and avoid a nuclear arms race, adding that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." (RFE/RL, 01.03.22)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russia, Turkey and Iran, as the guarantor countries of the Astana-format settlement process for Syria, have condemned Israel's attacks in Syria in a joint statement they adopted following a round of negotiations in Nur-Sultan. (Interfax, 12.22.21)
  • The next talks on Syria in the Astana format are going to take place in the Kazakh capital in the first half of 2022, taking into consideration the epidemiological situation, according to the joint statement released by Iran, Russia and Turkey following the outcome of the 17th International Meeting on Syria in this format. (TASS, 12.22.21)
  • Russian warplanes have bombed a pumping station that provides water to rebel-controlled Idlib in northwestern Syria, potentially depriving hundreds of thousands of people in the overcrowded city of water, according to witnesses and a monitoring group. Russian Sukhoi jets dropped bombs in Idlib and several surrounding villages on Jan. 2, witnesses and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said. (RFE/RL, 01.03.22)

Cyber security:

  • The U.S. and Britain have quietly dispatched cyberwarfare experts to Ukraine in hopes of better preparing the country to confront what they think may be the next move by Putin: Not an invasion, but cyberattacks that take down the electric grid, the banking system and other critical components of Ukraine’s economy and government. Russia’s goal, according to American intelligence assessments, would be to make Zelenskiy look inept and defenseless—and perhaps provide an excuse for an invasion. (The New York Times, 12.20.21)
  • Pyotr Levashov lost his extradition fight, and a few months after arriving in the U.S. in February 2018, Levashov pleaded guilty and began cooperating with the FBI in an attempt to receive a lighter sentence. And he made good money doing so: about $6,000 in monthly living expenses from the U.S. government. (RFE/RL, 12.23.21)
  • Vladislav Klyushin's cybersecurity work and Kremlin ties could make this Russian national who is now in U.S. custody a useful source of information for U.S. officials, according to people familiar with Russian intelligence matters. Most critically, these people said, if he chooses to cooperate, he could provide Americans with their closest view yet of 2016 election manipulation. Following a Russia-U.S. presidential summit in June, the two sides were negotiating to swap two former U.S. Marines imprisoned in Russia, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, for two Russians held in the U.S., including notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout. But after Switzerland declined to hand Klyushin back to Russia, the Kremlin demanded that his name be added to the swap. That derailed the potential exchange, which remains blocked. (Bloomberg, 01.03.22)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • The U.S. Senate is to vote in January on a bill to slap sanctions on Nord Stream 2 under an agreement reached on Dec. 18 between Sen. Ted Cruz and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. (RFE/RL, 12.19.21)
  • German Economic Affairs Minister Robert Habeck said in an interview published on Dec. 18 that Nord Stream 2 could face "severe consequences" in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine. He added that "nothing can be excluded" if "there is a new violation of the territorial integrity" of Ukraine. Habeck also said that "from the geopolitical point of view, the pipeline was a mistake." (RFE/RL, 12.18.21)
  • "In the event of further escalation, this gas pipeline could not come into service," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said of NS2 pipeline. (RFE/RL, 12.19.21)
  • The operator of Nord Stream 2 said it has filled the new pipeline with natural gas and is ready to begin deliverirfes. "As of Dec. 29, the gas-in procedure for the second string of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been completed," operating company Nord Stream 2 AG said in a statement. (RFE/RL, 12.30.21)
  • Germany's energy ministry on Dec. 27 poured cold water on accusations of Russia withholding deliveries. "Long-term supply contracts, including the Russian ones, are being adhered to and the long-term quantities of gas are arriving in Germany," the ministry told AFP.  (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.27.21)
  • Brussels wants to recognize nuclear power and forms of natural gas as “green” activity as part of a landmark EU classification scheme to help financial markets decide what counts as sustainable investment. (Financial Times, 01.02.22)
  • OPEC and its allies agreed on Jan. 4 to boost oil output for the seventh consecutive month in a sign the cartel views the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant as unlikely to substantially dent demand. The OPEC+ group, which has included Russia since 2016, said it would increase production by another 400,000 barrels a day in February, continuing with the monthly plan agreed in July to gradually replace output cut at the start of the pandemic. (Financial Times, 01.04.22)
  • Allowing Rosneft, now Russia’s second-largest gas producer, to access Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany looks a logical way to make the project compliant with European energy laws mandating that no company has a monopoly on use of a pipeline. Germany is yet to certify the project. (Financial Times, 01.06.22)
  • Russia has doubled the imports of natural gas from Turkmenistan in 2021. (RFE/RL, 12.24.21)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • The U.S. Trade Representative's office says that Russia is continuing to move away from commitments it made a decade ago to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). In its annual report to Congress on Moscow's WTO compliance, the USTR on Dec. 21 criticized Russia's agricultural import restrictions and import-substitution policies. (RFE/RL, 12.22.21)

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • The U.S. grew "arrogant and self-confident" after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev said in an interview published on the eve of the 30th anniversary of his resignation as president of the USSR. (RFE/RL, 12.25.21)
  • The U.S. could hamstring Russia’s smartphone and automobile imports if Moscow invades Ukraine. The “unprecedented” U.S. export control measures are expected to be discussed at a White House meeting Dec. 21. Washington will also reportedly closely coordinate its steps with key European and Asian partners that could be affected and encourage coordinated steps where appropriate. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.22.21)
  • Russia has slapped tech giants Google and Meta with record penalties totaling over $125 million for repeated failure to remove banned content, state media reported Dec. 25. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.25.21)
    • “At the very minimum, we shouldn’t expect any political thaws, or a let-up on the opposition [in 2022],” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik, a political consultancy.  “We’ll see a further tightening of the laws, there’ll be more foreign agents, undesirable organizations and political prosecutions.” According to Stanovaya, one obvious target is foreign IT giants, whose position in the Russian market has come under pressure in the last year. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.02.22)
  • The Russian government has extended a decree to allow a domestic pharmaceutical company to produce a generic version of remdesivir in November 2020 without consent from U.S. company Gilead Sciences. (RFE/RL, 12.31.21)
  • Russia’s state media watchdog will require Netflix to offer state television channels to its Russian customers after it added the U.S.-based streaming service to its register of “audio-visual services” on Dec. 28. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.29.21)
  • A controversial new law requiring foreigners in Russia to undergo health checks every three months, including for sexually transmitted diseases, has gone into effect. As of Dec. 29, nearly all foreigners in the country must pass medical exams for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, tuberculosis and COVID-19, among other diseases. (RFE/RL, 12.29.21)
  • Despite increasing tensions with Russia, the Biden administration supports extending the operations of the International Space Station (ISS) through 2030, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Dec. 31. (RFE/RL, 01.02.22)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia recorded its highest monthly death toll from COVID-19 in November, the state statistics agency Rosstat reported on Dec. 30. The number of deaths during the month was 87,527, breaking a record set in October and bringing the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 to nearly 626,000. According to Rosstat, 71,187 of the 87,527 deaths were caused directly by confirmed COVID-19. (RFE/RL, 12.31.21)
  • Russia on Jan. 7 confirmed 16,735 COVID-19 infections and 787 deaths compared to 15,316 COVID-19 infections and 802 deaths on Jan. 6. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.07.22)
  • During his annual end-of-year press conference on Dec. 23, Putin said he expected real incomes—which are around 10% lower than they were in 2013—to rise by 3.5% this year. But he listed growing inflation and the country’s demographic situation as major challenges facing the economy. Inflation is currently at a six-year high of 8.4% and he said Russian business figures complain to him every day about the high interest rates introduced by the Central Bank to tame price crisis. However, he defended the Central Bank’s policy and its independence. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.23.21)
  • During his annual end-of-year press conference Putin repeated his long-standing disdain of Western “liberal” values and defended so-called “traditional values” in response to a question from the state-run RT broadcaster on cancel culture and the controversy surrounding "Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s comments on transgender people. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.23.21)
  • During his annual end-of-year press conference Putin urged Western governments to “turn a page” on jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s poisoning. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.23.21)
  • Dmitry Muratov, the editor in chief of Russia’s Novaya gazeta, who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has denounced the Russian government’s so-called “foreign agents” law as “a filthy stigma that the authorities try to hang on all of their opponents.” (RFE/RL, 12.23.21)
  • Russia has blocked the website of a prominent human rights monitor tracking political persecution, the OVD-Inf group said Dec. 25. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.25.21)
  • On Dec. 28 the Russian Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial International, a venerable rights group that was set up just prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union to try and catalog the breadth of Stalin-era repressions. During that hearing, one prosecutor accused Memorial of creating "a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state and [denigrating] the memory of World War II." Memorial officials have denied the accusation. The Moscow City Court ordered the closure of the Memorial Human Rights Center on Dec. 29. The ruling was based on the finding that the organization had violated the country’s draconian "foreign agent" law. (RFE/RL, 12.29.21, RFE/RL, 12.29.21)
    • Memorial has vowed to find legal ways to continue its work after it was forcibly dissolved by the courts this week, as concerns grew about the fate of its vast collection of artifacts and archival materials documenting Soviet-era atrocities. (Financial Times, 12.29.21)
  • An investigative reporter for the BBC's Russian-language service in Moscow says he has left Russia for London after noticing that he had been placed under "rather unprecedented surveillance" by the authorities. Andrei Zakharov made the announcement in a video released Dec. 27. Zakharov had been designated a "foreign agent" by Russian authorities in October. (RFE/RL, 12.27.21)
  • At least five former coordinators of Navalny’s network have been detained nationwide on charges of organizing an extremist group, media reported Dec. 28. The raids and arrests in the cities of Tomsk and Irkutsk come one month after a court in central Russia jailed another ex-Navalny coordinator who faces up to 10 years in jail if retroactively convicted for creating an “extremist” group. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.29.21)
  • Russia’s dollar-denominated stock index rose about 15% in 2021 as high oil prices outweighed growing political risk. The RTS Index rallied as much as 38% in 2021, touching a 10-year high of 1,900 in October, lifted by oil prices, which gained by more than half this year as global economies reopened. (RFE/RL, 12.31.21)
  • Russia’s businesses had a record-breaking 2021, yet frustration among owners remains high, optimism for the future is in short supply and fears of Kremlin intervention are growing. Corporate revenues have risen by at least a third during 2021, and turnovers at large and medium sized businesses are set to hit their highest levels ever this year. At the same time, for the third consecutive year 87% of CEOs say doing business in Russia is difficult, according to a recent survey of corporate leaders by consultants PwC. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.06.22) 
  • TVEL has launched a new fabrication facility for pressurized water reactor (PWR) fuel at the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant site in Russia. The facility will enable Rosatom's fuel division to supply modified versions of its TVS-K nuclear fuel to PWR plants around the world, the company said. (World Nuclear News, 12.29.21)
  • After 45 years of power generation, the first reactor at Russia's Kursk nuclear power plant was permanently shut down on Dec. 19. Plant owner and operator Rosenergoatom celebrated its achievements and looked forward to new units under construction to replace it. (World Nuclear News, 12.21.21)
  • Only 11 of Russia’s 83 administrative regions are fully connected to the gas pipeline network; about a third of settlements are not connected. In the vast Siberian federal district, with 17 million residents, just 17% of settlements have access to piped gas. (Financial Times, 01.03.22)
  • Russian markets have come under unexpected pressure, with investors increasingly concerned about a possible invasion of Ukraine and the sudden unleashing of unrest in neighboring Kazakhstan. The ruble weakened to a more-than eight-month low against the dollar this week, with $1 buying 77 rubles, before recovering somewhat Jan. 7. The extra yield compared with Treasurys on a Russian government U.S. dollar bond due in 2023 has doubled since November, from around half a percentage point to a full percentage point. The MOEX, Russia's benchmark stock index, lost 8% last quarter and has retreated further this week. (The Wall Street Journal, 01.07.22)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and two Japanese space tourists have returned to Earth after spending 12 days on the International Space Station. Russia's space agency announced their landing in Kazakhstan on Dec. 20 in a statement on its website. (RFE/RL, 12.20.21)
  • Russian authorities have published new regulations on the expedited mass burial of humans and animals who die as a result of military conflicts or noncombatant emergencies. (RFE/RL, 12.21.21)
  • At a ceremony at Sevmash on Dec. 21, the Russian Navy officially accepted for service the Knyaz Oleg submarine of the Project 955A/Borey-A class and the Novosibirsk attack submarine of the Yasen-M class. Construction of Knyaz Oleg began in 2014. It is the fifth ship of the Project 955/955A class. (, 12.21.21)
  • A Russian submarine has successfully launched a Kalibr cruise missile from the Sea of Japan at a land target more than 1,000 kilometers away, Russian news agencies reported Dec. 21. The diesel-electric submarine Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky hit a target located at a Russian training ground onshore, the Russian Defense Ministry said Dec. 21. (RFE/RL, 12.21.21)
  • Putin said Dec. 25 the Russian military successfully fired a simultaneous salvo of its Tsirkon hypersonic missiles, calling it "a big event" for the country. Speaking at a government meeting on Dec. 25, Putin said that the salvo launch of the missile had been conducted overnight. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.25.21)
  • Russia has conducted a third launch of its new heavy-class Angara rocket, the first developed after the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.28.21)
  • Roscosmos made 25 launches in 2021, the same as in 2019, from four spaceports: Baikonur, Vostochny, Plesetsk and Kourou. (TASS, 12.30.21)
  • "We summed up the results of the outgoing year at our expanded board meeting a week ago. The 2021 year was quite successful for us, despite all the difficulties. Today, I want to take this opportunity to thank our industry, which has allowed us to reach a level of modernity for all types of military hardware and achieve rather high figures. Generally speaking, this level exceeds 71%," Shoigu said at a conference call. (TASS, 12.29.21)
  • The Russian Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN) have fully switched to digital information transmission technology, the Defense Ministry said on Jan 3. "The RVSN have provided digital telecommunications equipment to control stations up to a missile division. The RVSN Communications Center, arsenals, training centers, the Peter the Great Military Academy and its branch in Serpukhov have been reequipped," the ministry said. (Interfax, 01.03.22)
  • Strategic command-and-staff exercises headlined Grom (Thunder) with the participation of all three components of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces will take place in early 2022, a source close to Russia’s Defense Ministry told TASS. "The Grom drills with the participation of Russia’s nuclear triad are planned for the beginning of 2022," the source said. (TASS, 01.02.22.)
  • Russia’s Sevmash shipyard, the only one in the country that builds nuclear-powered submarines, saw a record year in 2021. Three subs were handed over to the Navy, two were put on water and construction started on another two. Not since the late days of the Soviet Union have the workers at the building and repair yard Severodvinsk been busier than now. (The Barents Observer, 01.07.22)
  • TV Zvezda posted footage on Dec. 24 of Russian 7th Guards Air Assault Division T-72B3 tanks with top-attack defense screens, during an exercise on the Opuk training range in Crimea. These screens appear to be designed to defeat top-attack weapons such as the U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank guided weapon. (Jane’s, 01.07.22)

Emergencies, security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • The Russian human rights group has released new videos purportedly showing instances of torture in a prison hospital for tuberculosis patients in Siberia. The group published the latest clips on YouTube on Dec. 20, saying that they had been recorded in the tuberculosis infirmary No. 1 in the city of Krasnoyarsk. (RFE/RL, 12.21.21)
    • The former inmate of a Russian jail who publicized shocking videos of torture said numerous officials from various agencies were aware of the abuse of prisoners but chose to cover it up rather than expose it. Syarhey Savelyeu, a 31-year-old Belarusian national who copied the videos while serving a sentence in Saratov, said in an interview with RFE/RL that he was "astonished" by the number of officials who knew of the torture. (RFE/RL, 12.28.21)
    • During his annual end-of-year press conference on Dec. 23 Putin addressed the high-profile video leaks showing alleged rape and torture inside Russia’s prison system that drew nationwide attention this year. After claiming that prison torture also exists in the U.S. and France, Putin said Russian authorities have opened 17 criminal cases following the torture leaks. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.23.21)
    • The deputy director of Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) has been dismissed in the latest firing of senior officials amid a growing prison-abuse scandal. Anatoly Yakunin, who has worked in the FSIN since 2019 and was appointed its deputy director in August 2020, was dismissed by Putin Dec. 28. (RFE/RL, 12.29.21)
    • Abubakar Yangulbaev of the Committee Against Torture NGO says 21 of his relatives have been “abducted” in Chechnya. (RFE/RL, 12.26.21)
  • Russia has passed legislation granting police the right to break into homes and cars without a search warrant. According to the law Putin signed on Dec. 21, officers can now enter homes without a warrant even if persons inside are not officially classified as suspects. (The Moscow Times, 12.21.21)
  • A Russian court has increased the sentence of historian Yuri Dmitriyev, the local head of the human rights group Memorial in the northwestern region of Karelia, to 15 years in prison for allegedly taking pornographic images of his foster daughter, a charge he has staunchly denied. (RFE/RL, 12.27.21)
  • Five people died and 21 were injured in a passenger bus accident south of Moscow, authorities said. The bus crashed into a pillar under a railway bridge around 5:45 a.m. in the Ryazan region, an Interior Ministry spokesperson said Jan. 2. (RFE/RL, 01.02.22)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • The Russian Foreign Ministry on Dec. 17 said Russia imposed a travel ban on seven unnamed British citizens in a tit-for-tat response to London's sanctions connected to the August 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. (RFE/RL, 12.17.21)
  • Russia expelled two German diplomats on Dec. 20 in a tit-for-tat measure after a judge in Berlin accused the Kremlin of “state terrorism” for ordering the murder of a Chechen rebel in 2019. Berlin’s regional court sentenced Russian national Vadim Krasikov, 56, to life in prison for shooting Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen origin who once fought in an insurgency against Moscow. (Financial Times, 12.20.21)
  • The German-language channel of Russian state broadcaster RT was taken off the air Dec. 22 for not having a valid satellite license, German regulators said, in the latest escalation of a media spat between the two countries. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.22.21)
  • Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has joined the board of Russian petrochemicals giant Sibur, the company said on Dec. 24. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.24.21)
  • Russian soldiers have deployed to the city of Timbuktu in northern Mali to train Malian forces at a base vacated by French troops last month, Mali's army spokesperson said on Jan. 6. (RFE/RL, 01.06.22)
    • France, 13 other European countries and Canada denounced “the deployment of mercenary troops” linked to Russia in the west African country of Mali as the government there battles Islamist militants who have killed thousands and displaced millions across the Sahel. In a joint statement issued on Dec. 23, the countries also called on Russia to “revert to … responsible and constructive behavior in the region,” accusing Moscow of providing material backing for the fighters. (Financial Times, 12.23.21, RFE/RL, 12.25.21)
    • Mali's government has denied any deployment of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group following charges earlier this week by more than a dozen European countries as well as Canada. Bamako "gives a formal denial to these baseless allegations" of "an alleged deployment of elements from a private security company in Mali," the government said in a statement on Dec. 24. (RFE/RL, 12.25.21)

Ex-Soviet republics:


  • See also “Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations,” “Cybersecurity” and other sections above.
  • The Biden administration is considering a plan to redirect five Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters and other military equipment once allocated for the now-defunct Afghan military to Ukraine, U.S. and Ukrainian officials said. A Pentagon team went to Ukraine in late November to assess the Ukrainian military's air defense capabilities and needs and is working on a report. Privately, American officials have explored how they might aid Ukrainian forces in mounting an insurgency, if it came to that. Putin, for his part, has made it known that he sees providing arms to Ukraine as a threat to Russia and that it must stop. (The Wall Street Journal, 12.17.21, The New York Times, 12.30.21)
  • The Biden administration is studying whether and how the United States could support an anti-Russian insurgency inside Ukraine if President Vladimir Putin invades that country. The planning, described Dec. 19 by a knowledgeable official, includes ways to provide weapons and other support to the Ukrainian military to resist invading Russian forces—and similar logistical support to insurgent groups if Russia topples the Ukrainian government and a guerrilla war begins. The weapons the United States might provide include shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles. (The Washington Post, 12.20.21)
  • The Pentagon is working on a plan to provide Ukraine with battlefield intelligence that could help the country more quickly respond to a possible Russian invasion, senior administration officials said. (The New York Times, 12.23.21)
  • The United States this year has allocated more than $450 million in military aid to Ukraine to defend itself against possible Russian aggression, including anti-tank missiles. It is also helping refit Ukraine's ports to host NATO ships. (RFE/RL, 12.21.21)
  • This year Ukraine will receive military boats from the U.S., including Island and Mark VI types, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova has said. (Interfax, 01.03.22)
  • Asked whether a war against Ukraine was a realistic possibility, Vladimir Putin told journalists at his annual end-of-year press conference on Dec. 23 that Russia was responding to threats from Kyiv and that its actions regarding Ukraine “depend on our security,” not on how talks with the U.S. proceed. “We have to keep an eye on what is happening in Ukraine, and on when they might attack,” he told journalists at his annual end-of-year press conference. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.23.21)
  • Russia is not preparing a military invasion of Ukraine, its ambassador to the European Union was quoted as saying on Dec. 23. Vladimir Chizhov said Russia wanted to support Russian-speaking people living in other countries, but he added that Moscow never said it wanted to use military means for this. (RFE/RL, 12.23.21)
  • Ukrainian authorities have placed Petro Poroshenko under formal investigation for high treason, accusing the former president of links to financing Russia-backed separatists fighting government forces in the country’s east. “The U.S. is closely following the case against former President Poroshenko,” the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said in a tweet on Dec. 21, adding that it is “crucial that the process and outcome be based on the rule of law, not politics.” (RFE/RL, 12.20.21, Financial Times, 12.21.21)
    • A court in Ukraine has frozen property owned by Poroshenko as part of the investigation, the Prosecutor General's office said Jan. 6. (RFE/RL, 01.06.22)
  • Citing four unnamed recruits, Reuters reported Dec. 24 that Russia has in recent weeks deployed mercenaries to eastern Ukraine to help pro-Moscow separatists defend against Ukrainian government forces. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.24.21)
  • The United States has welcomed an announcement from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that Ukrainian government forces and Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine have agreed to abide by a 2020 cease-fire. (RFE/RL, 12.24.21)
  • Pope Francis on Dec. 25 cautioned against fresh violence in the long-simmering conflict in Ukraine amid rising tensions between Russia and Western countries, which accuse Moscow of having massed around 100,000 troops near Ukraine's borders in a possible prelude to an invasion. (RFE/RL, 12.25.21)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on Dec. 25 that more than 10,000 troops had finished monthlong drills near Ukraine, and that the soldiers involved were returning to their permanent bases. (RFE/RL, 12.26.21)
  • Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have signed up to learn combat skills in training programs created and run by the government and private paramilitary groups. The programs are part of the country's strategic defense plan in the event of a potential invasion by Russia—to foster a civilian resistance that can carry on the fight if the Ukrainian military is overwhelmed. (The New York Times, 12.26.21)
  • “The civil war in Ukraine, ongoing for eight years, is far from over,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in remarks carried by Russian news agency RIA. “The country’s authorities don’t intend to resolve the conflict” through diplomacy, he added. (The New York Times, 12.31.21)
  • The U.S. and its allies will “respond decisively” if Russia invades Ukraine, President Joe Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart in a phone call on Jan. 2. Biden “reaffirmed” America’s commitment to Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a White House statement. After the exchange, President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter that the leaders had discussed “joint actions” by Ukraine, the U.S. and partners “in keeping peace in Europe, preventing further escalation, reforms, de-oligarchization.” (Financial Times, 01.02.22)
  • A survey in December by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found that in the country of 44 million, 58% of men and almost 13% of women were prepared to take up arms to defend the country against Russian troops. About 17% of men and 25.5% of women were prepared to fight back with other means, including protests and subversive activities. (Financial Times, 12.31.21)
  • Ukrainian soldiers targeted a military truck that had been carrying Russian-backed separatists with a Ukrainian-designed guided anti-tank missile. The system has a range of 5,800 meters and can penetrate armor up to 1,100 millimeters thick. (Defence Blog, 01.02.22)
  • Hundreds of Ukrainians held a torchlight march in the capital, Kyiv, to mark the birthday of the controversial nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. About 3,500 Ukrainians in 20 regions took part in the events on the occasion of Bandera’s 113th birthday, the police press service reported. (Interfax, 01.03.22, RFE/RL, 01.02.22)
  • The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has reiterated support for Kyiv, saying the bloc has a strong commitment to "massive consequences" for Russia if it were to attack its neighbor again. Speaking during a trip to Ukraine on Jan. 5, Borrell told a joint news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba that Kyiv and Brussels have a common goal to ease tensions with Russia by “diplomatic means” and that the EU fully supports “Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity." (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.06.22, RFE/RL, 01.05.22)
  • A program to make Ukraine self-sufficient in uranium by 2027 has been approved by the country's Cabinet. Nuclear power is planned for significant expansion beyond the 54% of electricity it already provides in Ukraine. (World Nuclear News, 01.05.22)
  • Ukraine and a trio of other affected countries on Jan. 6 announced their abandonment of a two-year effort to negotiate with Tehran over reparations for a passenger airliner mistakenly shot down by Iran's military in January 2020. (RFE/RL, 01.06.22)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke on Jan. 6 with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, and discussed "risk reduction near Ukraine’s borders," the Pentagon said in a brief statement. (RFE/RL, 01.06.22)
  • British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has announced a visit to Kyiv later this month to stress London's "unwavering" commitment to Ukraine amid continuing Russian aggression against its fellow post-Soviet neighbor. (RFE/RL, 01.06.22)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to Washington on Jan. 5 for a meeting dominated by upcoming talks with Russia.  Blinken said he and Baerbock emphasized the “preference to pursue diplomacy and de-escalation” to deal with Russia's troop buildup near Ukraine. Baerbock said she and Blinken agreed "on the importance of finding a good path forward to finding a solution together for the process of dialogue.” (RFE/RL, 01.06.22)
  • Steel group ArcelorMittal’s bank accounts in Ukraine have been frozen by a court after a senior executive at the company was accused of tax evasion in the latest attack on the group by the authorities. The multinational company, one of the world’s leading steel producers, is Ukraine’s largest foreign direct investor and has faced several investigations over taxes in the past few years. (Financial Times, 01.06.22)


  • Russia on Dec. 18 sent two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to patrol the western borders of ally Belarus, the authorities in Minsk say, amid heightened tensions across Eastern Europe. The two Tu-22M3 bombers were accompanied by Su-30SM fighter jets from both the Russian and Belarusian air forces. It was the third such mission in the area in the last month. (RFE/RL, 12.18.21)
  • Belarus said Dec. 20 one of its diplomats was injured following an attack on its embassy in London. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the embassy had been attacked by suspects it suggested belonged to a "radical immigrant group." (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.20.21)
  • Amnesty International on Dec. 20 accused Belarus and EU member Poland of subjecting migrants to “brutal violence” as they sought entry to the European Union. The human rights organization said it collected testimonies from 72 affected Iraqi, Syrian and Sudanese nationals who described being pepper-sprayed and beaten with batons. More than 11,000 illegal migrants have entered Germany this year after transiting through Poland from Belarus, German police said on Dec. 27. (RFE/RL, 12.28.21, The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.21.21)
  • A court in Minsk has sentenced four anarchist activists to lengthy prison terms amid an ongoing crackdown on those challenging the official results of last year's presidential election that handed victory to strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Minsk regional court Judge Valer Tuleyka on Dec. 22 sentenced Ihar Alinevich and Syarhey Ramanau to 20 years each in prison, while Dzmitry Razanovich was handed 19 years and Dzmitry Dubouski 18. (RFE/RL, 12.22.21)
  • Belarus's Interior Ministry has added RFE/RL's Belarus Service, known locally as Radio Svaboda, to its registry of extremist organizations, in a continued clampdown on independent media and civil society. (RFE/RL, 12.23.21)
  • “We are building a ‘Union State,’” Vladimir Putin said in reference to Belarus during his annual end-of-year press conference on Dec. 23, but noted that the level of integration between Russia and Belarus was “at a much lower level than that in the European Union. It’s incomparable.” (The Moscow Times/AFP, 12.23.21)
  • Belarus's authoritarian leader has proposed long-awaited constitutional amendments that include his immunity from any potential prosecution and a redistribution of power to the national assembly that some analysts say he eventually plans to head. Alexander Lukashenko, 67, has said the changes, outlined for the first time in a report by the state BelTA news agency on Dec. 27, will be voted on in a referendum in February. (RFE/RL, 12.27.21)
  • Belarus’s exports to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are at or close to record levels, cementing their trade relationships even as the three Baltic states take an aggressive stance on sanctions against the regime of leader Alexander Lukashenko. In the first 10 months of last year, Estonia’s imports from Belarus were more than double 2020’s total at €522 million and more than a fifth higher than the previous peak in 2018. Lithuania’s imports have increased 50% compared with 2020, hitting €1 billion—a third higher than the previous 2015 high. Latvia’s are up two-thirds from 2020 to €407 million, just 2% below their 2011 peak. (Financial Times, 01.03.22)
  • Belarus has summoned the Polish charge d'affaires in Minsk to inform Warsaw about the expulsion of a Polish consul, according to a Polish foreign ministry statement issued Jan. 5. (RFE/RL, 01.05.22)

Central Asia:

  • Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said early on Jan. 7 that order had "basically" been restored in the country. He has issued a stark warning to protesters in Kazakhstan that he has given security personnel a green light to “shoot to kill.” Though sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the main city of Almaty early on Jan. 7, the unrest over a fuel price hike that has ravaged many cities in recent days appeared muted. Tokayev also on Jan. 7  ridiculed calls from abroad for negotiations as "nonsense." He blamed "so-called free media" and unnamed foreign figures for instigating the violence, claiming that Almaty had been under assault from "20,000 bandits" with a "clear plan of attack, coordination of actions and high combat readiness." The protests began over the weekend, triggered by rising fuel prices, but have since morphed into anti-government riots, feeding off resentment of more than three decades of rule by ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev. (Al Jazeera, 01.06.22, TASS, 01.06.22., Financial Times, 01.05.22, RFE/RL, 01.07.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.07.22)
    • The Kazakh interior ministry said 26 "armed criminals" had been killed in the unrest, after earlier reporting "dozens" dead. It said 18 security officers had been killed and more than 740 wounded, and more than 3,800 people detained. (The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.07.22)
    • Tokayev gave "special thanks" to Putin after a Moscow-led military alliance sent troops to Kazakhstan to help quell the unrest. Russian paratroopers and allied military units started to arrive in Kazakhstan on Jan. 6 after the country’s president appealed for help. Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister said the total military presence of the Collective Security Treaty Organization will number about 2,500 troops. Limited numbers of Russian paratroopers, plus contingents from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, were sent as a peacekeeping force at the request of Tokayev to the CSTO. Media in Moscow have said the Russian contingent is expected to number less than 5,000. The Russian defense ministry said on Jan. 6 the first Russian peacekeepers had arrived in Kazakhstan. They included troops from the 45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade (Moscow area), 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade (Ulyanovsk) and 98th Guards Airborne Division (Ivanovo), the ministry said. The Defense Ministry said on Jan. 7 that 74 aircraft, including the Ilyushin IL-76 Candid transport plane and heavy-lift AN-124 Condor plane, are involved in moving troops in the Central Asian country. (Financial Times, 01.06.22, Defence Blog, 01.07.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.07.22, Interfax, 01.07.22, Russia Matters, 01.06.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.07.22, Financial Times, 01.07.22)
      • The U.S. is closely monitoring reports that peacekeeping forces of the Russia-led CSTO have been deployed to Kazakhstan, State Department spokesman Ned Price has said. (Al Jazeera, 01.06.22)
      • Russian military units that had been deployed in Siberia and the Ural Mountains, near Kazakhstan, were "almost completely" moved to positions near Ukraine and Belarus, according to Rob Lee, a Russian military expert and fellow at FPRI. "Russia still has plenty of units that it can deploy if necessary, but you wouldn't want to start a conflict with Ukraine right now while the situation in Kazakhstan is so uncertain," Lee said on Twitter. "Wars are inherently unpredictable, and Russia's situation just became more complex." (The New York Times, 01.07.22)
    • In a message to Kazakhstan's president, China's Xi praised him for taking "strong measures" and "being highly responsible for your country and your people." Xi told Tokayev on Jan. 7 that China was ready to offer Kazakhstan the help it needed to overcome difficulties, China’s Global Times newspaper reported. Tokayev had taken appropriate measures to quell unrest, the paper cited Xi as saying. (Financial Times, 01.07.22, The Moscow Times/AFP, 01.07.22)
    • Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former Kazakh banker and government minister who is the leader of a Kazakhstan opposition movement called Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, said the West needed to enter the fray. "The West should tear Kazakhstan away from Russia." "Russia has already entered, sent in troops. CSTO is Russia. This is an occupation by Russia," he said. (Reuters, 01.07.22)
    • On Jan. 6, the Kazakh government announced a 180-day price cap on vehicle fuel and utility rate rises. Meeting two of the protesters’ other demands, Tokayev has also accepted the resignation of the government and appeared to displace former president Nursultan Nazarbayev from a key security role, through which he continued to wield influence. (Financial Times, 01.07.22)
  • Data from the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs shows that discontent has been rising in Kazakhstan: the total number of documented protests in the country was more than six times higher in 2019 than 2018, and then almost doubled in 2020, partly due to the pandemic: 112 protests related to COVID-19 were documented from the beginning of the pandemic through June 2021. (RFE/RL, 01.07.22)
  • Uranium prices have jumped this week as violent protests in Kazakhstan stoke concerns about security of supply for the radioactive material used to fuel nuclear reactors. The price has gained more than 8% this week and to $45.65 a pound, according to an assessment from UxC, a nuclear fuel market research and analysis firm, after Russian forces arrived in Kazakhstan to help push back on protests that have led to dozens being killed in clashes with police. (Financial Times, 01.07.22)
  • A Kazakh delegation led by Trade and Integration Minister Bakhyt Sultanov visited Kabul on Dec. 25 to discuss trade, transit routes and other economic cooperation as well as political ties with the Taliban-led government, Afghan media reported. (RFE/RL, 12.25.21)
  • Turkmen border guards have skirmished with Taliban fighters along the Afghan border, according to local media reports. Details of the reported clashes in Afghanistan’s Jawzjan province early on Jan. 3 remain unclear. Helal Balkhi, the head of the Taliban’s provincial department of information, told Afghan news website Hasht-e Subh that Turkmen border guards had killed a civilian and injured another. (RFE/RL, 01.04.22)
  • Uzbekistan has sent experts to the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-e Sharif to help repair its airport equipment and restart operations. (RFE/RL, 12.18.21)
  • The Kyrgyzstan government said it had no option but to seize control of the giant Kumtor gold mine from its Canadian owner because of environmental and safety issues, according to the director appointed to run the project. In an interview with the Financial Times, Tengiz Bolturuk said the decision to appoint him as external manager was because of “systematic violations” of environmental law by Centerra Gold and its “predatory” attitudes toward natural resources. (Financial Times, 12.21.21)
    • Centerra Gold has confirmed it was in talks with Kyrgyzstan’s government about an out-of-court settlement over a dispute related to the Canadian company's Kumtor gold mine. (RFE/RL, 01.04.22)


  • The Armenian government has lifted a ban on the import of Turkish goods that was imposed over Ankara's backing of Azerbaijan in last year’s war with Armenia. (RFE/RL, 12.31.21)
  • The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi sharply criticized Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, for rushing legislation last week that Washington says “undermined” government accountability, the independence of judges and overall faith in the judiciary. (RFE/RL, 01.04.22)


IV. Quoteworthy

  • “Putin has the best track record of using force to achieve political ends of any leader by far,” said Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA, a U.S. policy think-tank. “How many offensives does he have to conduct in Ukraine for people to think he’s not bluffing?” (Financial Times, 12.29.21)
  • “The ISS relationship came out of a unique set of circumstances that I think have passed,” Brian Weeden, an analyst at the Secure World Foundation think-tank, said in reference to U.S.-Russian interactions on the International Space Station. (The New York Times, 12.27.21)
  • “Improving the relationship with Moscow is fundamental leverage that China can take,” said Zhu Feng, the director of the Institute of International Studies at Nanjing University. “It’s in the tool kit to respond to America’s containment of China.” (The Wall Street Journal, 01.03.22)
  • “The Nazarbayev regime and consequently the semi-transition of power which began with his resignation in 2019 are now both over,” said George Voloshin, Paris-based geopolitical analyst at Aperio, a consultancy. (Financial Times, 01.06.22)

NB: This product is a compilation of news items from various sources, not original reporting, unless otherwise noted.