Russia Geopolitical Watch – from 14 January to 20 January 2023

Russia Watch Team: Arnaud Huss, Nicolas Girard, Corentin Delon, Anastasia K., Erwann Leyral, Emeline Palvany, led by Ilinka Léger and Enzo Padovan.


16/01/2023: Artem Uss, the son of Krasnoyarsk Krai’s governor, a required his extradition to Russia – Enzo Padovan

On 16th January, Artem Uss, Russian entrepreneur detained in Italy since last October, officially required to be extradited to Russia, and not to the US. According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, he is accused of trying to smuggle, on Russian territory, American military supplies as well as oil coming from Venezuela. It is important to specify that this case has strong political implications; Aleksander Uss, the prisoner’s father, is also the governor of the Krasnoyarsk Krai, a Russian region located in Siberia.

This entrepreneur’s arrest, dating back from 17th October, 2022, had been confirmed by a tweet from the Russian embassy in Italy, indicating that it was the result of an American search warrant, thus justifying the potential extradition to the Atlantic’s other side. The Russian governmental press agency TASS revealed additional information on this case: shortly after his arrest, Artem Uss already refused a first extradition proposal from the US. However, TASS explained, in another article, that the entrepreneur was also wanted by his nation’s authority. On 28th October, Russia put his name on the wanted list, accusing him of money laundering. If he was given back to the Russian justice, Artem Uss could be condemned to a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison, and a fee of one million rubles.

17/01/2023: Russian Defense Minister announces an increase in the size of the Russian Federation’s armed forces – Corentin Delon 

On 17th January, the media Vedomosti relayed the telegram statement of the Russian Defense Minister, announcing a significant increase in military personnel by 2026. The Russian Minister Sergei Shoigu stated via the Minister’s Telegram account that he “held a meeting with the deputies of the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces and the commanders on the implementation of the decision of the President of the Russian Federation to increase the number of armed forces to 1.5 million servicemen”.

The Russian government also announced with this announcement that it is not “possible to ensure the military security of the state and protect the new subjects and critical facilities of the Russian Federation {without strengthening} the key structural elements of the armed forces”. The dynamics of this reorganisation plan are mainly based on the creation of new territorial strategic inter-service associations, active recruitment and improvement of military training.

18/01/2023: Russian Embassy to Estonia temporarily suspends citizenship renunciation – Nicolas Girard

On 18th January, the Russian Embassy in Tallinn (Estonia) announced on its website that it will suspend accepting applications for Russian citizenship renunciation. According to Russian pro-government news outlet RiaNovosti, this suspension is necessary during the reorganisation of the Russian consular departments after the Estonian authorities have demanded to reduce the number of Russian diplomats and technical personnel. According to the pro-Western media RadioSvoboda, the request to reduce the number of consular personnel comes in response to a similar one, formulated by the Russian authorities about Estonian consular personnel in Russia.

RadioSvoboda specifies that suspending citizenship renunciation is also a way to limit the number of applications for Estonian citizenship, from former Russian citizens. Indeed, Estonia does not accept dual citizenship: it is thus required to abandon one’s former citizenship during the change. RadioSvoboda reports that, since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, the number of applications has soared.

18/01/2023: Yevgeniy Prigozhin announces that Youtube will soon be “closed” in Russia – Anastasia K.

On 18th January, the businessman at the head of the private military company Wagner and close to the Kremlin, Yevgeniy Prigozhin announced that Youtube, or “the informational plague” as he calls it, will soon be closed in Russia. He said that each person who uses it will be “detected” and “punished”. Indeed, according to him, 40% of the content on Youtube would be “politicised” and “oriented against Russia”. However, a large part of the administration of the Russian president would be opposed to the blocking of Youtube. Prigozhin called these people “traitors … who live, go on vacation and raise their children abroad, but also watch pro-Ukrainian Youtube channels”, reports He added that they wanted Russia to lose the war so that the “Americans come and regulate everything”. However, he considers that “this will not happen” and that these “traitors” will return to the Kremlin where “Wagner’s sledgehammer will be waiting for them”. He believes that the social networks Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, as well as Rutube (the Russian equivalent of Youtube, owned by Gazprom media) could be an alternative. Nevertheless, Russian bloggers and opposition are showing their discontent by recalling the “death” of Rutube, which suffered a powerful cyberattack shortly after its popularization in May 2022. It should be noted that Rutube is part of the implementation of a policy of substitution of imported products, reinforced since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the departure of many foreign brands from Russian soil.

Finally, the issue of Youtube could be closely watched, if this platform continues to violate “systematically” and “consciously” the Russian law, announced to the director of Gazprom-media, Alexandr Jarov. He also added that in case of blocking, some users would still continue to access the platform through VPNs.

18/01/2023: American coast guards spotted a Russian vessel in Hawaii’s waters – Enzo Padovan

On 18th January, the United States Coast Guard released a press statement, revealing that a Russian ship had been cruising in Hawaii’s waters for a few weeks. The American fourteenth coast guard district (which surveys a great share of Pacific islands belonging to the US, notably Guam or Hawaii State) believes it to be a Russian intelligence gathering ship. Video footage was shared on the Hawaiian coast guards’ Twitter account; the former shows the vessel in the middle of a refuelling process, off the coast of the archipelago’s southernmost island.

According to international law, such a ship can travel freely within the American Exclusive Economic Zone, but it is the cruise’s length that sparks interrogation. The Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, Sabrina Singh, discussed the matter on 19th January, during a press conference. “We haven’t seen any unsafe or unprofessional behavior, and we expect that the Russians will operate within the region in accordance with international law”. Thus, for now, the coast guards are only keeping an eye on the vessel’s activities from a distance.

18/01/2023: Sberbank announced the return of its activity in annexed Crimea despite Western sanctions – Emeline Palvany

On 18th January, the first Russian bank announced on its website the return of its work on the Crimean peninsula, eight years after having abandoned the territory following the annexation of Russia, and almost a year after Western sanctions. “The installation of the bank’s ATMs has already started and the network of self-service devices will begin to operate throughout the peninsula”, explains the bank’s press service. Mikhail Razvozhaev, Governor of Sevastopol already says that the city is selecting a location for Sberbank offices. Via his Telegram channel, the proclaimed head of the Republic of Crimea, Sergey Akyonov, hailed the positive impact of this initiative on “the financial and investment climate, the development of the economy and the social sphere”. According to Anton Imennov, whose declarations were relayed by the TASS press agency, senior partner at Pen & Paper, the sanctions have made doing business in Crimea “less toxic” for companies refocusing on local markets.

19/01/2023:  The T-14 “Armata” tank, the new Russian weapon in Ukraine? – Erwann Leyral

On 19 January, the official Twitter account of the UK Ministry of Defence announced a likely deployment of Russian T14 tanks in Ukraine. Pro-government Russian journalist Vladimir Soloviev had earlier posted a video, which he shared on his Telegram channel, announcing that Armata tanks were heading west. Battle tanks have been a staple of modern conflict since World War II, when Russian tanks, better suited to northern temperatures, gained an advantage over German forces. As NATO considers further shipments of equipment to Ukraine, including combat vehicles, the use of “third generation” tanks (according to Rustem Klupov, a military intelligence veteran on Soloviev Live) may be a game-changer. Although this deployment remains uncertain, British intelligence would give it some credence. According to Russia’s pro-government news agency TASS, in 2016 British intelligence reportedly described the T-14 as “the most revolutionary of tanks“, but there is still a shadow over Moscow. Indeed, the British intelligence report of 19 January 2023 still considers this tank to be experimental, a victim of “manufacturing problems”. This tank thus presents a risk for Moscow, which the British intelligence service suspects of deploying this weapon with “propagandistic aims“.

20/01/2023: 8.5% of Western companies have left Russia since the start of the war – Arnaud Huss 

On Friday 20 January, a Swiss study revealed that less than 10% of Western companies involved in the EU and G7 sanctions against Russia have left Russia. According to Meduza, the study was conducted by Simon Evenett, professor of economics at the International Institute of Management (IMD). According to ORBIS (a Swiss database organisation), in April 2022 there were as many as 36,000 companies in Russia, of which about 3,400 were foreign companies. Of these 3,400 companies, 1,400 were parent companies, and of these 1,400, only 120 (8.5%) companies had sold their shares by the end of November 2022. Most of the companies that left the Russian market were large companies such as McDonald’s, Nissan or Starbucks.

Evenett’s study finds that foreign companies, even Western ones, are resisting pressure from their governments, but this retention of trade may be temporary (as it may increase in the future, with the severity of sanctions). Companies are also reluctant to lose business with customers not necessarily involved in the war and are finding it difficult to break long-standing contracts and find new markets. According to the Moscow Times, European and G7 companies that have left the Russian market represent only 18% of US companies operating in Russia, while the figures drop to 15% for Japanese companies, and 8.3% for European companies.

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