Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be setting conditions to weaponize the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a method of Russian power projection in advance of Russia’s accession to the rotating UNSC presidency in April. Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya stated during a press conference on March 21 that Russia plans to hold an informal UNSC meeting in early April to discuss the “real situation” of “Ukrainian children taken to Russia.” Nebenzya claimed that Russia planned to hold the meeting before the announcement of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrants for Putin and Russian Commissioner on Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. Nebenzya’s announcement, as well as vitriolic denials of the ICC’s accusations by Russian officials, come as Kremlin-appointed occupation officials continue to facilitate the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia under a variety of schemes and guises. Putin additionally made a number of notable comments proclaiming Russia’s commitment to the UN, UNSC, and the UN charter during his press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 21. Taken in tandem, Nebenzya’s and Putin’s comments suggest that Russia continues to use its position on the UNSC as a base of power projection as the UNSC prepares for Russia to take the UNSC presidency in April. By setting information conditions to posture about Russia’s supposed commitment to the UNSC, Putin is positioning himself to continue to weaponize and exploit Russia’s UNSC veto power in the coming months.
The second day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to suggest that Putin has not been able to secure the no-limits bilateral partnership with China that he likely hoped for. Putin and Xi signed a “Joint Statement by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on Deepening Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation, Entering a New Era” on March 21, which stressed that Russian–Chinese relations are comprehensive, strategic, and at the highest level in history. The Joint Statement outlines a variety of bilateral intentions and affirms the commitment of Russia and China to each other’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity, among other diplomatic promises. The commitments made by Xi and Putin were notably lopsided, however, indicating the Xi is agreeing to a more reserved version of Russian–Chinese relations than Putin likely desires, as ISW observed on March 20. Xi praised Putin, reaffirmed China’s commitment to Russia in the UNSC, and amplified China’s position on a political settlement of the war in Ukraine; but Xi did not go much further than offering those statements. Putin, by contrast, announced a number of measures that signal Russia’s continued orientation towards and dependence on China in the energy and economic sectors, which appear very one-sided compared to Xi’s relatively tempered commitments. Xi additionally did not signal an intent to provide support for Russia’s war in Ukraine beyond vague diplomatic assurances, which is likely a step down from what Putin hoped to secure in negotiations. Putin has likely failed to secure the exact sort of partnership that he needs and desires, and Xi will likely leave Moscow having secured assurances that are more one-sided than Putin intended them to be. Putin observed that Russia and China had “a very substantiative and candid exchange of views” on the prospects for the further development of the Russian-Chinese relations. Such rhetoric notably lacks the language normally used in diplomatic readouts to indicate that the two parties have come to definitive and substantive agreements.
Putin portrayed the Western provision of depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine as a significant escalation in order to bolster information operations aiming to deter Western security assistance to Ukraine and to place the onus for negotiations on the West. Putin claimed on March 21, while discussing the Chinese peace plan, that the West is beginning to use weapons with a “nuclear” component in a response to the UK’s announcement that it would provide Ukraine with shells with depleted uranium. Putin claimed that the UK’s provision of depleted uranium shells indicated that the West is not ready for a “peaceful settlement.” Anti-tank munitions in the West are commonly made of depleted uranium—that is, uranium that is less radioactive than natural uranium—due to its high density and the penetrative effect it generates. Such munitions cannot be used to produce either nuclear or radiological weapons. Putin seeks to portray the provision of depleted uranium shells as escalatory in order to deter Western security assistance despite the shells not containing any fissile or radiological material.
The Wagner Group may lose most of its convict force in the upcoming weeks as convicts finish their six-month military contracts. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) assessed that thousands of Wagner convicts who were recruited during fall 2022 will be pardoned and released, given that Wagner appears to be sticking to its promise of releasing convicts after six months of service. The UK MoD forecasted that the exodus of convict forces would worsen Wagner personnel shortages as the Kremlin has also blocked Wagner from recruiting additional prisoners. The Kremlin had previously confirmed on January 27 that Russian President Vladimir Putin is issuing preemptive pardon for convicts who serve in Russian combat operations in Ukraine. The Kremlin’s announcement aligns with the ISW-established timeline of Putin’s decision to completely distance himself from Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin following the fall of Soledar, Donetsk Oblast, on January 12–13. The Kremlin had likely deliberately authorized publicization of pre-emptive pardons to incentivize more Wagner convicts to leave following the expiration of their contracts to further erode the Wagner force. Prigozhin has developed a brand consistently mocking the Russian MoD for its disregard for the troops’ wellbeing and is unlikely to anger a convict force by retaining them on the frontlines past the expiration of their contracts.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be setting conditions to weaponize the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a method of Russian power projection in advance of Russia’s accession to the rotating UNSC presidency in April.
- The readouts of the second day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to suggest that Putin has not been able to secure the no-limits bilateral partnership with China that he likely hoped for.
- Putin falsely portrayed the Western provision of depleted uranium ammunition (not suitable for use in nuclear or radiological weapons) to Ukraine as a significant escalation in order to bolster information operations aiming to deter Western security assistance to Ukraine and to place the onus for negotiations on the West.
- Wagner Group may lose most of its convict force in the upcoming weeks as convicts finish their six-month military contracts.
- The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) launched a criminal investigation into the Deputy Commander of the Rosgvardia’s Central District, Major General Vadim Dragomiretsky.
- The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced that it authorized a presidential drawdown to provide around $350 million of security assistance to Ukraine.
- Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut and continued offensive operations along the outskirts of Donetsk City.
- The Kremlin continues crypto mobilization campaigns to recruit men across Russia for contract service to avoid declaring second mobilization wave.
- Russian occupation officials continue to facilitate the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.