President Putin has signed a decree simplifying the naturalization process for foreign mercenaries participating in the war against Ukraine. According to the decree, citizenship will be granted to foreigners who sign a contract to serve in the army or volunteer units during the “special military operation,” along with their family members. They must conclude a contract for at least a year. The decree imposes a maximum processing time of one month for mercenaries' naturalization applications. Putin had issued similar decrees twice already. The one issued in September 2022 required foreigners to not only sign a year-long contract, but also take part in combat operations for six months. The one issued in May 2023 abolished the latter requirement. However, neither of these decrees established statutory limits on the processing time for naturalization applications, which had previously taken three months. The latest decree issued on Jan. 4, 2024, supersedes the previous two, introducing the one-month processing time limit for applications.
The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation and the Office of the President of Ukraine have announced the first exchange of prisoners of war to take place since Aug. 7, 2023. Moscow stated that it negotiated the release of 248 Russian soldiers, while Kyiv indicated that more than 230 Ukrainian nationals returned home. Among them were 130 military personnel, 55 members of the National Guard, 38 border guards, one policeman and six civilians. However, Russian propagandists claim that only 173 members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were released.
On Jan. 1, 2024, new conscription rules came into effect in Russia, making military service mandatory for men aged 18 to 30. Moreover, the upper age limit for officers serving in the reserve has been extended by 5 years, except for admirals and generals. Simultaneously, a phased increase in the upper age limit for enlisted personnel and sergeants serving in the reserve has begun, reaching 55 years by the year 2028.
As noted by Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet], every second decree signed by Putin in 2023 was classified. The share of such decrees reached 49.5%, totaling no fewer than 997 decrees signed by the president. Classified decrees are often used for purposes such as awarding military personnel and granting pardons to convicts recruited for the war.
On Dec. 29, a raid against migrants was conducted in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. Law enforcement officers checked around 100 people. During the operation, several men who had obtained Russian citizenship were identified and registered for military service.
On New Year's Eve, raids on migrants took place in the center of Moscow and near several metro stations in Saint Petersburg. According to the Fontanka publication, in Saint Petersburg, during the New Year's raid, 3,000 foreigners were detained, marking an increase from the 2,000 people detained in a similar operation the previous year. According to Novaya Gazeta Europe [European edition of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta], the number of actual detainees on New Year's Eve is much higher than reported. An unnamed source in the General Directorate for Countering Extremism of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, known as "Center E," informed the publication that at least 1,500 men among the detainees had already signed contracts with the Ministry of Defense. The source emphasized that the raid was pre-planned, and its primary objective was not solely the enforcement of migration laws but rather the recruitment of migrants into the army.
A resident of Saint Petersburg named Maria, whose husband was killed in the war in Ukraine, met with members of the Put Domoy [Way Home] movement. In a message published in the Telegram channel, Maria explained that she had traveled to the city of Berdiansk in the Zaporizhzhia region to celebrate the New Year with her husband. However, upon arrival, she was informed that he had been killed the day before. Maria warned the wives of Russian draftees that they "are out of time" and every day could be the last. Some of the military spouses who attended the meeting anonymously shared their stories with the TV Rain channel [independent Russian television channel]. A correspondent from the Mozhem Ob'yasnit [We Can Explain] Telegram channel was also present at the activists' meeting.
The Put Domoy Telegram channel has reported on another initiative undertaken by its movement members in different regions. Relatives of mobilized soldiers laid flowers at military memorials in honor of the "fallen soldiers in the special military operation zone." This action takes place every Saturday, and the participants have already announced the next one, scheduled for Jan. 6. They are inviting all those "who care about the fate of the country" to join them at noon in their respective regions by the Eternal Flame memorials.
Additionally, the Put Domoy channel reported that Aleksandr Shpilevoy, who was drafted in January 2023 and who recorded a video during a recent leave calling for an end to the war, has gone missing and is out of contact. The authors of the channel express concerns that he may be in danger, speculating that his disappearance could be linked to his outspoken statements about the conditions faced by mobilized soldiers.
According to calculations by the Idel.Realii [part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty] online media outlet, a minimum of 9,291 individuals from the republics and subjects of the Volga region have been killed in the war with Ukraine since Feb. 24, 2022. The Russian side has acknowledged their deaths in one way or another. Bashkortostan [Russia's constituent republic] leads with the highest absolute number of males killed, totaling 1,268 individuals. In terms of the number of males killed per 100,000 male population, Mari El [Russia's constituent republic] tops the list with 165.4 deaths per 100,000.
Among those who have been killed in the war with Ukraine is Igor Trifonov, the former Head of the Yekaterinburg Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who was convicted of accepting a bribe of 7.5 million rubles [$81,800]. Trifonov was killed at the end of 2023, but his wife learned about it only on Jan. 2. In August 2022, Trifonov was sentenced to nine and a half years in a maximum-security penal colony for bribery and illegal possession of firearms. In March 2023, the sentence was mitigated, reducing the term by two months.
Soldiers of the 57th Brigade, located in the city of Bikin, Khabarovsk region, have raised concerns about wounded personnel being sent back to an active combat zone. According to the soldiers, wounded individuals are being forcibly held at the unit's headquarters on the orders of the brigade commander. Subsequently, they are placed on a bus and transported to the airport for deployment to Ukraine. Similar complaints were previously made against the military police in the village of Kamenka near Vyborg. As of now, both the Ministry of Defense and the regional authorities have not provided comments on the situation.
According to the Ukrainian Main Directorate of Intelligence, 220 Russian soldiers have surrendered via the Hochu Zhit [I Want to Live] Telegram bot since the fall of 2022. As of December 2023, there are reports that over 1,000 additional Russian soldiers are ready to surrender.
A 25-year-old man named Adam Shcherbakov has been arrested in the Moscow region on suspicion of murdering 90-year-old Roman Legoyda, the father of Vladimir Legoyda, the head of the press service of the Russian Orthodox Church. The murder was committed by the side of the road, and the perpetrator took 100,000 rubles [$1,090] from the victim. Shcherbakov confessed to the murder, and part of the stolen money was allegedly found in his rental apartment. The Ostorozhno, Novosti [Beware the news] Telegram channel found out that Shcherbakov had a history of multiple convictions and was supposed to be released only in 2025. In 2017, he was sentenced to nine and a half years of maximum security penal colony for robbery. According to the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel, in May 2023, while in prison, Shcherbakov signed a contract with the Ministry of Defense to join the war in Ukraine and received a pardon. However, this summer, after fighting as part of the Storm-Z unit, he deserted and was placed on the wanted list. The court has now ordered Shcherbakov's arrest until the end of February.
According to the Astra Telegram channel, in the occupied Ukrainian village of Khorly in the Kherson region on Dec. 28, a soldier from the 81st Air Assault Brigade, Ilya Ulyanov, fired randomly from assault rifles. As a result of this incident, an OMON [riot police] officer was wounded.
The Dovod [independent Russian media outlet] reported that in 2023, the Vladimir Garrison Military Court received 78 criminal cases related to going AWOL. Out of these, sentences have been passed for 65 cases, and all resulted in convictions. This marks an all-time historical record for the entire existence of the court. Previously, Mediazona counted that Russian military courts received 5,024 cases of soldiers going AWOL in 2023.
An individual with a disability from the Khanty-Mansi autonomous region–Yugra [Russia's federal subject] has achieved a victory in court against the Ministry of Defense, receiving 20,000 rubles [$220] for illegal mobilization. During the mobilization, a former officer of the Ministry of Internal Affairs received a draft notice. He went to the draft office but did not disclose his third-degree disability. He personally purchased gear and tickets and reported to a military collection point. However, after his wife provided documents about his health, he was sent back home. The court did not reimburse the money for the purchased items, but ordered compensation for moral injury from the Ministry of Defense.
A resident of Russia’s constituent Republic of Dagestan, Nuradil Bagautdinov, who was mobilized in September 2022, has faced challenges in obtaining compensation from the Ministry of Defense for illegal mobilization. Bagautdinov and his relatives had provided documents to the draft board confirming a severe illness and disability. Despite this, he was sent to the frontline without a medical examination. It was only a month later that he was granted leave to process discharge documents. Bagautdinov demanded compensation of 3 million rubles [$32,700] from the Ministry of Defense for the moral damage caused by illegal mobilization. However, both the Garrison and District Military Courts rejected this claim, citing a formal lapse in the filing deadline, as Bagautdinov was in military service at that time.
In Buynaksk, a town of Russia’s constituent Republic of Dagestan, unidentified individuals set fire to a relay cabinet. A criminal case has been initiated under the charge of "act of terror," and law enforcement officers are currently seeking the arsonists.
According to the Astra Telegram channel, two local residents, 18-year-olds Vladimir P. and Nadezhda R., have been arrested in Yaroslavl in connection with a sabotage case. The case is linked to a "group of individuals in conspiracy" and involves "interference with objects of the fuel and energy complex." Allegedly, they committed arson of a transformer for a promised monetary reward. While there was no damage to the transformer station, the young suspects are now facing potential imprisonment ranging from 12 to 20 years.
According to BBC News Russian, the youngest suspect accused of high treason is 18-year-old high school student named Kevin Lik from Maykop. According to law enforcement, he committed the crimes while still a minor, expressing disagreement with Russia's political course and the "special military operation" in Ukraine. The Federal Security Service (FSB) detained the young man after Feb. 8, 2023, which is the last date he is alleged to have committed the crime. The court sentenced Lik to four years in a penal colony.
A 55-year-old pensioner named Grigory Bilenko, suspected of "high treason," was arrested in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Since 2019, after retiring, the man had been living in Ukraine. However, in June 2023, he returned to Russia to collect his pension and renew his passport. According to law enforcement, the pensioner allegedly coordinated with officials from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) before his departure and received a task from them to gather information about Russian military personnel and ships in the ports of the Kamchatka region.
Governor of the Amur region Vasily Orlov has announced the creation of a new medal called the "For Assistance to the Special Military Operation." The medal is intended for entrepreneurs and volunteers in the region who provide support to Russian soldiers. Additionally, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation awarded the Minister of Regional Security of the Vladimir region Sergey Poluzin with the medal "For participation in the special military operation." It is worth noting that Poluzin did not engage in fighting in Ukraine, and the medal was given to him as a token of appreciation for his role in recruiting contract soldiers for the ongoing war.
On the one-year anniversary of the strike on the Makiivka vocational school building, which claimed the lives of dozens of Russian mobilized soldiers from the 1444th Regiment on Jan. 1, 2023, the 63.RU media outlet interviewed survivors and relatives of those killed in the strike.