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Ukraine war latest: Putin visits Belarus; Russian parliament passes budget with record military expenditures

by The Kyiv Independent news desk November 23, 2023 10:09 PM 9 min read
Russian President Vladimir Putin enters the hall during the CSTO Summit in Minsk, Belarus on Nov. 23, 2023. (Contributor/Getty Images)
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Key developments on Nov. 23:

  • Putin in Belarus for official visit
  • Russian parliament passes budget with record military expenditures
  • Russian state media: Russian propagandist killed in Ukraine
  • Media: SBU allegedly kills high-ranking collaborator in Belgorod
  • Ukraine designates German company Knauf as 'international sponsor of war'
  • Russian attacks kill 7, injure 12 over past day

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Belarus to participate in a Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit in Minsk, the Kremlin's press service announced on Nov. 23.

The CSTO is a military alliance between Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Tajikistan, formed in 2002.

The meeting was set to discuss "further improvement of the collective security system."

The summit is being held in Minsk, as Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is its current chairman.  

The last time Putin arrived on an official visit to Belarus was in December 2022.

When Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, its forces started advancing from multiple fronts, including from the north, where Ukraine borders both Russia and Belarus.

Though Belarus hasn't officially joined Russia's war, Moscow has used Belarusian territory to launch missiles and drones at Ukraine, as well as trained its troops there.

Over the last few months, Putin has traveled to Kazakhstan, China, and Kyrgyzstan.

His trip to Kyrgyzstan in October was his first trip abroad since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in March 2023 for the mass deportation of Ukrainian children.  

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Russian parliament passes budget with record military expenditures

The Russian parliament passed a budget for 2024 that increases military spending to more than one-third of total government expenditures, Russian independent media outlet Meduza reported on Nov. 23.

If combined with funding for domestic law enforcement agencies, the figure rises to 40%.

According to Meduza, state expenditures on Russia's military sector will exceed social payments for the first time.

The budget has passed through all but one of the necessary steps in order to become a law, with only the signature of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin remaining to bring the budget into effect.

The budget had gone through 900 amendments since its first draft, Meduza wrote, with an additional 725 billion rubles ($8.2 billion) being allocated to the country's military sector in the second draft.

In addition, Russia has earmarked a significant amount of money, at least $2.6 billion, to be spent on the territories of Ukraine that it illegally annexed in September 2022.

In order to fund the increased military expenditures, Russia will need increased revenue.

Funding the first draft of the budget, which was smaller than the final version passed, would reportedly require a 22% increase in government revenue from 2023.

The Russian government is considering raising taxes to account for the discrepancy, sources told Meduza.

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Russian state media: Russian propagandist killed in Ukraine

Boris Maksudov, a correspondent for the Russian state television network Rossiya 24, died after allegedly being injured in a Ukrainian drone strike, prominent Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov said on Nov. 23.

At the time of this publication, it is impossible to confirm the incident's details and attribute any responsibility. There were no official comments from Kyiv.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Nov. 22 that Maksudov had been working in the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia Oblast with other Russian correspondents when a Ukrainian drone allegedly struck the area.

The ministry then said that Maksudov's injuries were not life-threatening.

In a video shared by Maksudov, he and the other correspondents were wearing military uniforms, and it was difficult to see if there was an inscription that said "press."

It can be challenging to distinguish soldiers from the press without such insignia.  

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that it was a "big tragedy."

Speaking on state television, Solovyov commented on Maksudov's death, adding that he had been killed while working on a story to document Ukraine's purported shelling of civilians.

Ukrainian forces allegedly shelling civilians in the Donbas has been a regularly repeated Kremlin talking point since the beginning of hostilities in 2014. The claims have been thoroughly debunked.

Solovyov has regularly made outlandish claims and a variety of threats against the West, including that Russia should use nuclear weapons. He also urged escalation in Russia's war against Ukraine and called for strikes against civilian targets.

Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilians kill and wound people daily.

Regional Ukrainian authorities reported early on Nov. 23 that Russian attacks had killed three and injured four civilians over the past 24 hours.

The Prosecutor General's Office said that by June, 63 journalists from 14 countries, including Ukraine, had been killed since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.

According to Serhii Tomilenko, the president of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU), Russia is also holding at least 25 Ukrainian journalists prisoner.

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Media: SBU allegedly kills high-ranking collaborator in Belgorod

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) reportedly killed Ukrainian collaborator Oleksandr Slisarenko, previously installed by Russia as a deputy head of occupation authorities in Kharkiv Oblast, New Voice reported on Nov. 23, citing undisclosed sources.

Slisarenko, a former employee of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, was allegedly assassinated in the Russian city of Belgorod, law enforcement sources told Ukrinform.

The collaborator was said to have died in the hospital after his car was allegedly blown up on Nov. 16.

The Kyiv Independent could not verify the report.

Slisarenko was an active member of Kharkiv Anti-Maidan in 2014 –  pro-Russian demonstrations aimed against the EuroMaidan Revolution and the post-revolution government.

He fought in Russian proxy forces in Luhansk Oblast between 2021 and 2022 and was made "deputy head" of occupation authorities in Kharkiv Oblast in 2022, New Voice said.

The collaborator was reportedly involved in atrocities against the Ukrainian population on occupied territories and was suspected of treason by the SBU.

Ukrainian media reported in late October that the SBU was behind the attack that seriously injured pro-Russian politician Oleg Tsaryov in Crimea.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on his Telegram channel on Nov. 23 that he received a report from the SBU's chief Vasyl Maliuk on "new results in countering enemy operations and collaborators."

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Ukraine designates German company Knauf as 'international sponsor of war'

Ukraine's National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) added Knauf, one of the world's largest manufacturers of building materials, to its list of "international sponsors of war," the agency announced on Nov. 23.  

The company operates in Russia through 10 subsidiaries and has invested over $1.8 billion into the Russian economy since 1993, according to the NACP.

It is known for manufacturing building materials like drywall, plaster, and insulation.

Knauf announced they had no plans to leave the Russian market following the launch of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and went on to contribute around $117 million to the Russian state budget in 2022 alone, the agency said.

It has 20 factories in Russia and employs over 4,000 people, making it the largest German investor in the Russian construction industry.

The company has actively helped the Russian military mobilize its employees, according to NACP, citing German media reports from October 2022.

The managers of a Knauf factory near Moscow reportedly checked the lists of who would receive military summons, dividing the employees into those who were essential for the functioning of the plant and those who could join the military.

Knauf's close relations with the Russian authorities stretch further into the past.

Nikolaus Knauf, the son of the founder and a key shareholder, received an Order of Friendship in 2006 from Putin for his contribution to developing relations between Russia and Germany.  

Russia appointed him the head of an honorary consulate in Nuremberg in 1999, a role he gave up in March 2022 following local protests.

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Russian attacks kill 7, injure 12 over past day

Russian attacks killed seven people and injured 12 in the past day, including two teenagers, local authorities reported.

Russian attacks on Kherson on Nov. 23 injured a 39-year-old woman, a 15-year-old boy, and an 11-year-old girl, said Roman Mrochko, the head of the Kherson City Military Administration.

The woman was wounded in the streets of the city's Dniprovskyi municipal district at around 4 p.m., Mrochko reported.

The two children, who are siblings, were reportedly wounded in the same district. The boy suffered injuries to his head, leg, and back, and the girl sustained facial injuries and an acute reaction to stress, Governor Oleksandr Prokudin reported.

Both of the minors are now in medical care, the governor noted.

Russia struck the settlement of Chronobaivka in Kherson Oblast with cluster munitions on Nov. 23, killing three people and injuring five, Prokudin reported.

Russian forces reportedly launched the attack around noon. Around 60 buildings, including civilian residences, were damaged as a result, Prokudin said.

Chornobaivka lies on the northwestern outskirts of Kherson, close to the city's airport.

A 70-year-old man was killed in a Russian strike on the town of Beryslav in Kherson Oblast earlier on Nov. 23, the governor reported.

Russian attacks against Ukraine killed three people and injured four more between Nov. 22- Nov. 23, regional authorities reported.

Russia targeted a total of eight Ukrainian oblasts over this period.

Russian troops struck Antonivka in Kherson Oblast on the morning of Nov. 23, wounding a 51-year-old woman, the regional administration reported.

In the previous 24 hours, Russian forces attacked the southern region with a variety of different weapons, including mortars, artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems, drones, and aircraft, killing one person and injuring another, according to Prokudin.

The attacks were directed at civilian targets in the oblast, including factories, educational and medical institutions, and shops, Prokudin said on Telegram.

Russian forces reportedly fired 29 shells at the city of Kherson.

Ukraine's Armed Forces liberated Kherson and other regional settlements west of the Dnipro River in the fall 2022 counteroffensive.

Russian forces were pushed to the east of the river, from where they have since been firing at the liberated territories, regularly resulting in civilian deaths and injuries.

In Kharkiv Oblast, Russian forces attacked at least 18 different settlements, Governor Oleh Syniehubov said on Telegram. A 61-year-old man was wounded in Shyikivky, Izium district, and hospitalized with shrapnel wounds, Syniehubov added.

The attacks on Kharkiv Oblast also reportedly damaged a number of buildings in Kupiansk, Kupiansk-Vozlovyi, and Vovchansk.

Two people were killed in Russian attacks on Donetsk Oblast, and another was wounded, acting Governor Ihor Moroz said.

One person was killed in Pivnichne near Toretsk, and another was killed in the Chasiv Yar community near Bakhmut, according to Moroz. One person was reportedly injured in Avdiivka.

Russian attacks were also reported in Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Chernihiv, and Mykolaiv oblasts, causing damage but no casualties.

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