oDR: Explainer

Our pick of the best newsletters on Ukraine, Russia and the region

We share some of the most useful newsletters on how Russia’s war is changing the world

Thomas Rowley
17 April 2023, 11.45am

Image: DreamStudio

Newsletters are “in” right now, it’s hard to deny it. And for Russia’s war against Ukraine and its fallout, they’re a useful way of both keeping up with the latest news and accessing more in-depth insights.

openDemocracy has collected some of the most useful newsletters out there for following the war and the broader region, including Central Asia and the South Caucasus. We chose a range of newsletters that tie together high-level analysis and a focus on real people.

We also run our own newsletter, which features reporting and analysis from some of the best journalists in Ukraine, Russia and the wider region – you can sign up for it here.

Ukraine Conflict Monitor

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Open source intelligence has flooded social media since Russia’s invasion, as analysts try to understand the balance of power between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Konrad Muzyka, a defence analyst, runs this digest of battlefield developments on Substack, including a free weekly update and a paid version.

The Beet

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It’s hard to deny: The Beet has got an incredible colour and incredible content. An original analysis or in-depth reported piece on politics and society in Eurasia delivered straight to your inbox once a week.

Launched in September 2022, the deep-pink-purple newsletter is run by the English-language team at Meduza, one of Russia’s leading independent news sites – and specifically editor Eilish Hart.

She saw a gap for amplifying local perspectives from central and eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia – and wanted to avoid the trap of international media, which “typically hones in on the latest domestic or international crisis and then quickly moves on”.

But at the same time, Hart says, The Beet is also Meduza’s way of “saying ‘thank you’ to all of our international supporters” whose donations have helped save the outlet during Russia’s unprecedented crackdown on the free press.

The Beet draws on a network of freelance contributors who are either based in the region or have long experience working there. Their work is sent to subscribers first, and when you sign up (you should!), you get the latest issue automatically as your confirmation email.

BBC Russian service in English

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The BBC’s Russian service is widely regarded as one of the best media outlets in the Russian language today. With its pool of brilliant journalists, it has broken so many stories over the past few years, it’s hard to keep track.

Thankfully, since June 2022, the service’s work is now also available in English, via Substack. Here, you’ll find in-depth coverage on what’s happening in Russia’s war, from the experiences of rank-and-file soldiers to war crimes and the power struggles inside the country’s military. Sign up here.

Moldova Matters

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American peace corps volunteer David Smith first came to Moldova over ten years ago – and liked it so much he stayed there to set up several of his own businesses.

As a side gig, since 2021 Smith has also run Moldova Matters, a regular Substack on political and economic news in the country, which has found itself rocked by protests, political scandals and the threat of Russian invasion over the past few years.

Smith’s newsletter thus delves into the twists and turns of current events in Chișinău and beyond, holding the reader’s hand as he breaks down the facts behind breaking news and longer-term developments in Moldova. He brings his wealth of practical experience in the country to help you understand Moldova beyond the stereotypes (“sandwiched between East and West” etc). Expect posts about corruption, business, Transnistria and Russia’s ongoing attempts to influence the country.

David has an opinion on what’s happening, but doesn’t try to force it on readers. Sign up here.

Central Asia in Focus, with Bruce Pannier


Journalist Bruce Pannier has been writing about Central Asia since the dawn of time, or 1995, whichever came first.

This newsletter, run out of US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, draws on Pannier’s experience and contacts to help readers understand what is happening at the international and domestic levels – from states’ complex relationships with Russia and China, to struggles for justice by all sorts of different people. Sign up here.

OC Media

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As the Azerbaijani blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh reaches day 150, it’s never been a tougher time in the South Caucasus – but at least the team at OC Media in Tbilisi are there to put the people of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia first.

Their newsletter often opens with a direct message from one of their talented staff, tying you immediately into the heart of a breaking story on Georgia’s political crisis or infighting in Nakhichevan. We’ve partnered with the team there before and we can’t recommend their newsletter enough (check the bottom right of the webpage).



Namak, or letter in Armenian, is a weekly bulletin on what’s happening in the country. Run by journalists Astrig Agopian and Maral Tavitian, Namak offers a round-up of the latest news – and a profile of a diaspora professional intimately involved in Armenian life.

Sadly these days, there’s plenty of updates about the ongoing offensive by Azerbaijani forces against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper. Agopian and Tavitian are working journalists, and also offer exclusive insights on how the conflict is affecting communities through Armenia. Sign up here.

The Weight of the World

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If you follow Tania Maier on Twitter, you’ll know her for two things: her relentless drive to assist Ukrainians displaced from their homes and now in Vienna; and her biting comments about Austrian state services.

Maier also runs an occasional Substack, and for insights on the sheer grind of making sure people are safely housed and fed, it’s worth signing up (and supporting her efforts!) to this inside look at how Europe is housing Ukrainians.

Azerbaijan Bulletin

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It can be hard to keep up with internal political developments in authoritarian Azerbaijan, but this bare-bones Substack offers a weekly digest that keeps the reader focused on facts, not speculation. Expect regular updates on the country’s civil society and opposition, and whatever the Aliyev regime is up to next.

TL:DR Russia

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Researcher Sam Greene knows Russia too well for his own good, and his Substack (named after the online phrase “too long, didn’t read”) offers a running view both on what’s happening inside the country, and the conversation outside it. Come for insights on how people discuss Russia – and get a chance to zoom out on the current conflagration. Sign up here.

China-Russia Report

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China is playing a hard-to-miss role in Russia’s war against Ukraine, backstopping the Kremlin against the West while claiming the role of peacemaker.

This Substack brings together news inside China and the bilateral relationship with Russia, and offers insight from its editor, Joseph Webster, in helping to read between the lines. Sign up here.

Vlast to the people, by Vlast.kz

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Vlast.kz is one of Kazakhstan’s leading independent publications. The brilliant team of reporters have carved out a unique space of high-quality news, investigations and long-form reporting in a hostile media environment over the past few years – and thanks to their savvy editors, it’s now also available in English, via the newsletter.

The bulletin’s name is a play on the Russian word for power, or vlast. Sign up here for stories on the ongoing struggles over the influence of former dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev or life in monotowns in the far west of the country.

If we’ve missed something important, feel free to get in touch and we’ll take a look.

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