Nel's New Day

September 30, 2022

Russia Invades Ukraine – Day 218

Although he didn’t cite anyone, Russian president Vladimir Putin finally admitted that mistakes were made in his mobilization of 300,000 new recruits to kill more people in his invasion of Ukraine—such as summons to “fathers of many children, or people suffering from chronic diseases, or who those who are already past conscription age.” Nevertheless, people still protest or flee the country, and even his own official supporters, including his state TV hosts, criticize him. By now, over 200,000 Russians have fled the country with about 98,000 of them going into Kazakhstan. Carlines at the Georgia border were over ten miles long, about a two-day wait, despite Putin’s warning to men not to leave the country. Russia plans a station there to serve summons to “citizens of the mobilization age” and is sending forces and armored vehicles to Georgia and other borders such as Kazakhstan and Mongolia to block Russian men from these escapes.  

Putin has also victoriously announced his sham referendum election of about 98 percent win to annex four areas after he either killed or drove off hundreds of thousands of people who might have opposed the annexation. Between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians may have been forcibly deported to Russia, many of them children. Putin also benefited from sending in armed men with ski masks into homes or placing them at polling stations to mark ballots for people. Russian Parliament will also vote for formal annexation. One consequence could be conscription of Ukrainians within these areas into the Russian army, already in existence in Luhansk and Donetsk which have been controlled by Russia and its proxies since 2014.

Russian newspapers also spread propaganda in referenda areas, trying to create a feeling of normalcy and unity amid the demolished homes and infrastructure, looted stores, and struggling civilians lacking provisions. Cellphone and internet service from the West had been mostly cut. The newspapers were found when Ukrainians took back Izyum. Ukrainians also found ten letters from Russian soldiers in Izyum begging to be dismissed. Dated August 30, they drew a picture of depressed troops desperate for rest and concerned about health and morale because they don’t receive medical care. The ten authors may have banded together to draft the letters which were abandoned as troops fled the city.

Patriotic pageantry was front and center at the gilded Grand Kremlin Palace in Putin’s announcement of the annexation in violation of international law, claiming 40,000 square miles of land, or about 15 percent of all Ukrainian territory. Putin launched the ceremony with long, angry threats about nuclear attacks and promises to “protect” the newly annexed lands “with all the forces and means at our disposal.” Even Italy’s newly-elected far-right prime minister Giogia Meloni said the annexation has no “legal and political value” and that Putin’s move again demonstrated his ” Soviet-style, neo-imperialist vision that threatens the security of the entire European continent.” She called for Western unity.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky responded by a post on Telegram announcing Ukraine is formally applying for “accelerated accession” into NATO. The annexation effectively eliminates a diplomatic resolution to Putin’s war in Ukraine, and Putin will be challenged with his claim to territory that he doesn’t control. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he didn’t know the boundaries of Russia’s new “territory.” He added, “It has to be liberated.” President Joe Biden announced a new round of sanctions against government, military officials, and their families. Some of them restrict Russian access to key technologies and other materials to fuel its war effort.

On the same day, Russia faced new setbacks near Lyman as Ukrainian forces “semi-encirled” the eastern city, a critical logistic route. The thousands of Russians trapped in Lyman are part of the 752nd Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment with a tradition of being cut off, surrounded, and almost destroyed since 1994. Ukrainians’ strategy has been to destroy Russian supply dumps and command centers, starving battalions and disrupting their leadership. East of Kharkiv, Russians abandoned their tanks and fighting vehicles to flee into separatist Luhansk Oblast. Ukrainians split to circle the Russian troops with no way out by the end of the week.

Russia is attempting a partnership with Saudi Arabia after its Kingdom Hold Company invested over $600 million in Russia’s three largest energy companies last spring after sanctions from the West. In the summer, Saudis doubled the amount of fuel oil buying from Russia to free up its own crude for export at elevated prices before they guided OPEC members to reduce output targets in last month to raise global oil prices and give both Russia and Saudi Arabia more profits. Saudis have turned from the U.S. since its fracking production threatens the power of OPEC and Russia.

High-profile Russians keep dying, many in mysterious or bizarre ways. Ten days ago, the former head of a Russian aviation research institute died by falling down stairs. It was announced as “an accident,” but an unnamed source told the newspaper that he fell “from a great height” down several flights of stairs.

The deaths started in January, a month before Putin invaded Ukraine, with first of four men tied to Gazprom, the energy giant owned by Gazprom, the others dying in February, April, and July. Early deaths appeared to be suicides.

  • A Russian billionaire also died in February, again regarded as suicide in addition to a 43-year-old CEO of an energy development company who died of a stroke.
  • March’s death was of a businessman, owner of the medical supply company Medstorm.
  • The second death in April was of a former executive at Novatek.
  • The dead businessman in August was an outspoken Putin critic, supposedly falling in his apartment.
  • Four other high-placed Russians died in September, the first one an energy executive who “fell out of a window” on September 1 after his company, Lukoil, criticized the war six months earlier. Another Lukoil executive had an apparent heart attack on the grounds of a Moscow shaman in May. The aviation director for the same company as February’s death washed up over 100 miles from where he “suddenly fell” from his speeding yacht.  
  • The last September death was of the editor-in-chief of the Russian state newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, who supposedly had a stroke and suffocated on his way to lunch.

Timelines and further details about the 16 deaths.  

Sweden and Denmark are investigating leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipelines carrying natural gas from Russia to Europe. The simultaneous “unprecedented” damage in three lines 70 yards under the surface of the Baltic Sea sparked the possibility of sabotage. One pipe is a major source of gas for Europe with Russia stopping the flow; the other one was blocked by sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine. Blasts were detected a few miles from the pipelines before the disruption. The attacks on the pipeline are seen by Western countries as precursors to other physical and cyber sabotage of their infrastructures. 

Fox network’s Tucker Carlson is leading the charge that Biden ordered the pipeline to be blown up and has joined the MAGA people’s new mantra, “Blame America First.” He said Putin would have to be a “suicidal moron” to blow up the pipeline. Biden has not directly blamed Russia for the leaks but accused Putin of “pumping out disinformation and lies” and asserted that the leaks are a result of sabotage. At the same time, Putin is blaming “Anglo-Saxons” for the explosions, which Biden does not believe. Russia’s state company Gazprom is the majority shareholder in #1 and the sole owner of #2.

Russia’s denial of the explosions and blame for the U.S. match its false claim that it didn’t shoot down a Malaysian airline over Ukraine with a missile battery in 2014. Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) DDT is also offering to “head up [a] group” to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid further escalation for his war.

Denmark, Norway, and Poland have celebrated the opening of the Baltic Pipe which will transport natural gas from the Norwegian shelf through Denmark and the Baltic Sea to Poland. The goal is to create more independence from Russian energy. Poland has been cut off from Russian gas supplies since April for not paying in rubles. The pipe should benefit other Baltic states as well as the Danish market.

As Putin puts all his energy into destroying Ukraine to remove its sovereignty, Biden is moving into his turf of mediating the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict with national security adviser hosting “direct and constructive talks” between his counterparts of the two countries. The “road map” to further peace negotiations leads to a meeting in a few days between the countries’ foreign ministers. Both countries had been part of the Soviet Union which dissolved in 1991.

September 23, 2022

Vladimir Putin Smells of Desperation

Three days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin broadcast a seven-minute speech for the 1160th anniversary of the country’s statehood announcing a mobilization of 300,000 recruits and the use of nuclear weapons “to defend the country.” The speech was scheduled for 8:00 pm the night before, and he made his audience wait. His decree stopped short of a national draft and calling he invasion a war. To place the blame on the military, he said:

“I find it necessary to support the proposal of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff on partial mobilization.”

Putin’s statements were in response to Ukraine’s surprise counteroffensive that recaptured 3,500 square miles near the eastern city of Kharkiv.

At this week’s UN meeting, President Joe Biden denounced Putin’s “brutal, needless war” and urged world leaders to hold Russia accountable for trying to extinguish “Ukraine’s right to exist as a state.” Other countries equally criticized Russia’s war and his threats of mobilization and a nuclear strike. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters that Putin’s behavior were “acts of desperation.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated the false claim that Kyiv oppressed Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine and called Zelensky a “bastard” before he walked out of the UN Security Council meeting.

A hidden part of the mobilization decree stated that the Ministry of Defense can call up one million people, but Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president’s press secretary, said that was a lie. Yet officials starting mobilizing men before the order and with no directives. Before Putin’s speech, officials pulled students out of classes, went to homes at midnight, and took men into their 50s and others who have never served in the military. A disproportionate percentage of forced conscripts are ethnic minorities, already a disparate percentage of the fighting force and casualties in Ukraine.

Putin’s actions demonstrate a desperate man. Russia is conscripting anti-war protesters as soon as they are arrested, punishing those who refuse by a 15-year prison sentence. Putin offers freedom to convicts if they fight on the front lines. Employees of Surgutneftegas, a Russian oil and gas company in Western Siberia, received lists of people required to show up for a two-week “training session,” and men in several cities have received notices to attend the “training.” Conscripting ignores the guidelines—age, prior experience, number of children, etc. Except in Moscow, reserve servicemen without mobilization orders or a summons cannot leave their district or city.

Russian media announced a run on airline ticket sales after the speech as people left the country. One carrier charged up to $16,000 for a ticket to Dubai, and Russian news announced all planes to visa-free countries were sold out. Those who couldn’t get tickets created miles-long traffic jams at checkpoints to borders with Finland, Mongolia, and Georgia. Former Soviet republic Kazakhstan has seen a large number of arrivals from Russia. Finland plans to eliminate entry from Russia, and the Czech Republic will not issue humanitarian visas to Russian citizens fleeing mobilization. Chatrooms provide updates about availability of border crossings.

A Moscow millionaire temporarily back into the country from Italy said he was afraid he would be stranded in Russia although he isn’t in the military reserve. Spiking internet searches include “how to leave Russia” and “how to break an arm at home.”

Russian Parliament passed a law this week defining “voluntary surrender” as a crime with a sentence of up to ten years. New penalties have been set for mutiny, “using violence against a superior,” and stealing while in uniform. Conscripts have no release time, and all legislation signal poor morale. The call-up for conscripts cannot create Russian air superiority with the country’s loss of 55 combat aircraft—at least four in the past two weeks—and ground forces cannot counter Ukraine’s superior Western-supplied missile artillery which Russia cannot destroy because they cannot find the locations. Intercepted phone calls of Russian contract soldiers show their intent to leave the army at the end of their enlistment. Forcing them to stay until they’re killed or wounded may cause them to refuse to fight, even with penalties. Newly mobilized soldiers may have no basic training.

Russia lacks training or supplies for the hundreds of thousands Putin plans to mobilize. His army looks weak, sanctions created problems for both him and his trading partners who are becoming less tolerant, and Central Asian leaders snubbed him at a summit in Uzbekistan last week. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rebuked him for the invasion, and Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed “concerns and questions.” The Russian abuse of Ukrainian civilians even caused North Korea to back off, issuing a statement that they didn’t provide any weapons to Russian and have no intention to do so in the future.   

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged Putin to end the war and return all invaded lands, including Crimea, to Ukraine. Alla Pugacheva, a Soviet-era pop star with millions of mainstream followers, proclaimed her patriotism and her opposition to the war. Pro-war nationalist bloggers on social media continue to criticize the war. Protectors high in the security services or heavily armed mercenaries may keep Putin from blocking or arresting the critics.

Across 42 cities, almost 1,400 people were detained just on September 21, some as far away as Novosibirsk in remote Siberia.  The anti-mobilization petition, launched by anti-war activists, has already been signed by over 340,000 people. Protesters have set military registration and enlistment offices on fire and blocked a federal highway.

Putin hopes that four referenda in the Russian-separatist east—Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia—will help his support and nuclear threats create fear. Yet these areas don’t have full Russian military occupation. Zaporizhzhia still has a Ukrainian political administration, and Kherson is returning into Ukrainian control. In Donetsk, the city of Lyman is almost encircled by Ukrainian forces. Officials, however, ban people from leaving some occupied areas until the vote was completed

Lasting four days, they start today. Armed groups go to homes, demanding people tell them how they will vote before marking their ballots and taking them. The election has no independent observers. Yuriy Sobolevsky, the displaced first deputy council chairman of Kherson region, told people in the area to not open their doors. The sham referenda are illegal under international law, but Putin will announce his win in all four districts within a week. Turkey, India and China all indicated disapproval of the referenda.

A strategy of Russia is denial. On August 9, Ukraine’s military hit the Saki air base in Crimea. The next day, deputy chair of the Russian security council Dmitry Medvedev removed his threat on Telegram that any attack in Crimea would precipitate a “judgment day” response “very fast and hard.” The Russian Ministry of Defense denied that an attack occurred at the air base, calling it an “accident,” and didn’t acknowledge the total rout of Russian forces in Kharkiv when Ukrainians reclaimed up to 3,500 square miles of land in the past three weeks as frightened Russian soldiers ran away. [Great interactive maps here!] The Kremlin called it a “regrouping.”

Ukraine has begun artillery strikes against military targets in Russia and Russian officials in cities and towns along the Ukrainian border. Russia is quickly closing schools and evacuating. One hit was at the Russian 3rd Motorized Rifle Division base near Valuyki, nine miles north of the Russian border, one of the dozens of small Russian settlements used as military staging grounds. Russians are unnerved by nighttime explosions, destroyed homes, and some casualties. Ukraine promised not to use U.S.-provided weapons.

Russia and Ukraine had its largest prisoner swap since Russia’s invasion. In exchange for 215 Ukrainian fighters, Russia received 55 Russian prisoners and Viktor Medvedchuk, the father of Putin’s goddaughter. Medvedchuk had been arrested in Ukraine for high treason. Of the 215 returned to Ukraine were 108 members of the Azov Battalion defending Mariupol and its Azovstal steelworks for 80 days, including five military commanders who will stay in Turkey until the war ends. Many of the released prisoners showed signs of brutal torture.

Ten international prisoners received by Ukraine included five British citizens, two U.S. foreign fighters, and people from Croatia, Sweden, and Morocco. Believed to be the first U.S. citizens captured in Ukraine, the two rescued men had been living in Alabama before they volunteered to fight. They disappeared in June near Kharkiv, months before the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive freed the northeastern city from Russian occupation.

Belarusian journalist Tadeusz Giczan tweeted that returning the Ukrainians shows Putin’s “denazifying Ukraine was just a bluff” and his mobilization will inspire “a huge apolitical part of the population” to angrily oppose the war. Giczan said that 9/21/22 may be marked as a key day “in the fall of Putin’s Russia.” He also stated that Putin’s release of the Azov command for his personal friend is “an even bigger blow to Russian nationalists than the Kharkiv retreat because it undermines Putin’s rationale for the invasion.

Putin may not have lost, but right now every day gets worse for him.

September 12, 2022

Ukraine’s Progress, DDT Stalls

The 9/11 post about Ukrainian’s counteroffensive to the Russian invasion showed hope that continues. Disguised as locals, abandoned Russian troops fled Zaliznychne, 37 miles east of Kharkiv, on stolen bicycles and cars or any other way they could, leaving their weapons behind. Soldiers pled for rescue with unit commanders, but they were told “you’ve on your own.”

Investigators came from Kharkiv to collect civilian bodies shot by Russians, some lying exposed for months. One investigator repeated vomited over a guardrail as officers picked up the remains of bodies rotting on the floor of a gravel elevator at an asphalt plant which Russians used as a sniper tower.

The day after Russia reported leaving the Balakliya and Izyum area, its Defense Ministry briefing showed forces retreating behind the Oskil River on the eastern edge of the Kaharkiv region. By Sunday, Ukraine reported taking back over 1,100 square miles of territory while advancing to the east, south, and north, penetrating Russian lines up to 42 miles in some places. The report added that Ukrainians “captured more territory in the past five days than Russian forces have captured in all their operations since April.” Later Zelensky added that Ukraine had taken back 3,600 square miles and over 40 settlements since the beginning of September.

Russia still holds about one-fifth of Ukraine and continues heavy shelling in several regions, but Ukrainian soldiers hope this weekend is a turning point. Ukraine’s Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the nation could not negotiate a peace deal permitting Russian an occupying presence anywhere in Ukraine, even in those such as Crimea and the eastern regions controlled by Russia or Russian-backed separatists for eight years. At the Yalta European Strategy summit in Kyiv on Saturday, Reznikov said, “The point of no return has passed.” Later he told Russia that Ukraine was “not refusing the talks” when Russia planned another round of sham referendums to annex occupied territories, but added that the longer the delay, “the more difficult it will be to negotiate.”

Chechen republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who sent his own fighters to Ukraine, said he would have to contact Moscow leadership for an explanation without immediate changes in Russia’s actions in the invasion. Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t give details about his plans but said they “won’t be standing still.”

Refusing to acknowledge a rout, Russia claimed they were regrouping its troops for deployment. Even Russian social media users scoffed at this weak excuse, calling the pull-out “shameful.” Hawkish Russian war bloggers have turned against Putin, calling the war a “catastrophe.” On state television, a former Duma member blamed unnamed “people who convinced President Putin that the special operation would be effective and swift, that we won’t be hitting the civilian population . . . that the Ukrainians will surrender and run away and ask to join Russia.” He clearly favored peace negotiations to end the “war” instead of using Putin’s term “special operation.” On Saturday, Putin had time to open a new Ferris wheel in Moscow, the largest in Europe. People were stuck as high as 460 feet over the ground, and the wheel closed for “calibration.”  

According to Ukrainian officials, the Russian military has stopped sending new units into Ukraine:

“The current situation in the theatre of operations and distrust of the higher command forced a large number of volunteers to categorically refuse the prospect of service in combat conditions.”

Ukrainians have no place for all their Russian prisoners of war they have captured.

 Energoatom, operator of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, is shutting down the last working reactor at the Russian-controlled plant which had powered the crucial cooling system. It will be cooled and transferred to a safer state after Russians continued its shelling of the area. Shelling can still disconnect the grid, forcing the plant to use emergency diesel generators to avoid a nuclear meltdown, but only ten days of diesel fuel remains. 

Sunday, Russian missile strikes against power stations and other infrastructure left tens of thousands of people with no electricity and running water for several hours. The Kharkiv called the power outage “revenge by the Russian aggressor for the successes of our army at the front, in particular, in the Kharkiv region.” The outages were not related to the reactor shutdowns at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/09/12/trump-classified-special-master/    A new filing by Deposed Donald Trump’s (DDT) legal team argues that the documents marked classified aren’t really classified. Like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the attorneys claimed the situation was a “document storage dispute.” The filing is in response to the DOJ’s request that the over 100 classified documents, including military and nuclear secrets of a foreign government, be exempted from the examination. Yet DDT’s lawyers wouldn’t lie under oath to declare that DDT had declassified the documents. They just claim that prosecutors are overstating any national-security concerns and said the government was not being fair.  

While DDT’s Judge Aileen Cannon tries to protect him, the DOJ issued about 40 subpoenas to obtain more information on DDT and his associates regarding the 2020 election and January 6 insurrection. Several of the subjects are still close to DDT including former White House social media director Dan Scavino. Last week, the DOJ seized phones from top advisers Boris Epshteyn and Roman who helped submit fake electoral votes from swing states won by President Joe Biden in 2020. Some of the subpoenas are related to DDT’s fraudulent donation scheme from his Save America PAC falsely claiming the money would to go the non-existent court cases to put DDT back into the White House. At least one subpoena asked for information about members of the executive and legislative branches taking part in blocking the presidential election election. Several congressional members have already been identified

DDT’s filing based its entire legal argument on a reading of the Presidential Records Act (PRA) (1978) which states that the National Archives “shall” become the custodian of presidential records. DDT’s team claims that he doesn’t have to return the classified documents because the law does not state “must.” After the Supreme Court ruled in Gutierrez de Martinez v. Lamagno (1995) that “shall” could mean “may,” much to the surprise of the entire legal world which had defined “shall” as “must,” Congress passed the Plain Writing Act in 2010, requiring the word “must” for mandatory. Originalists, however, must accept the word “shall” as “must” because the PRA was passed 17 years before the Supreme Court ruling.  

According to a new memoir by Geoffrey Berman, fired because he wouldn’t voluntarily resign as the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, former AG Bill Barr is a liar, a bully, and a thug. And stupid.

In Holding the Line: Inside the Nation’s Preeminent US Attorney’s Office and Its Battle with the Trump Justice Department, to be published this week, Berman gave a firsthand account of how Barr tried to orchestrate the prosecution of DDT’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and the Halkbank investigation about Turkish bankers and government officials helping Iran circumvent the Iran nuclear deal. Berman had been Barr’s adversary during the presidency of George H.W. Bush when Barr protected Bush from legal problems by suggesting that the president pardon the conspirators of the Iran-Contra scandal along with more sleazy actions.

To protect DDT, Barr took “point person” for the Halkbank investigation that was run out of New York. At one meeting, Barr raised his voice when he asked Berman, “Who do you think you are to interfere?” Berman had refused to give people in the case a non-prosecution agreement without disclosing the move and said it would be a “fraud on the court.”

Barr used the same words over the appointment of Audrey Strauss as Berman’s deputy. Berman let himself be fired rather than resign so that she could take over Berman’s position instead of Barr appointing his own person. Another contentious issue between the two men was Berman’s refusal to sign a letter attacking former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, criticizing the mayor’s COVID restrictions to religious services.

Berman’s refusal led Barr ask him for a meeting where Barr said he wanted to “make a change in the southern district.” Berman turned him down and didn’t know if he could be removed by anyone other than judges who appointed him on an interim basis or by a Senate confirmation of a successor. Barr offered Berman more money by leading the DOJ civil division before he threatened to fire Berman before he asked Berman if he wanted to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, “not [Barr’s] to offer.”

Barr said he’d talk to Berman again but issued the press release saying Berman was “stepping down.” Berman followed up with his own press release, stating he hadn’t resigned, and showed up for work the next day. Barr released a letter stating that DDT had fired Berman.

Oddly enough, Barr has made many anti-DDT comments both on television and in interviews with the House January 6 investigative committee—that the 2020 election was legal, DDT has no right to the classified documents, the DOJ has enough information to indict DDT, etc. Yet Barr’s reputation  will follow him.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), running for another six-year term, accused Democrats of having “infilitrated” life in the U.S. by going to church, attending college, and having jobs. He said “this entire election is … fighting for freedom.” (I know: it doesn’t make sense!) 

September 11, 2022

Russian Invasion of Ukraine – Day 200, DDT’s ‘Special Master’

Russian lawmakers in both St. Petersburg and Moscow called for President Vladimir Putin to be removed from power, dangerous because dissent results in prison or—even worse—being killed. They not only called for Putin’s removal but also a charge of high treason for the invasion. Deputy Dmitry Palyuga of the Smolninsky District Council in St. Petersburg called Putin’s decision “detrimental to the security of Russia and its citizens.” Smolninsky councilors had urged Putin to stop the war in March. Moscow lawmakers accused Putin of sending “our country back into the Cold War era.” Police told the lawmakers they face legal charges “due to actions aimed at discrediting the current Russian government.” 

Ukrainian successes caused Russia to pull out of two formerly occupied areas in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region. The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops will be regrouped to the Donetsky region in eastern Ukraine and repeated its goal “to liberate Donbas” which it keeps violating by destroying all of Ukraine, trying to take over the entire country.

The Institute for the Study of War estimates Ukraine has taken back 965 square miles in its eastern counteroffensive. More Russian positions can be collapsed around Izyum by severing Russian ground lines of communication north and south of town. According to Ukraine, Russians have no food or fuel for troops in the area. The military claimed only 386 square mils this week. Kzyum is an important command and supply hub.   

In the northeastern Kharkiv region, a Ukrainian counteroffense forced invading Russian troops to evacuate from a city they occupied, Kupiansk. As part of the counteroffensive, Ukraine took over the northeastern railway hub in the city, trapping thousands of Russian troops.According to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine retook the eastern town of Balakliia near Kharkiv. Video showed Russians had abandoned trucks, artillery, and ammunition. A pro-Russian official told Russian state television that the city remains in Russian control.

Russian forces will be stretched between that area and the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the southeastern Kherson region. A major Russia objective is to keep Crimea. Yet Ukrainian troops have also had some success in cutting off and isolating Russian troops west of the Dnipro River while attacking Russian supply lines. 

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War theorize that Russians are struggling after redeployment in the face of Ukraine’s “tactical surprise.” Russian military bloggers suggest the surprise “is likely successfully demoralizing Russian forces.” Britain added the eastern advance on Bakhmut in Donbas to possibility Ukrainian successes.  

On the scary side, Russia won’t stop shelling the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warns the risk of a nuclear accident has “significantly increased” because of the ongoing fighting. It might force the shutdown of the last of six reactors, setting a chain of events to intensify the nuclear crisis. The plant not only provides electricity for consumers but also feeds the plant’s grid to protect the safety and cooling systems. Water must be constantly pumped through the cores with pumps requiring electricity for a long time during a cool-down. Depleted fuel and/or damaged generators can cause a meltdown.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said he thought power lines were deliberately targeted to cause these problems. Another problem is the strain on the plant’s almost 1,000 operators living in a nearby town where water, sewage, and electrical supplies are disrupted by the same fighting that damages the lines around the plant. The Moscow Times reported that Russians killed two power plant staff members by beating them and abused dozens of others in a regime of personnel harassment.

The mayor of Energodar, location of the power plant, reported that electricity and water were restored to his city after the IAEA team inspected Zaporizhzhia.

The U.S. has sanctioned Iranian firms for their drone transfers to Russia, both in manufacturing and transportation. Russian strategies:

  • Drones attacking Ukrainian forces from so high in the sky that targets cannot hear the vehicles buzz.
  • Tanks leaving newly built cement shelters to fire on Ukrainian targets before going back under its cover for protection from mortars and rockets.
  • Counter-battery radars permitting Russian forces to target Ukrainian artillery.
  • Hackers taking over Ukrainian drones.

Turkey plans to build a drone factory in Ukraine. The Baykar’s Bayraktar TB2 drone, popular in Ukraine, has helped destroy many Russian artillery systems and armored vehicles. Russia has complained to Turkey about its sale of drones to Ukraine.

While Ukraine fights for democracy, Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) fights against it. In Florida, his appointed judge Aileen Cannon is mulling over the DOJ appeal to DDT’s request that a “special master” examine all seized documents from Mar-a-Lago because, as the judge ruled, DDT is above the law. The appeal asks that the intelligence community—including the FBI and DOJ—examine all classified materials and continue with an investigation while the special master examine the other documents for non-existent executive and attorney-client privileges.

If the DOJ had not appealed, the judge might have given DDT highly sensitive classified documents because the court treated DDT’s request as the return of property, documents with such danger if exposure that the government had to make a full-scale intelligence community damage assessment. DDT not only mishandled the documents that the FBI found but also may have passed some of them to other people, even foreign governments. The appeal was also vital because the FBI is not separate from the intelligence community and must help with the review, as the FBI pointed out in the appeal because the DDT-appointed judge didn’t understand the government hierarchy. She said only the Office of National Intelligence, of which the DOJ and FBI are part, could evaluate the classified documents.

According to Alan E. Kohler, assistant director of the FBI Counter Intelligence Division, FBI work is vital to find what happened to items such as those missing from dozens of empty folders with classified markings that the FBI located during the search at Mar-a-Lago. Kohler explained that the use of grand jury subpoenas, search warrants, and other criminal investigative tools” could be necessary and “could lead to evidence that would also be highly relevant to advancing the FBI’s criminal investigation.” Judge Aileen Cannon blocked these steps by the FBI. Kohler noted:

“The FBI is the only IC [(Intelligence Community)] element with a full suite of authorities and tools to investigate and recover any improperly retained and stored classified information in the United States.”

The judge may be considering her way out of her mistakes: she ordered parties to consider the government motion for relief on the classified documents in their filing for the recommendations for special masters and the order of operations. Part of the DOJ request for a stay is permission to continue using the classified documents in its criminal investigation in addition to an appeal to the 11th Circuit Court. That strategy of parallel legal actions can save time.

Friday, both DDT and the DOJ each submitted two names for the judge-mandated special master:

DOJ: two retired federal judges, former US district court judge Barbara Jones, who previously served as a special master; and Thomas Griffith, a former US appeals court judge for the DC Circuit and a lecturer at Harvard Law School. Jones examined materials seized with warrants from Rudy Giuliani’s home and office and from Michael Cohen. Both men were DDT’s lawyers when DOJ investigated them. 

DDT:  former U.S. district court chief judge Raymond Dearie, one of four judges who authorized a wiretap on former DDT’s 2016 campaign aide Carter Page; and former Florida deputy attorney general Paul Huck. Appointed by Ronald Reagan, Dearie is a senior judge after he retired in 2011 and served seven years on the FISA court. Huck now has his own law firm but was a partner at the Jones Day law firm representing DDT’s 2016 campaign and a contributor to the conservative Federalist Society. DDT’s newest lawyer, Chris Kise, worked with Huck in the Florida AG’s office. Huck’s wife, a judge on the 11th Circuit Court where DOJ is filing an appeal, was on DDT’s short list to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the Supreme Court.

The judge makes the choice for the special master.

In addition to disagreeing on the identity of the special master, the two parties also failed to reach consensus on most of the key issues connected to the scope of the work and the responsibility for the added expense.

Disagreements:

DOJ: special master should not review documents with classified markings or subject them to executive privilege; DDT: all documents should be reviewed.

DOJ: the agency wants to review proposed protection designations before documents goes to the special master; DDT: documents retain designations to protect the process.

DOJ: the agency wants to see DDT’s lawyers’ categorizations before sending documents to the special master to save time if they agree; DDT: the special master should review all the seized materials.

DOJ: the plaintiff should pay for the cost of the special master’s work; DDT: the costs should be evenly divided.

DOJ: The deadline should be October 17; DDT: he should have a 90-day window for examining the materials after details have been worked out.

Agreements:

The 21-day period for reviewing and objecting on the special master’s eventual recommendations should be shortened.

The special master should be able to have help from a support staff.

Thus Ukraine fights for democracy, and the former leader of the U.S. fights against democracy.

September 6, 2022

Russian Invasion of Ukraine – Day 195, More DDT

[Update for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago: A good day would be one without news for Deposed Donald Trump (DDT); once again this is not a good day. Like the judge who put DDT above the law in permitting him a special master to delay an investigation regarding his theft of government documents, the public now knows that at least one of these documents described an unidentified foreign government’s nuclear military defenses. The material is so secret that even senior officials in President Joe Biden’s administration are not authorized to see them, so closely guarded that a “designated control officer” is assigned to monitor the documents in its location. Only the president and a few Cabinet or near-Cabinet level officials could authorize other government officials to view them. Over two weeks ago, DDT had lied when the seized documents were harmless and he had nothing related to nuclear secrets. A question now is whether Republicans continue to cover for DDT, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who said the investigation concerned only a mere records issue, “a fight over storage of documents.”

Judge Aileen Cannon’s opinion explained she ordered temporary halt to an investigation because of DDT’s status as a former president. In 2016, DDT promised his administration would “enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information” because “no one is above the law.” He even strengthened the law while he was in hte White House. Yet DDT refused to voluntarily give up the nuclear document voluntarily after classified documents were subpoenaed; it was found only when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, largely deserted for the past months for the summer. The judge may also have violated the code preventing conflict of interest when she ruled in favor of the man who appointed her to her position. Ian Millheiser has a thorough explanation of how bogus the judge’s ruling is.]

And now returning to a country fighting to preserve democracy. The news from Ukraine regarding Russia’s invasion of the country has focused on two major subjects for the past week: the disaster of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the hope that Ukrainians are taking back land and populated areas.

At Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, a fire shut down the last working reactor hours before the UN atomic inspectors was scheduled to brief the Security Council on conditions there. With Russia’s military base nearby, its troops continue catastrophic shelling that they blame on the Ukrainians. Of the six reactors operating before Russians seized the plant after the invasion, only two were operating until last Saturday when shelling disconnected one of them. In the fire eliminating the last one, a backup power line was damaged but could be restored. Russia occupies the plant, but Ukraine is responsible for operating the facility, the largest in Europe.

Since Ukraine has been disconnected from the power plant grid, over 600,000 people are without electricity in the country, more than 80 percent in the eastern area of Donbas and the remainder in Mykolaiv to the south and Kharkiv to the northeast. About 235,000 people remain without natural gas supplies. Energoatom, the country’s nuclear agency, is working to restore the connection to the Ukrainian grid. The problem doesn’t seem to be a crisis because a power unit is working to cool the remainder of the nuclear reactors. 

A team of 14 from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the power plant last week, and two members of the team will stay permanently at the plant for purposes of monitoring it. The shelling near the plant presents “a constant threat to nuclear safety and security,” according to IAEA. Despite the discovery of Russian troops and equipment at the plant, including military vehicles in turbine halls, Moscow denies it used the plant as a shield. The IAEA said, “Ukrainian staff operating the plant under Russian military occupation are under constant high stress and pressure, especially with the limited staff available.” Damaged areas of the plant are a building housing nuclear fuel, a facility storing radioactive waste, and a building housing an alarm system. The plant has also been frequently cut off from offsite power supplies critical to safe operation.

After the team reported to the UN, its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres laid out specific steps for both sides to demilitarize the area and refrain “from military activity in and around the plant.” They should also agree “on a demilitarized perimeter,” including “a commitment by Russian forces to withdraw all military personnel and equipment from that perimeter, and a commitment by Ukrainian forces not to move into it.” Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia claimed his country’s forces were defending the plant.  

Artyom Bardin, the Russian-installed commandant of the Zaporizhzhia region, was critically injured from his car exploding in Berdiansk, an Azov Sea port of about 100,000 people in southern Ukraine. Eleven days earlier, the city’s deputy chief of traffic police died from a bomb blast, and another Russian-back official in the Kherson region, former Ukrainian lawmaker Alexei Kovalev, was shot dead.

The biggest Western economies, the G7 countries, agreed to cap Russian oil prices and ban services allowing transportation of its crude oil and petroleum products above the cap, including insurance cover or finance for oil shipments. Russia’s energy giant Gazprom closed down gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, claiming an oil leak. It put the blame on sanctions keeping machinery for repairs. Russia had already stopped the supply of gas to Germany which sent European gas prices skyrocketing.

In another disaster for the second largest Russian oil company, LUKOIL, its chair Ravil Maganov died after he supposedly fell from a sixth-story balcony or window after going to an elite clinic for a heart condition. No video exists because cameras were turned off for repairs. Since the Russian invasion, six businesspeople with ties to the nation’s energy industry have mysteriously died, but none of them is classified as a murder. Russia considers the deaths suicides.  LUKOIL had criticized the invasion and publicly called for a ceasefire one week after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared his “special military operation.”

Ukraine has expressed optimism about its counteroffensive in the south, and the Luhansk regional governor stated early signs of “good news” in the “de-occupation of our region” on Monday after two villages were retaken. The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, reported that “Ukrainian forces are advancing along several axes” to the west of the Kherson region, and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “Ukrainian flags are returning to the places where they should be by right.” Russia has “paused” a referendum in Kherson that would force Ukrainians to become Russians after Ukrainians destroyed the storage warehouse for the referendum ballots, including all printed materials.

Ukraine is keeping its strategy quiet while trying to take back the first important city taken by Russia in late February; it is part of Putin’s “land bridge” to Crimea. For the first time in the invasion, reporters have been barred from front-line access. Russia claims Ukraine is failing, but its forces are thin in some of those areas with “severe manpower shortages,” according to a recent U.S. intelligence finding.

Ukraine did claim shooting down five Russian cruise missiles on September 6, most of them in the south. Witnesses reported fighting around Balakliia, an eastern town of 27,000 people between Kharkiv and Russian-held Izyum where Putin’s forces rely on a major railway hub for supplies., Ukraine military earlier said it repelled Russian offensives, pushing the armies back in a number of eastern Ukrainian settlements. The Ukrainian artillery also destroyed an important Russian ammunition depot with S-300 missiles used to fire on the city of Kharkiv. In addition, Ukrainian officials reported unsuccessful Russian advances in southwestern Ukraine where Ukrainians destroyed Russian command centers, pontoon bridges, and eight ammunition depots.

Over six months into the invasion, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia “has yet to achieve any of its strategic objectives.” Their forces have missed several deadlines and are advancing only 0.6 miles a week in the area where they have the most success. He added that Russia “continues to lose significant equipment and personnel,” losses that will have a lasting impact on its future combat effectiveness. Wallace estimates over 80,000 soldiers dead, injured, or deserted because of morale and discipline issues from combat fatigue, high casualties, and problems with not being paid. He explained:

“The Russian military has consistently failed to provide basic entitlements to troops deployed in Ukraine, including providing appropriate uniforms, arms, and rations, as well as pay. This has almost certainly contributed to the continued fragile morale of much of the force.”

In late August, U.S. and Western officials said that Ukraine has become more evenly matched with Russian forces because of advanced Western weaponry and the Ukrainian’s advantage of morale, unit cohesion, tactical acumen, and a superior ability to improvise on the fly.

A week ago, Russia picked up scores of Iranian combat drones to use against Ukraine, but they suffered several failures. Russian drones are made with Western electronics which Russia can’t obtain for repair. Although Russia has between 1,500 and 2,000 surveillance drones, it has almost no attack drones while Ukraine has Turkish-made combat UAVs when it has used to attack Russian, armor, trucks, and artillery since the beginning of the invasion. Russian new drones have not been tested against Ukraine’s sophisticated electronic jamming and antiaircraft systems.

According to U.S. intelligence reports, Russia is buying millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea, indicating that Russia has “severe supply shortages in Ukraine.”

August 29, 2022

Russian Invasion of Ukraine – Day 188

The U.S. State Department and Yale University have identified at least 21 sites in Donetsk, the eastern part of Ukraine with Russian supporters, where civilians are detained, interrogated, or deported in violation of international humanitarian law. Signs of potential mass graves are also in some of the areas. Sources for their conclusions are satellite imagery and open-source information. Researchers received reports of torture, beatings, lack of water and proper nutrition, unhygienic conditions, and overcrowded cells at the compounds.

Russia is using cluster munitions to kill civilians in Donetsk. The bombs, missiles, rockets, mortar, and artillery shells are designed to open midair to destroy smaller weapons or bomblets detonating on impact. Some of the bomblets are still volatile, capable of exploding later. Over 100 countries ban cluster munitions but not Russia, Ukraine, and the U.S. Hundreds of these munitions have been documented and/or reported in ten Ukrainian official regions, and Ukrainian forces using them at least three times.

Ukraine celebrated August 24, coincidentally the six-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of its country, as Independence Day for Ukraine’s break from the Soviet Union.  Russians used the celebration to kill 25 people in and around a train station in eastern Ukraine with rockets, one of the deadliest attacks on Ukraine’s railways since April when 50 people were killed in Kramatorsk. Russians also used Ukraine’s Independence Day to fire cluster munitions in northeastern and south Ukraine. Instead of a parade, Ukraine honored their Independence Day by moving heavily damaged Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers, and rocket launchers along Khreshchatyk Street, Kyiv’s answer to New York’s Fifth Avenue.  Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife carry flowers in commemoration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shelling late last week at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex damaged power lines, cutting it off from Ukraine’s grid. Much of the concern focuses on the nuclear reactors’ cooling systems that require power to run. Officials said that a power transmission line had fire damage. Of the 17 Ukrainian shells hitting the plants in one day, four struck the roof of a building storing nuclear fuel. Authorities are distributing potassium iodide tablets living near the plant in case of radiation exposure.

The episode followed ongoing concern about a nuclear disaster since the Russian attacks and the establishment of a nearby military base where Russia stores munitions. Inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency have not been able to inspect the nuclear plant because of Russian objections, but a team plans to go to the plant later this week.

Before Thursday’s shelling, Russia had threatened to disconnect the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, from Ukraine’s power grid, with a catastrophe to its cooling systems if remaining power connections were severed. Then they started the shelling. Three of the four main electricity lines had already been broken during the war, and another two of three back-up lines are also down, according to Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine’s atomic energy company. A shift between grid systems would require reliance on a back-up diesel-powered generator. There are no other options. Reactors reach a dangerous temperature after 90 minutes without power.

Other Russian threats to nuclear safety are their parking vehicles so tightly parked in turbine halls that firefighters would struggle to reach them in case of fire and violence against workers choosing to stay at the plant. In one turbine hall are 14 trucks and at least six in the other one. Many other military vehicles are lined up under overpasses, built to house pipes and walkways between reactor and turbine complexes. Kotin said that one worker was beaten to death, another injured so severely that he needed three months to recover, and over 200 of them have been detained.

Russian attacks destroyed Ukrainian fuel storage facilities in the Dnipro region supplying Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region, left part of Nikopol without electricity, and damaged residences in Marhanets. Ukraine has a counteroffensive near the city of Kherson. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order to increase the military by 137,000, but the UK defense ministry said it doesn’t know if Russia will be recruiting or increasing conscription. Additional troops may not help because of the tens of thousands lost from death and injury in Ukraine. Conscripts are not required to serve outside Russian territory.  

In its occupied Ukrainian territories, Russia is planning rigged referendums to bring the regions under Russia control. Already, the occupiers are teaching Russian curriculum in school, encouraging Ukrainian to apply for Russian passports, and rerouting mobile phone and internet connections through Russia’s censored networks, frequently blocking access to independent media sources.

Citigroup is closing 15 branches and laying off or moving 2,300 workers in Russia as it winds down the retail and commercial banking services in the country. The bank started the process before the war began in February 24.

A Ukrainian official in Luhansk told reporters that Russian forces took the region’s entire grain harvest to Russia, at least 200,000 tons of grain. Russia is also selling 500,000 tons of wheat to Bangladesh for $430 a ton. Ukraine is successfully moving its grain out of the country via its Danube ports, 11 ships with 45,000 tons last Saturday. Under a deal with Turkey, 1 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs had been exported from three Black Sea ports. Thus far, 103 ships have gone either to or from Ukraine.

The hardship in Russia is reflected the country trying to recruit professionals because of “dwindling human resources.” According to Daily Beast reporter Julia Davis:

“Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was meant to bring Russia millions of new citizens, as well as the country’s fertile land, flush with mineral and energy resources. Instead, the war has caused monumental losses on the battlefield, and the exodus of the best and the brightest from Russia. Now, dwindling human resources are causing the Kremlin and its pliant mouthpieces to brainstorm about replenishing the gaping holes in Russia’s general population, workforce, and military.”

Davis added that an “exodus of young Russian professionals” has been “forcing employees to work overtime, during weekends, holidays, or their usual days off, as needed.” She explained that recruiting includes creating discontent in other countries and promising “Moscow as a paragon of religious propriety and freedom.”

Ukraine reports Russia’s losses since February: 47,100 troops, 1,947 tanks, 4,269 armored fighting vehicles, 3,188 vehicles and fuel tanks, 1,060 artillery systems, 279 multiple launch rocket systems, 149 air defense systems, 203 helicopters, 234 airplanes, 844 drones, and 15 boats.

A U.S. assessment stated that Ukraine has a “good chance” to retake territory captured by Russia in its initial invasion. Ukraine has taken out “most” of the bridges crossing the Dnipro River, removing Russia’s ability to resupply its troops. HIMARS allow Ukraine to strike behind Russian lines and put them into defensive positions. Putin has already been forced to pull resources from the Donbas where he concentrated most of his forces. Today, Ukraine reported the military killed 82 Russian troops and destroyed at least 30 units of Russian equipment.

After six months of failure and death, Putin understands he doesn’t have an easy win in fewer than six days. Quitting, however, would be humiliating. So what does he do in the face of the weapons sent to Ukraine amounting to tens of billions of dollars from many Western countries?

Putin could declare that the NATO threat is neutralized and propose a settlement allowing him to keep the occupied areas, including Crimea. But Ukraine won’t agree.

Putin could try for a huge battlefield escalation and use Belarus to open a second front north of Kyiv, but Russia is rapidly losing generals, some of them dead and others fired because of competency.

Putin can threaten loss of gas supplies which he has already done. European countries, however, are already planning for this contingency. Die Welt reports that German gas reserves are at 82 percent capacity with 85 percent by early September.

Putin could work to undermine Western unity and staying power. He already has Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko by supporting his theft of the 2020 election despite nationwide protests. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is much closer to Putin’s racist, homophobic ideology than the democratic philosophy of other European Union countries. Italy may move back to far-right control after next month’s elections. Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia’s president, has been called “little Putin.”

Putin’s willingness to unleash radiation from a nuclear plant across the continent shows that he is willing to do anything.

August 16, 2022

Russian Invasion of Ukraine – Day 174

According to Ukraine, one of its elite military unit caused the huge explosions at a Russian ammunition storage site on August 16, 2022, the 174th day of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine may also have been behind strikes in northern Crimea destroying an important railway hub for supplying Russian troops and equipment to occupied Melitopol as well as a military air base. Blasts in Melitopol, south of Zaporizhzhia on the coast, have also knocked out pro-Russian television broadcasts spreading propaganda and controlling war news which had replaced Ukrainian media sources. Another explosion also took out an electricity substation about 125 miles from the front line. Until recently, Crimeans suffered few consequences from Russia’s war, but the strikes are unnerving them.

Last month, a senior Russian official threatened “Judgment Day” if Ukraine attacked Crimea, possibly an impetus for the series of attacks on the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula illegally seized in 2014. Putin calls Crimea a “sacred place” and Russia’s “holy land.” Last week, beachgoers ran for cover after blasts at a Russian air base, and a July 31 makeshift drone attack on Sevastopol forced Russia to cancel its Navy Day celebrations.

With his annexation of Crimea, Putin gained the reputation of a great leader resurrecting Russia as a great power, and he cited the Ukrainian land as an existential security threat, warning of a war between Russia and NATO from a Western-supported effort to take Crimea from him. His launch of the invasion on February 24, 2022 moved north from Crimea in capturing a large area in southern Ukraine, including the Kherson region. Crimea is the location for air and logistics support to Russian forces in Kherson and neighboring Zaporizhzhia region, home to an endangered nuclear power plant. Ukraine countered with an offensive, limiting Russia’s abilities to group his forces.

With a temperate climate and expansive beaches, the critical staging ground for Russia’s invasion is tied to Russia with a bridge and serves as homeport for the country’s Black Sea Fleet, making the peninsula a vital link to Russia’s military supply chain for tens of thousands of soldiers in southern Ukraine. Crimea is the location for air and logistics support to Russian forces in Kherson and neighboring Zaporizhzhia region, home to an endangered nuclear power plant. The peninsula also has two main rail links for moving heavy Russian military equipment, air bases to attack Ukrainian positions, and a launching ground for long-range Russian missiles.

Catherine the Great declared Crimea part of Russia in 1783, and Soviet Ruler Nikita S. Krushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954 when Ukraine was a Soviet republic. Russia lost its “jewel” with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin promised to not further divide Ukraine in 2014 but broke his promise eight years later when he started the current war.

Russian troops remain at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, continuing the dangers of nuclear safety and security. The UN wants to support an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but a Russian diplomat claimed that any mission going through Ukraine’s capital was too dangerous. Inspectors cannot go unless both Ukraine and Russia agree. The Ukrainian company overseeing the nation’s nuclear plants reported that Russian forces targeted a nearby fire station responsible for extinguishing blazes at the facility in the event of an emergency. An accident at the plant would require evacuation of over 400,000 people. 

The Russian invasion is vastly reducing Ukraine’s population. In the eastern Donbas region where artillery fire continues in a battle for control, the population has dropped from 1.67 million to about 220,000 civilians with more being evacuated. Almost all the vital infrastructure has been destroyed, eliminating power and heat.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, as many as 80,000 Russian troops have been wounded or killed during fighting, according to the Pentagon. It was estimated by Western officials that about 150,000 Russian troops were stationed near Ukraine’s border at the start of the war. Russia has found a way to avoid the European Union ban for propaganda and misinformation (aka falsehoods) on RT and Sputnik as diplomats are spreading the lies.  

Putin is blaming the U.S. for turning Ukrainians into “cannon fodder” because of the U.S. continued support for the invaded country. At a security conference, he spoke to military officials from Africa, Asia, and Latin America and repeated his claim that troops were sent to Ukraine to keep it from being an “anti-Russia” bulwark. Putin said that the U.S. behaves exactly the same way as when it tries “to fuel conflicts in Asia, Africa and Latin America” and compared their actions to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) visit to Taiwan. He said:

“It was part of a deliberate and conscious U.S. strategy intended to destabilize the situation and create chaos in the region and the entire world, a blatant demonstration of disrespect for another country’ sovereignty and its own international obligations.”

Survivors of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine say the mercenaries in the Wagner Group are kidnapping male children as young as 11 years old from their families, putting some of them at work in gold and diamond mines controlled by the mercenaries. Soldiers beat up family members trying to stop them, breaking their hands if they don’t let go. Russians need workers in their gold mines in the Central African Republic (CAR) after massacres killed scores to hundreds of artisan mine workers mostly from Sudan and Chad between March 13 and May 24. The children are less likely to disobey Russians and the migrant miners and are not as greedy. Russia wants the gold and diamonds to survive problems from the sanctions after the invasion.

CAR has one of the world’s largest child labor rates with a 50 percent increase in the number of children in the diamond mines when the 2020 COVID lockdown closed schools. The country’s Mining Code prevents children employed in mining, but Russians control the CAR security apparatus. The owner of Concord Management, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. His children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, also created the plan that “violently” took thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia for forced adoptions “from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions” of Ukraine.

According to reports, Ukrainian artillery has struck Wagner’s headquarters in eastern Ukraine after a Russian journalist gave its secret location. A photo on Telegram posted by Sergei Sreda, now removed, showed five people in military uniform with the street sign of Popasna, Luhansk.

After lengthy planning, a UN-chartered ship with 23,000 metric tons of Ukrainian left a Black Sea port for Ethiopia, one of five countries considered at risk of starvation. On August 5, three ships left port with 58,000 metric tons of corn. Before the war, Ukraine supplied about 45 million metric tons of grain a year to the world market, according to the U.N. Roughly 20 million tons of grain have been stuck in Ukrainian silos since the beginning of the war.

Ukraine’s grain exports are down 46 percent at 2.65 million tons thus far in the 2022-23 season. The loss of land to Russian forces and lower grain yields will cut grain harvest to 50 million tons compared to 86 million tons last year. Last year, grain exports were up 8.5 percent to 48.5 million tons before Russia invaded the country on February 24. Brokered by the UN and Turkey, a deal between Moscow and Kyiv opened three Black Sea ports at the end of July, hopefully allowing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian grain to buyers. Thus far in 2022-23, Ukraine has exported 1.75 million tons of corn, 658,000 tons of wheat, and 226,000 tons of barley.

Putin is also reaching out to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to deepen the two countries relationship, and Kim seems amenable. He said the friendship was forged in World War II with the victory over Japan. Putin bragged about Russian weapons and said, “We are ready to offer allies and partners the most modern types of weapons from small arms to armoured vehicles and artillery, combat aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.” In July, North Korea was one of the few countries officially recognizing the two Russian-backed separatist “people’s republics,” Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine after Russia signed a decree declaring them as independent. At that time, Ukraine cut off diplomatic ties with North Korea. Many North Korea’s Russian-designed weapons are old, from the Soviet era, but its missiles are similar to Russian ones.

Last year, President Joe Biden spent months trying to persuade other countries that Putin was planning an invasion of Ukraine. No one believed him because it was not a “rational” thing to do. Even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky because his own intelligence was riddle with Russian moles. Not until the actual attack on February 24, 2022, did Western leaders understand that the word “rational” doesn’t fit Putin. He sent troops he had massed at the border into Ukraine to massacre Ukrainians and destroy their land. For months, however, French President Emmanuel Macron still believed that he could persuade Putin to leave Ukraine. Almost six months later, the Western world understands they were wrong and Biden was right. The details of their mistakes is in this remarkable report.

July 30, 2022

Udates, News on July 30, 2022

News from the past week have led to extensive updates:

Ukraine: The 12 HIMARS sent from the U.S. are stopping Russia from gaining air superiority in its invasion, according to the Pentagon, and British defense officials said Ukraine has successfully repelled small-scale Russian attacks in the Donbas region. Ukraine announced that its fighting in the Kherson area destroyed over 100 Russian soldiers and seven tanks as well as stopping rail traffic across the Dnipro River, cutting off Russian forces west of the river from supplies out of Crimea and further east.

Missing January 6 texts: Department of Homeland Security Inspector General James Cuffari, appointed by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), refused to collect agency phones in an attempt to recover deleted Secret Service texts. After a senior forensics analyst in Cuffari’s office collected the phones, Cuffari’s told investigators to not take the phones and not seek any data from them. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Judiciary Committee chair, asked the DOJ to intervene in the investigation of the missing texts.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement Friday calling the missing messages “an extremely serious matter” and said he would ask the Justice Department to intervene. Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House January 6 investigative committee, and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) have asked that Cuffari be replaced in the investigation. Text messages from former acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli, both appointed by DDT, are missing for a key period leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, but both of them said their phones had the texts when they gave their phones to DHS. Secret Service Director James Murray, another DDT-appointed official in the missing text scandal, will need to delay his retirement at the end of July for a job at Instagram because of the investigations.

The PACT Act: GOP senators scuttled a bill they had already approved expanding VA healthcare for seriously ill military veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits of waste. Immediately before Republicans voted against support for veterans, they tweeted their admiration for the veterans. After their negative votes, Ted Cruz (TX), Steve Daines (MT), and others gloated with joyful fist bumps and handshakes on the chamber floor in a video that has gone viral. Republicans complained the bill’s change in the House would allow Democrats a “slush fund,” but it kept other agencies from siphoning off the healthcare funds. Democrats threaten delaying the August recess with 15 Republicans needing to campaign for the 2022 election. Bill advocate Jon Stewart’s response to the happy GOP senators.

Kentucky’s flooding:  Kentucky’s death toll from flooding has gone to at least 25 with “still a lot of people unaccounted for,” according to Gov. Andy Beshear. Since the beginning of heavy rainfall last Wednesday, almost 300 people have been saved, but more rain is forecast for Sunday. The historic flooding follows the deadliest tornadoes in its history killing over 70 in December 2021.

More Florida regulations: Gov. Ron DeSantis has attacked a Miami restaurant hosting drag shows in the presence of children by threatening to pull its liquor license. DeSantis consistently approves of parental decisions—if they do what he wants. Parents criticize the accusation that the drag show violates the state statute opposing anything “injurious to people’s morals and manners.” DeSantis says that drag shows will “sexually abuse” young people. A state representative pointed out that DeSantis doesn’t mind children going to Hooters restaurants, that he thinks “it’s only sexually explicit if it’s LGBTQ+.” DeSantis doesn’t mind hurting trans children. He told schools to ignore federal guidelines protecting transgender youth, threatening repercussions if they follow Title IX guidelines.

Gaetz donations for abortion access:  Misogynistic rants by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) about how anti-abortionists are too ugly to “impregnante” raised over $1 million for abortion access within 72 hours after he personally attacked Olivia Julianna, a member of Gen Z for Change. By late Saturday, July 30, the fund had about $2 million to provide access for this “critical reproductive health care.” Gen Z is defined as people born between 1997 and 2012. Representing one-tenth of the electorate thus far, the racially-diverse Gen Z grew up with technological expertise and are more pragmatic and financially-minded after watching their parents take huge hits in this area. Although similar to Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, Gen Z is more progressive on social issues and believe the government should take a bigger role in solving problems, including climate change which they attribute to human activities.  

And a bit of more news:

High oil prices are causing inflation and tremendous ire from people in the U.S., but major gasoline companies are raking in huge profits.  The three largest Western oil companies—Chevron, Exxon, and Shell—made a record $46 billion in total profits last quarter, with $17.9 billion going to just Exxon. It’s profit of $2,245.62 comes to more than four times as much as the same time period in 2021. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

“Exxon’s oil and gas production was up about 4% from the same period last year. Chevron’s oil-and-gas production declined globally about 7.4% compared with the same period a year ago, largely due to the end of projects in Thailand and Indonesia, though its production rose in the U.S. by about 3.2%.”

One word for that practice is “profiteering.” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), said, “The oil companies are ripping Americans off.”

Following DDT’s goal of keeping immigrants out of the U.S., he required fingerprinting and extensive background check for every household member, instead of only the sponsor, where an unaccompanied child would live. Before DDT’s order, this practice was followed only because a safety concern. Children spent weeks and sometimes even months longer in custody. DDT’s office said the practice was unworkable but continued it without any further information that children were at risk. Thanks to a lawsuit, the U.S. will now establish fingerprinting deadlines for parents and sponsors trying to get unaccompanied immigrant children out of government custody, seven days for appointments and ten days for completion of processing with tracking reports.

n Austin (TX), podcaster Alex Jones is facing his first Sandy Hook defamation trial and not doing well in defending his accusation that the mass shooting of 22 children and six educators was a hoax. His attorney, Andino Reynal, flipped off opposing counsel Mark Bankston inside the courtroom. Producer Daria Karpova, defense-selected representative for Jones’ network Infowars, characterized his 2017 interview with Megyn Kelly, then on NBC, as about the Sandy Hook shooting, allowing the plaintiffs to play the 17-minute segment in open court. In the video, Jones said that the images of children fleeing Sandy Hook “looked like a drill” and admitted his “research” came from internet articles. He had refused to apologize for any of his statements. Karpova then talked about the stress of representing Jones because people told horrific lies about him when testifying about the man who called the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax involving actors and trying to increase gun control.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Jones’ media company Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy on Friday. Plaintiffs are asking for $150 million to the family of one child killed in the 2012 mass shooting. Last April, Jones’ company Infowars and two more of his business entities filed for bankruptcy, which delayed the trial until now. His lawyers said the current bankruptcy filing won’t delay the current trial, expected to conclude this coming week. Courts in Texas and Connecticut already found Jones liable for defamation in default judgments against Jones without trials because he failed to respond to court orders and turn over documents. In court records, Jones claimed he was $20 million in debt, but he made over $165 million between 2015 and 2018 in sales of nutritional supplements and survival gear. He also asked his Infowars listeners for donations.

A federal judge dismissed a $195 million lawsuit from a Catholic school student against six national media outlets for defamation after reporting on Nicholas Sandmann’s actions while he was in Washington, D.C. for an anti-abortion rally in 2019. A combined $1.25 billion came from the inclusion of lawsuits against seven other media organizations in the suit. Reports of Sandmann’s interaction with Native American rights activist Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial included videos, indicating racial motivation. The judge said the reporting of Phillips’ statement that Sandmann “blocked him and wouldn’t allow him to retreat” was the activist’s opinion for which the media couldn’t be sued. The quote couldn’t be proved true or false. Three other media outlets had previously settled with Sandmann. Depicting himself as a 16-year-old victim, Sandmann plans to appeal in a case which the majority of Supreme Court justices could use to overturn the constitutional freedom of the press.

DDT is in trouble with voters for supporting Saudi Arabia by hosting the LIV golf tournament, the Saudi’s attempt to eliminate the historic PGA tour, at his resort. He may also be breaking federal law by using the presidential seal on items such as towels and golf carts at the Bedminster (NJ) golf course.

People who get more spam in your email can blame the Republicans. GOP fundraising dropped off so Republicans attacked Google for putting fundraising emails into spam despite no evidence. Google may be forced into exempting campaign emails from spam detection.

July 29, 2022

Russian Invasion of Ukraine – Day 156

The Russian invasion in Ukraine may have come to a temporary standstill with newly delivered Western weapons helping Ukrainians to regain advantages they recently lost. After no significant territorial gains since the July 2 Ukrainian retreat from the eastern city of Lysychansk from crushing artillery fire, Russia has control of one region, Luhansk in eastern Donbas, the only strategic success since its retreat from the Kyiv area in April. Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed his troops were pausing to “rest and develop their combat capabilities,” but the end of the hiatus on July 16 brought no additional intensity in his assaults. George Barros, a Russia analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, said Russians may not even conquer the entire Donbas region, their supposed goal at the beginning of the invasion.

Putin hasn’t quit. He hopes to generate manpower for his war from a massive recruitment campaign in Russia or even change tactics by using the country chemical and nuclear stockpiles. Meanwhile, Ukraine has made use of the advanced artillery provided by its Western allies, including the U.S. High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). This weapon allows Ukrainians to strike almost 50 miles behind Russian lines with great accuracy; they have destroyed over 100 high-value Russian targets such as command and control centers, ammunition storage sites, and logistics and support facilities.

Russian mercenaries from the private military firm Wagner Group may be responsible for front-line fighting although they may not have meaningful impact on the invasion.

Recently HIMARS have been employed in counteroffensive in and near the southern city of Kherson, including the third attack this week against the Antonovsky Bridge over the Dnieper River. The destruction of the over one-half-mile-long bridge took out the main supply route between Russia’s 49th Army on the west bank of the river and the remaining Russian force, leaving troops “highly vulnerable,” according to the British Department of Defense.

Ukraine’s taking out ammunition stocks forced Russia to move them farther from the front, increasing the supply lines which includes artillery shells. Lacking a “good automated logistical system,” moving the shells “requires a lot of manual labor … not very efficient,” according to Rob Lee of the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute. Striking command and control centers takes out Russian officers and commanders, responsible for orders to block the HIMARS.

Members of the Russian miliary still suffer from low morale and recruitment while having trouble matching forces to equipment. Soldiers complain about being on the frontline without food or medicine. In May, Russian generals and other high officials were killed because of poor chain-of-command communication. Putin may be recruiting soldiers from prisons for his private army.

Sanctions against Russia are having an effect: about 1,000 multinational companies suspended operations in Russia, and major Russian state-owned companies lost 70 to 90 percent of their market capitalization. According to a Yale University study, Russian imports have mainly collapsed, and its domestic production came “to a complete standstill.”

In Ukrainian air space, Russia lost one of its newest and most advanced fighter plane, worth $50 million, when its own air defense mistakenly shot it down. Former FSB colonel Igor Girkin tweeted the information on July 18. Russian forces may have been trying to take out a missile fired by a Ukrainian HIMARS. Thus far, Russia has lost at least 35 fighter jets along with 221 aircraft and 38,850 personnel, according to Ukraine.

Cyberhacking is one advantage that Ukraine has against Russia, having been in action since the invasion began. The IT Army uses volunteers from around the world to deny services to the Russian government and company websites, 662 targets as of June 7.  

The U.S. has reported at least 18 “filtration” camps where Russians subject Ukrainians to inhumane conditions—abuse and sometimes executions. A video also shows a POW being castrated in Russian-occupied Donbas. Ukraine has asked the UN and the Red Cross to help with evacuating and treating wounded after Russia’s attack on a prison camp camp holding Ukrainians that killed at least 50 detainees and investigate the attack. Prisoners included those captured while defending Mariupol in May who Russians claimed were neo-Nazis and war criminals. Russia is blaming Ukraine for the attack, but Ukraine states it has overwhelming evidence, including an intercepted radio conversation between Russian-backed separatists talking about a series of explosions deliberately engineered by the rebels themselves. Other Ukrainian sources blame mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine visited a port in the Odesa area with the hope that grain exports could soon begin to alleviate some of the world’s starvation. Last week’s negotiation for transferring grain out of Ukraine between Russia and Turkey was immediately followed by Russian cruise missile attacks on Odesa, blocking the movement of the ships across the Black Sea. Ukraine is a world leader in exporting wheat, barley, corn, and sunflower, and grain silos in Odesa have been left undamaged. Russia has not promised to stop the strikes.

Trying to root out Russian spies and collaborators, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has fired two senior law enforcement officials, saying they had not been nearly aggressive enough in weeding out traitors. He says that Russian sympathizers in the church, government, intelligence agencies, security service, and Russian-occupied areas are reporting locations of Ukrainian targets, sheltering Russian officers, informing on Ukrainian activists in Russian-occupied areas, and removing explosives from bridges so that Russians can cross.

Exiled Belarusian sources state Russian military activities inside Russia’s ally are trying to threaten an attack against northern Ukraine after failing an assault on Kyiv. An invasion into northern Ukraine may not be imminent, but the information raises the possibility about Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko joining a Russian offensive. At the beginning of its war on Ukraine, Russia deployed tens of thousands of its troops in Belarus, but the number has shrunk to about 1,000, but Russia still has access to Belarusian airspace. The country has little public support for the inexperienced Belarusian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, and Belarusian deaths in Ukraine can cause instability for Lukashenko who may be an illegitimate president.  

Putin has moved the goalposts for his invasion in the past five months, shifting from taking over the western Donbas region to getting rid of “the absolutely anti-popular and anti-historic regime” of Ukraine, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He claims Russia want Ukrainians to have “a much better life.” Yet three months ago, Lavrov stated Russia wasn’t looking for a change of power in Kyiv. Now Russia seems to be aiming to annex southern Ukraine as well as the western portion.

Russia’s aim of annexation has been shown by establishing the ruble as the official currency and installing banks, forcing Ukrainians to apply for Russian passports and citizenship, putting Russian loyalists into government positions, and controlling telecommunications infrastructure including broadcasting towers and the internet. Occupying forces are also putting Russian curriculum into schools. The same process was used in Crimea in 2014. Putin is promising teachers salaries over five times what they currently make to teach Ukrainian students a “corrected” education so they learn the Russian version of Ukrainian history during the coming school year. The offer offers free transportation and “accommodation and food under discussion.” Almost 250 teachers signed up for the deal.

As of July 13, Russia had forcibly relocated from 900,000 to 1.6 million Ukrainians into Russia into filtration camps where they are either detained or disappeared. About 260,000 of the deportees are children, many of them separated from their parents. Russia claims the moves are “voluntary” for “humanitarian” reasons, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said they may be war crimes. Forcible removal can be to take the assets and property left behind by deportees. International law considers mass deportation and forced transfers of civilians crimes against humanity when undertaken in a “widespread or systematic” manner during peace or war. Happening during armed conflict, these deportations and population transfers are war crimes.

Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger changed his position that Ukraine should cede territory to Russia and now states that Ukraine should not do so.

At the beginning of the invasion, some of the most conservative GOP legislators, Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) followers, justified Russia’s invasion by saying the country need to protect its borders. They have typically voted against supporting Ukraine and still claim they are isolationists, not understanding that Putin might want a regime change in the United States. Domestic problems and fatigue with the war may discourage more Republicans from support for Ukrainian democracy, some of them going as far as supporting Putin. On July 18, 18 House Republicans voted against a resolution to urge NATO’s acceptance of Finland and Sweden, citing fiscal reasons.  

July 9, 2022

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine – Day 136

Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to shell Ukraine’s eastern region, primarily the Donetsk area, attacking the cities of Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Kryvy Rih, and communities of Zaporizhzhia region. Although he declared an “operational pause,” he is moving his forces across Russia near Ukraine for future offensives and bringing armored vehicles out of long-term storage. According to satellite images, Russia deployed one-third of its land force at the Alakurtti military base near the Finnish border, likely to Ukraine. The 800 military members are enough for the combat section of one battalion. Over one hundred vehicles or equipment units, including dozens of armored personnel carriers, have been removed from Alakurt since mid-May.

Putin is also deliberate destroying crops, granaries, and equipment in the Kherson region, stopping locals from putting out fires in fields caused by the shelling. Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, told Ukrainians in the southern Kherson region to evacuate to keep them from being used as human shields by Russians. Russians are trying to regain lost territory, buy Ukrainian forces attacked and destroyed Russian military warehouses in this area.

According to Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, Putin is “playing hunger games with the world,” blocking ports and exports of grain from the country known as “a global breadbasket.” The invasion is causing an economic crisis in Egypt with soaring inflation reducing the amount of food that people can afford to buy. Egypt’s official inflation rate of 14.7 percent in June was up from 5 percent a year ago, but prices have gone far beyond that percentage. Spending ability is eroding fast in Egyptian households of all income levels, causing fears of unrest where an uprising for “bread, freedom, and social justice” overthrew a decade just a decade ago. Moody’s credit rating downgraded Egypt’s economic outlook in May because of “social and political risks.”

Wheat prices rose to more than $400 a ton, but Ukrainian farmers get only about $60 a ton because they must transport it by truck, train, or barge through smaller ports on the Danube River because Russia blocked ships at ports. Western countries helping move Ukraine’s grain will soon have their own harvests, and Ukraine uses different sizes of train tracks from the European Union, requiring the grain be transferred to other train cars at the border—also expensive and time-consuming.

Ukraine has taken back Snake Island after two months of Russian occupation. The island is an outpost off Ukraine’s southwestern coast to guarantee sea lanes out of Ukraine’s biggest port, Odesa. Retaking the island also weakens Russian land attacks on Ukraine. 

Russia fired two missiles at a Moldovan-flagged oil tanker carrying over 500 tons of diesel fuel in the Black Sea and set it on fire. Without a crew, the ship drifted at sea since the war began on February 24. On July 6, Turkey also released a Russian ship on the Black Sea carrying stolen Ukrainian grain to Karasu, Turkey although Ukraine asked Turkish customs to detain the ship. Ukraine had asked Turkey to investigate three Russia-flagged ships for grain theft from occupied Ukrainian territories. Turkey controls the Bosporus Strait, the main transit passage out of the Black Sea.  

Russia threatened Lithuania with “harsh measures” if the country doesn’t permit transit of Russian goods to and from the Russian transport hub of Kaliningrad sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea. In June, Lithuania, banned the transit of goods subject to EU sanctions since Russia invaded Ukraine.

World leaders in the G20 met in Bali to discuss the Russian invasion after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on July 7. China issued a statement claiming the two countries has cooperation that “demonstrated the strong resilience and strategic determination.” Wang claimed China wants fairness and peace. Russian top diplomat Sergey Lavrov left the G20 meeting early when his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock criticized Moscow about the Ukraine war. Lavrov left another session before a virtual appearance by Ukraine’s foreign minister and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s condemnation of Russia and call to release grain.

Ukraine seized assets worth over $84 billion from Russian state oil company Rosneft, gas firm Gazprom, and nuclear energy corporation Rosatom. The state security service SBU said that Russia had used some profits from those assets to prepare its invasion of Ukraine and fund sabotage and intelligence activities. That amount brings the total to $1.24 billion worth of assets seized from Russian individuals and companies, including the Russian oil company Tatneft and Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman.

Canada imposed another package of sanctions against Russia including 30 “disinformation agents,” primarily Russian propagandists, and Patriarch Kirill, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Fifteen Russian “disinformation entities” have also been sanctioned “for enabling and supporting Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” mostly state-owned media outlets and Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media watchdog. Canada also banned the import of certain gold goods from Russia.

Greece and Bulgaria have opened a new natural gas pipeline, providing an alternative to Russian gas for Bulgaria which ended Gazprom deliveries in April. Construction had begun in 2019. Germany will receive parts from Canada to maintain the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to increase gas supplies to Europe.

Russia sentenced the first person on a charge of spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian army in Ukraine. Alexei Gorinov, a 60-year-old Moscow city councilor, will spend seven years in prison for his criticism of Russia’s invasion.

Although Russia still seems to be pursuing a scorched earth military policy to kill every Ukrainian, foreign analysts suggest Putin may be temporarily easing its offense in eastern Ukraine to build its forces. This week, for the first time in 133 days of war, Russia claimed no territorial gains in Ukraine. The Institute for the Study of War said that Russia may currently have “relatively small-scale offensive actions as they attempt to set conditions for more significant offensive operations” and rebuild the necessary combat power. Russia said that its soldiers are being given “the opportunity to rest, receive letters and parcels from home.”

On June 29, Ukraine announced its biggest exchange of prisoners of war since the invasion began: 144 Ukrainian soldiers, including 95 who defended the Avostal steelworks in Mariupol, were released. Many of those released are now receiving medical care for serious injuries such as burns and amputations. Over 1,000 Azovstal defenders were taken to Russian-held territory in May after surrendering at the end of the three-month siege.

A smear campaign from Russia claims that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is worth $850 million with five luxury yachts, three private jets, and shares in such companies as Saudi Aramco and Tesla, but the media personality has about $20 to $25 million. Propagandists claim that Zelensky earned the nonexistent $850 million since he became president. Zelensky’s biggest asset is the 25-percent stake in a television production company primarily producing films, but he transferred his share of the business to partners after he was elected president. With his monthly salary of $930, royalties, and the sale of property, Zelensky’s income in 2020 was $623,000.

The U.S. plans to increase the number of troops in Europe with additional land, sea, and air deployments—3,000 combat soldiers in Romania, two squadrons of F-35 fighters in the UK, and two navy destroyers in Spain. The U.S. Fifth Army Corps will have a permanent base in Poland with extra troops in the Baltic countries, and air defense systems will be stationed in Germany and Italy. Earlier this year, 20,000 more soldiers were sent to Europe, making the total over 100,000 before the planned deployments. UK plans an additional 1,000 forces in Estonia, and NATO members will contribute more to Ukraine’s defense. At least 300,000 troops will be at high readiness in Europe.

The best news for the West and worst for Putin: President Joe Biden has persuaded Turkey to support Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership in a signed memorandum by the three countries. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine inspired Finland and Sweden to join the current 30 members. Baykar, the Turkish arms company whose drones have been successfully used by Ukrainian troops against Russian armor and warships, said it would donate three of its unmanned aerial vehicles to Kyiv after a crowdfunding campaign raised enough money to buy several of them. Instead of taking money for the drones, Baykar asked the $20 million raised for the equipment to be given “to the struggling people of Ukraine.” The company earlier gave a drone to Lithuania and asked the money raised for it to be given to Ukrainian people.

Russia is still in default although it claims that they aren’t in default because they have the assets but are blocked from getting to them. Nobody is swallowing the story, and investors are not negotiating a plan for restructuring the loan, making this default unique. The future is uncertain especially because the $100 million interest default on $40 billion in bonds is part of others from Russia’s corporate borrowers. Bondholders can either hang on to the bonds or try to offload them where they might get a return of about 20 percent.

The last default Russia experienced was over a century ago when Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin repudiated the nation’s staggering Czarist-era debt load in 1918. The Soviet Union agreed to settle some of the claims in 1986, but Russia defaulted on $40 billion in 1998, leading to a cascade of bank failures. Oil roared back, however, and Russia collected a foreign cash pile allowing it to repay its Soviet-era debts to foreign governments and return to Eurobond markets in 2010.

Meanwhile, conservatives have stopped claiming that Western sanctions against Russia don’t work.

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