Nel's New Day

October 27, 2022

Russian Invasion of Ukraine – Day 245

Russian President Vladimir Putin has one last chance to win his invasion of Ukraine—a GOP congressional takeover on November 8. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) suggested that the House would pull funding for the war if he becomes speaker. They would destroy Ukraine’s courageous struggle to keep its democracy at the same time that its troops are retaking land Russia started to occupy since its attack on February 24, 2022. Putin’s conscription attempts are bad to terrible, and men dragged onto the battle field are poorly equipped and badly trained. While Russian propaganda proposes Ukrainian genocide, the Russian attacks on Ukrainian power stations removing electricity from a million people has only increased Ukrainian resolve.

In the past, Republicans have exhibited friendship with Putin and Russia, and recent votes against aid for Ukraine has shows that continued Russian support by far-right congressional members. In a New Yorker interview with Isaac Chotiner, columnist Christopher Coldwell gave reasons for this GOP fondness for the brutal country trying to annihilate Ukrainians. The GOP sees Putin as an ally in their culture wars and the shared contempt for international institutions. They also admire Putin’s “macho nativist authoritarianism” and have been swayed by his trolling propaganda to influence U.S. elections in the past eight years.   

Fortunately, for Ukraine, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-CA) opposes McCarthy’s position. McConnell called on President Joe Biden to expedite military aid to Ukraine and promised GOP senators will work to ensure “timely delivery of needed weapons.” There was no mention of McCarthy, but the difference was obvious.

Another reason for the far-right extremist attachment to Putin is his similarity to Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) and their similar goals. Maureen Dowd wrote:

“They would rather destroy their countries than admit they have lost. They have each created a scrim of lies to justify lunatic personal ambition. And while it should be easy to see through these lies, both cult-of-personality leaders are able to con and bully enough people to remain puissant.”

The strongmen who went into Ukrainian apartments with rifles and forced the occupants to vote in favor of the sham referenda annexing eastern Ukraine oblasts bear an alarming resemblance in dress and manner to the men stalking the Arizona ballot drop boxes.

Conservatives permiting Russia to overcome Ukraine and move across Europe will have the same danger as conservatives’ supporting Germany in the leadup to World War II. With other members of “America First,” Charles Lindbergh, the hero of many people in the U.S. for making the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, urged people to join Germany to preserve “our inheritance of European blood.” In 1940, editors of the conservative Wall Street Journal wrote that “our job today is not to stop Hitler [who had] already determined the broad lines of our national life at least for another generation.”

Famous U.S. manufacturers supported Germany’s efforts in his prewar preparations. In 1938, Henry Ford opened an assembly plant in Berlin to build “troop transport-style” vehicles for the German military, and both Ford and his chief executive received the Nazi Grand Cross of the German Eagle for “distinguished service.” GM built the “Blitz” truck in Berlin, used for German army blitzkreig attacks on Poland, France and the Soviet Union.   GM and Ford converted their Axis plant to production of military aircraft and trucks, building almost 90 percent of the armored “mule” 3-ton half-trucks and over 70 percent of the Reich’s medium and heavy-duty trucks which served as “the backbone of the German Army transportation system.” Ford provided access to huge quantities of raw materials, especially rubber, and GM gave Hitler the synthetic fuel technology. All the dealings were “extremely profitable.”

Eighty years later, blatant anti-Semitic attacks by leaders such as Deposed Donald Trump (DDT), Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, and rapper Kanye West have resulted in the highest levels of harassment, vandalism, and violence toward Jews since the 1970s. Russians are donating millions of dollars to U.S. politicians—including DDT—through straw donors. Putin capitalized on U.S. political divisions with the statement that the West is divided into “traditional, mainly Christian values” and another—“aggressive, cosmopolitan, neocolonial, acting as the weapon of the neoliberal elite.”

The UN objected to a Russian argument that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cannot report to the Security Council regarding allegations Moscow is using Iran-made drones in Ukraine, violating a 2015 resolution. Tehran denies it supplied the drones, but they have been filmed in attacks. Russia also accused the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany of trying to exert influence over Guterres to investigate this use of drones. In addition, Russia may be advising Iran on ways to suppressing open demonstrations after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for not following Iran’s dress code.

Iranian troops are “directly engaged on the ground” in Crimea supporting Russian drone attacks on Ukraine’s power stations and other key infrastructure, according to the White House. Russians may need the Iranians to train them how to use their drones. Zelensky said that Russia had ordered 2,400 drones from Iran.

A senior Russian foreign ministry official threatened the U.S. and its allies with targeting their commercial satellites in return for their involvement in the Russian war against Ukraine. He may have been referring to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation, used by Ukrainian soldiers for communications, and synthetic aperture radar satellites tracking Russian troop and tank movements. The official made the same threat last month but may not have followed through because taking this action is difficult. In addition, Russians threaten to blow up a hydroelectric power plant in the Kherson region.

Russia also calls for the “de-Satanization” of Ukraine, a lie one step lower than their earlier goal of “de-Nazification” and reminiscent of the QAnon conspiracy theories in the U.S. Russian soldiers’ strategy to defeat Ukrainian civilians is to capture, torture, and then kill them in organized brutality throughout Russian occupied territory.

Ukraine is advancing on occupying Russian forces in Kherson despite heavy fighting. A Russian military blogger wrote, “I don’t exclude the surrender of Kherson [by the Russians].”

A recent discussion about nuclear-laced “dirty bombs” has been exacerbated by Russia’s letter to the UN with the evidence-free accusation that Ukraine plans to use them. While he spreads these lies, his military had an exercise of tests capable carrying nuclear warheads involving land, sea, and air. Videos of launches were published along with the defense minister’s claim that the tests were successful.

Earlier this week, Ukraine pushed back Wagner Group mercenaries operated by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Bakhmut, Donetsk, and seized a key highway in Luhansk. Prigozhin admitted slow progress amid “fierce enemy resistance.” Sergei Surovikin (aka General Armageddon), Russia’s new commander of the invasion in Ukraine known for his brutality, used the word “tense” in trying to retake southern and eastern Ukrainian regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin had claimed to annex through his coercive faux referenda. Russian troops are in danger of being pinned against the western bank of the 1,367-long Dnipro River bisecting Ukraine from north to south.

About trying to keep Kherson, Surovikin said, “The situation in this area is difficult.” He blames Ukraine for shelling infrastructure and residential buildings which Ukraine said was done by Russian military. Russians struggle to obtain supplies from the east because Ukrainians bombed the main bridge across the Dnipro and decided to ferry materials and equipment from the west bank of the Dnipro River to the eastern bank toward Russia. 

Syrian war crimes investigators may join crime victims in Ukraine to put Russian President Vladimir Putin into prison because he has used the same people, weapons, and tactics in both countries’ atrocities. In the command hierarchy, Putin is responsible for the crimes and its prosecution. Russia never agreed to be called up in the International Criminal Court, but Ukrainan courts or those in third countries could prosecute him. The U.S. could also declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism or support calls from Baltic states for an international tribunal to hold Putin and Russia accountable for the separate international crime of aggression used to prosecute Nazi criminals at Nuremburg. Putin’s international crimes have no statute of limitations.

A new shadow government in Belarus is planning to form a coalition with Ukraine to reduce Russia’s expansion after concerns that Russia will also invade Belarus. Taking Belarus allows Putin to move onto attacking Western Europe. Russia is sending about 9,000 troops and hundreds of armored vehicles for possible deployment.

In his latest escalation to the invasion, Putin has declared martial law in the four Ukrainian areas he annexed although he doesn’t occupy all the territory. He also ordered an “economic mobilization” in eight regions adjoining Ukraine, including Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. In Russia, he gave additional powers to leaders of its 80+ regions to protect critical facilities, maintain public order and increase production in support of the war effort.

U.S. F-16 warplanes intercepted two Russian bombers within the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone. It is a perimeter where air traffic is monitored beyond the border of national airspace to provide additional reaction time in case of hostile actions. A Russian jet also crashed into an apartment in Yeysk, a port town about 25 miles from Ukraine, while it was on a training mission. The death toll is at least 14, including three children.  

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.

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 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.

June 26, 2022

Russian Invasion of Ukraine – Day 123

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine moves into the fifth month, it could be be the deadliest war in recent history. In the eastern province of Luhansk, Russians have taken over Sievierondonetsk and moved on to the twin city of Lysychansk. At the same time, Ukrainian forces, protected by Ukrainian shelling, remain in the Azot chemical plant to direct artillery attacks against the Russians and talk of retaking the southern city of Kherson.  

The two 20th-century world wars killed millions of soldiers and civilians, but the “average war,” according to the Correlates of War Project, kills about 50 soldiers each day and lasts about 100 days, a number surpassed in Ukraine in early June. The Project defines war as sustained combat between organized armed forces of different states resulting in at least 1,000 battlefield deaths in a 12-month period. The Russia-Ukraine war has far surpassed the number of deaths as well as the over 200 battlefield deaths per day for the top 25 percent of wars. Thus far, the invasion has been deadlier than the Mexican American War with 19,000 battlefield deaths and approaches the 1913 Balkan War (60,000 deaths) preceding World War I.

Instead of tapering off, Russia seems to be aggressively building while the Ukrainians receive a continual supply of weapons and ammunitions from outside the country. Russian forces returned to firing on Kyiv as well as launching missile strikes from Belarus, the country to the north of Ukraine. Also hit were the southern port city of Mykolaiv, the northern region of Chernihiv, the central Ukrainian region of Zhytomyr, and a target near Lviv in the west of the country. Russia’s capture of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine is a “significant achievement” for Russian ambitions in the Donbas region, but Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said special forces remain in the city to direct artillery fire against the Russians. The next project for the Russians is cutting off the Sievierodonetsk’s sister city Lysychansk with massive artillery bombardment and airstrikes.

Russian president Vladimir Putin appears to be trying to push Belarus into his war. He plans to send missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to the country in the next few months and offered to upgrade Belarus’ warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Russia continues to block all shipping in the northwestern part of the Black Sea and continues its capture of residents in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.

Yet military experts and Western intelligence predict that the Russian military may have to halt its offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region because of exhausted combat capabilities. The higher ground where Lysychansk is located and its Donets River obstructs Russian advances from the east, forcing movement from the southeast and northeast. Ukrainian forces inflicted losses in Russian occupying forces on the Bakhmut front and repelled an assault on the Sloviansk front as Russia tries to block Lysychansk.

The expenditure of ammunition, especially artillery shells, cannot be sustained for long, and Russia continues the loss of equipment and men. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used intelligence to estimate Russia’s fight for only the “next few months” before losing any forward momentum. Russian commentators even note the shortage of their country’s manpower; military blogger Yuri Kotyenok projected a need for 500,000 Russian troops to achieve its goals. President Vladimir Putin has not yet instituted the necessary risky and unpopular large-scale mobilization.

Russia’s aggressive recruitment has found only 40,000 to 50,000 troops to replenish forces lost or incapacitated, and some Russian commanders have banned all leave for military personnel because soldiers withdrawn from Ukraine to restore their combat readiness won’t return to battle. Russia is taking ancient tanks out of mothballs and away from bases throughout the huge country for Ukraine’s front lines. Ukraine, on the other hand, is receiving more sophisticated Western weapons such as French Caesar howitzers and German Panzerhaubitze 200 howitzers.

Canada has deployed two warships to the Baltic Sea and north Atlantic,  Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Kingston and Summerside, for four months as part of “deterrence measures in central and eastern Europe” launched in 2014 after Moscow annexed Crimea. The two ships join two frigates already in the region to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank. They will do naval mine-sweeping exercises and be present to “quickly and effectively respond” in any operations. HMCS Halifax and Montreal return to port in July from Operation Reassurance. About 700 Canadian troops with artillery and electronic warfare along with several military aircraft are in Latvia.

Russia has sabotaged military supplies for Ukraine since Russia started to take over parts of Ukraine in 2014. Ammunition sellers have been bullied not to sell to Ukraine, and weapon brokers are threatened with death if they make these deliveries. Depots in Eastern Europe have been blown up, for example four mysterious explosions in Bulgaria between 2011 and 2020 as well as other 2017 weapon depots attacks in Ukraine. The 60,000 rounds shot by Russia every day, ten times the Ukrainian capacity. The global supply cannot meet Ukraine’s wartime demand.

Problems for Russia also come from its need to decrease military presence in areas facing a Turkish offensive, such as northwestern Syria near the Turkish border around Aleppo and Tal Rifaat. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans a military operation to create a “safe zone” where 1 million Syrian refugees could return. Any attempt by Russia to take these areas risks confrontation between Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia’s allies with a massive humanitarian poll. The Iranians have taken control of these areas where Russia withdrew about two and a half months ago. Although Russians may have political power, its rival Iran has the military control on the frontlines.

The NATO Secretary General has asked Erdogan, Sweden, and Finland to meet in Madrid before the NATO summit this coming week. Sweden and Finland have applied for NATO membership because of Russian threats, but Erdogan is threatening to veto the two countries’ joining because of their support for Kurdish fighters and arms embargoes on Ankara. No country can join NATO without its members’ unanimous acceptance.

President Joe Biden is in Germany attending a G7 meeting focusing on the Ukrainian invasion and its consequences from energy shortages to a food crisis. Thus far, four members—UK, the U.S., Japan, and Canada—have agreed to ban Russian gold imports aimed at wealthy Russians buying bullion to reduce the financial effect of Western sanctions. Russian exported $15.5 billion worth of gold last year. Another discussion is potentially capping prices on Russian oil imports. Putin may have been sending a message to the G7 leaders, not only by his weekend shelling but also the new round of missiles in Kyiv which killed the parents of a seven-year-old girl.

Last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland paid a surprise trip to Ukraine to support identification, apprehension, and prosecution of Russian war criminals. He announced that Eli Rosenbaum, a veteran prosecutor known for investigating former Nazis, will create a U.S. war crimes accountability team work with Ukraine and international law enforcement groups to track these criminals. Garland also visited Poland and Paris where he met the U.S. homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, with European counterparts to explore ways to combat terrorism and hold Russia accountable for its brutality in Ukraine.

The European Union has officially made Ukraine a candidate for membership. The process may require a decade, but Putin has been violently against Ukraine joining the EU.

Tens of millions of people are suffering from food deprivation because Russia’s boycotts won’t allow grain to leave Ukraine, but Putin is stealing the grain himself—400,000 tons thus far from the temporarily occupied territories. That’s almost one-third of what was available.

Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov has auctioned off his Nobel Peace Prize to help Ukrainian children and families displaced by Russia’s invasion. The $103.5 million from an anonymous buyer far exceeds the previously highest amount of $4.76 million for a Nobel medal. Muratov founded the independent Novaya Gazeta and sharply criticized the invasion of Ukraine. Russian threats closed the newspaper in March, and four of its journalists have been killed during Putin’s tenure.

Just like Germans in World War II, Russians are using its invasion of Ukraine to loot art, emptying museums and destroying Ukraine’s cultural heritage. With no trained armies to protect these treasures, museum curators are hiding in basements throughout the country to protect these items in areas where Russians are seizing control. Already, 250 cultural institutions have been targeted by Russian munitions with thousands of important museums pieces destroyed during the Russian bombing of Mariupol and other cities.

Scythian gold artifacts dating back to the 4th century BC valued at millions were stolen in Melitopol from crates used to hide the objects. Surveillance video showed a Russian art expert in a white lab coat carefully removing the gold. Russians have removed some art objects before destroying museums.

For the first time in over a century, Russia may experience its first major debt default on international bonds when the grace period deadline for Russia’s foreign debt payment of $100 million expired today. Taiwan’s holders of Russian bonds said they haven’t received the interest due on May 27 and won’t accept rubles. A default is declared if a deadline is missed. Russia has struggled to keep up with its payments on $40 billion in outstanding bonds since sweeping sanctions for the country invading Ukraine on February 24 cut Russia out of the global financial system.

June 18, 2022

Russian Invasion of Ukraine – Day 118

Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally admitted that he invaded Ukraine to expand Russian territory, a belief that the West and Ukraine have held since Putin began his brutal devastation of a foreign country at the end of February. Formerly, he falsely claimed he was preventing Ukraine’s neo-Nazi government from genocide against ethnic Russians and protecting Russian security from NATO’s encroaching expansion.

This past week he compared himself to the 18th-century Peter the Great in their desire to expand Russia. Peter took land from Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and Finland on the Baltic Sea as well as stealing countries from Turkey that he had to return after 15 years. Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 and promoted pro-Russian factions there. In 2014, he annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and invaded the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region. Putin claimed Peter’s invasions had only “returned” the territory to Russia, the way that Putin plans to do—by invading not only Ukraine, but also  the Baltic States, Belarus, all the former Soviet republics in Central Asia like Kazakhstan and Armenia. and parts of Poland and Romania.

Putin is also threatening attacks on countries that send more weapons to Ukraine, but the UK still plans to send Ukraine to long-range rocket artillery with a 50-mile range.

Ordinary Ukrainian citizens are fighting back in their own way, for example poisoning cherries that Russians steal, causing “mass illness” among Russian soldiers. In another example of the Ukrainian civilian resistance, a self-identified soldier in the Kherson region said on an intercepted call:

“No one is sure about the locals: who they are, what they’re doing. Maybe they are fucking with us at night, while they’re peaceful people during the day. No one can be trusted. An old woman walking around with pies might be a fucking colonel acting as an artillery spotter at night.”

Guerilla attacks there include two tractors and three large truck trailers parked outside the Russian Emergency Ministry’s headquarters “suddenly” going up in flames from an arson attack. On the eve of the city’s “Day of Russia” celebrations, a staffer for the same ministry was fatally stabbed in the back while standing in a crowd.

For the start of his goal to take over much of Europe, Putin is destroying the eastern city of Sievierdonetsk (southwest of Luhansk), just as he did in Mariupol. He demolished the third and last bridge between the city and its twin, Lysychanensk, severing Ukrainian supply lines to the west necessary for food, weapons, ammunition, and reserve troops. About 538 civilians are hiding in the Azot chemical plant. Russian’s action hurts itself because their forces cannot cross the river either. Russian has still not taken over Sievierdonetsk.

Ukrainian southern counteroffensive forces are seeing success in advancing toward Kherson using their accuracy with shelling Russian equipment and ammunition.

The Russian economy won’t return to 2021 levels for another decade because of Western sanctions, according to Herman Gref, CEO of the Russian largest lender Sberbank. He forecasts the 2022 GDP will fall 7 percent, followed by 10.3 percent the next year after growing by 4.7 percent in 2021. Gref said 56 percent of Russian exports and 51 percent of imports were tied to countries sanctioning Russia. The bank, holding one-third of Russia’s banking sector assets, left the European market after EU sanctions. About 15 percent of Russian millionaires are leaving the country this year. Russians can’t afford to pay Italy for its fine fashions, and shipments are sitting in Italy’s warehouses.

The European Central Bank will increase interest rates a quarter point for the first time in 11 years in both July and September to improve prospects for economic growth. With the problem of inflation, consumer prices rose a record high of 8.1 percent in May. The ECB are currently zero lending rate to banks and minus 0.5% on overnight deposits from banks.

The U.S. oil industry company Baker Hughes has stopped servicing all of Russia’s liquefied natural gas projects, risking any new plants and existing operations. Engineers have been recalled along with shipments of equipment to Gazprom and Novate projects. Russia’s oil and gas industry is highly dependent on foreign technology because of the country’s inability to build its own services sector, and repairs will no longer have spare parts.

President Xi Jinping assured Putin of China’s support on Russian “sovereignty and security.” China will not condemn Russia’s invasion and promised to “continue to offer mutual support (to Russia) on issues concerning core interests and major concerns such as sovereignty and security,” according to a Russian state broadcaster. Russia and China are now linked by a land bridge between Blagoveshchensk and Heihe. President Joe Biden indicated his ire at China’s declaration.

Officials in the Russian Republic of Chechnya are forcing men to join “volunteer” battalions to fight in the invasion. New soldiers report intimidation, blackmail, and threats of torture and kidnapping against their loved ones. Men are also imprisoned on fabricated criminal charges before offered release if they join the armed forces.

Putin has threatened direct strikes on the homes of Ukrainian soldiers if they don’t surrender, put down their weapons, or side with the Russians. Threats including the soldiers’ exact location are directly sent via SMS or mobile-messaging platforms such as Telegram or WhatsApp. About 3 million Ukrainians are living under Russian occupation.  

Russia’s invasion has led to a shortage of commercial drones. Since China’s DJI suspended business in Russia, 90 percent of Russia’s consumer drone market, prices for drones in the oil and gas industry as well as search and rescue operations skyrocketed by 200 percent. A drone cost went from $17,500 to $53,000. Ukraine is using 6,000 commercial drones, repurposed for military needs, on the battlefield. Russia’s commercial drones can be used only for surveillance because of their limited payload, battery, and flight range.

Further Russian crackdowns on dissemination of information about its invasion of Ukraine include the extension of a critic’s detention and charges against two others. Moscow’s chief rabbi has fled Russia to Israel after pressure on him to support Russian military operations in Ukraine.

To help the global food crisis, Ukraine established two routes through Poland and Romania to export grain and is negotiating with Baltic countries for a third route. The fourth largest exporter of grain in the world, Ukraine has been stymied by Russia’s blockage of the Black Sea ports and sea routes along with missile attacks on grain elevators and rail infrastructure. Russia wants to force migration to Europe becvause of African famine. Russian officials offered to release grain exports in exchange with lifting sanctions, but countries including the U.S. refused. Putin has falsely claimed there are “no problems with the export of grain from Ukraine” and that it can be exported in five different ways.

Putin has put himself in an impossible situation. He can keep bombing Ukraine, but he lacks the military troops to achieve a win without calling up large numbers of reservists. To do the latter will destabilize his regime because he calls his war in Ukraine a “special military operation” while potentially turning the population against him. For ten years, Putin has promised stability and relative prosperity if he’s left alone. That “peaceful” time ended in 2011 with his rigged parliamentary elections and his presidency that chipped away at Russian society’s rights and freedoms. The 2014 Ukrainian uprising made Putin feel he was losing control. He controlled protests, and his participation in the Syrian civil war seems far from Russia. 

Even the protests fomented by Alexei Navalny’s videos about top-ranking elites’ corruption didn’t disturb the illusion of stability in 2020 and 2021, but Putin shattered all illusions in February 2022 with his invasion of Ukraine. Sanctions, travel restrictions, Western boycotts, and Ukraine’s victories—all came as a complete surprise to Putin and the Russians. Mobilizing for war requires strong justifications. He can use the war as opposition to the West, but Ukrainians are considered “brothers” or “the same people.”

Putin tries to keep his people at a distance from any invasion news—no words of casualties or shortages. Shifting to war mode would turn that situation 180 degrees. Outside Russia, however, hundreds of thousands of highly educated Russians live across Europe, Central Asia, Turkey, and in the South Caucuses, some leaving the home country for economic or anti-war reasons. Their knowledge will trickle into Russia through family, friends, and social media showing life without Putin.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the head of UK’s armed forces, said that Russia, now a “more diminished power,” already “strategically lost” the war in Ukraine. Putin has lost 25 percent of Russia’s land power and “50,000 people either dead or injured” for only “tiny” gains and is strengthening NATO with Finland and Sweden are “looking to join.”

Putin has lost not only the Baltic countries to NATO but also Ukraine and Moldova to the European Union. The process is not instant, but EU officials demonstrated a positive attitude about the move after four EU leaders met with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky this week.

The good news from Ukraine is that Russia released Yuliia “Taira” Paievska, the Ukrainian medic who provided two-weeks footage of her team’s efforts to save the wounded to an AP team that smuggled out of the besieged city of Mariupol through an AP team. Three months ago, she was taken captive in the city after she treated Russians and Ukrainians alike.

May 21, 2022

Russia Invades Ukraine – Day 88

Joshua Berlinger has an excellent overview of the past three months. Following is my perception.

Russian military, suffering huge losses of soldiers and equipment in at least three attempts to cross the Seversky Donets River with pontoon bridges, plans another try hoping for an offensive at Yampil. The 650-mile-long river starts in Russia and goes through the Donbas area before returning to Russia. Its lakes, floodplains, and swamps create a barrier for Russian armored vehicles. River crossings, inherently dangerous, require favorable terrain, and Ukrainian surveillance drones allow artillery units to see where rounds fall before guiding them onto Russian personnel. Instead of sending small numbers of troops across the river, Russian commanders put them all together. Russians lack the ability to adapt quickly when problems occur.

Putin has taken over ordering troop movements, working closely with the commander of the Russian armed forces, Gen. Valery Gerasimov. His operational and tactical are “at the level of a colonel or brigadier.” Russia’s top-down military style also means generals are closer to the frontline where up to 12 of them have been killed in under three months.  

The mass mutiny from poor morale among Russian soldiers has worsened, as described in their intercepted telephone conversations. Fed up with Putin’s incompetent leadership and lack of battle support, the caller said, “Everyone is planning to take off on the 26th.” He continued “that a battalion commander is leaving with us and even a staff colonel.” In another call, a soldier told his friend to “take someone else’s weapon, a Ukrainian one, and shoot yourself in the legs.” Another soldier said a commander shot himself in the leg to get out of the war—“and he served in Chechnya.” Russia is supposedly planting informants into one of its military regiments to identify and “neutralize” soldiers who refuse to carry out orders.

Russia is attempting to restructure its faltering offensive in Ukraine—firing commanders, dividing combat units into small groups, and increasing reliance on artillery and other long-range weapons. People over 40 years old can also sign up to fight. Russia’s transport minister said that his nation’s transport and shipping logistics are “practically broken.” In recent week, Russia has seized only a little over a mile per day, leaving most of Ukraine to be taken after a year.

No major cities not controlled by Russia in the Donbas region in February have been seized. According to British officials, Russia has lost one-third of the troops it sent to Ukraine. One recent battle was so deadly for Russia that it led to criticism from pro-Russia bloggers. One blogger with 2.1 million followers said he was finally criticizing the Russian military, “the last straw” being the events of the fourth bridge failure  because “due to stupidity—I emphasize, because of the stupidity of the Russian command–at least one battalion tactical group was burned, possibly two.” He continued by describing the shortage of equipment. Another blogger wrote that commanders left so much of their force exposed amounted to “not idiocy, but direct sabotage.” A third posted that Russia’s eastern offensive moved slowly partly because of “these generals” and their tactics.

In a new strategy to take over Ukraine, Russia promised to pay Melitopol residents money for blaming Ukrainian military for destroying housing and killing people. Local radio programming in the city has been replaced by a loop of Putin’s speech. Russia claims only one of the 500 sailors on its flagship Moskva, sunk by Ukraine, was killed but has no answer for families about the missing ones.

With 25 tons of grain stranded in cities along the Black Sea, the U.S. plans to deliver anti-ship missiles which would force Russia to lift its blockade. Without this food, African and Middle Eastern countries are faced with starvation. The U.S. may also send Harpoon missiles and Naval Strike Missiles with a range of 150-180 miles. Harpoon, however, need launchers which have limited availability. The U.S. may remove the system from one of its warships. Twelve to 24 of these missiles could lift the ports’ blockade from Russia’s 20 ships and submarines in the Black Sea. 

Russian ships at Sevastopol are being protected by “military” dolphins on either side of the harbor to keep Ukrainians from sabotaging the fleet underwater. According to reports from the 1990s, Russia outfits dolphins with lethal devices that could inject enemy divers with CO2 and trained the marine mammals to parachute out of helicopters.

Russians have evacuated about 900 Ukrainians from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant and sent to a prison colony in Russian-controlled territory while 100,000 civilians remain in the occupied southeastern port city. The Ukrainians fighters may be exchanged for Viktor Medvedchuk, godfather to Putin’s daughter. Ukraine recaptured Medvedchuk in mid-April and seized 154 of his assets including a $200 million yacht. Under house arrest, Medvedchuk had been facing between 15 years and life in prison for treason plus aiding and abetting a terrorist organization because he mediated coal purchases for the separatist, Russia-backed Donetsk republic in eastern Ukraine.

A Ukrainian medic provided two weeks of video to AP journalists before she was captured on March 16 and disappeared on March 21. She had saved hundreds of lives. Hidden inside a tampon, the data card was smuggled past 15 Russian checkpoints. Also available are images of the steelworks disaster taken by Dmytro Kozatsky, a member of Ukraine’s military who is now a prisoner of war taken by the Russians.

The first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes in Ukraine admitted to killing a 62-year-old unarmed civilian but said his commander ordered the killing. Ukrainian authorities have brought war crimes charges against two other Russian soldiers, alleging they targeted Ukrainian civilians in the Kharkiv region using a truck-mounted rocket launcher. One defendant allegedly drove the truck while the other operated the rocket launcher to fire at civilians. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has sent 42 investigators, forensic experts, and support staff to Ukraine, the “largest ever single field deployment” since the ICC began in 2003, according to Prosecutor Karim Khan.  

The past week has seen back and forth discussions regarding Sweden’s and Finland’s applications to join NATO. Putin has threatened Finland with retribution, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is making requirements for his acceptance. All 30 NATO members must agree to accept applications for new members. One of Erdogan’s conditions is that the two countries stop supporting what he calls “terror groups” his country. He refers to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group and the Gulen movement, accused of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan also demanded the lifting of an arms exports embargo by both countries imposed on Turkey after its 2019 incursion into Syria against the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) militia. A NATO member since 1952, Turkey has caused problems for NATO allies because of its decades of bloody conflict with Kurdish insurgents, mainly in the southeast, have often posed problems for NATO allies.

Switzerland, always maintaining neutrality and nonalignment, plans options to bolster its security including joint military exercises with NATO countries and regular meetings between Swiss and NATO commanders.

Putin is losing the faith of some Russian oligarchs who grumble about their losses from sanctions against them and Russia after the Ukrainian. Those speaking out were likely to have made fortunes before Putin took power and who are no longer in Russia. They complained about losing tens of billions of dollars in assets, a situation worsening with President Joe Biden’s decision to sell their assets and give the proceeds to Ukraine. Oligarchs talked about how “in one day” everything “what was built over many years” has been destroyed. “It’s a catastrophe,” one of them said. In anonymous comments, several billionaires and senior bankers and officials explain how they feel blindsided by the isolated Putin who they cannot influence because of a few hardline security officials in his inner circle.  At least four Russian senior officials have resigned and left the country.

Russian oligarchs also aren’t safe. At least seven of them, some with their wives and children, have been found dead this year, five of them connected to large Russian gas companies. The ones called murder-suicide have been questioned. Six of the deaths were after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and one was shortly before.

In addition to selling off Russian oligarchs’ assets, Biden will take innovators from Russia by relaxing visa requirements for highly educated Russians. Putin already has serious problems with lack of ability to climb the ladder to higher ratings among countries. In addition, Russia is making money selling oil to China and India, but sanctions block them from spending the revenue on necessities for both daily life and war.

A new 110-mile pipeline may start removing Europe’s reliance on Russia’s natural gas to generate electricity, fuel industry, and home heating. Completion of the project, ending in Italy, will join the 27-nation bloc to the global gas market. Eight additional interconnectors in Europe could reach as far as Ukraine and Austria.

Putin has more than his invasion of Ukraine to worry about: Siberia’s early season wildfires promise another record-breaker after almost 33,000 square miles burned in 2021. Already burned is an area the size of Rhode Island, and the future looks bleak, especially because firefighting requires military personnel and resources such as helicopters.

May 14, 2022

Ukraine Makes Progress against Russia

The U.S. Pentagon has newly captured Russian war plans and documents showing that its president, Vladimir Putin, “is in a corner, not just in Ukraine where his army is failing, but also in facing an existential threat from Europe, now even more united because of his missteps.” It appears “Odesa [Ukraine’s third largest city] is safe from Putin’s army and from coastal landings.” Also abandoned is advancement on Mykolaiv, and Ukraine has slowed Russia’s offensive efforts on the west bank of the Dnieper. Russian reinforcements have little fighting spirit while Ukraine displays high morale and excellent command.

Russia recognizes the possibility of Ukrainian victory both on the battlefield and in its change into a western Army as an expansion of NATO. Ukrainians may have won the “battle of Kharkiv,” blocking Russian troops from encircling and seizing the country’s second largest city. Russians attacking from Popasna in the north have made no progress and lack fresh combat power to offset huge losses. Russians plan to withdraw and return its forces home.

Ukrainians destroyed a Russian tank battalion trying to cross the Donets River on a pontoon bridge with possibly 1,500 Russians dead and up to 70 vehicles either burned or fallen into the water. The surviving 30 vehicles and Russian troops are stranded on the other side of the river in the third Ukrainian attack in three days.

Sean Spoonts, editor-in-chief of the military news outlet SOFREP, estimates Russia will run out of forces and equipment within 90 days. He added that figure could be optimistic. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also believes Putin doesn’t want a direct conflict with NATO.

Putin has appeared ill for several months, and a KGB defector to Britain, Boris Karpichkov, said he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a stroke, and possibly dementia. At an April 22 meeting, he clung to a small table for over 13 minutes, perhaps to conceal tremors or vertigo. The press recently reported an authenticated audio recording from an oligarch close to the Kremlin describing Putin as “very ill with blood cancer.” The change of his facial appearance from gaunt to puffy is “compatible with steroid use,” according to Ashley Grossman. He explained that steroids are typically prescribed for various kinds of lymphoma or myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells, which “can cause widespread bone disease and definitely affect the spinal column and back.” A Russian coup to replace Putin may be underway.

Even Putin’s allies and state media admit his army is an embarrassment. State Duma member Semyon Bagdasarov called him a pariah fighting a war of aggression:

“Everyone is ashamed to talk about this topic … It’s a crying shame!”

On May 6, analyst Konstantin Sivkov said on Russian State TV show, “The Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” that “current economic market system is unfit to meet the needs of our Armed Forces and of the entire country under these conditions.” He pushed for “military socialism,” putting “all strategic resources—including land and factories—under the direct control of the government to better fund the war.”

Without martial law, Putin cannot force soldiers into his Ukrainian war. Troops refusing to fight can be dismissed but not prosecuted and are looking for advice to stay out of the battle. Using volunteers or conscripts will only increase losses with untrained troops.

On Russia’s 60 Minutes, retired Colonel Mikhail Khodaryonok said that even “mass mobilization in Russia wouldn’t help alter the course of Putin’s stalled invasion of Ukraine.” Fighter aviation would take until New Year’s, and ships require two years. Even tanks can’t be built in fewer than 90 days. Khodaryonok added that nothing would be “equipped with modern weaponry because we don’t have modern weapons and equipment in our reserves … Sending people armed with weapons of yesteryear into a war of the 21st century to fight against global standard NATO weapons would not be the right thing to do.”

U.S.-led sanctions make Russia struggle to find parts for military equipment production. Technology exports from the U.S. have fallen by almost 70 percent. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo reported that some equipment is “filled with semiconductors that they took out of dishwashers and refrigerators.”

According to an intercepted telephone call between two Russians, the authorities in Ukraine’s occupied city of Donetsk are throwing thousands of their dead soldiers in a secret dump and then charging family and friends money to find them. The caller reluctantly explained that a soldier has been found after missing for a month after the dead man’s “sister went to Donetsk, and there, basically, roughly speaking, is a dump”:

“They just toss them there. And then later it’s easier to make as if they disappeared without a trace. It’s easier for them to pretend they are just missing, and that’s it…. There’s nowhere left to place them. It’s a dump. I’m telling you in plain Russian—a dump. It’s as tall as a person. [The site is] fenced off, sealed, they don’t let anyone in.”

Local authorities let the woman find her brother after she paid “good money” and then “they rearranged it until she found [the body.]” Al Jazeera released footage of refrigerated train cars holding unclaimed bodies of Russian troops killed in Ukraine. Putin won’t take the bodies back to Russia to hide the horrific death toll. Russians admit the deaths of only 1,300 military members in its “special military operation”; Ukraine’s estimates Russian death toll at about 26,000.

Ukraine will try a 21-year-old Russian soldier for war crimes, accusing him of killing an unarmed 62-year-old village resident in the northeastern region of Sumy. The man was pushing a bicycle along the road before he was shot in the head and “died on the spot a few dozen meters from his home.” The soldier said he was told his unit would have military exercises in Russia about 200 miles from Ukraine and was later captured in Ukraine when his column tried to take wounded soldiers back to Russia. Ukraine have opened over 5,000 cases connected to war crimes and crimes of aggression and filed charges against ten Russian soldiers in absentia for war crimes in Bucha after discovery of torture and mutilation.

Lithuania is the first country to declare Russia a terrorist country because of genocide. The UN reported accelerating numbers of Russian human trafficking, rape, and other sexual violence in Ukraine. Ukrainians forced into “filtration” camps in Russia endure strip searches, interrogations, and theft of their vital documents. Those suspected of Ukrainian sympathies are tortured and perhaps “disappeared.” On one day, May 13, 8,787 people deported from Ukraine including 1,106 children, according to Russian media.

Putin’s state TV has created more fantasies about the reasons for the invasion: “black magic” practiced by the troops, and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s non-existent drug use. These add to the falsehood of Ukraine’s prevalence of neo-Nazis.

The Finnish Parliament’s defense committee recommended NATO membership, and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin agree in an historical shift of security policy for the traditionally nonaligned Nordic country. NATO will likely pave the way to the year-long process. Russia threatens with “to retaliatory steps.” Neighboring Sweden is also expected to follow Finland’s lead. The expansions would double NATO’s land border with Russia, increasing the military alliance’s frontier to the far north and around the Baltic Sea.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may not block Finland and Sweden from NATO, but the Turkish authoritarian leader isn’t happy about the addition because “Scandinavian countries are guesthouses for terrorist organizations.” All 30 NATO members must approve any additions. Erdoğan is actually upset about Scandinavian support for Kurdish militants who he calls terrorists and because he approved Greece before it took “an attitude against Turkey.”

The U.S. has delivered the first of 11 helicopters as part of its “lend-lease” agreement. The Mi-17 transport aircraft, once earmarked for Afghanistan, are primarily used for personnel transport but can be armed with rockets and cannons for use in close air support situations.

The food shortage in the world has become worse after India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer with about ten percent of the world’s reserves, banned its exports with a few exceptions. Both Ukraine and Ukraine are major suppliers of wheat, but Black Sea fighting and blockades interrupted transport of any existing supplies. China’s drought caused poor harvests there, and the U.S. harvest is hurting from its heat wave and rising temperatures. Large port cities such as Odesa are storing about 25 million tons of staple grains such as corn, wheat, maize, and barley. Destined for the international market, the badly need food is stranded, and Russia has not reacted to pleas for lifting the blockade.

Not to be outdone by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who took a delegation of Democrats to meet in Ukraine with Zelensky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took his own three-Republican delegation for the same purpose. The trip was soon after one of McConnell’s GOP caucus, the other Kentucky senator Rand Paul, blocked the House bill to provide $40 billion in aid to the beleaguered nation. In 2019, Joe Scarborough labeled McConnell “Moscow Mitch.” The then-Senate Majority Leader blocked two bills to stop foreign influence in U.S. elections the day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

According to Fox’s biggest voice, Tucker Carlson, U.S. aid to Ukraine is revenge for Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election. Ukrainians “are merely unfortunate pawns,” according to Carlson, and “we arm Ukraine so that we can punish Russia … for stealing Hillary Clinton’s coronation.” He asserted that the U.S. doesn’t want to save lives or protect Ukraine—just create regime change in Russia as “payback.”

Nick Cohen wrote about Carlson’s—and his employer Rupert Murdoch’s—support of Russian atrocities:

“Murdoch is boosting Russian morale and, conversely, undermining Ukrainian resolve by supplying a dictatorship with foreign validation. Do not underestimate its importance. Russians who suspect their TV anchors are state-sponsored bootlickers are more likely to believe foreign commentators who assure them that the lies they are hearing are true.”

Maria Alyokhina, lead singer for Russian feminist arts collective and punk rock band Pussy Riot, escaped from Russia after three years of house arrest for criticizing Putin. The group plans a 19-show European tour to raise money for Ukrainian war victims. Alyokhina took that step after Russia announced she would have to serve 21 days in a penal colony. She said that Russia, not Ukraine, needs de-Nazification.

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