John Perry & Rick Sterling: How ‘Virtual Crime Scenes’ Became a Propaganda Tool in Nicaragua, Ukraine, and Syria (Excerpt)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is situ-1.jpg
Illustration showing incorrect bullet trajectory on Kyiv victim. (SITU Research)

By John Perry & Rick Sterling, Antiwar, 5/26/22

This article shows how media uses computer modeling and “virtual crime scenes” to assign blame for some extremely important international events. In these examples from Nicaragua, Ukraine and Syria, many people died in complex circumstances. The deaths at the “Mother’s March” in Managua, Nicaragua precipitated an attempted coup. The Maidan Massacre in Kyiv led to an actual coup. The claims of a chemical attack in Douma led to the US, France and the UK bombing Syria….

Maidan Square, Kyiv, Ukraine, 20 February 2014

On February 20, 2014, 49 protesters and four police were killed at the central square known as Maidan in Kyiv, Ukraine. Many more were injured. The event led to the overthrow of the elected government and a radical change in national politics and policy. Who was responsible for the mass killings? Eight years later, there have been no convictions. How could this be, when there were dozens of videos, hundreds of victims and thousands of witnesses to a mass killing in the heart of a European capital?

Western media and the post-coup government blamed the security services of the previous Yanukovich government. Others claim the killings and chaos were organized by the militant opposition using snipers located in adjacent buildings, including the Hotel Ukraina and Arkada Bank.

After the killings and coup, a German news team visited. Their report quotes doctors saying that both police and protesters had been shot by identical bullets. The investigation was ongoing yet the newly appointed state prosecutor, a leader of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party, had already declared former President Yanukovich and Berkut police to be responsible.

Despite the state prosecutor’s efforts and numerous police being charged and imprisoned, there were no convictions.

In 2018, the New York Times (NYT) published a lengthy story titled “Who Killed the Kiev Protesters? A 3-D Model Holds the Clues”. It was accompanied by a video titled “Did Police Kill these protesters? What the videos show.” The NYT story reports that Ukrainian prosecutors enlisted the help of SITU Research, who built a replica of the street where protesters were shot, then did 3D modeling of the buildings, location of protesters, police, etc.. They analyzed dozens of actual videos then produced their own video concluding “In all three cases, individual officers can be seen aiming and firing their rifles during the moments leading to the victims’ deaths.”

The “virtual crime scene” analysis focuses on three individuals killed in the same area. In all three cases, based on bullet wound locations, SITU alleges that the fatal shots were fired from the direction of the police barricade. An audio analysis, based on the time difference of a shockwave versus firearm discharge, approximates the distance of the shooter.

Looked at casually or superficially, this appears to be compelling evidence.

However, Canadian Professor Ivan Katchanovski has done rigorous research on the Maidan Massacre and reveals that the SITU model misrepresented the location of wounds in all three cases.

  1. In the case of Igor Dmytriv, the wound locations are not level and straight as portrayed by SITU; they are from right to left, with a distinct downward angle. The video shows a hole in his shield near the right edge which also points to his shooting from Arkada Bank to the right, not the police barricade directly in front. The shield evidence disappeared before the trial.
  2. The wound locations are also misrepresented in the case of Andriy Dyhdalovych. As discovered by Katchanovski, “The 3d model moved the exit wound location from around the middle line of the back of his body in forensic medical and clothing examinations to the right and changed a steep top and bottom direction and 17 cm difference in height.” SITU misrepresented the wounds to match up with the direction of the police barricade. The actual wound locations point to the killer also being in the upper floors of the Arkada Bank.
  3. The third victim was Yuri Parashchuk: his wounds were also misrepresented. He was killed by a bullet to the back of his head. “The single bullet in the back right helmet area, and exit wounds in the back left area of his head (parietal region) in forensic examination mean that it was physically impossible to shoot him from the police barricade, contrary to the SITU model,” Katchanovski argues. The victim’s wife confirmed the gunshot wound locations.

The NYT story falsely characterized any critics as “pro-Russia sources” and “Kremlin-funded media.” University of Ottawa Professor Katchanovski has presented his findings to high interest before numerous academic conferences.

In addition to misrepresenting the body wounds, the “virtual crime scene” analysis ignores a crucial question: Who would have a motive to kill both protesters and police?

Read full article here.

Aaron Mate: Funding the Ukraine proxy war, Bernie Sanders and the Squad abandon progressives and peace

black rifle
Photo by Specna Arms on Pexels.com

By Aaron Mate, Substack, 5/24/22

In the 2016 and 2020 Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders’ opposition to the US invasion of Iraq helped set him apart from frontrunners Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and the party establishment that they represent.

In 2022, with the US engaged in another costly and catastrophic conflict abroad, Sanders has chosen to abandon the anti-war mantle and join the ranks of his former rivals. Along with every elected Democrat — including the self-proclaimed Squad – Sanders voted last week to approve a $40 billion measure that will escalate the Ukraine proxy war and enrich its prime beneficiary, the US arms industry.

More than half of the allocated spending, $24 billion, is for military aid, including $9.1 billion for weapons makers to replenish the US arsenal. The mammoth bill follows the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act – also unanimously approved by Democrats — which invokes World War II-era policies to speed the transfer of US military equipment to Ukraine. Coupled with NATO’s likely expansion to Sweden and Finland, “the real winners are American defense companies,” Forbes columnist Jon Markman writes.

In passing the new $40 billion bill, “the leaders of both parties raised few questions about how much money was being spent or what it would be used for,” the New York Times observes. This swift bipartisan approval “was striking, given the gridlock that has prevented domestic initiatives large and small from winning approval in recent years.” This includes the progressive-backed Build Back Better agenda for social spending, once a headline issue and now seldom discussed.

The unwavering US effort to flood Ukraine with weaponry instead of diplomacy is additionally striking given its predictable consequences for the conflict and the planet. These include more bloodshed; more refugees; more arms trafficking; more weapons falling into the hands of neo-Nazis and other extremistsmore war profiteering; more inflation; more global hunger; and more of a possibility of direct military confrontation between the US and Russia.

The dangers have prompted the New York Times’ editorial board, normally a reliable supporter of US militarism, to get cold feet about the Ukraine proxy war that it has heretofore cheered. To avoid “a costly, drawn-out war,” the Times editors argue, the Biden administration should make clear to Kiev that “there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will go to confront Russia, and limits to the arms, money and political support they can muster.”

The Times’ stance will resonate with anyone worried about an escalated proxy war between the world’s top nuclear powers. But in Washington, it is difficult to see how Biden will receive that message if even the progressive, anti-war flank of his own party is voting in lockstep to fuel the danger. This group includes lawmakers like SandersIlhan OmarRo KhannaPramila Jayapal, and Barbara Lee, who have previously voiced concerns about the very military escalation in Ukraine that just authorized. Remarkably, as Glenn Greenwald notes, not only have these politicians betrayed their own public statements, but have refused to provide any explanation for their tectonic about-face.

The lone exception was Cori Bush, who simultaneously defended her support for the $40 billion measure while acknowledging that it will “primarily” benefit “private defense contractors” and fuel “the increased risks of direct war and the potential for direct military confrontation” between the US and Russia.

That so many single self-identified Congressional progressives can turn against their anti-war record and public positions might seem perplexing. In light of the prevailing US political and media climate of recent years, it makes perfect sense.

The enlistment of progressive support for a neoconservative proxy war in Ukraine is the outgrowth of the Russiagate disinformation campaign that has engulfed the US since 2016. When it comes to the US posture toward the Russian government, Russiagate has normalized militarism and evidence-free allegations; blamed it for US dysfunctions; stigmatized diplomacy; and, to ensure domestic obedience, portrayed anyone who dissents from these imperatives as a Kremlin pawn, asset, or conspirator.  

The fact that a mammoth gift to the US arms industry – and attendant escalation of dangers unseen since the Cuban Missile Crisis – could win the unanimous support of politicians nominally committed to progressive causes is one of the Russiagate campaign’s strongest successes to date. Its consequences are worth considering for anyone concerned with the future of the US progressive movement, and the planet…

Read full article here.

Dmitry Trenin: How Russia must reinvent itself to defeat the West’s ‘hybrid war’

By Dmitry Trenin, RT, 5/23/22

Note: Dmitry Trenin is a member of Russia’s Foreign and Defense Policy Council. This article was prepared based on the author’s speech at the 30th Assembly of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy and originally published in Russian on globalaffairs.ru.

The stand-off between Russia and the Western nations, which has been developing since 2014, escalated into an active confrontation with the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, back in late February. In other words, the Great Game has ceased to be a game. It has become total war, though a hybrid one so far, since the armed conflict in Ukraine is not of a full-scale nature at present.

However, the danger of it intensifying towards a direct collision not only exists, but is increasing.

The challenge Russia is facing has no equivalents in our history. It’s not just that we have neither allies nor even potential partners left in the West. Frequent comparisons with the Cold War of the mid and late 20th century are inaccurate and rather disorienting. In terms of globalization and new technology, the modern form of confrontation is not only of a larger scale than the previous one, it is also much more intense. Ultimately, the main field of the ongoing battle is located inside the country.

The asymmetry between the opponents is huge, particularly the imbalance between the forces and capabilities available to them. Based on this, the US and its allies have set much more radical goals than the relatively conservative containment and deterrence strategies used toward the Soviet Union. They are in fact striving to exclude Russia from world politics as an independent factor, and to completely destroy the Russian economy.

The success of this strategy would allow the US-led West to finally resolve the “Russia question” and create favorable prospects for victory in the confrontation with China.

Such an attitude on the part of the adversary does not imply room for any serious dialogue, since there is practically no prospect of a compromise, primarily between the United States and Russia, based on a balance of interests. The new dynamic of Russian-Western relations involves a dramatic severance of all ties, and increased Western pressure on Russia (the state, society, economy, science and technology, culture, and so on) on all fronts. This is no longer a source of discord between the opponents of the Cold War period, who then became (unequal) partners. It looks more like the drawing of a clearer dividing line between them, with the West refusing to accept even the perfunctory neutrality of individual countries.

Moreover, the shared anti-Russian agenda has already become an important structural element of unity within the European Union, while strengthening American leadership in the Western world.

In these circumstances, it’s an illusory hope that that Russia’s opponents will listen to reason or be represented by more moderate political figures as a result of internal upheavals in their countries. There has been a fundamental shift towards disengagement and confrontation even in the political classes of countries where the attitude towards Moscow had until now been determined primarily by important economic interests (Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Finland). Thus, the systemic confrontation between the West and Russia is likely to be protracted.

This circumstance almost completely nullifies Russia’s previous foreign policy strategy towards the US and EU, which was aimed at the West recognizing Russian security interests, ensuring cooperation on issues of global strategic stability and European security, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and building mutually beneficial economic and other ties with Washington and Brussels. However, recognizing that the previous agenda is now irrelevant does not mean we should abandon active politics and completely submit to the circumstances.

It is Russia itself that should be at the center of Moscow’s foreign policy strategy during this period of confrontation with the West and rapprochement with non-Western states. The country will have to be increasingly on its own. The outcome of the confrontation is not predetermined though. Circumstances affect Russia, but Russian politics can also change the world around it. The main thing to keep in mind is that no strategy can be developed without a clear set of goals. We need to start with ourselves, with an awareness of who we are, where we come from and what we strive for, based on our values and interests.

Foreign policy has always been closely linked with domestic policy, in the loose meaning of the word, including economics, social relations, science, technology, culture, etc. Facing a new type of warfare which Russia is forced to wage, the line is erased between what was called the “front line” and the “rear” in previous eras. In such a fight, it’s not just impossible to win, it is impossible to survive, if the elites remain fixated on further personal enrichment and society is left in a depressed and overly relaxed state.

“Re-establishing” the Russian Federation on a politically more sustainable, economically efficient, socially just and morally sound basis becomes urgently necessary. We have to understand that the strategic defeat that the West, led by the United States, is preparing for Russia will not bring peace and a subsequent restoration of relations. It is highly probable that the theatre of the “hybrid war” will simply move from Ukraine further to the east, into the borders of Russia, and its existence in its current form will be contested.

This enemy’s strategy should be actively countered.

In the field of foreign policy, the most pressing objective is clearly to strengthen the independence of Russia as a civilization, as a major independent global player, to provide an acceptable level of security and to create favorable conditions for all-round development. In order to achieve this objective in the current conditions – which are more complex and difficult than even recently – there is a need for an effective integrated strategy – general political, military, economic, technological, informational and so on.

The immediate and most important task of this strategy is to achieve strategic success in Ukraine within the parameters that have been set and explained to the public. It is necessary to clarify the stated objectives of the operation and use all opportunities to achieve them. The continuation of what many now call a “phoney war” leads to a prolongation of military activities, increased losses and a decrease in the global stature of Russia. The solution to most of the country’s other strategic objectives now depends directly on whether and when it succeeds in achieving strategic success in Ukraine.

The most important of these broader foreign policy tasks is not the overthrow of the US-centric world order by any means and at any price (its erosion is due to independent factors, but a Russian success in Ukraine would be a painful blow to US global hegemony) and of course, not a return to the fold of this set-up on more favorable terms, but the consistent building of a new system of international relations together with non-Western countries, and the formation, in cooperation with them, of a new world order and its consequent promotion. We need to work on this task now, but it will only be possible to act fully after a strategic success in Ukraine.

The framing of new geopolitical, geo-economic and military-strategic realities in the western part of the former Soviet Union, in the Donbass and Novorossiya, becomes extremely important and relevant in this context. A long-term priority here is the further development of allied relations and integration ties with Belarus. This category also includes strengthening Russia’s security in Central Asia and the South Caucasus. 

In the context of rebuilding foreign economic relations and creating a new model of the global order, the most important directions are cooperation with world powers – China and India as well as Brazil – and with leading regional players – Turkey, ASEAN countries, the Gulf states, Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Israel, South Africa, Pakistan, Argentina, Mexico and others.

It is in these areas, rather than in traditional Euro-Atlantic arenas, that the main resources of diplomacy, foreign economic relations, and the information and cultural spheres should be deployed. Whereas in the military sphere the main focus for Russia now is the West, in other areas it is the rest of the world – the larger and more dynamic part.

Alongside the development of bilateral relations, a new priority should be given to the multilateral interaction between states in the non-Western part of the world. There should be a greater focus on building international institutions. The Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Russia-India-China grouping, BRICS, and the mechanisms for dialogue and partnership between the Russian Federation and ASEAN, Africa and Latin America need a boost for further development. Russia is capable of playing a leading role in developing a framework ideology for these organizations, harmonizing the interests of partner countries and coordinating on common agendas.

In relations with the West, the strategy of Russia will continue to address the containment of the nuclear, conventional and cyber abilities of the US, and deterring it from exerting military pressure on Russia and its allies, or even attacking them. Never since the end of the Soviet-American confrontation has the prevention of nuclear war been more relevant than now. The new challenge after achieving strategic success in Ukraine will be to force NATO countries to actually recognize Russian interests and to secure the new borders of Russia.

Moscow needs to assess carefully the reasonableness, possibilities and limits of situational cooperation with various political and social groups in the West, as well as with other temporary potential allies outside the bloc whose interests coincide in some respects with those of Russia. The task is not to inflict damage on the enemy anywhere, but to use various irritants to divert the opponent’s attention and resources from the Russian focus, as well as to influence the domestic political situation in the US and EU in a direction favorable to Moscow.

The most important objective in this regard is developing a strategy for an emerging confrontation between the United States and China. The partnership nature of Russian-Chinese relations is the main thing that positively distinguishes the current “hybrid war” against the West from the previous cold one. Although Beijing is not a formal military ally of Moscow, the strategic partnership between the two countries has been officially characterized as more than a formal alliance. Russia’s largest economic partner has not joined the anti-Russian sanctions, but Chinese companies and banks are deeply integrated into the global economy and are wary of US and EU sanctions, thus limiting the possibility of interaction. There is mutual understanding between the leaders of Russia and China, and the people of the two countries are friendly towards each other. Finally, the United States views both countries as its adversaries — China as its main competitor and Russia as the main current threat.

US policy brings Russia and China even closer. Under a “hybrid war,” political and diplomatic support from China, and even limited economic and technological cooperation with it, are very important for Russia. Moscow does not currently have the opportunity to force even closer rapprochement with Beijing, but there is no necessity in too close an alliance.

If US-Chinese contradictions aggravate, Russia should be ready to support Beijing politically, as well as provide on a limited scale and under certain conditions, military-technical assistance to it, while avoiding direct participation in the conflict with Washington. Opening a “second front” in Asia is unlikely to significantly ease the pressure of the West on Russia, but it will dramatically increase tension in relations between Russia and India.

The transition from a confrontational, but still conditionally peaceful, state of economic relations between Russia and the West to a situation of economic war requires Russia’s deep revision of its foreign economic policy. This policy can no longer be implemented primarily on the basis of economic or technological expediency.

Measures aimed at de-dollarizing and repatriating offshore finances are under implementation. Business elites (often incorrectly described as “oligarchs”) who previously took profits outside the country are forcibly “nationalized”. Import substitution is underway. The Russian economy is shifting focus from the policy of raw materials export to the development of closed-cycle production processes. So far, however, the country has mostly been defensive and reactive.

Now it is necessary to move from retaliatory steps to initiatives that will strengthen Russia’s position in the total economic war declared by the West, allowing it inflict significant damage on the enemy. In this regard, a closer alignment of efforts of the state and the business community’s activities is required, as well as implementation of a coordinated policy in such sectors as finance, energy, metallurgy, agriculture, modern technology (especially related to information and communications), transport, logistics, military exports and economic integration — both within the framework of the Eurasion Economic Union and the Union State of Russia and Belarus and taking into account the new realities in the Donbass and the northern Black Sea region.

A separate task is to revise the Russian approach and policy position on climate change issues under the changed conditions. It is also important to determine the permissible limits of Russia’s financial, economic and technological dependence on neutral countries (primarily China), and launch a technological partnership with India.

War is always the most severe and cruel test of durability, endurance and inner strength. Today, and for the foreseeable future, Russia is a country at war. It will be able to continue its trajectory only if the authorities and society unite on the basis of solidarity and mutual obligations, mobilize all available resources and at the same time expand opportunities for enterprising citizens, remove obvious obstacles that weaken the country from within, and develop a realistic strategy to deal with external adversaries.

Up to now, we have merely celebrated the Victory won by previous generations in 1945. The current challenge is whether we are able to save and develop the country. To do this, Russia’s strategy must overcome the circumstances surrounding and constraining it.

Caitlin Johnstone: Western Media Run Blatant Atrocity Propaganda For The Ukrainian Government

Babies on Bayonets. Anti-German propaganda from WWI.

By Caitlin Johnstone, Substack, 5/21/22

The Ukrainian government is quickly learning that it can say anything, literally anything at all, about what’s happening on the ground there and get it uncritically reported as an actual news story by the mainstream western press.

The latest story making the rounds is a completely unevidenced claim made by a Ukrainian government official that Russians are going around raping Ukrainian babies to death. Business InsiderThe Daily BeastThe Daily Mail and Yahoo News have all run this story despite no actual evidence existing for it beyond the empty assertions of a government who would have every incentive to lie.

“A one-year-old boy died after being raped by two Russian soldiers, the Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights said on Thursday,” reads a report by Business Insider which was subsequently picked up by Yahoo News. “The accusation is one of the most horrific from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but is not unique.”

At the end of the fourth paragraph we get to the disclaimer that every critical thinker should look for when reading such stories in the mainstream press:

“Insider could find no independent evidence for the claim.”

In its trademark style, The Daily Beast ran the same story in a much more flamboyant and click-friendly fashion.

“The dead boy is among dozens of alleged child rape victims which include two 10-year-old boys, triplets aged 9, a 2-year-old girl raped by two Russian soldiers, and a 9-month-old baby who was penetrated with a candlestick in front of its mother, according to Ukraine’s Commissioner for Human Rights,” The Daily Beast writes.

The one and only source for this latest spate of “the Russians are raping babies to death” stories is a statement on a Ukrainian government website by Ukraine’s Human Rights Commissioner Lyudmyla Denisova. The brief statement contains no evidence of any kind, and its English translation concludes as follows:

I appeal to the UN Commission for Investigation Human Rights Violations during the Russian military invasion of Ukraine to take into account these facts of genocide of the Ukrainian people.

I call on our partners around the world to increase sanctions pressure on russia, to provide Ukraine with offensive weapons, to join the investigation of rashist crimes in our country!

The enemy must be stopped and all those involved in the atrocities in Ukraine must be brought to justice!

This is what passes for journalism in the western world today. Reporting completely unfounded allegations against US enemies based solely on assertions by a government official demanding more weapons and sanctions against those enemies and making claims that sound like they came from an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia bit.

We cannot say definitively that these rapes never happened. We also cannot say definitively that the Australian government isn’t warehousing extraterrestrial aircraft in an underground bunker in Canberra, but we don’t treat that like it’s an established fact and publish mainstream news reports about it just because we can’t prove it’s false. That’s not how the burden of proof works.

Obviously the rape of children is a very real and very serious matter, and obviously rape is one of the many horrors which can be inflicted upon people in the lawless environment of war. But to turn strategically convenient government assertions about such matters into a news story based on no evidence whatsoever is not just journalistic malpractice but actual atrocity propaganda.

As we discussed previously, the US and its proxies have an established history of using atrocity propaganda, as in the infamous “taking babies from incubators” narrative that was circulated in the infamous 1990 Nayirah testimony which helped manufacture consent for the Gulf War.

Atrocity propaganda has been in use for a very long time due to how effective it can be at getting populations mobilized against targeted enemies, from the Middle Ages when Jews were accused of kidnapping Christian children to kill them and drink their blood, to 17th century claims that the Irish were killing English children and throwing them into the sea, to World War I claims that Germans were mutilating and eating Belgian babies.

Atrocity propaganda frequently involves children, because children cannot be construed as combatants or non-innocents, and generally involves the most horrific allegations the propagandists can possibly get away with at that point in history. It creates a useful appeal to emotion which bypasses people’s logical faculties and gets them accepting the propaganda based not on facts and evidence but on how it makes them feel.

And the atrocity propaganda is functioning exactly as it’s meant to. Do a search on social media for this bogus story that’s been forcibly injected into public discourse and you’ll find countless individuals expressing their outrage at the evil baby-raping Russians. Democratic Party operative Andrea Chalupa, known for her controversial collusion with the Ukrainian government to undermine the 2016 Trump campaign, can be seen citing the aforementioned Daily Beast article on Twitter to angrily admonish the New York Times editorial board for expressing a rare word of caution about US involvement in the war.

“Before writing this, the members of the New York Times Editorial Board should have asked themselves who among them wanted to have their children, including babies and infants, raped by Russian soldiers, because that is what’s happening in Ukraine,” Chalupa tweeted.

See that? How a completely unevidenced government assertion was turned into an official-looking news story, and how that official-looking news story was then cited as though it’s an objective fact that Russian soldiers are running around raping babies to death in Ukraine? And how it’s done to help manufacture consent for a geostrategically crucial proxy war, and to bludgeon those who express any amount of caution about these world-threatening escalations? 

That’s atrocity propaganda doing exactly what it is meant to do.

Now on top of all the other reasons we’re being given why the US and its allies need to send Ukraine more and more war machinery of higher and higher destructive capability, they also need to do so because the Russians are just raping babies to death willy nilly over there. Which just so happens to work out nicely for the US-centralized empire’s goals of unipolar domination, for the Ukrainian regime, and for the military-industrial complex.

And that wasn’t even the extent of obscene mass media atrocity propaganda conducted on behalf of Ukrainian officials for the day. Newsweek has a new article out titled “Russians Targeting Kids’ Beds, Rooms With Explosives: Ukrainian Bomb Team,” which informs us that “The leader of a Ukrainian bomb squad has said that Russian forces are targeting children by placing explosive devices inside their rooms and under their beds.”

Then at the end of the second paragraph we again find that magical phrase:

“Newsweek has not independently verified the claim.”

The Newsweek report is based on part of an embarrassing ABC News Australia puff piece about a Ukrainian team which is allegedly responsible for removing landmines in areas that were previously occupied by Russian forces. The puff piece refers to the team as a “unit of brave de-miners” while calling Russian forces “barbaric”.

ABC uncritically reports all the nefarious ways the evil Russians have been planting explosives with the goal of killing Ukrainian civilians, including setting mines in children’s beds and teddy bears and placing them under fallen Ukrainian soldiers. Way down toward the bottom of the article we see the magical phrase again:

“The ABC has not been able to independently verify these reports, but they back up allegations made by Ukraine’s President.”

Ahh, so what you’re being told by Ukrainian forces “backs up” what you’ve been told by the president of Ukraine. Doesn’t get any more rock solid than that, does it? Great journalism there, fellas.

The Ukrainian government stands everything to gain and nothing to lose by just saying whatever it needs to say in order to obtain more weapons, more funding and increasingly direct assistance from western powers, so if it knows the western media will uncritically report every claim it makes, why not lie? Why not tell whatever lie you need to tell in order to advance your own interests and agendas? It would be pretty silly of them not to take advantage of the opening they’re being given.

This is something the western press know is happening. They know full well that Ukraine is waging a very sophisticated propaganda campaign against Russia and seeding disinformation to facilitate that infowar. It’s not a secret. They are participating in that campaign knowingly.

The mass media have been cranking out atrocity propaganda about what’s happening in Ukraine since before the invasion even started, like when they reported in February that Russia has a list of dissidents, journalists and “vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons” who it plans on rounding up and torturing when it invades. Funny how we just completely stopped hearing about that one.

And this is all happening at the same time the western political/media class continues to shriek about the dangers of “disinformation” and the urgent need to strictly regulate its circulation on the internet, even after US officials came right out and admitted that they’ve been circulating disinformation about Russia and Ukraine. I guarantee you none of these completely evidence-free claims will be subject to censorship by the “fact checkers” of social media platforms.

The fact that both Silicon Valley and the mainstream news media have accepted it as a given that it is their job to manipulate public thought about this war tells you everything you need to know about how free and truth-based the so-called liberal democracies of the western world really are. We are being deceived and confused into consenting to agendas that could very easily lead to nuclear armageddon, and if we ever raise our voices in objection to this we are branded Putin propagandists and disinformation agents. 

It’s getting very, very bad. Turn around, people. Wrong way.

MK Bhadrakumar: Ukraine after 90 days of war

By MK Bhadrakumar, Indian Punchline, 5/25/22

Bhadrakumar is a retired Indian diplomat.

The Western narrative that Russia is facing defeat at the hands of the Ukrainian military is falling apart. The contrived narrative that Ukraine was “winning” made Kiev delusional which in turn created conditions for Washington and London to extend the war and incrementally enter into it laterally and turn it into a war of attrition against Russia.

But the compelling reality is that the Russian forces are steadily seizing the upper hand in the Battle for Donbass. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday that “the most active phase” of the Russian special operation has begun in Donbass. In military terms, Russian forces face the daunting task of taking over the best-fortified areas of Ukraine, which have been carefully preparing for this battle for seven years. But on the other hand, after their triumphant victory in Mariupol, Russian forces have the wind on their sail.

Looking back through the past 3-month period, Russia’s topmost priority has been to establish a land corridor to Crimea and put in place the economic underpinnings for the region’s development. That objective stands fulfilled. It is from such a viewpoint that the current operation in Donbass needs to be understood. Ukraine and its Western allies are pinning hopes that the sanctions will eventually exhaust Russia’s military and economic potential.

But life is real. By the World Bank estimates, Ukraine’s economy may shrink by 45 percent by the end of 2022. The talk of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive later this year bolstered by the heavy weaponry from Western allies, will remain a pipe dream. Kiev may not even have sufficient manpower to wage a war by the end of the year. Russia is a formidable enemy and Kiev may be risking an abject surrender on humiliating terms in the downstream of the Battle for Donbass.

The Russian forces are now close to establishing full control of the Luhansk region of Donbass. The Ukrainian governor of the eastern region admitted on Tuesday that “The Russians are advancing in all directions at the same time; they brought over an insane number of fighters and equipment.” The situation is looking increasingly precarious for the Ukrainian forces. (Listen to the podcast The Battlefields of the Donbass and Beyond, War on the Rocks)  

The key signposts are Popasnaya and Severodonetsk in Donbass and the city of Izyum just to the north in the Kharkiv region. Popasnaya and Izyum are under Russian control already while Russian troops entered Severodonetsk yesterday. 

The Russian forces are currently expanding their control zone around Popasnaya to its north, west and south; they have approached the outskirts of the city of Severodonetsk; and have resumed their advance to the west and south of Izyum.

Latest reports are that assault groups from Popasnaya are heading west towards Bakhmut, which is a strategic hub for Kiev to replenish its forces in the eastern region. The highway between Bakhmut and Lisichansk is within firing range of Russian forces and military supplies to the Ukrainian grouping in Severodonetsk and Lisichansk have become problematic.

As for Izyum, in the area of Liman to its south (west of Severodonetsk), Russian forces have surrounded the Ukrainian forces. The Russian forces entered Severodonetsk city yesterday and there is street fighting going on.

Severodonetsk is a highly strategic asset for both sides. An estimated 15-16 thousand Ukrainian servicemen are deployed there, who are being reinforced. If Russian forces succeed in trapping and destroying the Ukrainian forces between Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, Kiev’s ability to contest the eastern Donbas region will be seriously weakened.

On Monday, Russian forces succeeded in destroying all but one bridge into Severodonetsk, threatening to cut the city off from supplies and reinforcements. A retreat and regrouping by the Ukrainian forces seems too late. The big picture is rather grim. The National Interest magazine assessed the developing situation as follows: 

“The coming battle could prove decisive to the course of the Kremlin’s Donbass campaign. Russian control over the eastern Donbas region would cut Ukraine off from the areas comprising its industrial heartland and fulfil the Kremlin’s key strategic goal of establishing a secure land bridge to Crimea.

“If Russia’s military successfully traps and destroys the Ukrainian forces between Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, they will significantly degrade Ukraine’s ability to contest the eastern Donbas region. It is unclear if Ukrainian military units in the Severodonetsk salient are considering plans to retreat further westward in order to avoid potential Russian envelopment.”

The next big target in the Russian sights is Slovyansk. Controlling it would enable Russian forces to drive west and link up with the forces pushing south-east of Izyum. The objective is to control the supply lines by road and block Ukrainian access to rail routes from the west. Ten Ukrainian brigades were deployed in the east when the war began in February, which were regarded as the best-equipped and best-trained soldiers that Kiev has.

Indeed, the fall of Mariupol to the Russian military represents a turning point. Russia now has a land corridor to Crimea and has ended Crimea’s water and power blockade. The freshwater canal connecting the Dnieper River to the arid Crimean Peninsula is now in Russia’s hands. So is a nuclear power station to the north of the peninsula, not to mention the power grid in southeastern Ukraine which can be now connected to Russia. These are strategic gains for Russia.

Beyond Donbass and Crimea, Russia might have other objectives too in the southern region. There have been demands — at the local level so far — for merger of the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Mykolaiv with Crimea (Russia), which have large Russian population. Some degree of integration of this region with Russia seems to have begun.

In Kherson region, Russian currency ruble has been introduced; Russian, along with Ukrainian, will become a state language and will become the main language for office work, communication and all issues of national importance; teaching in schools and universities will be conducted in Russian. The authorities of the Kherson Region have voiced the demand for establishment of a Russian military base in the region.

The secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said in an interview published Tuesday that the Russian government “is not chasing deadlines.” Indeed, the Western estimations also seem to anticipate future Russian operations in the southern regions. There are pointers. On May 23, the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that Denmark will provide Ukraine with a modern Harpoon anti-ship launcher and missiles to safeguard its coasts. On May 24, Hungary announced national emergency to take immediate steps to be able to project the country against threats emanating from the war in Ukraine. Over the last weekend, Moscow publicly voiced disquiet over a British statement about the possibility of NATO arms supplies to Moldavia.

Leif Reigstad: Sun, Sand, Surf, Sea—and Russian Rockets: Wartime in Odesa

ukrainian flag waving in wind with clear sky in background
Photo by Nati on Pexels.com

By Leif Reigstad, The Nation, 5/24/22

ODESA, UKRAINE—On a hot and sunny summer day along the Black Sea beachfront, Igor cast his fishing line over the edge of a long pier. Wearing nothing but a blue Speedo and the faded red beach towel wrapped around his neck, the leathery-skinned Odessan was at a different spot from his preferred place for finding Gobi fish and mussels, where he’d been fishing for 10 years. His usual place had been wrecked by a recent rocket attack.

An engineer by trade, Igor was out of work because of the war, and he’d been coming here to fish all day to keep busy. He didn’t seem to care that Russian ships were just out of sight somewhere off the coast, training their armaments on this picturesque and historic city. The evidence of their destructive might was visible just a short walk down the shoreline, where the charred remains of a ritzy waterfront hotel sat in a massive pile of rubble a week after being struck by a Russian missile. As Igor fished, the soft booms of defensive artillery sounded in the background. “I don’t even consider going to a shelter,” he told me. “If it hits, it hits.”

Odesa had been considered an early target of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose efforts on the southern front were stalled at Mariupol and, so far, have been largely stopped at Mykolaiv, preventing ground forces from reaching this crown jewel on the Black Sea. Odesa has since become a symbol of Ukraine’s stubborn resistance. It was roughly 75 miles along the coast from here that Russia’s warship Moskva was famously sunk, and while a curfew remains in effect and city officials still warn that Russian attempts at a marine landing remain possible, it seems extremely improbable that the war will reach Odesa anytime soon in the way that it’s reached the Donbas region or the villages surrounding Kyiv.

Still, rockets continue to strike, and every so often mines wash in with the tide. A few days after I met Igor, a beach bathroom was destroyed by rocket. But none of this seemed to bother beachgoers bathing on the white sands. Their easy-going enjoyment of the waterfront seemed emblematic of the Odessan spirit.

As in most of the cities that sit far from the front lines, life here has continued amid the war. At the city’s Privoz Market, a maze of shops selling everything from seafood to showerheads, shoppers bought cheese and fresh bread from Georgians, dried fruit and nuts from Uzbeks, and fresh fruit and wine from Moldovans, including bushels of the brightest-red strawberries I’ve ever seen. One woman selling hunks of salty cheese told me the market never closed, not even on February 24, when the recent invasion began.

While the market remained open, it wasn’t quite as busy as usual, according to my fixer, Olga Pariieva. The streets of Odesa were similarly busy, yet missing the hordes of tourists and cars typical for this time of year. It felt peaceful, particularly given the surrounding context of a country at war. Locals were out enjoying the green parks and cobblestone streets, lined by ornate buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, crumbling masterpieces in shades of pastel pink and sea-green. At the Odesa City Garden, the proverbial heart of the city, a street violinist played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” over the distant sounds of air raid sirens. “Odesa never gives up,” Pariieva told me. “You cannot do this to Odesa.”

But much of the historic downtown is blocked by checkpoints, and some landmarks, like the National Opera, are completely shut off from the public. And while Odesa traditionally moves at a more relaxed pace than the typical big city, civilians here have been mobilizing to support the war effort in parts of Ukraine that have been more directly impacted.

In a four-star hotel in the city’s equivalent of Miami’s South Beach—a cluster of glass skyscrapers and night clubs—volunteers were unpacking and sorting packages of combat medical kits, thermal tactical optics, and camo uniforms. The hotel’s restaurant was converted into a donation center at the beginning of the war, and since then volunteers have been sorting donations and cooking meals for soldiers in the kitchen. Piles of potatoes and onions lay atop red velvet couches where once wealthy socialites sat popping bottles of champagne.

In an atrium beneath a gold chandelier, lead organizer Victoria Krotova showed me a photo on her phone of a brand-new silver pickup truck that they’d arranged to be delivered to the front. Swiping to the next image on her phone, she showed me the same truck, several days after it reached the front, turned into a useless piece of scrap by Russian artillery.

“The day the war began, I woke up and immediately understood that part of my life before the war was finished,” she said, wearing a white sweatshirt that read “There’s always hope,” and standing near a table on which sat a package of Pampers next to a pair of thermal vision goggles. “People will never be the same. It will never be the same as it used to be.”

Right now, Krotova said they desperately need uniforms—specifically, MARPAT camo, the pattern type used by the US Marines—and more cars.

Despite the hotel’s plush setting, the horrors of war were close. Another volunteer knew a woman who was killed, along with her mother and her 3-month-old baby, when a rocket struck an apartment complex on Easter weekend. When I visited the site in late May, there was still a gaping hole in the building, and a red toy airplane and two roses lay on a stairwell nearby. According to the City of Odesa’s Telegram channel, 30 apartments there were completely destroyed, and 62 more were damaged.

Abulfat Aliev, the owner of a Turkish imports business on the apartment complex’s ground floor, was on his way to work when the rocket struck. He got a security alert saying that his front door had been forced open, and arrived to see the smoldering remains of apartments and a line of charred cars piled on the street in front. “There were flames and smoke, everything was on fire,” he said. “It was horrible. People died, people lost their homes, their memories, things that can’t be replaced.”

At another apartment complex in Odesa, near a large mall that was struck by a rocket, broken windows peered out over an empty playground in the courtyard. Few people remained here. One resident, Lena Sukhotskaya, told me her daughter and grandson were playing here one day when they saw rockets whizzing overhead. They left shortly after that. When a rocket struck the mall nearby, another resident, Natalia, told me she was inside the hallway, clutching her elderly mother so tightly that she nearly suffocated her; they tried to run down to the basement, but the electricity went out and it was too dark; people were falling down. She told me that one small child was screaming so loudly that they thought he’d been hurt; but he was just terrified, and refused to let anyone touch him to look for injuries.

During my week in Odesa, several more rockets struck: a fertilizer plant was destroyed in one attack, and a 4-year-old girl lost her leg when a residential area was hit in Zatoka, a resort town just south of the city.

Amid the constant threat from above, some places in the city can feel like a ghost town. At an amusement park near the waterfront, attendants sat bored next to their rides. There was a tangled mass of stationary bumper cars, and carnival music echoed eerily throughout the nearly empty grounds. A double-decker carousel twirled around a few times for their painted horses’ only riders: a 2-year-boy and his mother, Katya.

“We come here for the distraction,” Katya told me. “I still haven’t gotten used to the rockets. I’m afraid it might come for us next time, hit our house.” She said she hasn’t left Odesa because her mother lives here, and she won’t leave her behind. Then she began to cry. In English, she said, “Stop the war. Stop killing children.”

Fred Weir: Russia and the NATO it didn’t want: A disaster, or ‘no problem’?

NATO Headquarters, Brussels.

By Fred Weir, Christian Science Monitor, 5/20/22

Amid Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine, the perennially neutral Nordic states of Finland and Sweden have reversed decades of policy and applied for membership in the NATO military alliance.

For Moscow this is, at least on the symbolic level, a disaster.

Not so long ago, Russian diplomacy aimed to revise European security architecture to make Ukraine look more like the Finnish example of a buffer zone between East and West. Now, with Finland ditching its neutrality to join NATO, even Kyiv has dropped talk it had earlier in the conflict of compromising on the issue of joining NATO. So profound is the geopolitical shift underway that Switzerland, which is often cited in dictionary definitions of “neutrality,” has indicated that it might revise its historical stance under the present circumstances.

Whatever the outcome of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, many analysts say Moscow faces decades of isolation in a Europe solidly united against it.

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“If in the past there were reasons to speculate about a divergence between the [European Union] and NATO, now it looks like they go hand in hand, at least for the foreseeable future,” says Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, which is affiliated with the Foreign Ministry. “If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s idea was to put an end to NATO expansion, it clearly wasn’t very effective.”

A long frontier with Russia

After talking with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö recently, Mr. Putin surprised many by arguing that things needn’t be that bad. Indeed, he said, there should be “no problem,” as long as the new members of NATO refrain from basing foreign military infrastructure on their soil, especially nuclear weapons. Both Finland and Sweden have long been very capable exemplars of “armed neutrality,” maintaining de facto cooperation with the West in security and intelligence matters, and the actual military balance needn’t change, he suggested.

“Putin said that Russia doesn’t see any fresh threats, but will monitor the appearance of any new infrastructure and react accordingly,” says Igor Korotchenko, editor of the Moscow-based National Defense journal. “My own view is that the situation is extremely unfavorable for Russia. Finland has a long frontier with Russia, and Russian forces in the western military district are currently insufficient to cover that. Sweden is a first-class military power, with a huge network of bases and airfields.”

Sweden has been mostly neutral for over 200 years, even navigating World War II and the Cold War without changing its status.

Finland is a more complicated case. It was invaded by the USSR in 1939, and fought a bitter “Winter War,” which dealt severe damage to Soviet forces before Finland was compelled to cede territory. Defeated again in 1945, Finland adopted an official policy of non-alignment and spent the next several decades walking a careful foreign policy line between the USSR, later Russia, and the West.

In practice, however, Finland has integrated with European institutions, including the EU, and hence the actual situation on the ground may not be practically affected by its impending NATO accession.

Still, the geostrategic map is going to look radically different as Finland and Sweden move into NATO.

“The Baltic Sea will become, effectively, a NATO lake,” says Mr. Kortunov. “The border between Russia and NATO will basically double,” as Finland’s 800-mile frontier becomes, at least theoretically, a confrontation line. “In the Arctic Council, it will now be seven NATO members against Russia.”

It remains to be seen what model of NATO integration Finland and Sweden will adopt, Russian analysts say. Some northern European members of NATO, such as Norway and Iceland, eschew foreign bases on their territories, while others, like Poland and the Baltic states, enthusiastically embrace NATO deployments.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

In a May 14 telephone conversation between Mr. Putin and Mr. Niinistö, the Russians may have been assured that Finland will take the former route, says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal.

“Finland probably won’t want to host foreign military bases, much less nuclear weapons. So it’s possible that not much will have to change in practical terms,” he says.

“This issue of Ukraine is special”

Russian analysts say that the threat of Ukraine joining NATO posed a qualitatively different challenge for Moscow, paving the path to conflict, due to the country’s proximity to the Russian heartland, its big Russian-speaking population, and historical ties. Perhaps most importantly, the Kremlin has seen an aggressive nationalist threat in Ukraine since the 2014 Maidan revolution overthrew a Russia-friendly government and replaced it with a pro-Western one in Kyiv. Russia’s failure to secure Ukrainian neutrality is just one of the causes of the current crisis, they say.

“This issue of Ukraine is special,” says Mr. Lukyanov. “After all, Russia has accepted the entry of many others into NATO over the years. We may not have liked the idea of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, etc., joining the alliance, but it did not provoke war. It’s a similar situation with Finland and Sweden. This [war] is about Ukraine specifically.”

But some Russian officials claim that there is a wider, long-term scheme to isolate and undermine Russia now being brought to fruition. Ukraine was inducted into that plan following the Maidan revolution, offered political and military support and seduced with promises of NATO membership and European integration, they say, adding that the inevitable confrontation with Russia is currently being manipulated by Washington to achieve long-held strategic goals in Europe.

“The U.S. is using this Ukraine situation to expand its influence,” says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament. “It’s about much larger things than Ukraine. The U.S. has long wanted Finland and Sweden to abandon neutrality in order to master the Arctic. This is about the bigger picture, and the confrontation in Ukraine is just an instrument that is being exploited to the hilt.”

The Bell: Rising Oil Dependency

industrial machine during golden hour
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Bell, 5/22/22

Hello! This week our top story is on what recently released financial data reveals about Russia’s rapidly growing dependency on oil, as well as a collapse in VAT revenue and how China is coming to Moscow’s rescue. We also look at the new owner of McDonald’s in Russia after the U.S. fast food chain decided to leave the country.

Data exposes VAT collapse, oil dependency and rising military spending

It’s not easy to assess the effect of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on the Russian economy. But one thing is clear: Russia is more dependent than ever on revenue from oil exports. This was starkly visible in April’s budget figures: oil and gas revenues increased, while everything else fell sharply. Judging by the latest data on Chinese purchases of Russian oil, this is a trend that is likely to continue – but there are limits to the rewards of Russia’s much-vaunted “pivot to the East”.

What’s happening?

The Finance Ministry’s budget data (the stats for April were published on May 17) offer a window on to how the Russian economy has been affected by the fighting in Ukraine:

Revenues from non-oil and gas sources (VAT, personal income tax, etc) in April fell 18 percent year-on-year to 1.01 trillion rubles ($17 billion)
Oil and gas export revenue, however, continued to rise despite Western sanctions. Amid high oil prices, oil and gas revenues were 1.8 trillion rubles in April compared with 1.2 trillion the month before.
Russia is increasingly financially dependent on revenues from energy exports. When compared with April 2021, the share of oil and gas in state revenue has doubled. The share was 63 percent in April and 48 percent for the first four months of 2022. Last year, the share was equivalent to 36 percent of Russian revenue, and in 2020 it was 28 percent.
However, not even record oil profits could keep the budget in surplus. The budget saw its first monthly deficit of 2022 in April – 262.3 billion rubles. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has estimated there will be a deficit of 1.6 trillion rubles this year.
Collapse in VAT

One of the most striking details in the Finance Ministry figures (excluding a rise in military expenditure) was the collapse of VAT revenue. Together with the mineral extraction tax, it’s one of the two main tax contributors to Russia’s coffers, accounting for about a third of total revenues.

In April 2022, domestic VAT raised just 192 billion rubles – that’s less than half the equivalent figure from April 2021. VAT fees on imported goods in April 2022 were down about a third.

Domestic VAT payments have been impacted by the contraction in purchasing power that began in March, and the mass exodus of foreign businesses. “In April, the revenues of the overwhelming majority of companies in Russia took a hit. This didn’t merely affect those who ceased operations in Russia, but also those who continued to work but lost clients and profits,” said Andrei Grachev, head of tax practice at Birch Legal.

The fall in VAT fees on imported goods is due to a combination of fewer imports and the strengthening of the ruble, a Finance Ministry representative told The Bell.

Last week The Economist compiled trade statistics for Russia and eight of its biggest partners (the largest EU countries, China, Japan, U.S. and South Korea). These account for almost 60 percent of Russian imports and more than 40 percent of its exports. The data showed the value of Russian imports fell 44 percent, while exports increased by 8 percent.

Rising military expenses

Expenditure on “national defense” increased almost 130 percent last month to 630 billion. This includes the cost of the armed forces, mobilization, training, nuclear weapons and more. In April, Russia was spending 21 billion rubles a day on its military needs.

However, Russia’s true military expenditure is always higher than the official figures because it does not include funding for “peaceful items” like vehicles and defense industry subsidies.

China will help – at a price

Russia’s growing dependency on energy export revenues looks even more precarious as the European Union moves toward an embargo on Russian oil. If the EU does finally reach a deal on an embargo, Russia will become increasingly dependent on Chinese buyers – who understand the situation perfectly and are already dictating terms.

Since the start of the fighting in Ukraine, major Chinese companies have been cautious about purchasing Russian oil, preferring not to sign new contracts. All the growth in Russian sales to China came from small Chinese oil refineries – not big state companies. But this week brought several indications that China is ramping up its purchases of Russian oil.

Reuters last week wrote about “quiet” but record-breaking increases in Russian oil sales to Chinese companies. China is set to import an average of 1.1 million barrels per day of Russian seaborne oil in May (compared with 750,000 barrels per day in April and a daily average of 800,000 through 2021).
The leading customers are not small refineries but major Chinese state corporations — Unipec and Zhenhua Oil, a unit of China’s defense conglomerate Norinco.
Chinese imports began to rise in April, Bloomberg reported. And China is not only interested in oil. According to Chinese customs statistics, April saw purchases of Russian oil, LPG and coal increase by 75 percent to $6.4 billion.
China is also considering buying cheap Russian oil for its strategic reserves, according to Bloomberg. Officials are apparently discussing this issue – with little involvement from the oil companies. China does not disclose the size of its reserves, but Bloomberg estimated it has space for about 60 million barrels.
However, Chinese companies may not be willing to risk secondary sanctions from the U.S. forever. And, even now, Russia is being forced into big discounts. According to Reuters, “Chinese” spot prices for a barrel of Urals crude are currently less than $70 — significantly cheaper than the price at which Russian oil is being sold in Europe.

Why the world should care: Even if the EU oil embargo never happens, it’s clear Europe is planning to move away from Russian oil. And that means Russia finds itself in an awkward position: dependent on oil and gas revenues from a single customer that is not shy about exploiting its position.

A new owner for Russian McDonald’s

The new owner of McDonald’s – after the U.S. fast food company departed the Russian market amid the “special military operation” – is a Siberian businessman, Alexander Govor. The former co-owner of coal mining company Yuzhkuzbassugol, Govor was forced to sell-up in the mid-2000s after two accidents killed 148 miners. Now, Govor owns an oil refinery in his native Kemerovo region and his son, who has worked for his father’s other businesses for many years, is a deputy in the local parliament from the ruling United Russia party.

  • McDonald’s announced its exit from Russia on Monday, confirming speculation that it would sell its 850 restaurants (which employ 62,000 people).  
  • Four days later, McDonald’s said that its Russian restaurants would be purchased by Govor’s GiD company. The company already has experience operating the McDonald’s franchise (in March 2022 it was operating 25 McDonald’s branches in the Siberian cities of Novosibirsk, Berdsk, Tomsk, Kemerovo, Barnaul and Krasnoyarsk).
  • Govor, 61, was born in the south-western Siberian city of Novokuznetsk in Kemerovo region, famous for its coal production. He started out as a miner and by 1997 had risen to the position of general director of one of the biggest local mines (operated by state-owned mining outfit Kuznetskugol). In 2000, Govor and two other managers transferred their shares to a new company, Yuzhkuzbassugol, in a murky deal typical of Russian business at that time. The state company was declared bankrupt and 50 percent of the shares in the new company went to the directors of Kuznetsugol (director Vladimir Lavrik, Govor, and banker Yuri Kushnerov). A further 50 percent was acquired by leading metals holding Evraz, of which billionaire Roman Abramovich later became a majority shareholder.
  • In the mid-200s Evraz entered talks with Lavrik, Kushnerov and Govor to purchase their stake, but they did not reach an agreement. Then, in the spring of 2007, there were two serious accidents at Yuzhkuzbassugol mines in quick succession. On March 19, a methane explosion killed 110 people at the Ulyanovskaya mine, then, on May 24, 38 people died at the Yubileynaya mine. At Ulyanovskaya, the director of the mine and several senior managers were found guilty of safety violations. 
  • After the explosions, veteran Kemerovo region governor Aman Tuleyev, announced he would insist on a change of ownership. On the same day, Evraz said it would buy out the 50 percent stake held by Lavrik, Govor and Kushnerov. The deal valued the partners’ shares at $871 million.
  • The families of the miners killed at Ulyanovskaya were awarded 1 million rubles in compensation. But relatives later complained that they had received just 800,000 rubles and that the remaining money was deducted to buy “Italian coffins.” 
  • Govor invested his pay-out in petrochemicals: together with Kushnerov he set up Neftekhimservis, which built a refinery in the Kemerovo region. In 2021, Neftekhimservis generated revenues in excess of $1.3 billion. It also owns the Park Inn by Radisson hotel and the Grand Medica chain of private clinics in Novokuznetsk.
  • Govor’s son, Roman, worked at the Yubileynaya mine then took on various roles in his father’s companies. In 2018, he was elected a deputy of Kemerovo’s legislative assembly for United Russia. At the start of March, Govor Jnr published a video in support of the “special military operation” on Instagram, accompanied with the comment: “We’ve put up with it for too long… I call on all of us to come together and get through this difficult time! We have lived under sanctions for so long, and we will continue to survive!” 
  • Govor senior also has links to United Russia. In 2007 he and Sergei Neverov, then a United Russia parliamentary deputy and later secretary to the party’s general council, established a charitable fund in support of mountaineering. In 2006, Govor and Neverov were part of a group of 16 climbers from Kemerovo region to travel to Tanzania to plant the region’s flag and leave a piece of coal on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.