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Eva Bartlett: Ukraine bombed a Donetsk hotel full of journalists – here’s what it felt like to be there

Photo by Eva Bartlett

By Eva Bartlett, In Gaza Blog, 8/4/22

*Note: an abridged version of this article originally appeared at RT.

At 10:13 am Thursday, Ukraine began shelling central Donetsk. There were five powerful blasts in the space of ten minutes. The last explosion blew out my hotel’s ground-floor glass, including a sitting room – where journalists often congregate before and after going out to do field reporting, and where until less than ten minutes prior, I’d been sitting working on my laptop – and the lobby, which I had passed through a minute earlier. A cameraman’s assistant who was there at the time of that fifth explosion suffered a concussion from the force of the blast.

A woman walking outside the building was killed, as were at least four others, including an 11 year old rising-star ballerina, her grandmother, and her teacher (a world-renowned former ballerina).

Donetsk Telegram channels are filled with videos locals have taken, of the dead, the injured and the damage, and of grief-stricken people. One such hard-to-watch Telegram post (warning: graphic footage) features a man in shock at the gruesome sight of the bodies of his murdered wife and grandchild on a street two blocks from the hotel.

First estimates placed the number at at least ten, among them two ambulance workers: a paramedic and a doctor.

When the shelling started, I was in my room editing footage from the previous day – from the aftermath of another Ukrainian shelling of a Donetsk district.

Reading the news, you have the luxury of graphic image warnings and the choice not to look at the pictures and videos of the carnage that occurred on Thursday, as well as over the past eight years of Ukraine’s war on Donbass. The people here on the ground don’t get a warning, or a choice as to whether they will see the mutilated remains of a loved-one or stranger. As uncomfortable as it is to see such footage, it does need to be shown if the world is to know the truth of what’s going on in Donbass, to give voice to the locals, killed and terrorized by Ukrainian forces as Western corporate media looks elsewhere or covers up these crimes. 

Chronology of the bomb strikes

You wouldn’t know it from most Western media coverage but explosions are so common here that I didn’t think much of the blast other than it was louder than usual and the car alarms were going off.

Seven minutes later, another explosion, much louder and much closer. From the window, smoke could be seen rising to the north, probably 200 meters away. This would have been right near the Donetsk Opera and Ballet Theatre, where the funeral ceremony for Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Colonel Olga Kachura, killed yesterday, was commencing.

A minute later, another loud blast sent me running from the room, which faced the direction of incoming artillery. Luckily, the only damage ended up being a broken window.

Downstairs, journalists who had been in the hotel and others who had been outside ready to go out reporting, took shelter in the hallway for the time being, ready to run to the basement if things escalated, telling me that the last shelling hit 50 metres from the hotel.

One told me he had been preparing to go film and was about 10 meters away from where the last shell struck. “I believe they were trying to target the funeral. And journalists also,” he said. He also said there was a woman outside who had lost a leg, and that she was probably dead by now.

I left the lobby briefly and during that time, the fifth strike hit, blowing out the windows and killing a woman just outside the hotel. Journalists in the lobby suffered from the pressure of the blast. A cameraman’s assistant got a concussion from it. It was by pure luck that I was not in the lobby.

I was back inside the hotel, sitting in a hallway, beginning to stitch together my footage, to publish it, when the shelling resumed. Journalists still outside ran back in. After another four blasts, the shelling died down. Meanwhile, Telegram was filled with videos people had sent from Donetsk streets. A man slumped dead near a bus stop. Three civilians slaughtered on a sidewalk just two streets from the hotel, a man shrieking his grief at the horrific site of his wife and granddaughter in pieces.

After the dust had settled and it seemed Ukraine had stopped its shelling, we went outside to document the damage, and the carnage. The poor women killed by the shelling was by this point covered with a hotel curtain, blood stains around her body.

It’s safe to assume that Kiev’s forces’ intended target was the funeral service for Colonel Kachura, aiming perhaps to send a message to the DPR military and the civilians who support it. While that would be egregious by itself, it is likely that a hotel housing journalists was not just ‘collateral damage,’ either. 

It is common for aggressors like Ukraine or Israel or terrorists in Syria to target journalists. In 2009, as it waged war on the civilians of Gaza, Israel repeatedly shelled a media building I was in.

In May 2021, as it resumed intensely bombing Gaza, Israel destroyed two Gaza media buildings housing 20 media outlets.

Ukraine routinely persecutes, censors, imprisons, tortures, and targets media personnel, putting us on kill lists.

Kiev’s forces know a lot of journalists stay at this hotel for its central location and strong wifi. Many frequently do their live reports from outside the hotel. And those staying there, as well as in other central Donetsk neighbourhoods, have been loudly reporting on Ukraine’s showering of Donetsk with the insidious, internationally-prohibited ‘butterfly’ anti-personnel mines of late – the latest, until today, in the list of Kiev’s war crimes. These explosives are designed to rip off feet and legs, and Ukraine has repeatedly fired rockets containing them, intentionally dropping them on civilian areas in Donetsk and other Donbass cities.

After the explosions rang out in central Donetsk Thursday, Emergency Services arrived at the scene and, following a period of calm, journalists went out to document the damage and the dead. The woman I’d been told about lay in a pool of blood, covered with what appeared to be a curtain from one of the blown-out windows.

The calm didn’t last long. Ukraine soon resumed shelling, and journalists outside ran back inside as we received another four attacks. “It’s like a common thing, they shoot one place and shoot it again. So we’re in the middle of that process right now,” a Serbian guy near me said.  The chief of a local Emergency Services headquarters told me Kiev also makes triple strikes, not only double.

It is said that Ukraine used NATO-standard 155mm caliber weapons in today’s attack. If that is true, this is another instance of Ukraine using Western-supplied weapons to slaughter and maim civilians in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

If by bombing a hotel full of journalists Kiev wanted to intimidate them away from reporting on Ukraine’s war crimes, it won’t work. Most journalists reporting from on the ground here do so because, unlike the crocodile tears of the West for conflicts they create, we actually care about the lives of people here.

Alan MacLeod: MOST OF THE “FACT-CHECKING” ORGANIZATIONS FACEBOOK USES IN UKRAINE ARE DIRECTLY FUNDED BY WASHINGTON

By Alan MacLeod, MintPress News, 8/2/22

Most of the fact-checking organizations Facebook has partnered with to monitor and regulate information about Ukraine are directly funded by the U.S. government, either through the U.S. Embassy or via the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an information war as bitter as the ground fighting has erupted, and Meta (Facebook’s official name) announced it had partnered with nine organizations to help it sort fact from fiction for Ukrainian, Russian and other Eastern European users. These nine organizations are: StopFake, VoxCheck, Fact Check Georgia, Demagog, Myth Detector, Lead Stories, Patikrinta 15min, Re:Baltica and Delfi.

“To reduce the spread of misinformation and provide more reliable information to users, we partner with independent third-party fact-checkers globally,” the Silicon Valley giant wrote, adding, “Facebook’s independent third-party fact-checkers are all certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). The IFCN, a subsidiary of the journalism research organization Poynter Institute, is dedicated to bringing together fact-checkers worldwide.”

The problem with this? At least five of the nine organizations are directly in the pay of the United States government, a major belligerent in the conflict. The Poynter Institute is also funded by the NED. Furthermore, many of the other fact-checking organizations also have deep connections with other NATO powers, including direct funding.

STOPFAKE

Perhaps the most well-known and notorious of the nine groups is StopFake. Established in 2014, StopFake is funded by NATO’s Atlantic Council, by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Embassy in Ukraine and the Czech Foreign Ministry. It has also received money from the U.S. via the National Endowment for Democracy, although that fact is far from trumpeted by either party.

One potential reason for this was alluded to in a 2016 article reprinted by StopFake itself. As the article notes, “in the case of StopFake.org when opponents want to insult the project, they immediately invoke National Endowment for Democracy donor support as evidence of U.S. government and CIA involvement.”

In the wake of the Russian invasion, the NED pulled all public records of their Ukraine projects from the internet. Nevertheless, incomplete archived copies of those records confirm a financial relationship between the groups.

StopFake was explicitly set up as a partisan organization. As a glowing report on them from the International Journalists’ Network notes, the majority of StopFake’s fact-checks are on stories from Russian media, and the motivation for its creation was “Russia’s 2014 occupation of Crimea and a campaign to portray Ukraine as a fascist state where anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia thrived.”

While it is indeed incorrect to label Ukraine a fascist state, the country clearly has one of the strongest far-right movements anywhere in Europe. And unfortunately, StopFake itself is far from an apolitical bystander in that rise. Multiple established Western media outlets, including The New York Times, have reported on StopFake’s ties to white power or Nazi groups. When local journalist Ekaterina Sergatskova exposed these links, death threats from far-right figures forced her to flee her home.

Indeed, according to some, one of StopFake’s primary functions appears to be to promote the far-right. A long exposé by Lev Golinkin in The Nation cataloged what it called StopFake’s history of “aggressively whitewashing two Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups with a long track record of violence, including war crimes.”

Surely StopFake’s most famous former host is Nina Jankowicz. Jankowicz was briefly head of President Biden’s newly formed Disinformation Governance Board before public uproar caused her to resign. Dubbed the “Ministry of Truth”, both the board and Jankowicz generated strong opposition. Yet few mentioned the fact that, while at StopFake, Jankowicz herself had, on camera, enthusiastically extolled the virtues of multiple fascist paramilitaries.

In a 2017 TV segment about the Aidar, Dnipro-1 and Azov Battalions, Jankowicz presented the groups as heroic volunteers deafening Ukraine from “further Russian separatist encroachment.” As she stated,

The volunteer movement in Ukraine extends far beyond military service. Volunteer groups are active in supporting Ukraine’s military with food, clothing, medicine, and post-battle rehabilitation, as well as working actively with the nearly two million internal refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine,”

This framing jars with multiple reports from human rights groups such as Amnesty International, who claim that the Aidar Battalion is guilty of a litany of abuses, “including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions.” Amnesty also accuses Aidar and Dnipro-1 of “Using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.”

Azov, meanwhile, is the most infamous organization of the lot. The group’s insignia is directly lifted from the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division, a unit responsible for carrying out some of the worst crimes of Hitler’s holocaust. The Azov Battalion also dip their bullets in pig fat before battle as a calculated hate crime, attempting to block Jewish or Muslim enemies from a better afterlife. Andriy Biletsky, the group’s founder, said in 2010 that he believes Ukraine’s mission is to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen” – the word Hitler used to describe Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and other peoples he designated for extermination.

In February, Facebook announced that it was changing its rules on hate speech to allow praise and promotion of the Azov Battalion. Was this on StopFake’s recommendation? MintPress asked Meta/Facebook for comment on their fact checking partner’s ties to far right groups and if StopFake had influenced their decision to allow pro-Nazi content on their platform, but did not receive a reply.

As Golinkin noted in his article for The Nation, StopFake has also defended C14, another fascist paramilitary, describing it merely as a “community organization”, citing C14’s own denial of its pogroms against Roma people as “evidence” of its innocence. This designation clashes even with the U.S. State Department, which classifies C14 as a “nationalist hate group.” The “14” in its name refers to the “14 words” white supremacist slogan.

StopFake has made a number of controversial claims, including that the rise in anti-semitism in Ukraine is “fake” – even going so far as to brand well-established outlets like NBC News and Al-Jazeera as printing fake news about the Azov Battalion’s role in this. In an article entitled “Russia as Evil: False Historical Parallels. Some peculiarities of Russian Political Culture,” it also insisted that Hitler’s concentration camps were modeled on Russian ones set up by Vladimir Lenin. In reality, the German government pioneered the use of concentration camps during their genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples between 1904 and 1908 in Namibia. The British and Spanish were also early adopters.

In addition, StopFake has close links with The Kyiv Post, a Ukrainian outlet directly funded and trained by the National Endowment for Democracy. Since 2016, the Post has published 191 StopFake reports.

WHO IS THE NED?

Why receiving funding from the National Endowment for Democracy should immediately raise suspicions of any organization is because the NED was explicitly established by the Reagan administration as a front group for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Although it is funded by Washington and staffed by state officials, it is technically a private company and therefore not subject to the same legal regulations and public scrutiny as state institutions.

The CIA has used the NED to carry out many of its more controversial operations. In recent years, it has trained and funneled money to the leaders of the Hong Kong protesters to keep the insurrection alive, fomented a nationwide campaign of demonstrations in Cuba, and helped attempts to topple the government of Venezuela. Perhaps most importantly for this story, however, the NED was also involved in the 2014 coup that removed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych from power. Regime change is, in short, one of its primary functions.

The NED does this by establishing, funding, supporting and training all manner of political, economic and social groups in target countries. According to its 2019 annual report, Ukraine is the NED’s “top priority”. The agency has (officially) spent over $22 million in Ukraine since 2014.

In their more candid moments, NED leaders are explicit about the organization’s role. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA,” Carl Gershman, NED president from 1984 to 2021 said, explaining why his organization was set up. NED co-founder Allen Weinstein agreed: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” he told The Washington Post.

VOXCHECK

VoxCheck receives substantial monetary assistance from the U.S. government through both the NED and the U.S. Embassy. It is also funded by the Dutch and German governments. Incomplete NED records show VoxCheck receives substantial yearly grants and has accepted around $250,000 in total.

That sort of money goes an extremely long way in Ukraine, which is by quite some way the poorest nation in Europe. The country’s GNI per capita of $3,500 per year is well below that of even Russia, which stands at $10,700. One $15,000 NED grant given to a Ukrainian media foundation, for instance, was enough to pay for over 100 articles to be written.

Despite its funding, Western media portray VoxCheck extremely positively. The Washington Post, for example, describes them as “a small group of independent fact-checkers.” In common parlance, the word “independent” is usually reserved for any media group not owned or funded by governments (as if that is the only type of dependence). But even at this extremely low bar, VoxCheck falls.

In the article, the Washington Post describes VoxCheck’s fact-checking process, which largely consists of “sourcing credible news sources – such as a BBC article,” and then labeling Russian claims as false on this basis. In other words, the official state mouthpiece of the British government – one that was instrumental in promoting the lies which led to the invasions of Iraq and Libya – is considered sacrosanct.

What comes across in the Post’s glowing exposé is that VoxCheck staff have few pretensions about being neutral and see themselves as digital foot soldiers in a crusade against Russia. As one employee said, the mission is to “prevent someone from falling into Russian lies and manipulation.” Indeed, one of the staff quit his job to volunteer for the Ukrainian Army. Other VoxCheck employees revealed that they felt guilty for not doing so themselves and only contributing virtually to the fight.

Of course, Russia has lied constantly during this war; the entire invasion was based on a lie. Throughout the winter, Russian officials consistently repeated that they had no intention of invading Ukraine. Russian media, meanwhile, claimed that President Zelensky had fled the country in the wake of the invasion. But in war, all sides lie. And when a fact-checking operation constantly critiques only one side and stays largely quiet about the other, it has clearly taken a side in the conflict and is therefore acting in a partisan fashion. People interested in thinking critically should be scrutinizing claims made by all sides.

FACT CHECK GEORGIA

Fact Check Georgia describes itself as “an independent and non-partisan website which offers readers researched, verified and evidence-based information.” Yet it is bankrolled by a litany of dubious organizations, including the NED and the U.S. Embassy, the German Marshall Fund, the Dutch government and the European Endowment for Democracy, a European government-funded “private” organization explicitly modeled on the NED.

Fact Check Georgia’s independence is potentially undermined by the fact that at the bottom of every page of its website, it displays the crests of both the NED and the U.S. Embassy in Georgia. This is accompanied by the disclaimer, “The views and opinions expressed on this website belong to Factcheck.ge and are not the views and opinions of project support organizations” – a sentence that would not be necessary to attach if an organization was truly independent.

Furthermore, some of its staff have notable backgrounds. The first person listed on Fact Check Georgia’s “our team” section was formerly the Deputy Minister of Defense for Georgia – a country that fought a war against Russia in 2008.

MYTH DETECTOR

Another Georgia-based company, Myth Detector, was funded by the U.S. Embassy to the tune of €42,000 in financial year 2021. German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle contributed €41,000. Also donating €41,000 last year, according to Myth Detector’s financial report, is a group called “Zinc.” This is quite possibly the Zinc Network, a shadowy intelligence firm that conducts information warfare operations on behalf of the U.K. and U.S. governments.

DEMAGOG

Not only is the U.S. Embassy in Poland funding Demagog, it is also carrying out training in how to think. Demagog’s website notes that the embassy established a “fact-checking academy” on “how to deal with false information.” “Thanks to the [embassy] cooperation,” it notes, “classes were conducted for students and teachers on fake news, reliable sources of information and fact-checking.”

Alongside the U.S. government, Demagog also receives money from Polish government, European Union and European Economic Area organizations.

Together, these five organizations’ operations are all directly bankrolled by Washington. However, many of the other fact-checking groups Facebook pays to serve as content police on their platform have similarly close connections to Western state power. Indeed, the only one of the nine that appears relatively free from direct government collaboration is self-funded outlet Lead Stories.

PATIKRINTA 15MIN

Lithuanian outlet Patikrinta 15min insist that they are an independent, non-partisan group. As their “About” section states: “Sponsors of Patikrinta 15min cannot be political parties, politicians, state organizations or companies or organizations related to politicians.” They do, however, accept funding from the Poynter Institute, the journalism group that owns U.S. fact-checking organization Politifact. Since 2016, the Poynter Institute has sought for and received at least seven grants from the National Endowment for Democracy, totaling well over half a million dollars.

Notably, some of these grants are clearly a way of funneling cash to Eastern European fact-checking groups. As one NED grant summary for $78,000 notes, the goal of the money is to “promote the use of fact-checking websites as an effective accountability tool in Central and Eastern Europe, and strengthen the global fact-checking community.” The NED goes on to note that Poynter will bring over 70 journalists to a training summit and afterward continue to “train” “mentor,” “support,” and help them and their organizations with “capacity building.”

A cynic might conclude that the NED was simply trying to launder its money through Poynter. MintPress asked Patikrinta 15min to confirm or deny whether they were one of the Eastern European groups mentioned in the NED filings but has not received a response.

Like other groups, Patikrinta 15min’s non-partisan veneer frequently slips. This can be seen in headlines such as “Russian cynicism knows no bounds” and the fact that they frequently defend Nazi groups like the Azov Battalion.

Like StopFake, n 15min has argued that Azov’s use of the Waffen SS symbol is coincidental. It also presented Azov as an apolitical organization and has used quotes from Azov founder Andriy Biletsky – possibly the world’s most infamous living neo-Nazi – as “proof” that charges against it are Russian disinformation.

RE:BALTICA

While there is no evidence that Re:Baltica has a financial relationship with the United States government, the lion’s share of its funding still comes from the West. As they note on their website, around two-thirds of their funding comes “from the institutions based in EU/NATO countries.” They also list “the Kingdom of the Netherlands” as one of their “friends” – i.e., donors.

Re:Baltica is generously funded by western govt’s and NGOs, including George Soro’s Open Society Foundation

DELFI

Delfi is a major web portal in Eastern Europe and the Baltic. The company does not disclose if it receives foreign funding. It does, undeniably, however, have a close relationship with the NED. In 2015, Delfi interviewed Christopher Walker, a senior NED manager about the best way they could counter Russian propaganda. Two years later, NED President Gershman addressed the Lithuanian parliament, revealing that his organization had,

[W]orked with Lithuania in countering Russian efforts to subvert and destroy democracy in Lithuania, in Europe, and in Russia itself. We have supported the work of the Lithuania-based Delfi and the East European Studies Center in monitoring, documenting, and combatting Russian disinformation in Lithuania and the Baltic states.”

Later that year, Delfi teamed up with the NED to hold the 1st Vilnius Young Leaders Meeting, whereby handpicked young activists were invited to rub shoulders with journalists and spooks from across Europe and the United States, in the hope of building up a Western-friendly force in civil society.

Delfi, Re:Baltica and StopFake were all identified as proposed members of a “counter”-propaganda network hoping to be established by the EXPOSE Network. EXPOSE was allegedly a secret U.K.-government funded initiative that would have brought together journalists and state operatives in an alliance to shape public discourse in a manner more conducive to the priorities of Western governments.

As EXPOSE wrote, “An opportunity exists to upskill civil society organizations around Europe, enhancing their existing activities and unleashing their potential” to be the next generation of activists in the fight against Kremlin disinformation.”

“Coordinat[ing] their activities,” wrote EXPOSE, “represents a unique opportunity” for the British government in their fight against Russia. Unfortunately, they lamented, StopFake’s “monomaniacal fixation” on Russia had hurt its credibility.

Remarkably, EXPOSE also wrote that, “Another barrier to combating disinformation is the fact that certain Kremlin-backed narratives are factually true” – an admission that underlines that, to many governments and media outlets, “disinformation” is rapidly coming to simply mean “information we disagree with.”

The names of those individuals listed as potential employees of this network are a who’s who of state-linked operatives, including the Zinc Network, multiple individuals from NED-funded investigative journalism website Bellingcat and Ben Nimmo, a former NATO spokesperson who is now head of global intelligence for Facebook.

FACEBOOK’S CYBER WAR

Nimmo is only one of a great many former state agents now working in the higher echelons of Facebook, however. Last month, MintPress published a study revealing that the Silicon Valley giant has hired dozens of ex-CIA personnel into influential positions within the company, especially in security, content moderation and trust and safety.

Given how influential Facebook is as a media and communications giant, this sort of relationship constitutes a national security issue to every other country in the world. And this is not a hypothetical threat either. In November, Nimmo led a team that effectively attempted to swing the Nicaraguan elections away from the ruling Sandinista party and towards the U.S.-backed candidate. In the days leading up to the election, Facebook deleted hundreds of accounts and pages of pro-Sandinista media.

This action underlines the fact that Facebook is not an international company existing only in the ether, but an American operation bound by American laws. And increasingly, it is moving closer to the U.S. government itself.

WHO WILL GUARD THE GUARDIANS?

Fake news abounds online, and we as a society are wholly unprepared to counter it. A study conducted by Stanford University found that the vast majority of people – even the digitally savvy youth – were unable to tell factual reporting from obvious falsehoods online. Many will fall for Russian propaganda. Russian media is indeed pumping out misleading information constantly. But so are NATO countries. And if the fact-checkers who have volunteered to sort truth from fiction for us relentlessly attack Russia but are quiet on their own side’s spin, many more will fall for Western propaganda.

The implicit outlook of many of these fact-checking groups is that “only Russia lies.” This is the position of a partisan organization, one that cares little about truth and more about imposing control over the means of communication. And this is all being done in the name of keeping us safe.

Who is fact-checking the fact-checkers? Unfortunately, it is up to small, independent media outlets to do so. However, MintPress has faced constant suppression for doing so, being blocked from communicating with our 400,000+ Facebook followers, suppressed algorithmically by the Silicon Valley giants, and being removed from financial transaction services like PayPal. The solution is to teach and develop critical media literacy. All media outlets have biases and agendas. It is up to the individual to learn these and constantly scrutinize and evaluate everything they read. However, governments do not want their populations thinking critically; they want their message to be dominant, one reason why the NED has been quietly bankrolling so many fact-checking organizations to do its work for it.

Newsweek: Ukraine Violates War Laws, Endangers Civilians: Amnesty International

A Ukrainian soldier is pictured in an armored vehicle on the outskirts of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on July 30, 2022.BULENT KILIC/AFP/GETTY

By Aila Slisco, Newsweek, 8/3/22

Amnesty International has accused Ukraine of war crimes during its ongoing military conflict with invading Russian forces.

The humanitarian organization said in a release on Wednesday that the Ukrainian military’s tactics “violate international humanitarian law and endanger civilians” by operating weapons out of bases established in residential areas while civilians are present.

Russia has previously been accused by Amnesty International of violating multiple international laws during the war. The organization on Wednesday said that Ukraine’s alleged violations “in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks.”

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

While conducting an investigation of Russian attacks in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine between April and July, Amnesty International researchers said they discovered that the Ukrainian military was operating out of civilian buildings in at least 19 towns and villages. The discovery was corroborated by satellite images, according to the release.

The organization said that Ukraine committed “a clear violation of international humanitarian law” by basing at least five military facilities in civilian hospitals. Russian airstrikes on health care facilities have resulted in a significant number of civilian injuries and deaths during the war, according to the World Health Organization.

Amnesty International also discovered that Ukraine had installed military bases in 22 out of 29 schools visited in the Donbas and Mykolaiv regions during the investigation, according to the release. The organization said that Russia later launched strikes on many of the same schools between April and late June, resulting in multiple deaths and injuries.

Following the destruction of schools in at least three towns, Ukraine’s military is accused of moving bases to schools in different areas, putting the community surrounding the new bases at risk for similar attacks.

While the bases in schools may not themselves be in violation of international humanitarian law because the schools were not in session, the organization said that Ukraine put bases in schools near houses and apartment buildings without warning the residents or helping them to evacuate.

In some instances, the laws of war dictate that schools and hospitals can become legitimate targets for military attacks, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Amnesty International said that its investigation “does not in any way justify indiscriminate Russian attacks,” while urging the Ukrainian military to “distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects and take all feasible precautions” and immediately stop operating out of civilian-populated areas.

“The Ukrainian government should immediately ensure that it locates its forces away from populated areas, or should evacuate civilians from areas where the military is operating,” Callamard said. “Militaries should never use hospitals to engage in warfare, and should only use schools or civilian homes as a last resort when there are no viable alternatives.”

Amnesty International said that it notified the Ukrainian government about the findings of its investigation on July 29 but had not heard back as of Wednesday.

Newsweek reached out to the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C., for comment.

Read the Amnesty International release here.

Gordon Hahn: REGIME INSTABILITY IN KIEV?

Maidan Square in Kiev.

By Gordon Hahn, Russian and Eurasian Politics Blog, 7/29/22

Western leaders, led by US President Joe Biden, have opted for an eternal proxy war against Russia at least until Ukraine ‘wins’ the war started when Russian forces invaded its western neighbor on February 24th. Biden let the cat out of the bag when he stated the goal of massive Western military and financial assistance to Kiev is to spark regime change or at least the the removal from power of Russia’s popular, if authoritarian president, Vladimir Putin. However, as Ukraine’s military forces are slowly whittled away, there is a growing evidence of major regime splitting, a precondition for military or state coups, revolts, revolutions, and other forms of regime change.

The destabilization of the Maidan regime can be expected extrapolating from some factors and is being increasingly evidenced by several others. The expectation of destabilization is supported by: (1) the historical pattern of military defeats leading to regime destabilization and sometimes state coups or revolutions and (2) Zelenskiy’s actually weak popular support. Evidence of regime destabilization is can be seen in the state’s growing authoritarianism and in splits within the regime’s elite. These trends will only deepen as Kiev faces further military defeats and perhaps collapse of the Ukrainian army and affiliated neofascist dominated national battalions, likely candidates to organize a coup or societal uprising.

Military defeat is often a death knell for political leaders, regimes (types of rule), and even states. To find evidence of the volatility caused by military defeat one need go no further than local history in and around Ukraine, whether as part of Imperial Russia or the USSR. Russia’s defeat in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War led to violent social upheaval in the ultimately failed but widespread and nearly successful 1905 ‘revolution’ that forced regime transformation-like changes such as the installment of a parliamentary State Duma, free elections to the Duma, and the declaration and implementation of many civil, political, and human rights. Russia’s military failure in World War I led to the February 1917 Revolution. In summer 1917 the failed ‘Kerenskiy Offensive’ and the Germans’ march on St. Petersburg led to the collapse of Alexander Kerenskiy’s quasi-republican Provisional Government and the successful Bolshevik coup in October. The turmoil in Ukraine during the revolution, coup, and civil war of 1917-1921 was a devilishly dizzying whirlwind of chaos and violence brought forth by a myriad of competing warlords, ideologies, and movements, perhaps a foretaste of the future in today’s Ukraine. The failures of Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the early 1980s, leading to their subsequent withdrawal in 1985, was an important factor in the Soviet communist Party-state regime’s decision to move towards reforms, Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, which ultimately led to the collapse of both the Soviet party-state regime and the breakup of the Soviet Union that produced today’s independent Ukrainian state. There can be little doubt that Russia’s February invasion casts doubt on and may very well have been intended by Russian President Vladimir Putin to destroy the Maidan regime’s weak legitimacy, stability, and viability.

The Maidan regime had limited legitimacy from the start. One needs only recall its founding act – the 20 February 2014 Maidan sniper’s massacre – which saw the neofascist wing of the Maidan movement fire on the security forces of Viktor Yanukovych’s corrupt administration but more importantly also on the Maidan demonstrators themselves. The knowledge within elite circles of the truth of this false flag operation has been a hidden landmine that could explode the Maidan regime at any moment. Indeed, during his presidential campaign now sitting Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy himself referred cryptically to the Maidan regime’s illegitimacy and the snipers’ terrorist attack. In an apparent cryptic reference to his opponent, President Petro Poroshenko (who actually may have opposed the shootings) and the snipers’ massacre of 20 February 2014, Zelenskiy commented: “People whom came to power on blood are profiting on blood” (www.pravda.com.ua/news/2019/02/26/7207718/). Later, he decried the ‘disappearance of documentation regarding the massacre (https://interfax.com.ua/news/political/640586.html?fbclid=IwAR0K4kGEZPEfsmOQActT7UXn3A3yRBmawO5MuqcYe6OiIEQMa_JbxrZOHuU). It was such seeming candor that led to Zelenskiy’s landslide election to the Ukrainian presidency. Some day it may get him killed, and Ukraine’s neofascists are first on the list of possible perpetrators.

At the same time, we often hear that President Zelenskiy’s popularity ratings have attained Putinian levels since the Russian invasion. This, however, must be unpacked a bit to provide a clearer and deeper picture. On the war’s eve, the Zelenskiy administration was extremely weak as was Ukraine’s overall state apparatus, divided by contentious political, ideological, oligarchic and criminal factions. The entire Ukrainian polity by then was opposed to Zelenskiy. His popularity ratings had plummeted to 25-30 percent. According to polls on the war’s eve, Zelenskiy would receive 23 percent and his predecessor on Bankovaya, Petro Poroshenko – 21 percent. Zelenskiy’s ‘Servants of the People’ or ‘Slugy naroda‘ party led all parties with 19 percent, but that is compared to 70 percent when the Rada was elected and 14 percent for Poroshenko’s ‘European Solidarity’ party (http://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=1090&page=1&fbclid=IwAR0-qs5D-9Hli6YNeKunjtR9N-cAnTSISnB2vn5ot3PXmvd4Q5YGoqFxJwA). This means that Zelenskiy’s present wartime high popularity ratings are almost certainly thin and therefore highly vulnerable to the continuing stream of bad news from the front, despite Zelenskiy’s tightening of the screws on and manipulation of information on the situation at the front. Moreover, Zelenskiy is certainly giving the impression of being in and in fact seems very involved in the formulation of Ukraine’s war strategy. He makes frequent public military and strategic announcements and nightly reports on the front and geopolitical situation. This forward-leaning position makes the president even more vulnerable to the political risks surrounding military failure. There is and will be plenty more bad news.

Before the war, media manipulation, outright disinformation, and lies have been a hallmark of the actor/producer Zelenskiy’s regime—a regime filled with producers, scenario writers, and PR professionals. Zelenskiy’s masking of reality with the by now ubiquitous postmodernist virtuality and ‘strategic communication’ falsehoods are being exposed and exacerbate the delegitimizing effect of the war. Virtual simulacra, however, is absent when it comes to the Maidan’s growing authoritarianism both before the war as Zelenskiy’s ratings sunk and after the war as a knee jerk reaction to the threat to regime stability posed by the war.

Before the war, Zelenskiy had proven expert at alienating every political force in the country from his team and his ‘Slugi naroda’ party, named after his hit television program about a Ukrainian president. Zelenskiy banned opposition television stations, his prosecutors indicted former President Petro Poroshenko with treason and put him under de facto house arrest, he refashioned the Supreme Court in violation of the Ukrainian constitution, and he signed laws discriminating against the Russian language and effectively banning oligarchs from politics. The only part of the political spectrum he was able to find a modus vivendi with was Ukraine’s more prominent neofascist parties. For example, neofascist founder of the extremist Right Sector, party, commander of the semi-autonomous Ukrainian Volunteer Army, and mastermind of the 2 May 2014 Odessa terrorist pogrom Dmitro Yarosh became an official advisor to the Chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Zelenskiy’s watch.

After the war began, Zelenskiy placed all television channels under a single command with uniform broadcasting that offered hardly any dissenting voices. He banned all opposition parties except Poroshenko’s sufficiently nationalist ‘European Solidarity’ party as well as the numerous if small ultranationalist, neofascist. The parties banned were: the Opposition Party — For Life, Shariy Party, Nashi, Opposition Bloc, Left Opposition, Union of Left Forces, State, Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, Socialist Party of Ukraine, Socialists Party and Volodymyr Saldo Bloc. “Any activity of politicians aimed at splitting or collaborating will not succeed,” Zelensky explained (https://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-ban-11-political-parties-141310973.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall). But Zelenskiy has been playing with fire, since the radical parties have been preparing to seize power in a ‘nationalist revolution’ ever since the first sniper salvos echoed across the Maidan. The war may provide the opportunity for a coup as the Zelenskiy administration helps establish authoritarianism for the neofascists and as mounting defeats and retreats at the front undermine the Maidan regime’s legitimacy.

There are unmistakable signs of growing factionalization, polarization, and splitting within the Ukrainian elite, prompting Zelenskiy to take authoritarian countermeasures. The most recent sign of the growing rifts was the publication by a former Rada deputy close to Zelenskiy, Sergei Leshchenko, of a draft presidential decree that would strip Putin’s {sic] [I think the author meant to say Zelensky – NB] business and political patron Ihor Kolomoiskii of his citizenship. Wanted for various crimes in the US, Kolomoiskii ran afoul of Zelenskiy’s predecessor, Poroshenko, and was stripped of his main holding, Privat Bank. In addition to Kolomoiskii, Hennadii Korban and two others were included in the same draft decree. Korban, like Kolomoiskii was a patron of the neofascist volunteer battalions manned by Right Sector and other neofascist types during the first Donbass war that have recently morphed into the Ukrainian Volunteer Army and National Korpus. Thus, Yarosh signed a petition along with 115 other members of the Ukrainian elite, including the powerful mayor of Kiev Vitaliy Klitchko, addressed to Zelenskiy to refrain from taking such an action against Korban (and by implication Kolomoiskii as well) on the grounds that such an action violates the constitution (https://www.facebook.com/dyastrub/posts/pfbid0vA6f26FMacYCyPwpmvtUhhLUqiLRwrRsk3kNcXUYvKo6BejDtagx9frbQcMpF4pgl). This episode can be another exacerbating Zelenskiy’s sometimes testy relations with the ultranationalists and neofascists even before the war.

Office of the President spokesman Alexei Arestovich’s ineffective often flagrantly absurd and outrageous strategic communications, including numerous fake news stories about the war, have discredited the military and civilian leaderships and signaled possible early development of a rift between them (https://gordonhahn.com/2022/04/15/kvartal-22-zelenskiys-simulacra/). Since spring, there have been rising tensions reported between the civilian and military leadership, as the Russian withdrawal from north of Kiev led to a new strategy and centralized focus on the Donbass eastern front and Novorossiya southern front along the Azov and Black Sea coasts. Russia’s capture of the Azov seaport of Mariupol’, the exposure of war crimes by the neofascist Azov Battalion, and the long Russian siege of the Azovstal’ Steel Plant where Azov fighters held out and pressured the regime and military to send forces to break them out from the Russian encirclement created civil-military tensions and scapegoating and exacerbated regime tensions with the neofascists. During the siege of Azovstal’ that sealed the fate of Mariupol, the deputy commander of the neo-fascist Azov Battalion fighters there criticized politicians like Arestovich who warned the Azovtsy to “mind their own business.” There was widespread dismay across the Ukrainian social net that the civilian authorities were not doing enough to break the encirclement either militarily or through negotiations (https://strana.news/articles/390297-ukrainskaja-oppozitsija-obvinjaet-ofis-prezidenta-v-dopushchenii-okkupatsii-territorij-ukrainy.html). The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s statement that a military operation to break the Azovstal’ encirclement was not possible could be seen by some to have been the result of the generals’ breaking under civilian pressure (https://strana.news/news/390472-v-minoborony-schitajut-chto-azovstal-nevozmozhno-deblokirovat-voennym-putem.html).

Civil-military tensions became more generalized in early May. Arestovich openly criticized the military leadership, referring to “criminality” and “treason” that need to be investigated and punished. Indeed, he criticized the entire state bureaucracy in response to charges of incompetence at the presidential level: “And 360 thousand bureaucrats between us and the land? They are who? Do they have anything to answer for? And the military command, to which there are already many questions?” Voices representing the military and indicted opposition leader, former president Poroshenko, shot back, criticizing Arestovich and other civilian critics. One military voice reported to be close to chief of the Ukrainian armed forces general staff Zalyuzhniy asserted: “Hundreds of killed and wounded men and women every day are securing (your) tasty coffee in sunny Kiev. Every day. And to search today for someone to blame among them is far from the best idea. The guilty are not in the army, though there are some who can answer for something, the guilty are in the high offices that formed the budget policy and determined who would serve in key posts.” One Ukrainian journalist predicted that if the Office of the President continued to criticize the military, the consequences for the critics would be “devastating” (https://strana.news/articles/390297-ukrainskaja-oppozitsija-obvinjaet-ofis-prezidenta-v-dopushchenii-okkupatsii-territorij-ukrainy.html).

In early June, Zelenskiy and commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Viktor Zalyuzhniy differed over the timing of withdrawal from Severodonetsk and where to form a new defensive line against the Russian offensive in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. Zelenskiy demanded that the army hold out as long as possible in Severodonetsk and creating a defensive line close to the city, risking encirclement of thousands of troops, while Zalyuzhniy called for puling back forming a defensive line running north-south through Kramatorsk (https://strana.news/news/394302-zelenskij-prokommentiroval-situatsiju-v-severodonetske.html?fbclid=IwAR0aJ4UE07ep1mLoeV1tsI48kqicxIX_uvcLFnPnnC7cWFsObmyHh28RF9w).

The civilian leadership is further plagued by defections and corruption in the intelligence and law enforcement organs. On July 17th Zelenskiy fired the head of Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) Ivan Bakanov and Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova, blaming them ostensibly for the large number of defections to Russian among security and law enforcement officials. He announced that “651 criminal proceedings were registered for high treason and collaboration activities by employees of the prosecutor’s office, pre-trial investigation bodies, and other law enforcement agencies. In 198 criminal proceedings, persons were noted for suspicion, and more than 60 employees of the bodies and the SBU remained in the occupied territory and are working against our state.” The firings were apparently a response to what Zelenskiy called “an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state and the connections recorded between the employees of the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine and the special services of Russia.” Bakanov’s assistant and former head of the Crimean SBU Oleg Kulinich was arrested for espionage (https://strana.news/news/399930-zelenskij-rasskazal-ob-uvolnenijakh-venediktovoj-i-bakanova-video.htmlhttps://strana.news/news/399927-zaderzhanie-eks-hlavy-sbu-kryma-i-konflikt-s-ermakom-podopljoka-otstavki-bakanova.html, and https://vesti.ua/strana/est-sereznye-voprosy-prezident-obyasnil-kadrovye-resheniya). The next day Zelenskiy fired 28 SBU officials (https://strana.news/news/400073-zelenskij-nameren-uvolit-28-sotrudnikov-sbu-video-18-ijulja.html). On July 20th, Zelenskiy fired the SBU’s deputy head and the SBU regional heads in Kharkiv, Sumy, and Poltava. The seriousness of this crisis cannot be overstated. Bakanov and Zelenskiy are friends going back to the same neighborhood in the city of Kryvyi Rih. Bakanov then ran Zelenskiy’s entertainment company as well as his presidential campaign in 2019. Then Zelenskiy appointed Bakanov to lead the SBU in 2019. It may be that at least some of these firings are the result of a failed intelligence operation to convince several Russian pilots to defect with the warplanes, for which seven Russian military men were arrested, as announced on July 25th. The Russian reports claim that in the process the Ukrainian intelligence operatives’ talks with the Russian pilots, apparently monitored by Russian intelligence, the location, structure, and other details of Ukraine’s air defense system were revealed to Russia. But most are the result of the defections to Russia Zelenskiy noted; something that would hardly be chosen as an alibi to cover the failed operation or something else, as it greatly discredits his administration if not the Maidan regime itself.

Foreign actors, most notably the United States, can complicate the polarized multi-level chess game that Ukrainian politics is becoming in the heat of this war. On July 8th, less than three weeks before the SBU and other siloviki firings, Ukrainian US Congresswoman Victoria Spartz requested the Biden Administration “to brief Congress on the performed due diligence and oversight procedures related to President Zelensky’s Chief of Staff, Andriy Yermak, at the scheduled classified congressional oversight briefing on July 12, 2022. Based on a variety of intelligence and actions by Mr. Yermak in Ukraine, Congress needs to obtain this information urgently.” Spartz emphasized that Yermak’s activity “raises many concerns with a variety of people in the United States and internationally,” though Yermak is “highly regarded” by Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Spartz’s reference to “intelligence” actions supposedly taken by Yermak suggests that Zelenskiy’s chief of staff may be suspected of botching or directly undermining security, including around the operation to co-opt Russian air force pilots along with their planes (https://spartz.house.gov/sites/evo-subsites/spartz.house.gov/files/evo-media-document/Spartz%20Letter%20to%20Biden_Yermak%20_red.pdf). Recall that there were similar charges made against Yermak when Ukrainian intelligence’s effort to capture Russian Wagner fighters headed to Syria went awry in 2021 and they instead were ‘detained’ in Belarus after Zelenskiy cancelled the operation and Yermak tipped off Belarussian authorities of the Wagner personnel’s presence in their country (https://uawire.org/ukrainian-journalist-accuses-zelensky-s-administration-head-of-derailing-special-operation-to-detain-wagner-mercenaries).

In addition to the civil-siloviki tensions and the grave political consequences of banning more than ten political parties and presumably all of Ukraine’s powerful oligarchs from politics, Zelenskiy created a new cohort of enemies when he announced plans to be implemented this year to reduce the Ukrainian state bureaucracy by two-thirds. This will put hundreds of thousands of embittered officials with intricate knowledge of state organization, function, and financing out of work and on the streets looking for jobs in a war-torn country that has mobilization legislation requiring all able-bodied male citizens to serve in the armed forces, with legislation bringing women into the equation supposedly pending. These outcasts retain contacts with former colleagues in the bureaucracy and can carry out intrigues to undermine Zelenskiy, his policies, and the regime itself.

Although it may be early to conclude a high level of civil-siloviki tensions, the same cannot be said of the political struggle between Zelenskiy and former president Poroshenko and with other oligarchs. Poroshenko could be a particularly dangerous opponent. He had good relations with Biden when the latter was US vice president and led Obama’s Ukraine policy and is backed into a corner having been indicted and forced to flee abroad. His supporters remain in country, and Zelenskiy’s thin support and purge of the political landscape has created a plethora of enemies, whom Poroshenko can win over or buy off. An exacerbated Zelenskiy-Poroshenko conflict could draw in General Zalyuzhniy. He has frequent contacts with Washington and Brussels who some day might tire of Zelenskiy as the war drags on. All this becomes a likely explosive dynamic, if the situation at the front continues to deteriorate for Ukraine. Add into this mix the pro-Russian factor (in the broad sense that encompasses pro-Russian language sentiment, Russian ethnic claims to a right to live in and shape Ukraine, as well as pro-Russia sentiment), invigorated by the arrest of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc leader Medvedchuk, and there is the real risk of a repeat of the country’s collapse through coup or revolution into warring factions as occurred post-1917 (https://strana.news/articles/analysis/392270-pokazanija-medvedchuka-na-poroshenko-naskolko-verojaten-arest-pjatoho-prezidenta.html). In this case, regions could devolve to the control of modern warlords representing these various trends backed by oligarch and various interested outside parties.

Then mix in as well the neofascists’ separate game of national revolution and their anger over the death and capture of the core of the neofascist Azov Battalion and continuing battlefield losses in general. Arestovich alluded consciously or unconsciously to this neofascist revolutionary threat, when he noted in May the “not so clever narrative: ‘heroes in the battlefield against traitors in the Office (of the President) and fat, dense generals in the staffs’” (https://strana.news/articles/390297-ukrainskaja-oppozitsija-obvinjaet-ofis-prezidenta-v-dopushchenii-okkupatsii-territorij-ukrainy.html).

Moreover, Ukraine’s GDP will contract by nearly 50 percent this year, and a quarter of Ukrainian businesses have closed down, with Russia seizing the country’s coal, agricultural lands, and seaports, comprising some 60 percent of Ukraine’s economy. Much is being written about the energy crisis in Europe and America as summer turns to fall and temperatures begin to drop. Less attention has been given to the consequences of energy deficits in Ukraine itself. The war-torn country will certainly be cutoff from Russian gas, oil, and coal, and its own coal in Donbass is under Russian control. Its energy sector is on the brink of default as residential and business customers lack the funds to pay their bills. A freezing, hungry nation losing a war will be inclined to blame Zelenskiy and the ‘democratic’ Maidan regime and to follow less than desirable leaders. They will be susceptible to demagogues, and Ukraine’s all too numerous neofascists could fit the bill. The latter are now even better-armed than they were before the war and are praised at home and in the West as heroes who defended Azovstal, Mariupol, Kiev, and Kharkiv. The Ukrainian Volunteer Army of Ukraine’s neofascist Right Sector (the former commanded and the latter founded by advisor to Zalyuzhniy, Dmitro Yarosh), the National Corps (led by founder of Azov, the neofascist Andriy Biletskiy), and other ultranationalist and neofascist groups continue to sacrifice themselves at the front in sharp contrast to those sipping coffee in Kiev and doing photo shoots in glossy Western magazines for women, as the Zelenskiys just did.

To conclude, there is significant evidence that the Russo-Ukrainian war is destabilizing the hybrid republican-oligarchic-ultranationalist Maidan regime–one riven by political, ideological, and oligarchic factionalism from the start. Below the apex of the Maidan’s quasi-republican regime headed by a thinly popular frontman lurks malign forces of oligarchic corruption and criminality and of radical nationalism and neofascism. The war temporarily papered over the ruling groups’ internal divisions, uniting them despite their multifarious interests, goals, and conflicts. However, over time the war and slow moving rout of the Ukrainian military will wear away the thin coat of plaster uniting these groups in their fight against the Russians. At the same time, corruption, criminality, and multi-nationality in Ukraine make the Maidan regime susceptible to infiltration by the Russian state. Moreover, the war along with limited commitment to republican government within the Ukrainian elite are exacerbating the country’s conflictive environment and political culture. Being comprised of competing and increasingly violent oligarchic and ultranationalist clans, Ukrainian culture will be increasingly likely to yield growing intra-national violence and political upheaval. This trend will intensify with particular vigor if or when the war becomes clearly lost and the West begins to abandon the Ukrainian cause or desperately attempt salvage it through a decisive political intervention such as a coup. Numerous coup or revolutionary scenarios are now part of picture, and contingencies should be planned for.

RT: Ukraine asked for POWs to be placed in prison it shelled – Russia

The shelled prison facility in Yelenovka in the People’s Republic of Donetsk. © Sputnik / Russia’s defense ministry

RT, 8/4/22

Russia’s Defence Ministry has accused Ukraine of deliberately targeting a prison in Donbass where it knew dozens of its own POWs were being held.

The Ukrainian authorities were aware that their soldiers, who surrendered to Russian forces at the Azovstal steel plant, were being held at the prison in the village of Yelenovka, as Kiev itself insisted on them being placed there, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Fomin said on Wednesday.

The shelling of Correctional colony No.120 in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in late July killed 50 inmates and left 73 others wounded. The facility held members of the infamous Azov neo-nazi battalion, who were captured in May after being holed up for weeks at the Azovstal steelworks during the Russian siege of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

“On May 20, 2022, the surrendered servicemen of the Azov nationalist battalion were taken to the pre-trial detention center in the village of Yelenovka. The Ukrainian side insisted on this particular place for their detention,” Fomin said during a briefing for foreign military attachés in Moscow.

Kiev’s attack on the prison was deliberate, with “the Ukrainian leadership giving the order to carry out the missile strike because the Azov fighters started giving testimonies exposing their crimes, including those perpetrated against peaceful civilians,” he insisted.

Another reason for Ukraine hitting Yelenovka was to scare its own troops on the battlefield and “deter them from surrendering,” the Russian defense official said. Many Ukrainian soldiers have been recently laying down their arms, he added.

Aleksandr Fomin denied Ukraine’s “groundless” claims that Moscow struck the prison itself to pin the blame on Kiev, saying all the evidence shows that the missiles came from the north-western direction, where Kiev’s forces were located.

Last week, RIA Novosti news agency cited an unnamed high-ranking Pentagon official, who suggested that if Ukraine did shell the prison in Yelenovka, then it did so unintentionally.

The Russian deputy defense minister insisted that those words were nothing but “a clumsy attempt to justify the provocation by the Kiev regime.”

The attack on the detention facility was carried out with HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, supplied to Ukraine by the US, and the Americans have been claiming that those are “high-precision systems, which hit the targets they were meant to hit,” he said.

Also, in planning its strikes, the Ukrainian military actively relies on space and air reconnaissance data provided by the US and its allies, Fomin added.

In a bid to curb further speculation, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that it had officially invited experts from the UN and the International Red Cross Committee to carry out an impartial investigation into the incident in Yelenovka.

Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, citing Kiev’s failure to implement the Minsk agreements, designed to give the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk special status within the Ukrainian state. The protocols, brokered by Germany and France, were first signed in 2014. Former Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko has since admitted that Kiev’s main goal was to use the ceasefire to buy time and “create powerful armed forces.”

In February 2022, the Kremlin recognized the Donbass republics as independent states and demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join any Western military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked.

Related piece of interest below. Bolding for emphasis is mine. – Natylie

US Department of Defense, July 29, 2022

Senior Defense Official and Senior Military Official Hold a Background Briefing (excerpt)

https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/3110921/senior-defense-official-and-senior-military-official-hold-a-background-briefing/

Q: Yeah, thanks. Just one quick follow-up on the prison and then I have an unrelated question.

I know you can’t say definitively what happened but one of the claims is by the Russians that a HIMARS system was used to strike the prison. Can you say definitively that HIMARS were not used?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I don’t know that we can say definitively about any of it. I — but, you know, what I will — and listen, I haven’t seen all of the reporting but I am told that the Russians, you know, have made claims that they have pieces of HIMARS that were used in the strike. Listen, the Russians have a lot of pieces of HIMARS, right?

I mean, the Ukrainians have been, you know, sending a lot of HIMARS their way. So that would not surprise me. What would also not surprise me is if the Russians would — would lead us astray, in terms of information, and tell us that the Ukrainians had done this.

Here’s the last thing I’d say, if it happened to be a Ukrainian strike, I promise you, number one, they didn’t mean to do that, right? They certainly care about their own people and they care about the civilians and military in uniform of their own army.

And then the last piece would be, just from a practical perspective in terms of our conversations, whenever we talk to the Ukrainians, we’ve spent a great deal of time back and forth about, you know, reassuring — or them reassuring us about the loss of land warfare. They clearly understand that.

So anyways, we’ll see where this goes but I would just tell you, as you approach this in your reporting, you know, we’ll find the right side of this but I wouldn’t believe it’s the Russians right away.

Stephen M. Walt: Does Anyone Still Understand the ‘Security Dilemma’?

By Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 7/26/22

The “security dilemma” is a central concept in the academic study of international politics and foreign policy. First coined by John Herz in 1950 and subsequently analyzed in detail by such scholars as Robert Jervis, Charles Glaser, and others, the security dilemma describes how the actions that one state takes to make itself more secure—building armaments, putting military forces on alert, forming new alliances—tend to make other states less secure and lead them to respond in kind. The result is a tightening spiral of hostility that leaves neither side better off than before.

If you’ve taken a basic international relations class in college and didn’t learn about this concept, you may want to contact your registrar and ask for a refund. Yet given its simplicity and its importance, I’m frequently struck by how often the people charged with handling foreign and national security policy seem to be unaware of it—not just in the United States, but in lots of other countries too.

Consider this recent propaganda video tweeted out from NATO headquarters, responding to assorted Russian “myths” about the alliance. The video points out that NATO is a purely defensive alliance and says it harbors no aggressive designs against Russia. These assurances might be factually correct, but the security dilemma explains why Russia isn’t likely to take them at face value and might have valid reasons to regard NATO’s eastward expansion as threatening.

Adding new members to NATO may have made some of these states more secure (which is why they wanted to join), but it should be obvious why Russia might not see it this way and that it might do various objectionable things in response (like seizing Crimea or invading Ukraine). NATO officials might regard Russia’s fears as fanciful or as “myths,” but that hardly means that they are completely absurd or that Russians don’t genuinely believe them. Remarkably, plenty of smart, well-educated Westerners—including some prominent former diplomats—cannot seem to grasp that their benevolent intentions are not transparently obvious to others.

Or consider the deeply suspicious and highly conflictual relationship among Iran, the United States, and the United States’ most important Middle East clients. U.S. officials presumably believe that imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, threatening it with regime change, conducting cyberattacks against its nuclear infrastructure, and helping organize regional coalitions against it will make the United States and its local partners more secure. For its part, Israel thinks assassinating Iranian scientists enhances its security, and Saudi Arabia thinks intervening in Yemen makes Riyadh safer.

Not surprisingly, according to basic IR theory, Iran sees these various actions as threatening and responds in its own fashion: backing Hezbollah, supporting the Houthis in Yemen, conducting attacks on oil facilities and shipments, and—most important of all—developing the latent capacity to build its own nuclear deterrent. But these predictable responses just reinforce its neighbors’ fears and make them feel less secure all over again, tightening the spiral further and heightening the risk of war.

The same dynamic is operating in Asia. Not surprisingly, China regards America’s long position of regional influence—and especially its network of military bases and its naval and air presence—as a potential threat. As it has grown wealthier, Beijing has quite understandably used some of that wealth to build military forces that can challenge the U.S. position. (Ironically, the George W. Bush administration once tried to tell China that pursuing greater military strength was an “outdated path” that would “hamper its own pursuit of national greatness,” even as Washington’s own military spending soared.)

In recent years, China has sought to alter the existing status quo in several areas. As should surprise no one, these actions have made some of China’s neighbors less secure, and they have responded by moving closer together politically, renewing ties with the United States, and building up their own military forces, leading Beijing to accuse Washington of a well-orchestrated effort to “contain” it and of trying keep China permanently vulnerable.

In all these cases, each side’s efforts to deal with what it regards as a potential security problem merely reinforced the other side’s own security fears, thereby triggering a response that strengthened the former’s original concerns. Each side sees what it is doing as purely defensive reaction to the other side’s behavior, and identifying “who started it” soon becomes effectively impossible.

The key insight is that aggressive behavior—such as the use of force—does not necessarily arise from evil or aggressive motivations (i.e., the pure desire for wealth, glory, or power for its own sake). Yet when leaders believe their own motives are purely defensive and that this fact should be obvious to others (as the NATO video described above suggests), they will tend to see an opponent’s hostile reaction as evidence of greed, innate belligerence, or an evil foreign leader’s malicious and unappeasable ambitions. Empathy goes out the window, and diplomacy soon becomes a competition in name-calling.

To be sure, a few world leaders have understood this problem and pursued policies that tried to mitigate the security dilemma’s pernicious effects. After the Cuban missile crisis, for example, U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a serious and successful effort to reduce the risk of future confrontations by installing the famous hotline and beginning a serious effort at nuclear arms control.

The Obama administration did something similar when it negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran, which it saw as a first step that that blocked Iran’s path to the bomb and opened up the possibility of improving relations over time. The first part of the deal worked, and the Trump administration’s subsequent decision to abandon it was a massive blunder that left all the parties worse off. As the former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo has observed, Israel’s extensive efforts to convince then-U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the deal was “one of the most serious strategic mistakes since the establishment of the state.”

As the writer Robert Wright recently pointed out, then-U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to not to send arms to Ukraine after the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014 showed a similar appreciation of security dilemma logic. In Wright’s telling, Obama understood that sending Ukraine offensive weapons might exacerbate Russian fears and encourage the Ukrainians to think they could reverse Russia’s earlier gains, thereby provoking an even wider war.

Tragically, this is pretty much what happened after the Trump and Biden administrations ramped up the flow of Western weaponry to Kyiv: The fear that Ukraine was slipping rapidly into the Western orbit heightened Russian fears and led Putin to launch an illegal, costly, and now protracted preventive war. Even if it made good sense to help Ukraine improve its ability to defend itself, doing so without doing very much to reassure Moscow made war more likely.

So, does the logic of the security dilemma prescribe policies of accommodation instead? Alas, no. As its name implies, the security dilemma really is a dilemma, insofar as states cannot guarantee their security by unilaterally disarming or making repeated concessions to an opponent. Even if mutual insecurity lies at the core of most adversarial relationships, concessions that tipped the balance in one side’s favor might lead it to act aggressively, in the hopes of gaining an insurmountable advantage and securing itself in perpetuity. Regrettably, there are no quick, easy, or 100 percent reliable solutions to the vulnerabilities inherent in anarchy.

Instead, governments must try to manage these problems through statecraft, empathy, and intelligent military policies. As Jervis explained in his seminal 1978 World Politics article, in some circumstances the dilemma can be eased by developing defensive military postures, especially in the nuclear realm. From this perspective, second-strike retaliatory forces are stabilizing because they protect the state via deterrence but do not threaten the other side’s own second-strike deterrent capability.

For example, ballistic missile submarines are stabilizing because they provide more reliable second-strike forces but do not threaten each other. By contrast, counterforce weapons, strategic anti-submarine warfare capabilities, and/or missile defenses are destabilizing because they threaten the other side’s deterrent capacity and thus exacerbate its security fears. (As critics have noted, the offense-versus-defense distinction is much harder to draw when dealing with conventional forces.)

The existence of the security dilemma also suggests that states should look for areas where they can build trust without leaving themselves vulnerable. One approach is to create institutions to monitor each other’s behavior and reveal when an adversary is cheating on a prior agreement. It also suggests that states interested in stability are usually wise to respect the status quo and adhere to prior agreements. Blatant violations erode trust, and trust once lost is hard to regain.

Lastly, the logic of the security dilemma (and much of the related literature on misperception) suggests that states should work overtime to explain, explain, and once again explain their real concerns and why they are acting as they are. Most people (and governments) tend to think their actions are easier for others to understand than they really are, and they are not very good at explaining their conduct in language that the other side is likely to appreciate, understand, and believe. This problem is especially prevalent at present in relations between Russia and the West, where both sides seem to be talking past each other and have been surprised repeatedly by what the other side has done.

Giving bogus reasons for what one is doing is especially harmful, because others will sensibly conclude that one’s words cannot be taken seriously. A good rule of thumb is that adversaries will assume the worst about what you are doing (and why you are doing it) and that you must therefore go to enormous lengths to persuade them that their suspicions are mistaken. If nothing else, this approach encourages governments to empathize—i.e., to think about how the problem looks from their opponent’s perspective—which is always desirable even when the opponent’s view is off-base.

Unfortunately, none of these measures can fully eliminate the uncertainties that bedevil global politics or render the security dilemma irrelevant. It would be a more secure and peaceful world if more leaders considered whether a policy they believed was benign was unintentionally making others nervous, then considered whether the action in question could be modified in ways that alleviated (some of) those fears. This approach won’t always work, but it should be tried a more often than it is.

Dmitriy Kovalevich: July update: A promised counteroffensive by Kiev in southern Ukraine on behalf of foreign interests

ukrainian flag waving in wind with clear sky in background
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By Dmitriy Kovalevich, New Cold War, 8/3/22

In his monthly report from Ukraine, Dmitriy Kovalevich provides details of the military and political situation in Ukraine during July including from the Russian and Ukrainian perspective.

July was the sixth month of full-scale war in Ukraine. Russia calls its intervention a “special military operation”. In late June, the entire territory of the former Luhansk region of Ukraine was taken by Russian and Lugansk defense forces. The fall of the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysichansk sealed the victory for the Lugansk People’s Republic, which was declared in 2014 and took full shape in the years following Ukraine’s refusal to implement its side of the ‘Minsk 2’ ceasefire agreement of February 2015.

Russia has taken an operational pause following the heavy fighting in Lugansk in June. But its operation to take the Donetsk region of Donbass, together with Donetsk republic defense forces, continues. Rocket attacks by Russian forces have become more frequent as ground combat has lessened. Throughout Ukraine, air raid alerts are sounding four or five times a day. Russia’s main targets, according to its military command, are the depots storing Western weapons, especially the American ‘HIMARS’ multiple rocket launchers and their ammunition. These have begun to cause trouble for the Russian military, forcing it to disperse its own ammunition depots.

Using its missiles, Russian forces are trying to strike U.S.-supplied weapons at the point of transportation once they arrive in Ukraine. They are using intelligence received, in part, from the Ukrainian security forces. Constant leaks of information from Ukraine government agencies led to the dramatic firings in July of the heads of the SBU (Ukraine’s security service), the prosecutor general and a number of heads of military departments.[1] The formal reason for the firings is the high number of Ukraine personnel in these departments said to be cooperating with the Russia military and thereby disrupting the military operations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Announced ‘counteroffensives’ by Kiev

Ukraine authorities continued in July to promise a military counteroffensive, continuing similar promises made since April. Richard Moore, the head of the UK spy agency MI6, has lately joined in making these promises.[2]

Kherson city and region are said to be the main target of the planned counteroffensive, recognizing that Russian military forces are concentrating their efforts further east in the Donbass region (now focused on the Donetsk republic). Russian forces grouped on the right (west) bank of the Dnieper River are said by Ukraine to be vulnerable and could be partially cut off if bridges across the river are destroyed.

Kherson city lies on the Dnieper River. It was founded by Russia as its first port and shipbuilding center on the Black Sea, nearly 250 years ago.

The strangest thing in the Ukrainian announcements of such ‘counteroffensives’ as in Kherson is their prolonged duration. According to the logic of military operations, such announcements should be kept secret and not announced days or weeks in advance. Yet the promised, imminent ‘counterattack’ on Kherson has been announced almost every day for the past three months. For Ukrainians, it has become a joke.

To launch its ‘counteroffensive’, Ukraine would need a minimum threefold superiority over Russia in manpower and weapons. On the manpower side, the simple numbers may be there for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But Ukraine’s soldiers are inexperienced, with many unwilling to fight. Many have been forcibly seized on the streets as part of Ukraine’s obligatory military service. Meanwhile, in firepower, Russian forces have multiple advantages, allowing them to move forward even in the midst of their declared, operational pause.

The state of the Ukrainian military

In an interview for a Ukrainian publication at the end of July, an officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine spoke about the real state of affairs in southern Ukraine. He said, “The Russians have concentrated their forces on our sector of the front and they are significantly superior to ours–in the number of personnel and, especially, in the number of artillery pieces, tanks and other heavy weapons.

“Moreover, in some areas, our troops have retreated. These have been short distances – up to 10 kilometers – in what our military calls ‘leveling the frontline’. Every day, our positions are under constant fire. There are days when there is no way to get to the surface for fresh air. We sit in basements and dugouts for days on end, being strongly hit.”[3]

This situation, the officer says, causes problems of psychological fatigue of Ukraine’s military. There are practically no rotations of personnel. In many units, there are personnel shortages of up to 40 per cent due to losses and illnesses. Many fighters, having spent a month or more at the front, become tired, lose their morale and look for any way to get to the rear. Some even refuse orders to advance to front line positions.

The officer explained that many conscripts suffer from serious, chronic diseases. “It is a huge mystery to me how some have passed the medical examination upon conscription. For example, they recently sent me a conscript with minus-mine myopia. Without glasses, he cannot see anything at all. When I asked him how he passed the medical examination at the military registration and enlistment office, he replied that the optometrist did not even examine him.”

Obviously, in this state of affairs a Ukrainian counteroffensive is impossible. Any such attempt would be suicidal. ButUkrainian authorities are under great pressure to report military ‘achievements’ to Western sponsors. This is in order to receive and then plunder Western aid. That ‘aid’ is provided on credit, or with guarantees of repayment using Ukrainian assets as collateral.

Western ‘aid’ finances Ukraine’s military… and its budget deficits

Kiev is drafting Ukrainian men into military service thanks to financial aid from various Western governments and militaries. According to the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine, in the first half of 2022, Ukraine received $12.2 billion for its government budget.[4] Its major sponsors were the USA, at US$4 billion; the IMF and World Bank, $2.3 billion; the European Union, $2.1 billion; Germany, $1.4 billion; Canada, $1.4 billion; Japan, $600 million; Great Britain, $600 million; and France, $300 million.

Here we see the essence of the countries of the Western imperialist elite, whom populations Russians increasingly refer to as ‘The Golden Billion’.[5] President Vladimir Putin himself used the term in his speech to Russian and foreign business people attending the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June.

Of these Western funds, $ 7.7 billion went directly to payments to the military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In other words, the Ukrainian army is not primarily funded by the state of Ukraine but, rather, appears as a group of mercenaries in the pay of the West.

Such funding by Western taxpayers makes Zelensky fawn before the leaders of the U.S., Canada and Britain. Former British prime minister Boris Johnson became a special idol for Zelensky. Some streets in Ukraine have even be renamedafter him. In July, a petition was registered on Zelensky’s website with a proposal to award Ukrainian citizenship to Johnson.[6] But here is the irony: a ‘Ukraine citizen Boris Johnson’ (born in 1964) could be a formally summoned to military service and sent off to the trenches to dodge Russian missiles.

Economic woes

In July, Ukraine’s budget deficit grew significantly. The National Bank of Ukraine was obliged to devalue the national currency by 25 per cent.[7] Accordingly, the prices of most goods have skyrocketed.

Against the backdrop of a US$50 billion budget deficit[8], the devaluation of the hryvnia, rising prices for fuel, goods and services, and a military conflict that is moving into a protracted phase, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Ukraine to pay its state employees. If the conflict escalates, then everything will worsen. Experts are predicting a “hole” in the budget in the amount of $80 billion (which is more than 60 per cent of the country’s GDP). This risks completely destroying the already shaky economy of the country.[9]

Despite sharply rising prices, the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine has no plan to raise the minimum wage. It sits at 6,700 hryvnia ($150) per month. That hasn’t stopped the deputies in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian legislature) from voting in July to raise their salaries (financed by Western financial assistance).[10]

As a result of the worsening economy, the number of Ukrainians traveling to Russian-controlled territory in search of work is growing. Every day, up to 200 cars cross the front lines in the Zaporozhye region. “Ukrainians say they are returning not only to reunite with their families but also in search of work that they could not find on Ukrainian territory,” reports Euronews.[11]

Now that Ukrainians are offered Russian citizenship on a simplified basis (facilitating their search for employment in Russia), Ukrainian authorities are resorting to repression to block this. A draft law has been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada providing for up to 15 years in prison for Ukrainian citizens who accept Russian citizenship.

“Rada deputies are discussing the strengthening of criminal liability for all categories of the population that receive these passports,” said Anatoly Stelmakh, Deputy Minister for the Reintegration of Uncontrolled Territories of Ukraine.[12]“The bill that we are currently processing sets the range of punishment from a fine to 15 years in prison.”

Ukrainian officials allege that Russian authorities are imposing Russian citizenship on Ukrainians by force. But these same officials are threatening 15 years in prison for people they allege were ‘forced’ to obtain the forbidden fruit of Russian citizenship (along with much improved social services, wages, pensions and employment opportunities). Westernmedia does not bother with such logical inconsistencies. The life task of Ukrainians has been set by them as as dying for the interests of Western corporations, and paying for this with loans and accrued interest.

According to an official of Russia’s National Defense Control Center, a total of 2.8 million people have moved to Russia from Donetsk and Lugansk and from other Ukrainian or former Ukrainian territories since the beginning of Russia’s military operation. Many of these movements were made in advance and anticipation of the military operation.

The number of Ukrainians leaving for western Europe or moving internally is also in the millions, though contrary to Western media reporting, these are not all due to the war. Millions of Ukrainians are in year-long queues for work permits and citizenship applications in neighbouring Poland or further west in Europe because they have no faith in social and economic improvements in the country.

RIA Novosti reported on July 28 that some 300,000 Russians have left their country to live in the West. Their average age is 32 and their incomes are higher than the Russian average. The RIA columnist describes the departed Russian citizens as “in love with something imaginary”.

“They loved something imaginary, this ‘European lifestyle’, with its high salaries for ‘creative work’ and its capacity to make one feel like a ‘man of the world’, a ‘cosmopolitan’ surrounded by people like themselves with similar tastes and views. So unlike the many ‘cattle’ they left behind in Russia.”

Notes:

[1] https://meduza.io/feature/2022/07/22/zelenskiy-uvolil-dvuh-vliyatelnyh-silovikov-genprokurora-ukrainy-i-glavu-sbu-svoego-blizhayshego-druga-v-ukrainskoy-vlasti-raskol

[2] https://www.euronews.com/2022/07/21/uk-ukraine-crisis-britain-intelligence

[3] https://ctrana.online/news/400178-chto-proiskhodit-na-linii-fronta-pod-khersonom-rasskaza-ofitsera-vsu.html

[4] https://www.epravda.com.ua/rus/news/2022/07/26/689648/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_billion

[6] https://petition.president.gov.ua/petition/151380

[7] https://www.reuters.com/markets/rates-bonds/ukraines-central-bank-devalues-hryvnia-by-25-against-us-dollar-2022-07-21/ [8] https://gmk.center/en/news/state-budget-deficit-in-2022-may-reach-50-billion-zelenskys-

Ben Aris: A financial crisis has begun in Ukraine

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By Ben Aris, Intellinews, 8/2/22

A financial crisis has begun in Ukraine. The currency is in free fall to the point where the national bank has just ordered exchange kiosks to stop displaying the exchange rate. The government is running a deficit it can’t cover and the leading state-owned companies have started defaulting on their debt. And the economy is on course to contract by over a third by the end of this year – a catastrophic crash, worse than any of the multiple crises seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The war with Russia is the main cause, but the paucity of financial help from the West is making the collapse of Ukraine’s economy worse. As bne IntelliNews has reported, Ukraine is running out of money. During a call on August 1, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to help release the EU’s second tranche of macro-financial assistance to Ukraine worth €8bn. Earlier, European Commission spokesperson Arianna Podesta said there are currently insufficient funds to provide Ukraine with the second tranche. The government has to cover enormous military spending, the fiscal deficit stands at approximately $5bn per month, and without external help, which Ukraine is not getting, it cannot sustain this spending.

According to the estimates of IER experts, real GDP dropped by about 46% year on year in March 2022, and over the next three months, the rate of GDP contraction stabilised at the level of 39-40% y/y. In the worst of the 2014 Euromaidan revolution the economy contracted by 17% in the second quarter of that year, but then began to bounce back and was back in the black by the start of the following year.

In June, the contraction of real gross value added in the agricultural sector accelerated. This was primarily a result of the temporary occupation of the Kherson oblast and part of the Zaporizhia oblast, which substantially contributed to crop production (grain, vegetables and fruits) in June 2021. However, in the second half of this year, the IER forecasts a gradual improvement in the economic situation, depending on how the war goes. As a result, real GDP is estimated to decline by about 30% y/y in 2022.

However, the GDP contraction may be much higher if inflation accelerates further, logistics do not improve and hostilities intensify.

The physical economy is bearing the brunt of the war and has shown itself to have some resilience, but the financial system is starting to buckle. The central bank hiked its prime rate to 25% on June 2 and intends to keep it there for two years. The National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) also devalued the currency on July 21 from around UAH28 to the dollar to UAH36, a drop of 25%, to bring the official rate in line with the cash rate on the street. But the currency immediately fell further to UAH41 and will continue to slide. (chart)

The government is running a deficit of around $5bn a month, which is being financed almost entirely by the NBU’s printing presses. This is not sustainable. The Western donors have sent a total of $12.3bn since the start of the war five months ago – about $2.75bn per month – but this is insufficient to cover the funding gap. The EU and the US have promised another $16bn but the distribution of this money has been dogged by bureaucratic delays, and in the meantime the economy is in a slow crash.

The shortfall is already having an impact on the NBU’s reserves, which have fallen by about $5bn in the last two months, further undermining the value of the hryvnia. And the government has ordered all the state-owned companies to delay their debt payments to “preserve cash.” As a result, Naftogaz defaulted on a $335mn bond, despite having the money to hand and management wanting to pay to preserve the company’s credit history.

Grain exports resumed on August 1, which will bring some badly needed revenues, but as grain shipments are only expected to earn some $1bn a month, the numbers still don’t add up. Kyiv got some relief as the Paris Club of sovereign creditors agreed to delay all payments on sovereign debt for at least one year, but the private investors are less enthusiastic. The holders of Naftogaz’s bond were advised to reject the company’s request to delay redemptions and coupon payments as the company was “still a going concern” and had the cash to pay on its balance sheet.

The government is in a very difficult place now. With much of its manufacturing industry and infrastructure damaged or destroyed and with insufficient income to cover the budget, it is in a poor position to sustain what increasingly looks like a long fight. Kyiv is now entirely dependent on the West’s supplies, especially materiel, but the West is running down its stocks of ammunition and its manufacturing sector is not able to quickly produce more. The US in particular has compensated by sending more powerful weapons, such as the US M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), that have had a devastating effect on Russian forces, but these are not game-changers, as the Russian military machine keeps grinding on.

In two ominous signs in July the Kremlin cancelled the second Russia-Africa Summit, due to be held in November, and at the end of July Kyiv ordered the evacuation of the parts of the Donetsk region it still controls, nominally to avoid problems in the winter. Both suggest that the fighting will continue into November and possibly beyond and that Russia continues to make steady, albeit very slow, progress in its campaign to take control over the whole of the greater Donbas region.

The government has limited capacity to raise resources to cover its funding gap via taxes (the economy is weak) or debt (international capital markets are closed for Ukraine; at the internal capital market, the Ministry of Finance is unwilling to sell debt at new higher interest rates which distort monetary transmission).

This situation is not sustainable. Although the NBU can provide direct support to the government, this comes at a cost of burning foreign exchange reserves at a fast pace. In June alone, the central bank sold approximately $4bn of its reserves to support the hryvnia and the NBU predicted a decrease in international reserves in the second half of 2022 by 8.6% – from $22.8bn to $20.8bn by the end of the year.

With limited resources and instruments, the central bank is caught on the horns of a dilemma, but cannot simultaneously defend the exchange rate, print money (UAH225bn, or $6.1bn, since the beginning of the war) to cover fiscal deficits, and support the stability of the financial system. Something will have to give – and the value of the currency is probably the first thing that will go. In the past few days the NBU has forbidden exchange kiosks from reporting the exchange rate, in an effort to “shield” the population from the rapidly collapsing currency.

A financial crisis is already upon us. The projected funding from the international community for the second half of 2022 is about $18bn. With monthly foreign exchange interventions of about $4bn and external debt payments (principal and interest) of $3bn in the rest of 2022, more defaults are on the cards, otherwise foreign exchange reserves could decline to a dangerously low level of $12-15bn, say experts – far below the level needed to support the value of the hryvnia.

Some of that pressure has been removed after the Paris Club of sovereign creditors gave Ukraine a one-year delay on payments in July, but the private creditors have not been as forgiving, and on July 26 the state-owned gas company Naftogaz defaulted on a $335mn bond redemption, despite having the cash to meet its obligation. The government has ordered the state-owned banks to delay their payments to “preserve cash.”

In addition to the debt another big call on the budget will be the need to buy more gas for the winter. Ukraine currently has the lowest level of gas storage in all of Europe, with the tanks only 22% full as of the last week in July. Naftogaz says it needs to buy another 5bn cubic metres of gas in an extremely tight market at an estimated cost of $7.8bn. It is not clear where the companies will find either the gas or the money to buy it with.

But there is some good news. Economic activity has begun recovering in Ukraine after a significant drop at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, according to Deputy Chairman of the National Bank Serhii Nikolaychuk. This does not mean that the GDP is growing but that the depth of the fall is decreasing, he said in July.

The economy’s recovery can be seen in the following indicators: revitalisation of trade networks, increase in restaurant turnover, and a drop in the number of non-working businesses. In addition, exports are also gradually recovering and the end of the blockade on Ukrainian ports should make a very big difference to Ukraine’s balance of payments.

Nevertheless, NBU predicts a 2022 drop in GDP of more than a third and an increase in inflation to more than 30%. The national bank estimates that the economy will decline by 40% in the first half of this year and will end the year down by 30-35%. At the same time, analysts of the regulator believe that the economy of Ukraine will show a recovery of 5-6% in 2023-2024. This will become possible if the active phase of the war ends and the Black Sea ports are unblocked.

The regulator expects inflation to return to the goal of 5% in 2025. According to the NBU forecast, inflation will decrease to 20.7% in 2023 and 9.4% in 2024.

Steve Sweeney: Reporters Without Borders launches campaign to censor Russian media

Reporters Without Borders logo.

By Steve Sweeney, Morning Star, 7/24/22

AJOURNALIST has accused press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) of “abetting genocide” after it launched a controversial appeal for funds to censor Russian media.

Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett accused RSF of silencing the voices of the Donbass region’s inhabitants.

The group launched an appeal on Friday (July 22, 2022) with an email from Jeanne Cavelier, head of the RSF Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, asking for donations.

She claimed that several Russian television channels, including Rossiya 1, Perviy and NTV, were spreading “disinformation and content that in effect condones war crimes and incites violence and hatred, legitimising the invasion of Ukraine and the Russian army’s crimes.”

When pressed by the Morning Star, RSF was unable to point to any specific examples of such activity by the organisations cited in its appeal.

General secretary Christophe Deloire responded by saying that the channels were “created to destabilise our democracies in a context of information war” and had lied by describing Russia’s intervention as defensive.

“In short, they serve the interests of a repressive, censorious and propagandist state.”

He said that Russian media has challenged the dominant narratives on the bombing of a hospital in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and the massacre of civilians in the town of Bucha and also suggested that the US had funded “a secret network of biological laboratories used to design chemical weapons.”

But journalists say that it is right to scrutinise such incidents and seek to cut through the fog of war.

The appeal called for French authorities to act against Eutelsat, which RSF claims is profiting from broadcasting Russian media outlets and “deriving dividends from disinformation and censorship.”

It accused the satellite operator, in which the French state is a major shareholder, of “acting as an intermediary for the Russian war propaganda apparatus.

“Help us to get Eutelsat to comply with the international convention that requires respect for the right to freedom of expression and information,” it said above a donation button.

Mr Deloire denied that RSF was calling for censorship but accused the Russian outlets of promoting “propaganda and lies,” saying that “Eutelsat should rather broadcast independent Russian channels.”

He insisted this case was different from the state bans on RT and others which RSF opposed, but was about the jurisdiction of governments.

“We call on France and other signatory countries of the Eutelsat convention to impose the respect of the principles of this convention,” he said.

But Ms Bartlett told the Morning Star: “What RSF is actually doing is censoring the people of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, who have been living under Ukrainian bombing for over eight years.

“Ukraine has increased its shelling in the past four months, heavily hitting civilian areas and infrastructure, including schools, markets and hospitals.

“Russian media and those able to publish reports on sites like RT is giving those terrorised civilians a voice and holding Ukraine accountable for its war crimes,” she said.

“RSF is clearly working hand in hand with Ukraine in obfuscation of its murder of 754 civilians from January 2022 to July 21 2022 alone. That is in addition to the nearly 8,000 civilians alone Ukraine has killed over the past eight years.

“In covering this up, RSF is abetting genocide,” Ms Bartlett said.

RSF refused to comment on reports of journalists deemed to be “pro-Russian,” including Ms Bartlett, being placed on kill lists and declined to speak out about her case.

“Our team did not have the capacity to investigate the case. We need to get sources from all sides, and make sure that they provide information and not lies,” Mr Deloire said.

He denied that such appeals create a climate that puts journalists at risk, after some raised concerns that RSF is “placing a target on our backs.”

“On the contrary,” he said, “denouncing propaganda media is a way to defend the independence of journalists, whatever the editorial lines of their media,​​​​​” adding that RSF does not have any political bias.

The press freedom organisation was founded in 1985 by French journalist Robert Menard and others.

Mr Menard is now mayor of the southern city of Beziers, having been elected in 2014 following a campaign backed by the far-right National Front.

RSF has received funds from US regime change outfit the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID, among others.

It has been accused of targeting countries that the US has criticised or sanctioned as part of a new cold war and regime change efforts, including China, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.

In 2008, a number of its activists were arrested for attempting to disrupt the flame ceremony at the Beijing Olympics.

Difference Group founder Dr Dan Steinbock said that RSF has previously supported coups against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras when those leaders held office.

He claimed that the group has admitted co-operating with the US State Department against Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua, while pursuing similar joint interests in Libya, Iran and Iraq.