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Lev Golinkin: Meet the Head of Biden’s New “Disinformation Governing Board”

Nina Jankowicz, Executive Director of DHS’s Disinformation Governance Board

By Lev Golinkin, The Nation, 5/12/22

Late last month, the Joe Biden administration publicly confirmed that a “Disinformation Governing Board” working group had been created within the Department of Homeland Security. The news prompted a flood of concern about the impact of such an Orwellian organ on America.

But there’s no need to engage in hypotheticals to understand the dangers. One has to only consider the past of Nina Jankowicz, the head of the new disinformation board.

Jankowicz’s experience as a disinformation warrior includes her work with StopFake, a US government-funded “anti-disinformation” organization founded in March 2014 and lauded as a model of how to combat Kremlin lies. Four years later, StopFake began aggressively whitewashing two Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups with a long track record of violence, including war crimes.

Today, StopFake is an official Facebook fact-checking partner, which gives it the power to censor news, while Jankowicz is America’s disinformation czar.

If the Biden administration is serious about combating threats such as white supremacy, perhaps it should first reflect on the old Roman question: Who will guard the guardians?

StopFake was founded right after Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan uprising ousted the country’s president and swept a new, US-backed government into power. Formed by professors and students from the Kyiv Mohyla Journalism School, StopFake presented itself as a plucky, grassroots group wielding hard facts and semi-permanent smirks as it shredded Russian propaganda. It gained notoriety by producing slick videos hosted by dynamic disinformation warriors debunking the Moscow lies of the day.

Western reporters—and checkbooks—were paying attention. Shortly after its creation, StopFake began receiving funding from Western governments, including the National Endowment for Democracy—an organization mainly funded by the US Congress—and the British embassy in Ukraine. It was also supported by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. (StopFake has run numerous episodes that cover Soros but fail to disclose this potential conflict of interest—a violation of basic tenets of journalism.)

Among StopFake’s hosts was Jankowicz, a graduate of Bryn Mawr and the Georgetown School of Foreign Service who was already part of the burgeoning disinformation warrior industry while in Ukraine as a Fulbright Clinton Public Policy Fellow. On January 29, 2017, she hosted StopFake Episode 117, whose lead story dealt with a perennial obsession of Russian propaganda: Ukraine’s volunteer battalions.

These are the dozens of paramilitaries formed in 2014 to fight against Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region. From the beginning, Moscow focused on the violent and far-right nature of many of these units.

At the time of Jankowicz’s piece, the Russian press was bristling at Kyiv’s creating a new holiday to honor military volunteers—Moscow commentators depicted this as a celebration of far-right butchers. Jankowicz offered an emphatically different take.

“Volunteer battalions organized throughout the country and they supported weak Ukrainian armed forces and prevented further Russian separatist encroachment. Today the volunteer battalions are part of the official Ukrainian armed forces, overseen by the Defense and Interior Ministries,” she said in her StopFake debunking segment.

“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,” she added.

While Janowicz extolled the battalions, an on-screen graphic displayed patches of four paramilitaries: Aidar, Dnipro-1, Donbas, and Azov. All four have a documented record of war crimes, while Azov is an outright neo-Nazi group.

On September 10, 2014, three years before Jankowicz’s warm portrayal of volunteer battalions, Newsweek ran an article titled “Ukrainian Nationalist Volunteers Committing ‘ISIS-style’ War Crimes.” The story, which covered a report by Amnesty International, featured Aidar, one of the battalions lauded in Jankowicz’s segment. According to Amnesty, Aidar fighters amassed a record of “widespread abuses,” ranging from kidnapping and torture to “possible executions.”

Three months later, Amnesty issued an urgent report about Aidar and Dnipro-1—another paramilitary featured in Jankowicz’s segment—blocking food from eastern Ukrainian towns and villages. “Using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is a war crime,” Amnesty stated.

(Of course, almost every war crime charged against one side in this conflict has also been charged against the other; Russia has reportedly recently been blocking food in its siege of Mariupol.)

The Donbas Battalion—the third paramilitary in Jankowicz’s segment—is another unit notorious for torture, as documented by the UN, among others. The fourth group, Azov, not only has its own history of war crimes, but is avowedly neo-Nazi; indeed, the Azov patch shown in Jankowicz’s video has a stylized Wolfsangel (the “N” with the sword)—a popular white supremacist rune used by groups like Aryan Nations.

Azov—which is now a premier hub of transnational white supremacy—has been extensively covered by Western media outlets, including by me in The Nation. Its nature was well known by the time of Jankowicz’s 2017 StopFake video. (In a 2020 book, Jankowicz briefly acknowledged Azov is a “far-right group,” but immediately pivoted to portraying them as victims of a Russian hoax.)

During Jankowicz’s tenure with StopFake (her last known episode aired May 21, 2017), the disinformation site continued being touted as a pioneer in combating Russian propaganda. In March 2017, a fawning Politico story heralded StopFake as the “grand wizards” of the anti-fake news ecosystem. It was an ironically prophetic description, given that Jankowicz’s misleading “nothing to see here” report about the battalions turned out to be a mere fraction of what StopFake has done for Ukraine’s far right.

By 2018, StopFake started defending C14, a neo-Nazi gang that conducted horrific pogroms of Ukraine’s Roma. After media outlet Hromadske described C14 as neo-Nazi, one of StopFake’s founders tweeted “for Hromadske, C14 is ‘neo-Nazi,’ in reality one of them—Oleksandr Voitko—is a war veteran and before going to the war—alum and faculty at @MohylaJSchool, journalist at Foreign news desk at Channel 5. Now also active participant of war veterans grass-root organization,” as if the fact that the gang has a veteran somehow precludes it from being neo-Nazi.

In 2020, StopFake defended C14 in a press release. The same year, news broke that C14 was aiding Kyiv police in enforcing Covid quarantine measures; StopFake labeled this fake news, denying C14 is far-right, describing it as a “community organization” instead, and citing C14’s own denial of carrying out anti-Roma pogroms as “evidence” of its innocence.

In reality, C14’s ties to Ukrainian authorities have been verified by Radio Free Europe (US government–run media), among others. By now, even the US State Department classifies C14 as a “nationalist hate group.”

StopFake has also continued defending the Azov Battalion. Last month, StopFake tweeted that the unit—which was formed out of a neo-Nazi gang, uses two neo-Nazi symbols on its insignia, and has been documented as neo-Nazi by numerous Western outlets—“doesn’t profess #Nazi views as official ideology,” labeling stories about Azov and neo-Nazism as fake news.

This is particularly disturbing because in February, Facebook reversed its ban on praising Azov. Facebook had previously banned the Azov battalion’s account as well as posts celebrating the neo-Nazi organization. The reversal is stunning, given the platform’s professed commitment to combating far-right extremism.

It’s unclear whether StopFake played a role in Facebook’s decision to lift its Azov ban, but considering StopFake is Facebook’s official fact-checking partner, it’s hard to believe the group’s track record of whitewashing Azov wasn’t a factor.

The “grand wizards” of battling fake news have even dabbled with Holocaust distortion, downplaying WWII-era paramilitaries who slaughtered Jews as mere “historic figures” and Ukrainian nationalist leaders, while attacking members of the US Congress who had denounced Ukraine’s glorification of Nazi collaborators.

Astonishingly, when Jankowicz herself was quoted in a July 2020 New York Times story about StopFake’s going off the rails, the article failed to disclose the fact that the disinformation expert being quoted used to work with the group.

Painting neo-Nazi paramilitaries with an extensive record of war crimes as patriots helping refugees, all while working with a “disinformation” group that turned out to run interference for violent neo-Nazi formations—that’s the experience Biden’s new disinformation czar brings to the table.

Gordon Hahn: Tentative Conclusions on Bucha: A Small My Lai?

Zohra Bensemra/Reuters. Volunteers unload bags containing bodies of civilians, who according to residents were killed by Russian army soldiers

By Dr. Gordon Hahn, Russian and Eurasian Politics Blog, 5/10/22

Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California, www.cetisresearch.org; an expert analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com; and an analyst at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago), www.geostrategicforecasting.com. He is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the Making of the Ukrainian Crisis and ‘New Cold War.

On 16 March 1968, U.S. Army soldiers massacred between 347 to 504 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in Sơn Tịnh District, South Vietnam, on 16 March 1968 during the Vietnam War. There were other ‘lesser’ massacres in Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese also committed atrocities both during and certainly after the war. But this article is about the U.S. war in Vietnam, but about a massacre of supposedly an approximately equal number of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, Ukraine by Russian soldiers in the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The Western-Ukrainian narrative is that Russians slaughtered hundreds of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, the bodies found on the streets, in basements, and in mass graves once Ukrainian forces pushed the Russians out of Bucha. Within hours of Ukrainian officials claims of a major massacre, US officials were calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be brought up on war crimes charges. No investigation, no facts had yet been presented. The reality is beginning to appear starkly different the Ukrainian and Western claims, though it certainly does not whitewash all the Russian troops who were in Bucha. We still do not know the entire when, where, who and how of all the killings in Bucha, but it appears that a strong majority of some 400 dead were the usual, tragic casualties of war. I present some tentative conclusions from my reading of Western, Ukrainian, Russian and UN sources.

The Western/Kiev narrative begins to fall apart from the start. First, the Russians were not simply forced out of Bucha; part of the departure was an organized pre-planned withdrawal. Russian forces withdrew voluntarily after the Russian delegation to peace talks in Istanbul announced on March 29th that Russian troops would withdraw from the area around Kiev as a way of facilitating a better negotiating atmosphere (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/pentagon-dubious-russian-withdrawal-north-kyiv-expects-troops/story?id=83740519). Although this may have been more a case of withdrawing as part of a redeployment to the south as part of the second phase of the war focused on expelling all Ukrainian forces out of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (and perhaps all of ‘Novorossiya’ and the Azov and Black Sea coasts from Donbass to Odessa), there is no evidence the Russians were forced out of Bucha. However, significant losses drove some to take out their anger on civilians in Bucha much as occurred in My Lai over half a century ago.

RUSSIAN AND UKRAINIAN TROOPS IN BUCHA IN MARCH 2022

Such basic information as which forces controlled which parts of Bucha on which dates is unavailable, except for the few days before and after the 30-31 March Russian withdrawal, after which Ukrainian forces took over the city entirely. I have tried to reconstruct the shifting presence of Russian and Ukrainian troops in Bucha from early March to early April (see Appendix).

Russians first held parts of Bucha on March 8th. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted no major attacks on northwestern Kyiv in March 9-14 (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-14). On March 10th Russian forces only controlled part of Bucha, meaning Ukrainian forces held the other areas of Bucha: Russian forces occupy a ring of positions north and west of Kyiv running through Poliske, Kukhari, Borodyanka, Andriyivka, Motyzhyn, Horenychi, Bucha” and “made slight advances” in Bucha on theat day (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-10). On March 11th Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported that Russian forces “attempted to break through Ukrainian defenses in Andriivka, Zhovtneve, Kopyliv, Motyzhyn, Buzova, Horenychi, and Bucha” (the ring of suburbs north and northwest on Kyiv) and later stated “at 6:00 am local time on March 11 that Russian forces failed to secure any territory” (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-11). For the next few days Russian forces made little to no gains. Thus, Russian forces control if not presence in terms of territorial expanse in Bucha before March 12th. Recall that the New York Times reporting on the Bucha massacre claims the dead on Yablonskaya Street and perhaps elsewhere had been lying there since March 9-11. There is no report that Russian forces held that part of Bucha specifically until the appearance of the massacre claims. Thus, Russian forces did not control all of Bucha on the key dates of March 9-11, when the New York Times claims that the eight bodies in the infamous satellite photo it published were first photographed lying on the streets. More curiously, after supposedly three weeks lying in the outdoors with above freezing temperatures, these bodies in the NYT satellite photographs rather than being bloated and putrid, appeared as only recently killed, with no bloating or significant decay.

The Ukrainian General Staff reported that on March 13th-14th Russian forces launched several unsuccessful assaults and “limited attacks” against Irpin and Bucha (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-14). There still had been no reports in this period that civilians were being shot by Russian troops or that corpses littered Yablonskaya Street. In other words, the corpses were not lying on Yablonskaya in this period, or they were corpses of people killed by shelling or by Ukrainian forces and/or Ukrainian territorial defense groups in the city during March or after having entered it on March 31-April 1. Perhaps some were even killed by regular criminals.

On March 15th Ukrainian sources alleged that Russian forces carried out a “pogrom” at the Bucha city council building and detained several city officials (https://vesti.ua/strana/vzyatyh-v-plen-sotrudnikov-gorsoveta-buchi-osvobodili). On the 16th, the same reported that at approximately 13:00 Russian forces released the Bucha officials (https://vesti.ua/strana/hronologiya-vojny-v-ukraine-21-j-den-sreda-obnovlyaetsya). There were still no reports that civilians were being shot by Russian troops or that corpses had been lying on Yablonskaya Street for nearly a week.

On March 21st-22nd, local Ukrainian sources reported Russian forces “entrenched” around Bucha on March 22 (www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Operations%20Assessments%20March%2022.pdf, p. 4). The Kyiv Oblast military administration stated that Russian forces still controlled Bucha and Hostomel, that Ukrainian forces could conduct only local counterattacks, and that Ukrainian troops were preparing for a larger offensive operation—all of which would suggest that Ukrainian troops have likely not yet encircled Russian troops in these areas (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-23 and http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Operations%20Assessments%20March%2023.pdf). Thus, Russian forces had full or nearly full control of Bucha beginning on March 22nd. They withdrew on March 31st. Thus, Russian forces had full or near full control for ten days at most, from March 22nd to April 1st.

Local Ukrainian officials claimed on March 23 that Ukrainian forces had encircled Russian troops in Irpin, Bucha, and Hostomel. The mayor of Kyiv claimed that Ukrainian troops had almost pushed Russian forces out of Irpin (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-23 and www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Operations%20Assessments%20March%2023.pdf). On March 24th Kyiv authorities reported Russian forces in Bucha and Nemishevska were constructing new trench lines for the last 24 hours in preparation likely for Ukrainian counterattacks (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-24). Thus, in this period Ukrainian forces were firing on Bucha, which obviously could have resulted in civilian casualties. On March 26th a phone number was provided on the Bucha city council (Rada) Facebook page for residents to report “humanitarian disasters”, “shootings,” rocket attacks, and the like (www.facebook.com/bucharada.gov.ua/posts/1836972983175764).

On March 27th Russian forces were shelling Bucha, meaning Ukrainian forces must have been inside the city’s boundaries somewhere. Kyiv Oblast civil authorities and the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian shelling focused on Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, Borodyanka, and Makariv, but Russian forces did not apparently conduct ground operations for the last 24 hours (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-27). On March 28th Ukrainian forces began counterattacks in the Irpin area as a staging ground for counterattacks on Bucha and other towns. Kyiv Obalst military authorities confirmed the recapture of Irpin, which was removed from their list of Russian-occupied Kiev suburbs. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Ukrainian counterattacks were intended to deter Russian offensive action (https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-28). According to Ukrainian sources, Russian forces remained dug in the Bucha and Nemishyev areas as of March 29th (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-29).

On March 30-31 Ukrainian sources reported that fighting continued throughout Bucha, Makariv, and Hostomel (www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-31). Then the Russian forces withdrew from Bucha on March 31-April 1, and Ukrainian forces control Bucha by April 1st. The world did not hear a word about Russian atrocities and corpses lying on Bucha’s streets until after Ukrainian ‘clean up’ squads enter the city to clean out traitors and quislings on April 2nd. It was reported on 2 April 2022 that Ukrainian police had entered Bucha to flush out possible “saboteurs or accomplices” of the Russian troops (https://vesti.ua/kiev/politsejskij-spetsnaz-nachal-zachistku-goroda-bucha). To reiterate, Russian forces had full or nearly full control of Bucha for 9-10 days, from March 22nd to April 1st.

Thus, Ukrainian forces were still in Bucha in some strength throughout mid-March and only episodically or in small teams thereafter, until the March 31 Russian withdrawal. During the periods 21-22, 25-26, 28-29, the Ukrainian military presence was very limited if existent at all inside the city, but the dead on Yablonskaya were reported to have been there since 9-11 March and the mass grave was dug on March 10th (see below). But information on precisely where in Bucha various Russian and Ukrainian forces were present and active was limited until Ukrainian forces entered the city on April 1st and remains incomplete today. 

Bodies in the Streets

The New York Times published satellite surveillance firm Maxar photographs purporting to show that some 8-20 bodies of Ukrainian civilians shot by Russian troops were lying on Bucha’s Yablonskaya Street from March 9-11 to the March 30th completion of the Russian withdrawal. Somehow, not one resident of Bucha reported to any authority that Russians had killed civilians or photographed the bodies and sent them to an authority through the entire period from 9-11 March to the 30 March completion of the Russian withdrawal during which supposedly some 20 bodies were said by the New York Times and Maxar to have been lying on the street. On 31 March 2022, Bucha’s mayor made a video to celebrate the liberation of the city. He called it a “happy day” and made no mention of civilians having been massacred by Russian troops or bodies lying in the streets (https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1510789934827053056.html and https://web.archive.org/web/20220404062459im_/https://video.twimg.com/ext_tw_video/1510789777888804865/pu/vid/640×362/GuxBWwP7U-5tDrfa.mp4?tag=12). At the same time, a member of the Bucha city council, Katerina Ukraintseva, ignored the bodies on the streets in her first comments immediately after the Russian withdrawal but three days suddenly mentioned them in accordance with the new pro-NATO narrative. On April 3rd she asserted they had been lying on Yablonskaya since the “beginning of March” (https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1337 ). Had she suddenly got the memo or did she just forget about the rotting corpses of some 20 fellow Buchanians shot by the hated Russian forces for three weeks? In an interview given to the media outlet Meduza (classified as a foreign agent in Russia) at the same time, a female resident of Bucha and member of its territorial defense unit (hastily formed volunteer units formed on the war’s eve and responsible for vigilante justice and human rights violations since the war began**), said that “the people lying on Yablonskaya died because of chaotic shooting.” Curiously, she did not report that Russian soldiers shot civilians during their occupation of the city (www.donbass-insider.com/2022/04/04/ukraine-the-massacre-of-bucha-a-ukrainian-timisoara/). The corpses not being the bodies of victims of a criminal Russian massacre might explain why city officials originally at least did not draw attention to any corpses on their city streets, if we assume they did lie there for three weeks. Interestingly enough, post-battle videos of Mariupol show a similar pattern of corpses strewn along the streets intermittently. This is a pattern of war.

On 2 April 2022, the bodies on Yablonskaya Street were filmed from an unidentified car, and the video is published late at night on Twitter and replayed around the world as a ‘Russian war crime’. This suggests – putting aside the NYT/Maxar satellite photos – that these people died (or their bodies were placed) on the streets after the posting of the mayor’s video and before the time of the video showing the bodies on Yablonskaya Street on . But the same day it was reported that Ukrainian police had entered Bucha to flush out possible “saboteurs or accomplices” of the Russian troops (https://vesti.ua/kiev/politsejskij-spetsnaz-nachal-zachistku-goroda-bucha). They were accompanied by fighters under the command of Azov neo-fascist ‘Botsman Korotkikh. A Ukrainian police video of the bodies on Yablonskaya Street released on April 2nd (when it was made is unknown) shows thin corpses with fresh, clean clothing not bloated with filthy clothing that would be the case for corpses on the streets for three weeks (https://archive.ph/HRtqxwww.sott.net/image/s32/642783/full/Bucha_man.jpg; and https://web.archive.org/web/20220404073351/https:/threadreaderapp.com/thread/1510590248140800003.html). This indicates that if these are wounded and that they were shot very recently, not two days prior when Russian troops were in town. The video is taken from a military vehicle in the column, not the first vehicle in the column. An alternative but unlikely correct hypothesis is that the bodies were placed on the streets by Ukrainian operatives, photographed by satellites (Maxar has ties to US intelligence), and then removed. When Korotkikh and his fighters videoed their entry into Bucha and drive down Yablonskaya Street, there were no corpses. Korotkikh’s fighters seemed to receive permission to shoot at males not wearing the Ukrainian forces’ light blue armband in another video, when they were moving on foot. Russian and its allied breakaway republics DNR and LNR wear white armbands. Korotkikh posted a video titled “The Boatsman’s Boys in Bucha”, which at the 6 second mark has the following dialogue: “There are guys without blue armbands, can I shoot them?” “Fuck yeah” (https://twitter.com/RWApodcast/status/1510712264726396944). This would explain the white armbands on some 4-5 of the corpses shown in the above-mentioned videos, which are nevertheless being attributed in the West and Ukraine to a ‘Russian massacre’. Moreover, more of the corpses may be wearing the white bands than is obvious from the photos; the bands are not visible in the photographs because the corpses are lined up closely together and photographed from the side. The Ukrainian troops and militants, therefore, might have captured and killed white-armbanded civilians, regarding them to be collaborators of the Russians.

On the other hand, some Bucha residents have described Russians shooting Bucha residents. This, for me, is solid evidence that the Russian and/or pro-Russian (Chechen, DNR/LNR) forces likely also committed some illegal shootings — war crimes — in Bucha (www.facebook.com/watch/?v=276797881324318). There is also the satellite video of Russian forces killing a bicyclist. But there is still no evidence of killing on a mass scale during their month-long presence in Bucha. As we shall see, the confirmed numbers to date amount to approximately one killing per day and no systematic policy that one would need to establish ‘genocide.’ The Ukrainians then added to the above-mentioned far less weighty evidence of a mass war massacre their false claims about hundreds of shootings and their victims’ mass graves. This is the first way in which characterization of the Bucha street dead as a large ‘Russian massacre’ is a ‘fake’, exaggeration, misinterpretation, or Ukrainian strategic communicators’ bizarre wishful thinking.

Mass Graves

There is a second sense in which the Western narrative appears to be fake or at least wrong. We have the Bucha ‘civilians’ (already declared so, despite the presence of non-uniformed Ukrainian defense formations everywhere in UKraine) buried in the mass grave near the church. However, their burial occurred in mid-March and bespeaks of something else than a massacre. It was ordered by the city morgue, overseen by a leading doctor from the local medical center, and videotaped. Those involved in the burial categorized them as civilians killed in bombings. Keep in mind that both Russians and Ukrainians were bombing each other, and the Ukrainian forces have been routinely placing air defense, artillery and other attack equipment near homes even though they died during the bombing and were not executed by Russian soldiers at all.

Western and Kievan media have ignored the date and videotaping of the 10 March mass burial of 67 bombing victims in order to write it off as the result of a Russian ‘massacre’. The first mass grave in Bucha, according to Maxar Technologies, was dug on March 10th after heavy fighting as Russian forces attempted to enter the town (https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-04-03/satellite-images-show-45-foot-long-trench-at-grave-site-in-bucha-maxar). A local doctor calmly organized the sealing of the individual dead in body bags and their burial in a mass grave, which was videoed and placed on YouTube on the same day, 12 March. The doctor, Aleksandr Levkivskiy, is seen in the video speaking calmly and moving bagged bodies from a flat truck to the mass grave [See “«Братская могила на территории церкви»: в Буче похоронили 67 мирных граждан, погибших от обстрелов” (‘Common Grave on the territory of a church’: 67 civilians killed in shelling were buried in Bucha), YouTube.com, 12 March 2022, www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN7vYAU-2Vc and https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1214]. This doctor also posted about his activities to evacuate the local population from March 8th to March 22nd, without any mention of Russian atrocities but mentioning bombing (www.donbass-insider.com/2022/04/06/bucha-massacre-when-satellite-images-and-videos-are-manipulated-to-tell-a-false-story/ and https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1286). Some of the links just cited were once on Twitter and Facebook but have since been dutifully removed (removed Twitter posts regarding Bucha include https://mobile.twitter.com/gbazov/status/1511727185257762821; Facebook deletes include facebook.com/Andrii.Levkivs… then reposted here: ms-my.facebook.com/4kmps/videos/%…). So instead of being treated as a burial site of the typical victims of war or an event needing impartial investigation, the Bucha mass grave is being characterized by Western (first of all Ukrainian) governments and media as a grave of civilian victims shot by Russian soldiers as an act of revenge of a defeated army on the basis of pre-packaged interpretations and the complete absence of any evidence of an intentional ‘Russian massacre.’ This is all the more odd, since, as I have shown, Bucha was not under control of Russian forces throughout the entire period from March 9th to their March 30-31 withdrawal. We do not know precisely yet when and what parts of Bucha Russian and Ukrainian forces controlled in this period. We do know that Ukrainian forces had full control by morning, April 1st, just before the claims of atrocities emerged as police and neofascist forces hunted down colluders.

Even if one were to categorize all the dead — the 67 dead in the mass grave, the 20 on Yablonskaya Street, the 9 near and in the building where the Russian soldiers allegedly were stationed, and tens of others about the city — the number of dead killed by war crimes does not approach 100. The Ukrainian and Western governments claiming a Russian atrocity that killed 410 civilians. It remains unclear whether all 130 corpses are those of civilians, whether more than 20 were killed intentionally, not to mention whether Russian/DNR-LNR forces or Ukrainian forces did the killing. The 5 or so executed or shot wearing white armbands (several on Yablonskaya, at least one in a basement) were more likely executed by Ukrainian troops for collaborating with Russian troops. For a month Bucha was under shelling by Russian and Ukrainian forces. In such conditions one regretfully should expect tens, even hundreds of dead civilians.

Journalists, Apples, and Oranges

An April 11th NYT article claimed that “almost three dozen people where they were killed – in their homes, in the woods, set on fire in a vacant car park – and learned the stories behind many of their deaths. They also witnessed more than 100 body bags at a communal grave and the city’s cemetery” (I have no NYT. The article is available at http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/bucha-s-month-of-terror-how-russian-forces-left-behind-a-landscape-of-horrors-1.4850775#:~:text=Bucha%20is%20a%20landscape%20of%20horrors.%20From%20the,a%20few%20kilometres%20west%20of%20Kyiv%2C%20Ukraine%E2%80%99s%20capital). But the article notes massive Ukrainian attacks on the town, but attribtes no deaths to the Ukrainian army’s violence, only yhe Russians: “Days after Russian troops drove into town, the Ukrainian army struck back, setting tanks and armoured vehicles ablaze in an attack on a Russian column. As many as 20 vehicles burned in a huge fireball that ignited homes all along one side of the street.” By contrast, “the residents of Bucha had been sheltering from Russian missile and artillery strikes” (I have no NYT. The article is available at www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/bucha-s-month-of-terror-how-russian-forces-left-behind-a-landscape-of-horrors-1.4850775#:~:text=Bucha%20is%20a%20landscape%20of%20horrors.%20From%20the,a%20few%20kilometres%20west%20of%20Kyiv%2C%20Ukraine%E2%80%99s%20capital). In reality the article claims corroboration for 12 Russian war crimes and possibly another 20 (see Appendix 2). The article notes but passes without commentary that Ukrainian citizens were warned not to go outside: A Russian commander warned him not to go out on the street. ‘We have orders to shoot,’ the commander said.”

So the NYT has uncovered some corroboration for 12 Russian war crimes and possibly another 20.

In the article, the NYT with help from the local Ukrainian prosecutor mixed apples and oranges in an apparent attempt to pad the gravity of the atrocity: “Of the 360 bodies found through this weekend in Bucha and its immediate surroundings, more than 250 were killed by bullets or shrapnel and were being included in an investigation of war crimes, Ruslan Kravchenko, chief regional prosecutor in Bucha, said in an interview.” The figure of 360 falls short of the 410 shot by Russians according to Zelenskiy. More importantly, the figure of 250 falls even shorter and to be reached the alleged number of those killed by shrapnel was mixed in with those shot. How many of the supposedly 250 were shot? How many of them were killed by shrapnel (Russian or Ukrainian)? No clarity. Also, the NYT quotes local officials’ distortion of figures mirroring the ratios offered by the federal authorities, by claiming: “Overall, in the broader Bucha region, there were at least 1,000 deaths in the war, he said. The dead are overwhelmingly civilians. Only two members of the Ukrainian military were among those killed in Bucha city, according to Serhiy Kaplychny, an official at the city cemetery.” In this way, they attempt stealthily to attribute all the deaths to Russian bullets and shrapnel, and they repeat the underreporting of Ukrainian military casualties and exaggeration of civilian casualties. Anyone vaguely familiar with war casualties can tell you that civilian and military casualties are usually relatively comparable; a 1,000-2 ratio is impossible.

International Organizations: Better Work Finding Dozens, Not Hundreds Killed

As of April 10th, Human Rights Watch was able to document only 9 intentional war crimes (“killings of civilians”) and 7 accidental such killings. Not the hundreds declared by the West and Kiev, not even tens. Moreover, no evidence has been presented by HRW that Russians committed the intentional or accidental killings (https://strana.news/news/387546-human-rights-watch-zafiksirovala-mnozhestvo-dokazatelstv-voennykh-prestuplenij-v-buche.html). To be sure, Russian forces have committed war crimes. There are credible reports of three such crimes, including the killing of the bicyclist for which there is a video (www.reuters.com/world/europe/death-defiance-bucha-neighbourhood-that-was-held-by-russian-troops-2022-04-07/ and www.nytimes.com/2022/04/05/world/europe/bucha-shooting-video.html). Hardly My Lai 2.0, when indeed 400 civilians were slaughtered in cold blood in Vietnam by American troops. There is no evidence to suggest yet that they are on the scale of hundreds being claimed by Ukrainian authorities. The scale is reminiscent of what we call ‘war.’ Some soldiers are brutes, some are pushed to brutality by fear or anger; recall Mi Lai in Vietnam and numerous other war atrocities across history. But there is no evidence that these Russian atrocities are a part of Russian military policy.

The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) also has concluded that there was far less Russian criminal violence in Bucha than the Zelenskiy regime and Western governments and media claim. During an April 9th mission to Bucha, UN human rights officers “documented the unlawful killing, including by summary execution, of some 50 civilians.” But there is no indication of which side committed the executions. Again, recall the National Police and punitive battalions seeking out colluders in Bucha from April 1st. In addition, “HRMMU has received more than 300 allegations of killings of civilians in towns in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy, all under the control of Russian armed forces in late February and early March.” In addition to “allegations” of Russian killing, the HRMMU has “also received information about alleged arbitrary and incommunicado detentions by Ukrainian forces or people aligned with them. In some cases, relatives do not have information about where their loved ones are, raising serious concerns regarding enforced disappearance, compliance with due process and the risk of torture and ill-treatment” (https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/04/bachelet-urges-respect-international-humanitarian-law-amid-growing-evidence?fbclid=IwAR2IYnFKNe3ibtN-vuv6oHX6BMcF0uNRuC1Eg0RJbJb3EVivRfiMcO6K9-k). This suggests that some of the dead may be the victims of Ukrainian forces.

CONCLUSION

So it appears, the Maidan regime, with help from Western governments and media, are attempting to parlay the overall humanitarian and military tragedy in and around Kiev into a provocative fake, which grossly exaggerates any Russian atrocities and covers up any and all Ukrainian atrocities that also might have occurred. Using the usual casualties of war as a foundation, they have padded exponentially the number of civilians deliberately killed by Russian forces in Bucha, which could a little more or less than a dozen and may not outnumber Ukrainian reprisals against those locals who may have colluded or even fraternized with the invading force, for example by simply accepting or trading for food or by somehow assisting the Russian forces by providing information. They raised the number of victims of repressions from somewhere perhaps in the teens, twenties or several tens to hundreds of murders–again perhaps in order to cover up equivalent war crimes committed by Ukrainians. It is suggestive that Ukraine and, in the UN, the United Kingdom blocked a proposal by Russia to discuss setting up an independent investigation of the events in Bucha.

Of course, perhaps all the caveats I have presented above will be explained by further investigation. But is not that the real point? Should not arrest, trial, and punishment come after the evidence of an actual crime having been committed is gathered, analyzed, and summarized to demonstrate commission of a crime and by whom said crime was committed? We had a hint of the Western attempt (and there will be Russian ones as well) to turn any tragedy in this war into a Russian war crime. Recall Senator Marco Rubio’s set up question to Victoria Nuland at recent hearings. He asked her about whether a chemical attack, should one occur in Ukraine, could be attributed to anyone but the Russians, and of course she said no. Remember this is in a country where those now in power arrived there blood soaked on the basis of a false flag terrorist snipers’ massacre committed by the neofascist wing of the Maidan protests and not by order of soon to be overthrown Yanukovych. This is in regards to a country embattled in war and seething with neofascist-led military and para-military units with ties to the same massacre of their own people and fellow Maidan demonstrators. Moreover, the founding experience of the Maidan regime – the spilling of blood of its own citizens and seeming political allies – shows just how impossible it is in this country (as in Russia often) to make determinations about whom has committed one or another crime. What appears to have happened is that some Russian forces reacted to their own losses and lashed out on the My Lai model.

It must be said that both sides are committing war crimes in this war, and most likely few if any will be punished. It is beyond ironic – indeed condemnatory of the human condition — to see Western, Ukrainian, and Russian sources expressing outrage at the atrocities committed by the other side, while hailing those committed by their own. With no one reporting in a balanced fashion, the sides grow intensively more antagonistic, assuring there will be massacres, extrajudicial executions, tortuous deaths, and the Ukrainians and Russians will have an equal hand in them proportional to their capacity. In the Russo-Ukrainian war, history is likely to record that there indeed was a moral equivalency. Proposed by NATO expansion to Ukraine and accepted by Putin, the decision to start this new war made all this inevitable.

Finally, it is disturbing is the massive attention, resources, and journalistic energy the West devoted immediately to frame the crimes as violence on an unprecedented scale and, in the view of the President of the United States, a genocide. This absurdity sits uncomfortably aside the blanket Western indifference to the systematic — not just spur of the moment — violence destroying and harming mostly ethnic Russian civilians committed by the neofascist-controlled Azov Battalion in Mariupol (and elsewhere) for weeks now. For those interested in the other side of the story — Ukraine’s war crimes and atrocities — approximately one hundred videos showing Ukrainian war crimes or eyewitness testimonies of Ukrainian war crimes can be found on my Facebook page. These cover only a three-week period of the war and do not amount to a definitive list. The videos testify to hundreds of mostly Donbass Russian-Ukrainians killed wantonly by Ukrainian forces. The mass violence first initiated in Ukraine on 20 February 2014 on the Maidan by the latter’s neofascist elements, killing approximately one hundred and wounding more, seems destined to metastasize further.

**On territorial defense units’ vigilantism and human rights violations see, for example: https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1354https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1355https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1359https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1364); https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1345https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1446https://t.me/UkraineHumanRightsAbuses/1505).

Note: Appendix 1 and Appendix 2 are available at the bottom of the original post here.

UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ukraine: civilian casualty update 9 May 2022

Flag of the United Nations

UNHCHR, 5/9/22

From 4 a.m. on 24 February 2022, when the Russian Federation’s armed attack against Ukraine started, to 24:00 midnight on 8 May 2022 (local time), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 7,061 civilian casualties in the country: 3,381 killed and 3,680 injured. This included:

-a total of 3,381 killed (1,227 men, 787 women, 75 girls, and 91 boys, as well as 69 children and 1,132 adults whose sex is yet unknown)

-a total of 3,680 injured (521 men, 396 women, 83 girls, and 93 boys, as well as 170 children and 2,417 adults whose sex is yet unknown)

In Donetsk and Luhansk regions: 3,694 casualties (1,810 killed and 1,884 injured)

On Government-controlled territory: 3,140 casualties (1,699 killed and 1,441 injured)

On territory controlled by Russian affiliated armed groups: 554 casualties (111 killed and 443 injured)

In other regions of Ukraine (the city of Kyiv, and Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Rivne, Vinnytsia and Zhytomyr regions), which were under Government control when casualties occurred: 3,367 casualties (1,571 killed and 1,796 injured)

Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes.

OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration. This concerns, for example, Mariupol (Donetsk region), Izium (Kharkiv region), and Popasna (Luhansk region), where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties.

An increase in figures in this update compared with the previous update (as of 24:00 midnight on 5 May 2022 (local time) should not be attributed to civilian casualties that occurred from 6 to 8 May only, as during these days OHCHR also corroborated casualties that occurred on previous days. Similarly, not all civilian casualties that were reported from 6 to 8 May have been included into the above figures. Some of them are still pending corroboration and if confirmed, will be reported on in future updates.

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine

Since 2014, OHCHR has been documenting civilian casualties in Ukraine. Reports are based on information that the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) collected through interviews with victims and their relatives; witnesses; analysis of corroborating material confidentially shared with HRMMU; official records; open-source documents, photo and video materials; forensic records and reports; criminal investigation materials; court documents; reports by international and national non-governmental organisations; public reports by law enforcement and military actors; data from medical facilities and local authorities. All sources and information are assessed for their relevance and credibility and cross-checked against other information. In some instances, corroboration may take time. This may mean that conclusions on civilian casualties may be revised as more information becomes available and numbers may change as new information emerges over time .

Since 24 February 2022, in the context of the Russian Federation’s military action in Ukraine, HRMMU has been unable to visit places of incidents and interview victims and witnesses there. All other sources of information have been extensively used, including HRMMU contact persons and partners in places where civilian casualties occurred. Statistics presented in the current update are based on individual civilian casualty records where the “reasonable grounds to believe” standard of proof was met, namely where, based on a body of verified information, an ordinarily prudent observer would have reasonable grounds to believe that the casualty took place as described.

CounterCurrents: Possibility Of Abrupt End To Russian Gas, Germany Prepares Crisis Plan

Gas pipeline marker - detail
Gas pipeline marker – detail by Evelyn Simak is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

By CounterCurrents Staff, 5/10/22

German officials are quietly preparing for any sudden halt in Russian gas supplies with an emergency package that could include taking control of critical firms.

An exclusive Reuters report said:

The preparations being led by the Ministry for Economic Affairs show the heightened state of alert about supplies of the gas that powers Europe’s biggest economy and is critical for the production of steel, plastics and cars.

Russian gas accounted for 55% of Germany’s imports last year and Berlin has come under pressure to unwind a business relationship that critics says is helping to fund Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Germany has said it wants to wean itself off Russian supplies but expects to be largely reliant on Moscow for gas until the middle of 2024.

It remains unclear whether an abrupt halt would happen and the officials said Germany wanted to avert an escalation, such as by backing a European gas embargo, having already supported sanctions against Moscow on coal and oil.

But they now fear Russia could cut off gas flows unilaterally and want to be able to cope if it does.

While a broad framework is in place and the government is determined to help, the details of how it will put the plan into action are now being thrashed out, the officials said.

The government would back granting further loans and guarantees to prop up energy firms, helping them cope with soaring prices, and could take critical companies, such as refineries, under its wing, the three officials said.

Asked for comment on the measures, Germany’s economy ministry pointed to statements by its head, Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, that the country had made “intense efforts” in recent weeks to reduce its use of Russian energy.

Last month, Berlin approved a legal change to allow it take control of energy companies as a last resort.

It is now discussing how it could use the measure in practice, such as by taking control of the PCK refinery operated by Russia’s Rosneft in Schwedt near Poland, two of the people said. It accounts for most of Germany’s remaining Russian oil imports and could be hit by a European Union oil embargo.

Rosneft declined to comment on any possible German action.

Energy Nationalization?

The Reuters report said:

One of the people said the nationalization of energy companies was an option being considered but it would have to be weighed carefully and justified on the grounds of securing energy supplies rather than to punish Russia.

Germany could also take stakes in other companies, said two people familiar with the matter. In 2018, it made a similar move when state development bank KfW bought 20% of energy network operator 50Hertz to fend off an offer from China’s State Grid.

The final government emergency package has not yet been finalized. One of the people cautioned that taking minority stakes in companies and intervention at the Schwedt refinery remained under discussion but had not been decided.

Officials are also examining how KfW can alleviate pressure on critical companies by supporting them with further loans, or emergency credit lines they could use if energy prices soar and trigger costly margin calls on their market positions.

Earlier this year, KfW helped German energy firm Uniper, EnBW’s gas division VNG and coal-fired power plant operator Leag cope with volatility in energy markets.

KfW declined to comment on which companies it had helped.

Germany is also examining how it would ration gas in an emergency. Its regulator is considering whether to give industry priority over households, which would be a reversal of the current policy where businesses would be cut off first.

The discussions are unfolding against the backdrop of war in Ukraine and an increasingly charged stand-off between Moscow and Brussels, which has backed tough sanctions to isolate Russia.

Economic Spiral

The Reuters report added:

Russia’s Gazprom halted gas exports to Poland and Bulgaria last month after they refused to pay in roubles but the Kremlin has rejected accusations by the European Commission that Moscow was using natural gas supplies as blackmail.

The Kremlin and Gazprom have repeatedly said that Russia was a reliable energy supplier.

The Kremlin and Gazprom did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the reliability of supply.

After hesitantly backing sanctions on coal and oil, Berlin also now wants to draw a line, four officials said.

They are concerned that curbing gas as well could send prices rocketing, allowing Moscow to cash in on sales outside the EU and thus still failing to drain its war chest.

The officials said Germany was reaching the limit of sanctions it could impose without triggering an economic spiral, with even those in the governing coalition wholeheartedly behind penalizing Moscow wary of imposing sanctions on gas.

Berlin has also been swayed by captains of German industry, including chief executives of its biggest listed companies and representatives of firms with ties to Russia, who have regularly met and lobbied officials not to ban gas, one person with knowledge of the matter said.

Company executives have told Berlin they are preparing to pare back Russian energy ties in any event, but appealed to the government not to force them to do so immediately, said a second person familiar with those discussions.

Germany Faces Wave Of Bankruptcies

Media reports said:

Germany will be battered with a wave of bankruptcies due to Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia, according to Commerzbank Chief Executive Officer Manfred Knof.

“The energy supply in Germany is at risk, supply chains are breaking down, we have high inflation,” Knof was quoted by the Handelsblatt daily as saying.

According to the executive, almost a third of Germany’s foreign trade has been impacted, forcing companies to navigate complex issues with customers, including surging commodity prices and supply-chain bottlenecks.

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves: the number of insolvencies in our markets will probably increase and the risk provisions of the banks with it,” Knof said.

German Industry Reels From Anti-Russian Sanctions

German industrial production dropped more than expected in March, data released on Friday by the country’s statistics office shows. According to Destatis, Covid-related supply chain issues have been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine.

Production slid by 3.9% last month following a 0.1% increase in February, far outstripping expectations of a one-percent decline. On an annual basis, industrial output slumped by 3.5% in March following a 3.1% jump the month before.

Manufacturing production lost 4.6% in March and energy production was down 11.4%, while construction output gained 1.1%, according to the data. On Thursday, it was reported that manufacturing orders logged a 4.7% month-on-month decline in March.

The largest drop was recorded for capital goods, used by businesses in production, which tumbled by 8.3%.

“In these politically and economically difficult times, the decrease also shows a growing reluctance to invest,” the statistics office said in a statement.

Foreign orders from outside the eurozone nosedived 13.2% in March, while demand from inside the area strengthened by 5.6%. Domestic orders edged down by 1.8%.

“Many enterprises still have problems completing their orders because of interruptions in supply chains, which is due to continuing Covid-19 crisis restrictions and the war in Ukraine,” Destatis said.

German Industries Struggling To Replace Russian Imports, Finds Poll

German industrial companies are finding it “impossible” or “not economically viable” and “only partially possible” to replace imports from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, which came to a halt due to the conflict in Ukraine and the introduction of harsh economic sanctions on Moscow and Minsk, a poll by the Ifo Institute has revealed.

When asked if they’ll be able to substitute deliveries from those countries, 13.8% of the German companies polled said that “this was not possible at all,” according to the study published by the Munich-based think-tank on Tuesday.

Another 16.3% pointed out that finding other sources of supplies was “not economically viable” for them.

And a staggering 43.4% of the companies confessed that replacing deliveries from Russia and its neighbors would be “only partially possible,” with just 13.8% saying that the situation won’t cause them problems.

The numbers were even worse in the wholesale sector where 17.3% of firms insisted that coping without the sanctioned import items was impossible, and only 7.4% said that they’ll be able to swiftly find new sources of deliveries, according to the poll.

“Changing sources of supply is a headache for many companies,” Ifo researcher Klaus Wohlrabe said, pointing out that “supply chains and production processes that have been tried and tested for years often cannot be reorganized overnight.”

The UN figures show that German imports from Russia stood at almost $30 billion last year. The German Federal Statistical Office said they spiked by over 54% compared to 2020.

Germany was buying not just gas, oil, and coal from Russia, but also raw materials like nickel, palladium, copper and chromium and many other items.

But those deliveries were affected by the severe sanctions that the EU, the US, and some other countries slapped on Moscow after it launched its military operation in Ukraine in late February. The restrictions also saw the foreign assets of the Russian Central Bank and various other entities and individuals being frozen, effectively cutting Russia off from the dollar- and euro-dominated money markets, and a wide array of foreign businesses stopping doing business with the country.

Volkswagen Chief Calls For Ukraine Deal With Putin

A Telegraph report said:

The chief executive of Volkswagen has called for a negotiated settlement between Russia and Ukraine so that sanctions can be lifted to avoid damaging the German economy.

Herbert Diess said that Brussels should be pushing for a peace deal so that free trade can resume to protect the European Union’s commercial interests.

Speaking at an industry summit organized by the Financial Times, Diess said: “I think we should do the utmost to really stop this war and get back to negotiations and get back to trying to open up the world again.

“I think we should not give up on open markets and free trade and I think we should not give up on negotiating and trying to settle.”

He added that if global trade continues to struggle, “Europe will suffer most, and Germany, but I think it will be bad for the whole world”.

Diess’s statement came a day after German chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged to continue to provide weapons to Ukraine, as Europe would not be “capitulating to brute force”.

However, Brussels scrapped a proposed ban on EU tankers carrying Russian oil following intensive lobbying from Greece, Malta and Cyprus.

The measure would have banned Europeans tankers from carrying Russian crude oil anywhere in the world, potentially allowing non-EU countries to step in and grab market share.

The plan was dropped as G7 allies failed to agree to a similar ban in their plans to end imports of Russian oil.

Industries have been supportive of the sanctions against Russia, even though the war has worsened existing supply chain disruption globally.

Volkswagen, the world’s second largest car manufacturer, has cut production due to a shortage of wiring harnesses made in Ukraine.

It has also sold out all electric models in the US and Europe this year.

Diess has previously caused controversy as he told VW employees in 2019 that “EBIT macht frei”, in what appeared to be a play on “Arbeit macht frei” — work makes you free — a notorious Nazi slogan that was inscribed over the entrance to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

He apologized following resignation calls.

EBIT is an acronym for Earnings Before Interest and Tax, a key indicator of a company’s profit.

Glenn Greenwald: Biden Wanted $33B More For Ukraine. Congress Quickly Raised it to $40B. Who Benefits?

black rifle
Photo by Specna Arms on Pexels.com

I’m actually old enough to remember when Democrats promised us $2,000 Covid relief checks before the election but then became stingy about actually coughing up the extra $600 to Americans so we only got $1400. I also remember countless times when, in response to potentially implementing policies that might actually improve the quality of life for Americans, we heard both parties, including Democrats, ask how we could possibly afford it and suggest pay-as-you-go policies. Republicans, for their part, would suddenly remember how much they cared about the deficit. But when a country on the other side of the world is fighting Russia, suddenly all these politicians can pull tens of billions of dollars out of their rear ends faster than anyone can bat an eye. Maybe one of my readers can help me out here – can you remind me on what date Ukraine was declared the 51st state? Was this new addition to the US voted on or did some politician just decide this? – Natylie

By Glenn Greenwald, Substack, 5/10/22

From the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Biden White House has repeatedly announced large and seemingly random amounts of money that it intends to send to fuel the war in Ukraine. The latest such dispatch of large amounts of U.S. funds, pursuant to an initial $3.5 billion fund authorized by Congress early on, was announced on Friday; “Biden says U.S. will send $1.3 billion in additional military and economic support to Ukraine,” read the CNBC headline. This was preceded by a series of new lavish spending packages for the war, unveiled every two to three weeks, starting on the third day of the war:

  • Feb. 26: “Biden approves $350 million in military aid for Ukraine”: Reuters;
  • Mar. 16: “Biden announces $800 million in military aid for Ukraine”: The New York Times;
  • Mar. 30: “Ukraine to receive additional $500 million in aid from U.S., Biden announces”: NBC News;
  • Apr. 12: “U.S. to announce $750 million more in weapons for Ukraine, officials say”: Reuters;
  • May 6: “Biden announces new $150 million weapons package for Ukraine”: Reuters.

Those amounts by themselves are in excess of $3 billion; by the end of April, the total U.S. expenditure on the war in Ukraine was close to $14 billion, drawn from the additional $13.5 billion Congress authorized in mid-March. While some of that is earmarked for economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, most of it will go into the coffers of the weapons industry — including Raytheon, on whose Board of Directors the current Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, sat immediately before being chosen by Biden to run the Pentagon. As CNN put it: “about $6.5 billion, roughly half of the aid package, will go to the US Department of Defense so it can deploy troops to the region and send defense equipment to Ukraine.”

As enormous as those sums already are, they were dwarfed by the Biden administration’s announcement on April 28 that it “is asking Congress for $33 billion in funding to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than double the $14 billion in support authorized so far.” The White House itself acknowledges that the vast majority of that new spending package will go to the purchase of weaponry and other military assets: “$20.4 billion in additional security and military assistance for Ukraine and for U.S. efforts to strengthen European security in cooperation with our NATO allies and other partners in the region.”

It is difficult to put into context how enormous these expenditures are — particularly since the war is only ten weeks old, and U.S. officials predict/hope that this war will last not months but years. That ensures that the ultimate amounts will be significantly higher still.

The amounts allocated thus far — the new Biden request of $33 billion combined with the $14 billion already spent — already exceed the average annual amount the U.S. spent for its own war in Afghanistan ($46 billion). In the twenty-year U.S. war in Afghanistan which ended just eight months ago, there was at least some pretense of a self-defense rationale given the claim that the Taliban had harbored Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda at the time of the 9/11 attack. Now the U.S. will spend more than that annual average after just ten weeks of a war in Ukraine that nobody claims has any remote connection to American self-defense.

Even more amazingly, the total amount spent by the U.S. on the Russia/Ukraine war in less than three months is close to Russia’s total military budget for the entire year ($65.9 billion). While Washington depicts Russia as some sort of grave and existential menace to the U.S., the reality is that the U.S. spends more than ten times on its military what Russia spends on its military each year; indeed, the U.S. spends three times more than the second-highest military spender, China, and more than the next twelve countries combined.

But as gargantuan as Biden’s already-spent and newly requested sums are — for a ten-week war in which the U.S. claims not to be a belligerent — it was apparently woefully inadequate in the eyes of the bipartisan establishment in Congress, who is ostensibly elected to serve the needs and interests of American citizens, not Ukrainians. Leaders of both parties instantly decreed that Biden’s $33 billion request was not enough. They thus raised it to $40 billion — a more than 20% increase over the White House’s request — and are now working together to create an accelerated procedure to ensure immediate passage and disbursement of these weapons and funds to the war zone in Ukraine. “Time is of the essence – and we cannot afford to wait,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to House members, adding: “This package, which builds on the robust support already secured by Congress, will be pivotal in helping Ukraine defend not only its nation but democracy for the world.”

We have long ago left the realm of debating why it is in the interest of American citizens to pour our country’s resources into this war, to say nothing of risking a direct war and possibly catastrophic nuclear escalation with Russia, the country with the largest nuclear stockpile, with the US close behind. Indeed, one could argue that the U.S. government entered this war and rapidly escalated its involvement without this critical question — which should be fundamental to any policy decision of the U.S. government — being asked at all.

This omission — a failure to address how the interests of ordinary Americans are served by the U.S. government’s escalating role in this conflict — is particularly glaring given the steadfast and oft-stated view of former President Barack Obama that Ukraine is and always will be of vital interest to Russia, but is not of vital interest to the U.S. For that reason, Obama repeatedly resisted bipartisan demands that he send lethal arms to Ukraine, a step he was deeply reluctant to take due to his belief that the U.S. should not provoke Moscow over an interest as remote as Ukraine (ironically, Trump — who was accused by the U.S. media for years of being a Kremlin asset, controlled by Putin through blackmail — did send lethal arms to Ukraine despite how provocative doing so was to Russia).

While it is extremely difficult to isolate any benefit to ordinary American citizens from all of this, it requires no effort to see that there is a tiny group of Americans who do benefit greatly from this massive expenditure of funds. That is the industry of weapons manufacturers. So fortunate are they that the White House has met with them on several occasions to urge them to expand their capacity to produce sophisticated weapons so that the U.S. government can buy them in massive quantities:

Top U.S. defense officials will meet with the chief executives of the eight largest U.S. defense contractors to discuss industry’s capacity to meet Ukraine’s weapons needs if the war with Russia continues for years.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told reporters Tuesday she plans to participate in a classified roundtable with defense CEOs on Wednesday to discuss “what can we do to help them, what do they need to generate supply”….

“We will discuss industry proposals to accelerate production of existing systems and develop new, modernized capabilities critical to the Department’s ongoing security assistance to Ukraine and long-term readiness of U.S. and ally/partner forces,” the official added.

On May 3, Biden visited a Lockheed Martin facility (see lead photo) and “praised the… plant that manufactures Javelin anti-tank missiles, saying their work was critical to the Ukrainian war effort and to the defense of democracy itself.”

Indeed, by transferring so much military equipment to Ukraine, the U.S. has depleted its own stockpiles, necessitating their replenishment with mass government purchases. One need not be a conspiracy theorist to marvel at the great fortune of this industry, having lost their primary weapons market just eight months ago when the U.S. war in Afghanistan finally ended, only to now be gifted with an even greater and more lucrative opportunity to sell their weapons by virtue of the protracted and always-escalating U.S. role in Ukraine. Raytheon, the primary manufacturer of Javelins along with Lockheed, has been particularly fortunate that its large stockpile, no longer needed for Afghanistan, is now being ordered in larger-than-ever quantities by its former Board member, now running the Pentagon, for shipment to Ukraine. Their stock prices have bulged nicely since the start of the war:

But how does any of this benefit the vast majority of Americans? Does that even matter? As of 2020, almost 30 million Americans are without any health insurance. Over the weekend, USA Today warned of “the ongoing infant formula shortage,” in which “nearly 40% of popular baby formula brands were sold out at retailers across the U.S. during the week starting April 24.” So many Americans are unable to afford college for their children that close to a majority are delaying plans or eliminating them all together. Meanwhile, “monthly poverty remained elevated in February 2022, with a 14.4 percent poverty rate for the total US population….Overall, 6 million more individuals were in poverty in February relative to December.” The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau found that “approximately 42.5 million Americans [are] living below the poverty line.” Americans with diabetes often struggle to buy life-saving insulin. And on and on and on.

Now, if the U.S. were invaded or otherwise attacked by another country, or its vital interests were directly threatened, one would of course expect the U.S. government to expend large sums in order to protect and defend the national security of the country and its citizens. But can anyone advance a cogent argument, let alone a persuasive one, that Americans are somehow endangered by the war in Ukraine? Clearly, they are far more endangered by the U.S. response to the war in Ukraine than the war itself; after all, a nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Russia has long been ranked by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists as one of the two greatest threats facing humanity.


One would usually expect the American left, or whatever passes it for these days, to be indignant about the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars for weapons while ordinary Americans suffer. But the American left, such that it exists, is barely visible when it comes to debates over the war in Ukraine, while American liberals stand in virtual unity with the establishment wing of the Republican Party behind the Biden administration in support for the escalating U.S. role in the war in Ukraine. A few stray voices (such as Noam Chomsky) have joined large parts of the international left in urging a diplomatic solution in lieu of war and criticizing Biden for insufficient efforts to forge one, but the U.S. left and American liberals are almost entirely silent if not supportive.

That has left the traditionally left-wing argument about war opposition to the populist right. “You can’t find baby formula in the United States right now but Congress is voting today to send $40 billion to Ukraine,” said Donald Trump, Jr. on Tuesday, echoing what one would expect to hear from the 2016 version of Bernie Sanders or the pre-victory AOC. “In the America LAST $40 BILLION Ukraine FIRST bill that we are voting on tonight, there is authorization for funds to be given to the CIA for who knows what and who knows how much? But NO BABY FORMULA for American mothers!” explained Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Christian Walker, the conservative influencer and son of GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker in Georgia, today observed: “Biden should go apply to be the President of Ukraine since he clearly cares more about them than the U.S.” Chomsky himself caused controversy last week when he said that there is only one statesman of any stature in the West urging a diplomatic solution “and his name is Donald J. Trump.”

Meanwhile, the only place where dissent is heard over the Biden administration’s war policy is on the 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. programs on Fox News, hosted, respectively, by Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, who routinely demand to know how ordinary Americans are benefiting from this increasing U.S. involvement. On CNN, NBC, and in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, there is virtually lockstep unity in favor of the U.S. role in this war; the only question that is permitted, as usual, is whether the U.S. is doing enough or whether it should do more.

That the U.S. has no legitimate role to play in this war, or that its escalating involvement comes at the expense of American citizens, the people they are supposed to be serving, provokes immediate accusations that one is spreading Russian propaganda and is a Kremlin agent. That is therefore an anti-war view that is all but prohibited in those corporate liberal media venues. Meanwhile, mainstream Democratic House members, such as Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), are now openly talking about the war in Ukraine as if it is the U.S.’s own:

Whatever else is true, the claim with which we are bombarded by the corporate press — the two parties agree on nothing; they are constantly at each other’s throats; they have radically different views of the world — is patently untrue, at least when it comes time for the U.S. to join in new wars. Typically, what we see in such situations is what we are seeing now: the establishment wings of both parties are in complete lockstep unity, always breathlessly supporting the new proposed U.S. role in any new war, eager to empty the coffers of the U.S. Treasury and transfer it to the weapons industry while their constituents suffer.

One can believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is profoundly unjust and has produced horrific outcomes while still questioning what legitimate interests the U.S. has in participating in this war to this extent. Even if one fervently believes that helping Ukrainians fight Russia is a moral good, surely the U.S. government should be prioritizing the ability of its own citizens to live above the poverty line, have health insurance, send their kids to college, and buy insulin and baby formula.

There are always horrific wars raging, typically with a clear aggressor, but that does not mean that the U.S. can or should assume responsibility for the war absent its own vital interests and the interests of its citizens being directly at stake. In what conceivable sense are American citizens benefiting from this enormous expenditure of their resources and the increasing energy and attention being devoted by their leaders to Ukraine rather than to their lives and the multi-pronged deprivations that define them?

CORRECTION (May 10, 2022, 20:47 pm ET): This article was edited shortly after publication to reflect that Russia’s total annual military budget is $65.9 billion, not $65.9 million.


Dave DeCamp: British PM Boris Johnson Urges Ukraine Not to Negotiate with Russia

By Dave DeCamp, Antiwar.com, 5/9/22

On Friday, British Prime Minister Borish Johnson spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and said that he urged Ukraine against negotiating with Russia.

According to a readout of the call from Johnson’s office, the British leader updated Macron on his April 9 visit to Kyiv. “The Prime Minister updated on his visit to Kyiv last month and shared his conviction that Ukraine would win, supported with the right level of defensive military assistance,” the readout said.

The readout said Johnson “urged against any negotiations with Russia on terms that gave credence to the Kremlin’s false narrative for the invasion but stressed that this was a decision for the Ukrainian government.”

According to a report from Ukrainska Pravda citing sources close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Johnson told the Ukrainian leader during his Kyiv visit that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be pressured, not negotiated with.

The report said that Johnson told Zelensky that “even if Ukraine is ready to sign some agreements on guarantees with Putin,” Kyiv’s Western backers are not ready. The report said Johnson’s position is that of the “collective West,” which now feels Putin is not as strong as they initially thought and see the war as an opportunity to “press him.”

Johnson’s position lines up with the rhetoric that has been coming out of the Biden administration. At the end of April, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said one of Washington’s goals in Ukraine is to see a “weakened” Russia.

The Biden administration has abandoned diplomacy with Russia and does not appear to be interested in a diplomatic solution to end the war. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hasn’t spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov since February 15, and President Biden has no known plans to hold talks with Putin.

Macron is one of the few Western leaders that has held talks with Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine and favors negotiations as a way to end the war. On Monday, he said peace would be achieved through negotiations. “We will have a peace to build tomorrow, let us never forget that … We will have to do this with Ukraine and Russia around the table. The end of the discussion and the negotiation will be set by Ukraine and Russia.”

Russia Matters: Ukraine War Fallout Highlights How Russia Matters to Global Economy

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By Russia Matters Staff, 5/5/22

Prior to its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia—and to a lesser extent Ukraine itself—had helped ensure a steady supply of commodities and services critical to a smoothly functioning global economy, some of them little noticed by anyone but specialists. Now, the war begun on Feb. 24, together with the subsequent waves of unprecedented Western sanctions, the corporate exodus from Russia and Moscow’s own responses to these measures have caused tangible damage to a number of major sectors of the global economy—including energy, agriculture, aviation and the production of high-tech goods like computer chips and electric-car batteries—compounding damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Top officials at international financial institutions have warned that the war’s disruptions to global trade could push millions of people into poverty, causing food riots and lasting damage to poorer countries’ economies. The tremors have already been felt—from sovereign default in Sri Lanka to deadly unrest in Peru.

For many observers, the scale of these ripple effects has come as a surprise. Depending on the metric, Russia’s economy ranks somewhere between sixth- and 12th-largest in the world, but its heft has typically been attributed almost exclusively to hydrocarbons—a “gas station with nukes,” as historian Yuval Noah Harari quipped a week into the war. Both President Joe Biden and his former boss, Barack Obama, have shrugged off the country as a bit player on the international economic stage. This is understandable: No matter the measure, Russia accounts for less than 3.3% of the world’s overall economic output. But what such a mile-high view of Russia’s economy doesn’t take into account is its outsized role in several key sectors of the global economy.

Here is a snapshot of five such sectors that have thus far been significantly impacted by Moscow’s invasion and its economic fallout.

1. ENERGY

How Russia mattered: Last year Russia was the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, second-largest exporter of crude oil and third-largest exporter of coal. It also enriches more uranium for use in nuclear power plants than any other country in the world.

Impacts: The supply of Russian energy on world markets is shrinking due to sanctions and jitters among key players in the producer-to-consumer chain. Diminished supplies have been pushing up oil, gas and coal prices, some of them already high post-pandemic. The knock-on effect is straightforward: Higher energy costs drive up prices for almost anything that is manufactured or transported, from cement to cosmetics. This, in turn, creates potential political problems for incumbents worldwide.

-Oil: Within two weeks of Moscow’s invasion, spot prices for two benchmark crudes—Brent and West Texas Intermediate—jumped by 20% and 34%, respectively.1 Prices are likely to keep climbing as the proposed EU ban on imports of Russian oil advances. In the U.S., where the price of crude makes up over half the retail cost of gasoline, prices at the pump hit record highs, forcing action as high up as the White House. Globally, industry executives warn of a “systemic” shortage of diesel fuel, with prices hitting a new high in early May. The International Energy Agency says the war could trigger “the biggest supply crisis in decades,” forecasting that by May nearly 3 million barrels of oil a day—about a quarter of Russian output—will no longer be reaching the market. Major international oil companies have lost billions divesting from Russia (but have been making up the losses on surging oil prices).

-Natural gas: Europe, which got 74% of Russian exports in 2021, has been hardest hit. Prices there had been climbing steeply before the war, with Moscow blamed for capping supplies instead of sending more. Since the Ukraine invasion, prices have yo-yoed. Now, in light of Moscow’s brutality against civilians, European countries, especially top economy Germany, have been struggling to figure out how to punish Moscow with an embargo on gas without destroying their own economies.2 In the U.S., meanwhile, natural-gas prices have more than doubled so far in 2022, surging on May 3 to their highest since 2008. Americans’ electricity bills have followed suit, since gas fuels 40% of domestically produced electricity.

-Coal: Prices of coal for power generation hit a record high in March, more than tripling since the start of the year amid record levels of usage. In April, following allegations of atrocities by Russian troops in Ukraine, phased bans of Russian coal were introduced in Japan, which is the world’s third-largest importer, the U.K. and the EU, where Russian coal made up nearly half of imports in 2021, threatening to drive consumers’ costs even higher.

-Nuclear fuel: Uranium prices jumped more than 30% within three weeks of the war’s start and no one can “quickly fill Russia’s role in a complex supply chain that could take years to rejigger,” per the Wall Street Journal. Moscow said in March that it’s considering banning uranium exports to the U.S.—which got 16% of its supplies from Russia in 2020—but the impact on U.S. energy security would likely be relatively minor.

2. AGRICULTURE

How Russia mattered: Russia was the world’s top wheat exporter in 2021-2022 and is a key producer of all three nutrients that go into fertilizer. Russia was also the world’s second-largest exporter of sunflower and safflower oil, a key ingredient in many mass-produced foods.

Impact: Global food prices have struck a new high as the war in Ukraine hits supplies of grains, vegetable oils and fertilizers. Food prices in March jumped by 34% year on year, according to U.N. data—the fastest monthly rate in 14 years. Worst affected are poorer countries, already struggling from the impact of COVID-19. Humanitarian and rights groups warn that the war could leave millions hungry, especially in the Middle East and Africa, which rely heavily on Russia and Ukraine—also a major grain exporter—for agricultural products.

-Grains: Grain prices—already some of the highest in years—have soared in response to the war, the USDA writes. Russian exports are stymied by “exceptionally high insurance premiums for vessels” and sanctions that “make commercial transactions challenging.” Ukraine, which supplied 10% of global wheat exports in 2021-2022 to Russia’s 16%,3 has been forced to restrict farming activity and suspend port operations. Imports to Egypt and Turkey are expected to be especially hard hit, prompting analysts to recall that surging bread prices—due in part to drought-related production shortfalls in Russia and Ukraine—helped spark the protests of the Arab Spring in 2011-2012.

-Fertilizer: Russia was the world’s largest nitrogen exporter (16.5% of global supply) in 2018 and the third-largest exporter of both potassium (16.5%) and phosphate (12.7%), accounting for a significant share of fertilizer imports to many of the countries on Moscow’s “unfriendly” list, Farm Week Now reports, citing the most recent data available. Ukraine, too, is a key producer of these chemicals.4 Now fertilizers are becoming more expensive and harder to get due to a mix of Western sanctions and “Russia’s retaliatory export ban.” The supply crunch has led to a quintupling of prices in some markets, the AP reports, “making the world’s food supply more expensive and less abundant, as farmers skimp on nutrients for their crops and get lower yields.”

-Vegetable oils: By early March, prices had more than doubled since September 2020, according to data cited by Time magazine, driven up by the same problems that hit grain exports. While Russia accounted for some 23% of the global market in 2019, Ukraine—the world’s biggest exporter of sunflower and safflower oil—accounted for up to 46%

3. HIGH-TECH GOODS AND SERVICES

How Russia mattered: Russia mines about 37% of the world’s palladium, according to market-research firm Techcet, a key ingredient in both computer chips and electric car batteries. It also accounts for some 11% of the world’s nickel, another crucial input for EV batteries. Russia and Ukraine5 both supply other chip-making materials, including 40-50% of the world’s semiconductor-grade neon gas—a byproduct of steel manufacturing, used to feed lasers that print minute circuitry onto silicon. Both countries were home to off-shore IT teams for dozens of foreign firms.

Impact: Post-invasion sanctions and divestment have threatened supplies of key battery materials for EV makers in the U.S. and Europe, as well as computer chip makers. They have also forced Western firms to rejigger their IT outsourcing.

-Electric vehicles: Palladium prices have climbed to their highest level on record (since 1984) as sanctions threatened to disrupt output, and spiked even more after a ban on trading of Russian-produced metal. Prices for nickel likewise hit a new 11-year high in early March amid supply fears. The price surge, the Financial Times writes, is threatening “the car industry’s multibillion-dollar bet on electric vehicles,” built on the premise that batteries would keep getting cheaper.

-Computer chips: The pandemic gave chipmakers practice dealing with supply disruptions, both the Wall Street Journal and Reuters have reported: Major producers have stockpiled raw materials and diversified procurement. But the prospect of longer-term scarcity has loomed large enough to get the White House involved. One fear has been that Russia would try to punish the West by curtailing exports, including supplies of sapphire substrates.

-IT professionals: Gartner, a technology consultancy, estimates that, before the war, there were over 1 million IT professionals in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus—Moscow’s sanctioned ally—and about a quarter of them worked for consulting or outsourcing firms.6 Deutsche Bank alone had 1,500 employees in Russia developing and maintaining software and faced the loss of a quarter of its investment bank IT specialists after the war began. Russia’s IT professionals have reportedly been leaving in droves, with an industry group telling lawmakers in March that up to 70,000 had already fled and as many as 100,000 more could leave the following month.

4. METALS

How Russia mattered: Russia is the world’s third-largest exporter of steel, and Russia and Ukraine are the world’s biggest sellers of pig iron, the briquettes of iron ore used in steel production. The U.S.—the world’s largest buyer of pig iron most years—got two-thirds of its imports in 2021 from the two countries. Rusal, a sanctioned Russian firm, is the world’s biggest aluminum producer outside China, accounting for around 6% of global supplies. And Russia is a large producer of cobalt and copper.

Impact: Exports of Russian metals are threatened by the war and its economic fallout, which have already pushed prices to record highs. These problems are compounded by disruptions to supplies from Ukraine—a major producer of metals in its own right, ranking No. 8 among world steel producers.

-Steel: “Russia’s invasion threatens to turn steel into a luxury commodity,” according to The Washington Post. Prices have surged: The cost of hot-rolled coil steel hit a record high in mid-March, up nearly 250% from just before the pandemic, as did the price of rebar—the corrugated steel rods used to reinforce concrete in construction projects worldwide—which was up 150%. Prices for pig iron have nearly doubled since “fighting brought Ukrainian shipments to a halt and importers have stopped ordering from Russia,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

-Aluminum: “Of all the major industrial metals, aluminum seems to be the most exposed,” one analyst told Reuters in early March as prices headed toward record highs amid fears of diminished Russian supply. As of March 30, prices were up 26% this year.

5. AEROSPACE, AVIATION AND GLOBAL SHIPPING

How Russia mattered: Russia is the world’s third-largest producer of titanium, widely used in airplane and aeroengine manufacturing; the country also offers the shortest air routes from Asia to Europe.

Impact: The war is disrupting supply chains in the European aerospace and defense sector, including key metals deliveries, Fitch Ratings says. Global titanium prices have jumped as supplies drop, due both to sanctions on Russian banks and to secondary effects, like major freight companies’ unwillingness to keep going to Russian ports. In the skies, overflight restrictions stemming from the war have driven up costs for air travel.

-Aerospace construction: Until recently, Russia accounted for 15-20% of the global output of titanium. The metal’s unique properties—lightweight yet very strong, able to withstand high temperatures and resist corrosion—make it popular not only in the aerospace industry but others, from medical implants and surgical devices to chemical processing and parts for industrial plants. North American ferro-titanium prices rose sharply in early March after nearly half a year of little change. Western aerospace companies tried to stockpile titanium before the invasion, so seem to have a cushion for perhaps six to nine months, Fitch estimates. “But if disruptions continue beyond 2022,” the ratings agency wrote May 3, “supply availability and elevated prices may reduce aerospace companies’ profit margins and production volumes.”

-Transportation services: Russian airspace is closed to aircraft from dozens of countries in retaliation for a ban on Russian planes. Consequently, international airlines, already suffering from high fuel costs and pandemic-era slumps in demand, need longer routes to bypass Russia. These, in turn, drive up ticket prices and freight rates. Moscow claimed in March that foreign airlines were spending an extra $37.5 million a week circumventing the country. (And much has been written already about the $10 billion worth of foreign-owned jets stuck in Russia, unlikely to ever be retrieved.) Railroads have not provided as good an alternative for freight as some had hoped. And ocean shipping has its own woes; last month, insurers deemed all of Russia’s waters high risk, promising still higher costs and more complications. The EU’s latest moves to ban Russian oil could impact global shipping even further, amid reports that restrictions will affect companies that provide “any service related to the shipment of Russian crude.”

Uncensored Video of Natalia Usmanova Telling of Her Experience as a Civilian in the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol

The full video was originally published by Germany’s Der Spiegel last week but was taken down without a clear explanation. Other western media outlets have reportedly shown or quoted from parts of the interview, leaving out her criticisms of the Ukrainian government and its forces.

The Bell: Oil Embargo Pain

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Bell, 5/8/22

The Bell is a non-establishment Russian media outlet.

What’s happening?

EU officials have been debating a sixth round of sanctions against Russia and the headline grabber is expected to be an oil embargo, potentially the single biggest blow against Russia’s economy and finances since the start of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen presented Wednesday a draft package of sanctions that included a full ban on purchasing Russian oil and oil-related products by the end of 2022. It seems this was agreed to in principle by most EU countries. By Friday, the EU countries most dependent on Russian oil had negotiated individual delays in implementing the ban, but the fundamentals of the plan were unchanged.

  • All EU countries, except for those granted temporary exemptions, must stop importing Russian oil within six months. Within eight months, they must stop importing all other Russian oil products. The full ban will be in force before the end of the year.
  • From August, European shipping companies will be forbidden from transporting Russian oil by sea, and insurers will be unable to insure such voyages. Insurance for 95 percent of the world’s tanker traffic is underwritten by the International Group of P&I Clubs. Although this is registered in Britain, Bloomberg reported that it will be required to comply with the EU sanctions.
  • The maritime ban was originally planned to start in June but, following requests from Greece, Malta and Cyprus, the deadline was put back two months. Europe’s biggest tanker companies sail under Greek, Maltese and Cypriot flags.
  • Three countries – Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – secured deferments for the oil embargo until 2024. For the Czechs, the final deadline could be pushed back to June 2024 if replacement oil supplies cannot be secured sooner. All three countries, which get crude via the Russian Druzhba pipeline, are almost entirely dependent on Russian oil: Hungary gets 58 percent of its oil imports from Druzhba, the Czech Republic 86 percent and Slovakia 96 percent.

The European Commission wanted to announce a final text on an oil embargo Friday, but it proved impossible to complete the agreement by the end of the working week (all EU sanctions must be approved by all 27 members of the bloc).

Instead, EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell gave representatives in Brussels time to continue working over the weekend. If no agreement can be reached, next week will see an extraordinary summit of EU foreign ministers. However, sources told Reuters on Friday that they are confident a deal will be done over the weekend.

The most vocal opponent of the embargo is Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban is far more sympathetic to Russia than most EU leaders. Orban claimed Friday that any embargo would be a “nuclear bomb” for the Hungarian economy, demanded a five-year deferment for Budapest and warned he would not support the sixth round of sanctions until Hungary’s requirements were met. But he did not threaten to veto the proposals. Behind closed doors, Hungarian officials are responding constructively, sources told Politico and Reuters, and one of them said Orban’s public protestations were merely empty threats.How would an embargo hit the Russian economy?

EU countries account for more than half of Russia’s oil exports. In January, this was 54.5 percent – or 2.29 million barrels of total Russian exports of 4.2 million barrels per day.

  • Russian oil represents almost 40 percent of total oil imports for EU states, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • The countries most dependent on Russian oil imports are Finland (65 percent of total oil imports), Poland (55 percent) and Lithuania (46 percent).

Since the start of the “special military operation”, Western companies have been voluntarily refusing to buy Russian oil. However, this “self-sanctioning” only reduced European imports by 12 percent between January and April, according to analysts firm Rystad Energy.

Some doubt the EU can be successful in its plans. It will take more than six months to completely halt EU imports of Russian crude, and claims that imports of Russian oil products (currently about 1.5 million barrels a day) can be eliminated by the end of the year should be greeted with skepticism, according to Bjornar Tonhaugen, the head of Rystad Energy’s oil market research department. Even when the embargo is in force, Russian crude could still be smuggled into Europe, for example by mixing Russian oil with other grades, according to Tonhaugen.

However, even a partial embargo will have serious consequences for Russia.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said last month that oil production could fall 17 percent by the end of 2022 – down to 9.5 million barrels per day.

And it would fall even further in the event of an embargo, although estimates vary.

There will be a 10 percent drop in oil production in Russia in the event of an EU embargo (on top of the 10 percent drop between February and April), according to Viktor Katona, an oil analyst at Kpler. But another energy analyst told The Bell the effect could be much more serious, with Russian oil production dropping by up to 3 million barrels per day (equivalent to as much as 30 percent by the end of the year).Can Russia ‘pivot to the East’?

The impact of losing the EU market depends on how quickly Russia can redirect oil imports towards China, India and other Asian countries. Independent Chinese refiners have already ramped up orders from Russia, encouraged by big discounts, but Chinese state commodity traders fear Western sanctions and are more cautious, the FT reported this week.

Russia will try and send as much of its oil as possible to Asia. But the main oil pipeline linking China, Eastern Siberia and the Pacific has just 300,000 barrels a day of spare capacity, according to Tonhaugen of Rystad Energy. About 200,000 barrels could be sent by rail each day. That means, in total, there is capacity for another 500,000 barrels a day – roughly one sixth of the anticipated ‘lost’ exports to Europe. Additional volumes could be transported by sea, but that will greatly depend on the willingness of tankers to do business with Russian crude in the face of sanctions on shipping and insurance, said Tonhaugen.

Another serious problem will be the lack of technology available inside Russia, according to one energy analyst. International contractors can no longer work in Russia, making it harder to implement technologically complex projects such as developing hard-to-recover reserves.

If Russia is to successfully pivot its oil exports to Asia, it will take not only time, but huge amounts of investment in infrastructure. This likely means that, at least in the medium term, Russia will see a sharp fall in productivity, according to Rystad Energy analyst Darya Melnik.What does this mean for Russia’s finances?

Russian energy products accounted for 42 percent of all export earnings last year, and oil and gas exports made up 36 percent of state revenue, according to official data.

The blow to Russia’s economy will be softened by the inevitable rise in oil prices that follows an EU embargo. And, even with a sharp drop in productivity, tax revenues from the oil and gas industry in Russia will increase significantly this year, according to Rystad Energy, hitting $180 billion – up 45 percent compared to last year and up 181 percent compared with 2020.

The latest numbers from the Finance Ministry showed Russia last month received 133 billion rubles ($2 billion) less of oil and gas income than expected.

Removing all Russian oil from the market will push the price of a barrel of oil up to $150, and the average price for benchmark Brent crude this year will be $120-130, one analyst told The Bell. If we assume the average “special military operation” discount on Russian crude remains $30 (currently it’s $35), then the average price by the end of the year will be $95 per barrel. That’s well up on last year’s average of $67 and more than twice the base price for Russia’s 2022 budget ($44.2 per barrel). “The total value of exports will not decline in 2022 compared with the previous year, but it is likely that, in terms of value, the effect will be greater in 2023,” said our source.

Oil cartel OPEC is capable of moderating price increases by ramping up production, and could put Russia in a difficult position. However, despite U.S. pressure, OPEC has so far refused to increase production. Key members will not wish to be seen to support the West against Russia, but they will have to balance that against the need to keep the market stable, a source from one large international organization told The Bell. If there is a significant shortfall on the market, OPEC will likely have little choice but to increase production. Moreover, if Western sanctions on Iran are eased, Tehran could begin to increase production, The Bell’s source added.

Assessing the impact on the Russian economy – on the currency, inflation and real incomes – remains difficult without the precise details of an EU embargo. But if Russia completely loses the European market and cannot find a replacement in Asia, the budget could contract by a quarter in dollar terms, the chief economist of an international finance organization told The Bell. However, in the short term, the Russian economy will be able to withstand the impact of any embargo due to a compensatory increase in oil prices.

Peter Mironenko

Translated by Andy Potts

The Bell is a weekly newsletter in English, twice-daily in Russian. We give you the essential insider view on Russian politics and business in a 5 minute read.