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Russia

Russian Roulette: Inside Moscow's Underground Casinos

Despite a four-year ban on gambling, illegal casinos are thriving here — partly because of crooked police, and partly because law enforcement officials are confused by the murky law.

In June, authorities found and closed 662 gambling establishments in Moscow
In June, authorities found and closed 662 gambling establishments in Moscow
Aleksei Boyarskii

MOSCOW — It seems that slot machines are still in grocery stores here, despite a gambling ban that has been in effect for four years now. The embargo has proved ineffective, to put it charitably. Otherwise, how do you explain a police sting during the first two weeks of June that found and closed 662 gambling establishments in Moscow? There were just a couple of slot machines in some places, while others were entire casinos complete with roulette tables and card games.

Considering how quickly the police cracked down on such a large number of places, it seems clear they knew about the gambling operations beforehand. Police protection of casinos is not a secret. In fact, on June 2, Moscow's former deputy prosecutor, the primary suspect in a police protection case involving casinos, was released on bail. The whole affair includes 11 high-ranking members of the Moscow police force and prosecutor's office.

The illegal casinos have been flourishing, especially in Moscow's suburbs. Aleksei Lebedinski, a resident in one such suburb — and expand=1] a well-known singer — says that there are as many as 30 underground casinos within three kilometers of his home. Often, when casinos are shuttered by the police, the operators simply send customers text messages the next day telling them to come to a new address.

Lebedinski says he knows of some clubs that put $45,000 to $90,000 in the safe at the end of the night — a club with 30-40 machines can take in more than $1 million a month. He also says that the police protection scandal has done nothing to diminish their presence, that in fact protection rates have risen. He has personally reported illegal gambling operations to the police, only to have them ignore the tips and threaten him anonymously.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Hide-And-Seek Of Drone Warfare, A Letter From Ukraine's Front Line

A member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces writes his account of the new dynamic of targeting, and being targeted by, the invading Russian troops, as drones circle above and trenches get left behind.

A Ukrainian military drone operator during a testing of anti-drone rifle in Kyiv.

Igor Lutsenko*

KYIV — The current war in Ukraine is a game of hide-and-seek. Both sides are very well-stocked with artillery, enough to destroy the enemy along many kilometers. Swarms of drones fly through the air day and night, keeping a close eye on the earth's surface below. If they notice something interesting, it immediately becomes a target. Depending on the priority, they put it in line for destruction by artillery.

Therefore, the only effective way to survive is to hide, or at least somehow prove to the drones your non-priority status — and avoid moving to the front of the 'queue of death.'

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In general, the nature of this queue is a particular thing. It may seem to be a god, but is instead a simple artillery captain's decision of when to have lunch, and when to fire on the house where several enemy soldiers are staying. It's just a handful of ordinary people (observers, artillerymen) deciding how long their enemies will live depending on their own schedule or the weather, the availability of ammunition or if they're feeling tired.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

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