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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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Cyber War Chronicles: Meet The Hackers Taking On Russia

The war in Ukraine is not just being fought on the ground. The battle for dominance increasingly happens on the digital field, where a worldwide network of cyber-soldiers conduct attacks to disrupt Russia's war effort, from the outside and inside too.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian hackers have been fighting tit for tat on what we can call the "digital front line." To quantify the firepower involved, the number of ransomware attacks on Russian companies has tripled since Feb. 28, according to Kaspersky Lab, a Russian multinational cybersecurity firm that found a direct link between the uptick in online targeting to the breakout of military conflict in Ukraine.

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Inside Russia’s Revival Of Stalinist “Filtration Camps”

Though different than concentration camps constructed by Nazis, the “filtration” facilities nevertheless are a return to another brutal history, reopened under Putin, and ramped up since the invasion of Ukraine.

"It was like a true concentration camp."

This is how Oleksandr, a 49-year-old man from Mariupol, described where he and his wife Olena were taken in by Russian security officers. Speaking to a reporter for the BBC, the couple was fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated for hours, and their phones searched for material that could somehow identify them as “Nazis.”

But there is another name given to these locations, and the process, that have been set up to handle Ukrainians taken into custody in areas occupied by pro-Russian separatists: They’re called: “filtration camps.”

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Why Macron's New EU Membership Scheme Is All About Appeasing Putin

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a new European Political Community, with support from Germany's Olaf Scholz, that would include Ukraine in a second-tier union. No, this is not about European "core values" — it's just the latest attempt by the EU's two biggest players to be sure not to upset Vladimir Putin.

-OpEd-

KYIV — French President Emmanuel Macron said that Ukraine's accession to the European Union will take years, if not decades. He also proposed the creation of a new union on the continent — the European Political Community, which may include countries that must wait to join the EU, or which have left (like the UK).

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At the same time, according to Macron's plan, joining the new union will mean other states cannot gain membership to the European Union.

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Geopolitics
Peter Huth

How Millennials And Boomers See Putin's Nuclear Threats Differently

Baby boomers who grew up under the threat of nuclear armageddon warn against a nuclear escalation of the war in Ukraine. But the younger generations are not cowed by Putin's blackmail. And that’s a very good thing.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — It is a sentence that no German Chancellor had ever had to utter before. “I am doing everything I can to prevent an escalation that would lead to World War III. There must not be a nuclear war,” said Olaf Scholz.

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Society
Dariya Badyor and Kseniya Bilash

Beyond Post-Soviet: Ukraine's Architectural Opportunity From The Rubble Of War

The war rages on, but some in Ukraine are already looking to how society can be rebuilt. Two Ukrainian architects share their vision for what a future Ukrainian urbanism — and society — might look like.

KHARKIV — Russian bombings have already destroyed thousands of Ukrainian houses, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The war is still far from over, so we know the losses will only increase. And yet, we must use the time before victory arrives to plan for the rebuilding of our cities.

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This viewpoint is shared by Iryna Matsevko and Oleg Drozdov, heads of the Kharkiv School of Architecture, one of the few Ukrainian universities recognized internationally as meeting the highest standards in the field. The architects share their opinion that not just Ukrainian houses should be restored — so too should Ukrainian society.

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Geopolitics
Gregor Schwung

"Just 106 Seconds To Berlin" - How Putin Exploits Europe's Nuclear Fears

Russian propaganda plays on the revival of the West’s fear of a nuclear attack, especially knowing how close European capitals are to Moscow's atomic warheads. But Europe must remember the lessons of the Cold War and not play into Putin's hands.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — “Take a look at this picture,” the expert on Russian state TV says excitedly. “There’s nothing they can do about it.”

On the screen is a diagram that shows how long it would take a Russian nuclear missile to reach various European capital cities from its base in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad: 106 seconds to reach Berlin, 200 to reach Paris. “Would you like to know about London? That would take 202 seconds,” the presenter says.

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This is not the first time that Russian TV has threatened the West with nuclear war. And the reaction from across Europe is clear – panic.

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Geopolitics
Benjamin Quénelle

Meet The Russians Protesting The War At Their Peril

Despite legal threats or worse, a notable minority of Russians, from students to elected officials, are finding ways to oppose the invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, many others have left the country since the war began, creating a brain drain that could last for many years.

MOSCOW — On this Wednesday in the middle of spring, Valeria Pasternakova and Polina Petrova, both in their twenties, are in a small courtroom of the municipal tribunal of Khamovniki, a district near the center of Moscow. A banal case before an administrative judge offers a view into the judicial absurdity that Vladimir Putin's opponents face.

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All over Russia, those opposed to the "special military operation" in Ukraine finds different ways to express themselves. But many end up in court.

The lawyer asks questions to the police officer who wrote the protocol for the students' arrest. Seated opposite of Valeria and Polina, he is nervous and vague in his answers. The judge, in her sixties, is protecting him: She rejects questions and requests with evasive glances and pouting. She yawns, showing impatience and boredom, when Polina Petrova, in her energetic plea, looks at her straight in the eyes.

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Geopolitics
Oleksandr Detsyk

How Sanctions Are Quietly Destroying Russia's Economy

The European Union has prepared the sixth package of sanctions against Russia, which includes restrictions on Russian oil imports, as well as disconnecting more Russian banks from the SWIFT bank circuit. The effectiveness of these measures are not always visible, but they are real ... and potentially fatal .. for the Russian economy.

-Analysis-

KYIV — Are sanctions working? To answer that question, it makes sense to first ask which sanctions have been most effective so far?

Economic sanctions against Russia for its aggression toward Ukraine began to be imposed immediately after the 2014 occupation of Crimea and the outbreak of the war in Donbas, but those cannot be considered effective. In any case, they did not deter Moscow’s invasion in 2022.

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But the sanctions imposed by the U.S., the European Union and their allies since February 24 have already hit the aggressor's economy significantly. The blocking of Russia's foreign exchange assets abroad has become the most painful. According to various estimates, this has affected about half of its gold and foreign exchange reserves, worth around $300 billion.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Russkiy Mir Or Bust? How Putin's "Russian World" Will Backfire In An Epic Way

Under Putin, the phrase "Russkiy Mir," translated as "Russian world" but also "Russian peace," has driven Kremlin's foreign policy. It's built on the idea of a civilization that stretched well beyond Russia's borders, but it is Putin himself dooming Moscow to fade in importance, and the ancient capital of Kyiv to rise from the ashes.

-Essay-

The phrase “Русский Мир” (Russkiy Mir — “Russian world”) has appeared frequently in statements by Vladimir Putin and his top henchmen to justify the invasion of Ukraine. It’s the idea that Russia is not just a nation-state, but a civilizational-state with an important role to play in world history.

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In Putin’s vision, the Kremlin has a duty to protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers all over the world, including in the former Soviet republics.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Alfred Hackensberger

In Donbas, A Resort Town Becomes The New Frontline

The battle for the Donbas is being waged across small villages in what is commonly known as “Ukrainian Switzerland” are now paying the price for Russia’s defeat in Kyiv, risking to forever change this longtime tourist destination.

SVIATOHIRSK — A few kilometers from this quaint village, internet and cell phone reception has suddenly vanished. Clouds of smoke rise from the region's familiar pine forests that stretch deep green to the horizon. The village of Sviatohirsk has indeed long been a holiday destination in the north of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, commonly known as “Ukrainian Switzerland”.

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A special attraction is a 17th century monastery with its gold roofs perched on white rocks on the banks of the Siverskyi Donets River. For generations, Ukrainians would come here for vacation.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Cameron Manley

What The Obsession With Putin’s Health Says About The Grim State Of The War

The ongoing speculation around the Russian president being suddenly gone from power, because of either illness or death, captures the reality that this is Putin’s war. What could come next is no less troubling.

Every few days, a fresh round of speculation circulate about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deteriorating health: He’s got Parkinson’s or Rett syndrome or inoperable cancer. The latest reports this week declared that Putin was heading any day into surgery for cancer, and would be out of the public eye for an extended period and temporarily turn over the reins of power to a deputy.

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Part of the explanation is that, objectively, Putin has appeared weaker and less steady in recent public appearances. Some point to a widely viewed video last month of the Russian President showing signs of limp arm during a meeting with his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, followed a week later by an apparently shaky Putin during Easter Mass.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Irene Caselli, Bertrand Hauger, Cameron Manley and Emma Albright

Major New EU Sanctions Against Russia Include Ban On Oil Imports

Testimonies are emerging of civilians being evacuated from Mariupol and Lyman, as Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities continue. Meanwhile, the EU has revealed plans to enforce its sixth package of sanctions against Moscow.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced a new package of sanctions against Russia. Speaking to the European Parliament on Wednesday morning, von der Leyen unveiled plans to ban Russian oil imports as well as a proposal to ban three banks, including Sberbank, the country’s biggest, from the SWIFT international payments networks.

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Von der Leyen also announced that three big Russian state-owned broadcasters “that amplify Putin's lies and propaganda aggressively” would be banned from EU airwaves. The proposal needs to be approved by all EU member states to become effective.

The ban on oil poses a serious risk to the European economy, and will require countries to seek other energy sources after having long been reliant on Russian supply.

"Let's be clear: It will not be easy,” said von der Leyen. “But we simply have to work on it. We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, to maximize pressure on Russia, while minimizing the impact on our own economies."

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Ideas
Anna Akage

Why Putin's 'Mass Mobilization' Trap Could Make Victory Impossible

Reports are circulating that Putin might use May 9, Russia's "Victory Day", to announce a mass mobilization of the war in Ukraine. That would be a huge escalation for what's still referred to as a "special military operation," and has so far mostly counted on recruits far from major population centers.

-Analysis-

The general ineffectiveness of the Russian army’s military capacities has been one of the biggest surprises of the invasion of Ukraine. Over the past two decades, the West has once again come to fear the Russian army that had been greatly expanded after the low moment at the end of the Cold War.

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But since the beginning of the Ukraine invasion, Russia, considered the world’s second most powerful military force, has been hampered by strategic and technical failures. There were early reports of Russian soldiers’ looting because of shortages of food and fuel, as well as poor troop morale.

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Geopolitics
Benjamin Quénelle

A Visit To Putin Country: What Absolute Faith In The Kremlin Looks Like

In the agricultural region of Mordovia, south of Moscow, people live in their own reality, far from Western news and the bloodshed of Ukraine. And Vladimir Putin is like a father.

SARANSK — Alexander Kireev embodies the Russia that defies Western sanctions, that sees the war in Ukraine as the Kremlin calls it: a “special military operation.”

Asked if he has ever had doubts in what Vladimir Putin says about Ukraine: Kireev responds with his twinkling eyes and sharp mind: "never.”

“The focus is completely on the liberation of Ukraine. Unfortunately, Russia had no other choice. We must put an end to the abuses committed by Ukrainian nationalists,” he adds.

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Kireev doesn’t speak English, hasn't traveled abroad since COVID-19 restrictions were implemented and, anyway, doesn’t have friends to interact with on social networks outside of Russia.

“I don’t have time to waste watching Western media outlets,” he says.

Like many Russians, he keeps up to date with state-owned televisions and some Telegram channels. But Kireev is hardly isolated in his daily life. This agricultural engineer is in charge of an ultra-modern factory equipped with French, Spanish and German machine tools and is proud to produce, along with his 250 employees, about 7,000 tons of cheese a year. And production is booming.

“Sanctions have helped!” Since the 2014 Russian embargo on many European agri-food products, imposed in retaliation for the first wave of Western measures against Russia, the national dairy industry is growing to supplant imports.

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Geopolitics
Hayat Gazzane

Putin's Arsenal: How Russia Is Playing With Nuclear Fire

While Western countries are increasing their military support to Kyiv, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens to use his new hypersonic missiles. He thereby makes the threat of a nuclear war in Europe a little more concrete.

How far will Vladimir Putin go in Ukraine? More than 60 days after the outbreak of the conflict, few dare to try to answer this question. But by his words and actions, the Russian president seems ready to do anything.

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After closing gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, both members of the European Union and NATO, Putin is now threatening to make use of his latest-generation missiles against Western countries, as they step up delivery of heavy weapons to Kyiv.

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