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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Geopolitics

How Ukraine Keeps Getting The West To Flip On Arms Supplies

The open debate on weapon deliveries to Ukraine is highly unusual, but Kyiv has figured out how to use the public moral suasion — and patience — to repeatedly shift the question in its favor. But will it work now for fighter jets?

-Analysis-

PARIS — In what other war have arms deliveries been negotiated so openly in the public sphere?

On Monday, a journalist asked Joe Biden if he plans on supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. He answered “No”. A few hours later, the same question was asked to Emmanuel Macron, about French fighter jets. Macron did not rule it out.

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Visiting Paris on Tuesday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksïï Reznikov recalled that a year ago, the United States had refused him ground-air Stinger missiles deliveries. Eleven months later, Washington is delivering heavy tanks, in addition to everything else. The 'no' of yesterday is the green light of tomorrow: this is the lesson that the very pragmatic minister seemed to learn.

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Russian Diamonds Are Belgium's Best Friend — But For How Much Longer?

Belgium has lobbied hard for the past year to keep Russian diamonds off the list of sanctioned goods. Indeed, there would be a huge impact on the economy of the port city of Antwerp, if Europe finally joins with the U.S. and others in banning sale of so-called "blood diamonds" from Russia. But a 10th package of EU sanctions arriving this month may finally be the end of the road.

Since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has agreed to nine different packages of sanctions against Russia. With the aim to punish Moscow's leadership and to cripple the war economy, European bans and limits have been placed on imports of a range of Russian products from coal, gas and steel to caviar and vodka — were successively banned over the past 11 months.

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Still, one notable Russian export is a shining exception to the rule, still imported into Europe as if nothing has changed: diamonds.

Russian state conglomerate Alrosa, which accounts for virtually all of the country's diamond production (95%) and deals with more than one-fourth of total global diamond imports, has been chugging along, business as usual.

But that may be about to change, ahead of an expected 10th package of sanctions slated to be finalized in the coming weeks. During recent negotiations, with 26 of the 27 EU members agreeing on the statement that ALSROA’s diamonds should no longer be imported, the one holdout was not surprisingly Belgium.

The Belgian opposition to the ban is explained by the port city of Antwerp, where 85% of the rough diamonds in the world pass through to get cut, polished, and marketed. There are estimates that 30,000 Belgians work for Alrosa.

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How Putin Has Been Quietly Cleansing All Things Ukrainian From Russia

Russia's 2021 census showed a record drop in the number of Ukrainians living in Russia. But the cleansing of everything Ukrainian, including language and culture, started long before Putin's invasion.

The 2021 Russian Population Census showed a record reduction in the number of Ukrainians living in Russia. The figure has halved since the last census just over a decade ago in 2010.

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While experts question the results of the census, the same trend has been recorded by a number of other studies, demographers, and representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora themselves.

Independent Russian news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii has revealed how the Russian authorities began the eradication of Ukrainian identity from citizens within Russia long before the full-scale invasion. Its origin goes back to the very beginning of Vladimir Putin's presidency.

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The Militarization Of Russia's Economy, And The Demise Of The Oligarchs

By putting the economy on a war footing, Putin risks returning Russia to the days of Stalinist totalitarianism, where there will be no oligarchs or businesses left, only loyal administrators.

-Analysis-

MOSCOW — The war with Ukraine has not gone according to Vladimir Putin's plan. Eleven months have passed, but less than 17% of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, is under Russian control.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Wagner's MIA Convicts: Where Do Deserting Russian Mercenaries Go?

Tens of thousands of Russian prisoners who've been recruited by the Wagner Group mercenary outfit have escaped from the frontlines after volunteering in exchange for freedom. Some appear to be seeking political asylum in Europe thanks to a "cleared" criminal record.

Of the about 50,000 Russian convicts who signed up to fight in Ukraine with the Wagner Group, just 10,000 are reportedly still at the front. An unknown number have been killed in action — but among those would-be casualties are also a certain number of coffins that are actually empty.

To hide the number of soldiers who have deserted or defected to Ukraine, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is reportedly adding them to the lists of the dead and missing.

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Some Wagner fighters have surrendered through the Ukrainian government's "I Want To Live" hotline, says Olga Romanova, director and founder of the Russia Behind Bars foundation.

"Relatives of the convicts enlisted in the Wagner Group are not allowed to open the coffins," explains Romanova.

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Ideas
Dominique Moïsi

"Collateral Benefit": Could Putin's Launching A Failed War Make The World Better?

Consider the inverse of "collateral damage." Envision Russia's defeat and the triumph of a democratic coalition offers reflection on the most weighty sense of costs and benefits.

-Analysis-

PARIS — The concept of collateral damage has developed in the course of so-called "asymmetrical” wars, fought between opponents considered unequal.

The U.S. drone which targeted rebel fighters in Afghanistan, and annihilated an entire family gathered for a wedding, appears to be the perfect example of collateral damage: a doubtful military gain, and a certain political cost. One might also consider the American bombing of Normandy towns around June 6, 1944 as collateral damage.

But is it possible to reverse the expression, and speak of "collateral benefits"? When applied to an armed conflict, the expression may seem shocking.

No one benefits from a war, which leaves in its trace a trail of dead, wounded and displaced people, destroyed cities or children brutally torn from their parents.

And yet the notion of "collateral benefits" is particularly applicable to the war that has been raging in Ukraine for almost a year.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Pierre Haski

Why The Ukraine Arms Race Won't Stop

After Germany and the U.S. finally approved sending heavy combat tanks, Kyiv now eyes fighter jets. Who could ask them to do otherwise? And does the West really have a choice but ensure Russian defeat?

-Analysis-

PARIS — There is a familiar ring as war tensions rise again, followed by the German and American decisions to finally deliver heavy tanks to Ukraine. Since the start of the Russian invasion 11 months ago, each escalation in the type of weapons provided to Kyiv has been preceded by the same reluctance and public contradictions — and ultimately a decision made under pressure.

And this certainly will not be the last time.

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This was what happened at the beginning of the conflict, when Central and Eastern European governments considered transferring Soviet-era equipment to Ukraine; then for long-range artillery and missile launchers — and later, Patriot anti-aircraft batteries.

Each time, a two-fold hesitation: the fear of provoking Moscow and being involved in a wider conflict, and logistical questions.

But at every stage, the argument of Russian reaction has been quickly brushed aside. Even when Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is not "bluffing," or when Dmitry Medvedev, the former president, claims that Patriot deliveries would turn Westerners into "legitimate targets." None of this has happened.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Cameron Manley

Western Tanks To Ukraine Trigger Russian Threats — But Also Fears Of Major Counterattack

Germany and the U.S. overcame months of reluctance in the past 24 hours to commit to sending heavy combat tanks to Ukraine. Russia responded with official bluster, but others in Moscow fear that the tanks delivery could be a gamechanger on the battlefield.

A week of growing expectations of a coming Russian offensive was turned on its head Wednesday as Germany and the U.S. announced their intention to send heavy combat tanks to Ukraine.

The sudden show of resolve on supplying tanks — after months of reluctance, particularly from Germany — has prompted some Russians to fear that Ukraine will now be equipped for a major counterattack. That would be a significant reversal after speculation had been growing this month about a Russian spring offensive.

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government confirmed Wednesday morning that Berlin plans to send at least 14 German-built Leopard 2 tanks to the frontline. U.S. media also reported that Joe Biden’s administration is expected to officially announce Washington's commitment, with at least 30 M1 Abrams tanks expected to be sent.

The timeline remains unclear as to when the vehicles would make it into combat. Still, both sides on the war acknowledged that it is a significant development with the potential to change the math on the battlefield.

Official Russian response was loaded with typical incendiary rhetoric. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian president Vladimir Putin, said the new tanks would "burn like all the rest, only these ones are expensive.”

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

A Decisive Spring? How Ukraine Plans To Beat Back Putin's Coming Offensive

The next months will be decisive in the war between Moscow and Kyiv. From the forests of Polesia to Chernihiv and the Black Sea, Ukraine is looking to protect the areas that may soon be the theater of Moscow's announced offensive. Will this be the last Russian Spring?

Ukrainian forces are digging new fortifications and preparing battle plans along the entire frontline as spring, and a probable new Russian advance, nears.

But this may be the last spring for occupying Russian forces.

"Spring and early summer will be decisive in the war. If the great Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the downfall of Russia and Putin," said Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence.

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Skinitysky added that Ukraine believes Russia is planning a new offensive in the spring or early summer. The Institute for the Study of War thinks that such an offensive is more likely to come from the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk than from Belarus, as some have feared.

Still, the possibility of an attack by Belarus should not be dismissed entirely — all the more so because, in recent weeks, a flurry of MiG fighter jet activity in Belarusian airspace has prompted a number of air raid alarms throughout Ukraine.

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Geopolitics
Pierre Haski

Winning African Hearts And Minds: Why Russia Has An Edge Over The West

Russia's Foreign Minister is in South Africa for the second time in a year. In spite of the West's best efforts, Vladimir Putin's delegation is still welcomed in large parts of Africa, which still harbors colonial resentment toward Europe.

-Analysis-

PARIS — Sergey Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, has not traveled much since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But he arrived yesterday on an official visit to South Africa, his second official trip there in a year.

But it is not a coincidence: Africa is a priority for Russian diplomacy.

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The West was caught off guard when, at the United Nations last year, a large part of Africa refused to condemn the Russian aggression on Ukrainian territory. They were all the more surprised because, since the 1960s, the African continent has wisely adopted a principle recognizing the borders inherited from colonization: it wanted to avoid possible inter-state targeting, which is what Russia is trying to do in Ukraine.

Moscow has been able to capitalize on this refusal of Africa to align itself with the West.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Why Russia Is Suddenly Deploying Air Defense Systems On Moscow Rooftops

Russia is increasingly concerned about security from the sky: air defense systems have been installed on rooftops in Moscow's government quarter. Systems have also appeared in several other places in Russia, including near Vladimir Putin's lakeside home in Valdai. What is the Kremlin really worried about?

-Analysis-

The Russian Defense Ministry has refused to comment. State Duma parliamentary officials say it’s a fake. Still, a series of verified photographs have circulated in recent days of an array of long-range C-400 and short-range air defense systems installed on three complexes in Moscow near the Kremlin, as well as on locations in the outskirts of the capital and in the northwest village of Valdai, where Vladimir Putin has a lakeside residence.

Some experts believe the air defense installations in Moscow were an immediate response to recent Ukrainian statements about a new fleet of military drones: The Ukroboronprom defense contracter said this month that it completed a series of successful tests of a new strike drone with a range of over 1,000 kilometers. Analyst Michael Naki suggests that Moscow’s anti-air defense systems were an immediate reaction to the fact that the drones can theoretically hit Kremlin.

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Yet the air defense installations in Valdai seem to have been in place since late December, following Ukrainian drone attacks on a military airfield deep inside Russia’s Sorotov region, 730 kilometers (454 miles) southeast of Moscow.

Others pose a very different rationale to explain Russia’s beefing up anti-air defenses on its own territory. Russian military analyst Yan Matveev argues that Putin demanded the deployment of such local systems not as defense against long-range Ukrainian drones, but rather for fear of sabotage from inside Russia.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Klaus Wittmann*

Shame Of A Nation: History Will Judge Germany For Holding Back Tanks From Ukraine

A retired German general spells out in clear language what the choice is for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and what the long-term consequences of half-hearted support for Kyiv as it battles for survival against the Russian invasion.

-OpEd-

BERLIN — The German television newscaster cheerfully predicted last Friday morning: “Today the German evasive maneuvers are ending...” And yet, the high-level meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group at the Ramstein military base, proved this prophecy completely wrong.

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The burning issue of Germany stalling and blocking the approval of battle tank deliveries to Ukraine continues to burn.

As intense as the international pressure was, Berlin has once again refused to make a commitment. Rhetoric about the difference between what one wants and what one can achieve, the endless counterarguments, the citing of numbers...none of it however, make them any more credible. In reality they are excuses, with which Chancellor Olaf Scholz shirks the responsibility which, after all, the great, prosperous Germany will not be able to escape.

[A Sunday evening comment by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that Berlin "would not stand in the way" of other countries providing German-made Leopard tanks is only provisional, and still mentions nothing about Germany sending its own tanks.]

The final decisions are ultimately in the hands of Scholz, and one wonders if he is unable to be swayed from an idea he's committed to. Or perhaps he continues to listen to Angela Merkel’s former advisor, General Erich Vad, who said before authorizing the sending of tanks to Kyiv, it would first have to be clear whether the Russian forces should be driven out of Ukraine at all.

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