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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Putin’s Mariupol Surprise, From Assault To Isolation Of Azovstal

Satellite picture of Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol

Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol

Anna Akage, Emma Albright and Cameron Manley

The attention of Vladimir Putin and the rest of the world has zeroed in on the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol, where several thousand soldiers and civilians have been holed up for weeks. While most had been awaiting an imminent Russia assault, Putin made the surprise announcement Thursday that his military would hold off on attacking the plant.

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Speaking on television with his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Russian president said the army would instead seal off the industrial port area “so that not even a fly can escape.”

Though Ukrainian troops have refused to surrender their last bastion in Mariupol, Putin nonetheless used the Russian national TV appearance to declare the “liberation” of the city.

Zelensky Ready For Prisoner Exchange To Save Mariupol Holdouts

Ukrainian authorities are ready to exchange Russian prisons in order to save the lives of those who have sought refuge in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky declared, “We are ready for various formats of exchanging our people for Russian people … We are ready to do so for the sake of our people, both military and civilian, in any form. We are ready for dialogue.” Russian news agency TASS reports that the Kremlin has not responded to the Ukrainian plea.

Kremlin Rejects UN’s Easter Truce

U.N. Secretary General António Gutteres had proposed a month-long pause in hostilities referred to as the “Easter Armistice,” timed with the Orthodox Church Easter holiday, but Russia rejected the proposal, saying it would only give Kyiv forces the opportunity to regroup. The Russian ambassador also said that Russia would not be able to discuss peace under these terms.

Putin Flexes With Nuclear-Capable Missile Test

Vladimir Putin congratulated the Russian military on the successful test of the Sarmat inter-continental ballistic missile. He also stated that this nuclear-capable missile will make countries think twice before threatening Russia. Washington downplayed the launch as a “routine test,” saying the Pentagon had been aware of the development of this missile.

Mass Graves Near Kyiv Include 15-Year-Old

Two makeshift graves with nine bodies of local residents, including a 15-year-old girl were found in the village of Borodyanka in the Kyiv region, Ukrainian daily Pravda reports. The head of the Kyiv regional police said that the bodies showed signs of torture.

Mixed Messages On Russian Economy 

Russian business daily Kommersant featured the latest economic news from Russia on its front page. Facing unprecedented sanctions and the cost of the war in Ukraine, Moscow inflation has cooled and the economy is recovering.

Even with a recession looming and inflation approaching 20%, the economy has for the moment defied the most dire forecasts, Bloomberg reports. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s economists have seen enough positive signs to halve their forecast for a first-quarter contraction in gross domestic product to 5%.

Turkish Foreign Minister: NATO Wants To Extend War To See Russia Weakened

Some NATO member states want the war in Ukraine to continue in order to weaken Russia in the long run, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in an interview with TV channel CNN Turk.

Cavusoglu said that Turkey had believed that Istanbul peace talks last month would help end the Russian-Ukrainian war. "But after the meeting of the NATO foreign ministers, the impression was that [...] there are those in the NATO member states who want the war to continue. Let the war continue and Russia weaken."

Mariupol Or Moscow? Russian Classroom Propaganda

A video has been circulating from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party that shows a student in a classroom, purported to be in Mariupol, speaking with Russian officials. Several journalists have shed doubt on the location of the video, noting that virtually all activity in the besieged port city has been halted. To what degree it was staged is debatable, but it is another clear piece of Kremlin-inspired propaganda, though one that also shows the terror of the teenaged girl put on display.

German Police Report Hate Crimes Against Russians And Z Symbol

Police in Berlin are investigating a total of 206 cases for crimes against Russian-speaking citizens, German daily Der Tagesspiegel reports, citing a police spokesman. The cases involve insults, threats, damage to property, and, in some cases, violent acts. At the same time, police are also conducting five investigations into the public display of the “Z” symbol — banned in Germany as its considered support for Russia's military operation in Ukraine.

Ukrainian Tennis Star On Wimbledon's Ban Of Russian Players

Photo of tennis player Elina Svitolina of Ukraine at the Miami Open 2022

Elina Svitolina in action during the second round of the 2022 Miami Open

Rob Prange/AFP7/ ZUMA

There comes a time when silence is betrayal.

Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina released a statement in the wake of Wimbledon organizers’ decision to ban Russian players from competing in the Grand Slam event. "We don't want them banned completely," she told BBC Radio 5, but added that "If players don't speak out against the Russian government then it is the right thing to ban them.”room.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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