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In The News

Lavrov Reveals Slow Pace Of Russian Advances

Also: First Mariupol evacuations, Biden visit "matter of time," Lavrov's Jewish Hitler, Chechnya’s TikTok Fighters ... and more.

Photo of a Russian tank destroyed during street fighting in Mala Shestirnya in Ukraine, with a white letter "Z" painted on the side.

Russian tracked vehicle destroyed during street fighting in Mala Shestirnya in Ukraine

Anna Akage and Emma Albright

May 9 has long been an important day in Moscow, commemorating the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany. Most Kremlin observers believed that Vladimir Putin’s new all-out assault in the southeast Donbas region was aiming to bring home at least a symbolic victory in time for what Russians call “Victory Day.”

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But on Monday, Moscow-based daily Kommersantreports that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov cautioned that Russia is not going to force a "victory" by May 9, which looks like a de facto admission that the assault has not progressed at the pace the Kremlin had hoped.

With its army's inability to advance on the ground, or occupy major cities in the region, Russia continued airstrikes overnight into Monday, the 68th day of war, with injuries reported in several cities.

“Our military will not artificially adjust their actions to any date, including Victory Day,” said Lavrov. “The pace of the operation in Ukraine depends primarily on the need to minimize any risks for the civilian population and Russian military personnel."

First Mariupol Evacuation Finally Underway, Thousands Still Trapped

A first group of evacuees have been transported out of the besieged city of Mariupol toward Zaporizhia by early Monday as humanitarian organizations worked to evacuate more civilians. Both civilians and soldiers still remained trapped in the Azovstal steel works, in the port of the last bastion of resistance to the Russian invasion.

“We hope that thousands of our Mariupol residents who got stuck on the way from Mariupol to Zaporizhia (they were not allowed by the occupiers) will get to Zaporizhia tonight or tomorrow morning", said Adviser to the Mayor Petro Andryushchenko on Ukrainian Radio Svoboda

People still stuck in Mariupol were reported to be running out of water, food and medicine as weeks of Russian air strikes continue. "The situation has become a sign of a real humanitarian catastrophe," Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Lavrov Insists Zelensky Is A Nazi, Says Hitler Was “Also” Jewish

Lavrov on Italian television Sunday night

In an interview with Italian TV network Mediaset, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was pressed on Moscow’s accusation that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was a Nazi, even though he comes from a Jewish family. "He ( Zelensky) puts forward an argument: what kind of nazification they can they have if he is a Jew. I may be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood. It means absolutely nothing. The wise Jewish people say that the fiercest anti-Semites are usually Jews.”

Lavrov punctuated his reasoning using an old Russian proverb: "The family is not without a freak."

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid quickly replied, saying Lavrov's words were "are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error. Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism."

Israel's foreign ministry summoned Russia's ambassador for "clarification" and demanded an apology. BBC reports that Lavrov was also condemned by the head of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Dani Dayan. "Most of his remarks are absurd, delusional, dangerous and deserving of any condemnation," he tweeted. "Lavrov deals with the reversal of the Holocaust: turning the victims into criminals, based on the promotion of a completely unfounded claim that Hitler was of Jewish descent."

There have for decades been unproven claims that Hitler's unidentified paternal grandfather was Jewish, fuelled by an assertion by Hitler's lawyer Hans Frank.

Chechnya’s “TikTok Fighters” Soak Up Glory Far From Front Lines

According to Russian blogger and politician Maxim Katz, the majority of conscripts in the Russian army currently fighting in Ukraine come from Dagestan and Buryatia, the most economically deprived regions of Russia. Still, the soldiers we see most often in the media hail from Chechnya, fighting on behalf of the autonomous region’s authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Why the discrepancy? Ukrainians have begun mocking the supposedly formidable Chechens as “TikTok fighters,” for the fact that Kadyrov's men rarely appear on the front lines: They are stationed behind enemy lines, where they can safely plunder occupied cities, take prisoners, and — more importantly — shoot endless TikTok videos and Telegram posts featuring Kadyrov, where the Influencer-in-Chief loves to threaten Ukraine with total defeat.

“Only Matter Of Time” Before Biden Visits Ukraine, As Pelosi Continues Regional Tour

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, right, is escorted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukraine Presidency/Ukraine Presi/Planet Pix/ZUMA

Following arrivals in Kyiv last month by Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month and Saturday by U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, it is “only a matter of time” before President Joe Biden travels to the Ukrainian capital.

That was the message the Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky told U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who was traveling with Pelosi. Washington has increasingly pledged its fullest possible support for Ukraine to not just hold off Russia, but to defeat it. “Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” Pelosi told Zelensky during her unannounced visit this weekend, before traveling on to talk to Poland on Monday to meet with Polish president Andrzej Duda.

Europe Eyes Way Out On Russian Energy Reliance

European Union energy ministers are holding emergency talks to respond to Moscow’s demand that gas imports be paid for in rubles, after Russia cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland last week over the currency issue.

In the long term, the EU is looking for ways to implement a ban on imports of Russian oil by the end of the year.

Patron The Minesweeping Dog Is Getting A Stamp

Patron, a Jack Russell Terrier, is the most popular dog in Ukraine right now. As part of Ukraine’s Emergency Service of Ukraine, the pooch has so far helped his human colleagues remove 262 explosive devices buried in and around cities and villages earlier occupied by the Russian army.

Patron boasts almost 190k followers on his Instagram account and will soon have his face on a new stamp for the national postal service Ukrposhta.

Fearing Russian Invasion, Some Transnistria Residents Flee … To Ukraine

There is growing worry that Russia will expand its war into Transnistria, the breakaway territory in Moldova. Indeed tensions are running so high that some residents in Transnistria have began to cross into the territory controlled by Moldova in order to reach the Ukrainian city of Odessa.

Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odessa administration, told Ukrainian newspaper Novoye Vremya that at least four “provocations” had taken place in unrecognized Transnistria. After the first of them, residents began to leave for the territory controlled by Moldova and come to Odessa. People believe that Ukraine, despite the war, is safer than the Russian-controlled part of Moldova.

Bratchuk said “the method is the same, the technology is the same: first a provocation, then the accusation that Ukraine did it.” He says Russians are trying to promote the idea that Ukraine is allegedly encroaching on this territory - although Transnistria is part of the Republic of Moldova.

Bratchuk said "peacekeepers," as the Russian occupiers call themselves, have built checkpoints in Transnistria and are holding so-called "military rallies." Thus, the enemies are trying to mobilize people to the so-called "Transnistrian army."

Angelina Jolie Arrival In Lviv Sets Off Ukrainian Meme Madness

Hollywood star and longtime humanitarian activists Angelina Jolie has landed in Lviv, in western Ukraine, spending a busy Sunday visiting wounded children in hospitals and speaking to volunteers giving psychological help to many of the displaced.

She did have time for a coffee break in town, where someone snapped some photos, and others didn’t notice. Ukrainians took to the internet to make memes as the country’s notable wartime sense of humor is holding strong.

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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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