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In The News

Will Putin Declare War On May 9? Or Peace?

The annual May 9 commemoration of the defeat of Nazi Germany has extra significance this year with Russia in the full throes of the invasion of Ukraine. There are conflicting reports about how President Vladimir Putin may use the occasion.

Will Putin Declare War On May 9? Or Peace?

Volunteers sending food to outskirt residents survey the remains of a Russian missile

Anna Akage, Bertrand Haugier, Emma Albright

There’s no doubt that next Monday, May 9, all eyes will be on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The annual commemoration of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, known in Moscow as “Victory Day,” has extra significance this year with Russia in the full throes of the invasion of Ukraine, which may indeed be the riskiest war since 1945.

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Of course, two months since the invasion, Putin hasn’t even acknowledged that Russia is at war, calling it a “special operation.” And some sources believe that he will use the May 9 occasion to officially declare war — again, against “Nazis,” as the Kremlin refers to the government in Kyiv.

Yet there’s news published today that essentially predicts just the opposite for May 9. In an exclusive interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera daily, Pope Francis recounted a recent meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban: “Orban, when I met him, told me the Russians have a plan, that May 9, it will all be over.”

What does the Pope have to say about Orban’s would-be scoop? “I hope it’s true, and that would explain why the escalation is accelerating these days,” the Pope said. “I’m pessimistic, but we must do everything possible to stop the war.”

Shelling Of Odessa, As Mariupol Continues To Evacuate Civilians

Russia launched new rounds of rocket attacks on Odessa and Kharkiv, while In Donbas the main efforts of the invading troops are focused on establishing control over the mid-sized cities of Rubizhne and Popasna. The evacuation of the population from the frontline zone continues, including in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

A missile hit infrastructure facilities in the southern city of Odessa including a church and a dormitory. Teenagers are among the casualties according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Mariupol mayor Vadym Boichenko has said that an evacuation convoy has begun moving from the coastal town of Berdiansk, towards territory held by Ukraine.

The convoy includes many of the first batch of people to have been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant.

Ukrainian newspaper Novoye Vremya published a photo report showing how the first civilians from Mariupol got to Zaporizhzhya after a two-months of blockade.

The evacuation of civilians from Mariupol from Azovstal began on May 1. On May 2, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories Iryna Vereshchuk said that in the first two days, authorities evacuated more than 100 women, children and the elderly from the Azovstal metallurgical plant.

Pope Says He’s Still Waiting For Invitation From Moscow

Pope Francis says he’s been waiting in vain for more than a month for an invitation from Vladimir Putin to visit Moscow, in an attempt to gain a ceasefire in the war in Ukraine.

In an exclusive interview with Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera, the Pope spoke extensively about the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine.

After 20 days of war, the Pope’s top diplomat contacted Moscow saying Francis was willing to go to Moscow: “Of course, it was necessary that [Putin] leaves a window open. We haven’t had any response and we’re continuing to insist, even if I fear that Putin cannot and doesn’t want to have this meeting now.”

Asked whether he would go to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky, the Pope said “I feel like I shouldn’t go. I first have to go to Moscow, to meet Putin first. But I’m a priest, what can I do? I’ll do what I can. If Putin opens his door.”

Here’s a recent Worldcrunch commentary from La Stampa on the Pope’s unique role in the face of global crises.

Diplomatic Roe Brewing Between Germany And Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomes Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, in Berlin.

Michael Kappeler/dpa/ZUMA

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said he does not want to travel to Kyiv until his country’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visits, reports Tagesschau.

After initially standing fully behind Kyiv, Scholz has been criticized in recent weeks for ambivalent actions during the war in Ukraine. After hesitation over supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons, Berlin announced a reversal last week and there was a positive decision on the supply of anti-aircraft tanks.

But there is also criticism that, unlike many other Western leaders, he has not yet arrived in Kyiv to show his support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In the ZDF program "What now, Mr. Scholz?" Scholz defended his course.

Asked when he would leave for the Ukrainian capital, the chancellor said he still considered it "quite unprecedented" that Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier "was expelled." "It hinders the case," Scholz said.

In mid-April, Steinmeier's visit failed because the Ukrainian side did not invite him. He wanted to go to Kyiv with the heads of state of Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, who eventually left without him.

Read this recent Worldcrunch commentary from Kyiv-based Livy Bereg on why Steinmeier is persona non grata in Ukraine.

British Intelligence: Russian Army Has Been Weakened By Ukraine War

The British Ministry of Defense noted that between 2005 and 2018, Russia's defense budget has nearly doubled, due to investments in several high-quality air, ground and sea vehicles. Since 2008, this has been at the heart of a large-scale military modernization program.

"However, the modernization of its physical equipment has not allowed Russia to dominate Ukraine. Failures in both strategic planning and operational implementation have not allowed it to turn numerical capacity into a decisive advantage," said British intelligence.

"Russia's military is now much weaker, both materially and conceptually, as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. Recovery from this will be hampered by sanctions. This will have a lasting impact on Russia's ability to deploy regular military force."

Russia-Israel Clash Deepens

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has doubled down on its inflammatory remarks this weekend about Hitler and the Holocaust, saying Tuesday that Israel supports the “neo-Nazi regime” in Ukraine and again saying that Jews supported Germany’s Nazi regime.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had declared Sunday that Hitler was part-Jewish when he was asked on Italian television about Russia’s accusation that Ukraine was led by Nazis, even though the president Volodomyr Zelensky is Jewish.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Russia foreign ministry said Israel “supports the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv,” and cited “examples of cooperation between Jews and the Nazis” during the Holocaust.

Israeli daily Haaretz called on Israel’s leaders to stand more firmly behind Kyiv, with its lead editorial saying that Lavrov’s comments were a sign of “the real face of Putin.” The State of Israel, which sees itself as the moral heir to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, can’t stand on the sidelines when Jewish history is distorted to justify the atrocities that Russia is committing on Ukrainian soil,” Haaretz wrote.

In a separate article, Haaretz reported that Israeli officials are considering expanding military aid to Ukraine

More Russian Banks To Be Cut Off From SWIFT

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrel, warned that more Russian banks will soon be disconnected from the SWIFT payment system, reports French daily Les Echos. The measure, which has been part of the sweeping sanctions against Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, keeps many Russians from doing business or having access to their savings.

Russia Gives Count Of "Rescued" Refugees From Ukraine

The Russian Defense Ministry has published an updated report of those who have arrived from Russia from Ukraine since the invasion began, though the very nature of the “evacuation” of these civilians is contested by Ukraine and the West. Russia says nearly 1.1 million people have been evacuated to Russia since February 24, including almost 200,000 children from Donbas.

"Over the past 24 hours, without the participation of the Ukrainian authorities, 11,550 people, including 1,847 children, have been evacuated to the territory of the Russian Federation from the dangerous regions of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, Ukraine," Mikhail Mizintsev, head of the Russian National Defense Control Center, said on Monday.

The Ukrainian side insists that people from these contested regions of Donbas, in southeastern Ukraine, are being taken out against their will, forced to take Russian citizenship, and resettled in depressed regions of Russia. Ukrainian media outlets have published interviews with refugees who managed to escape from Russia to other countries as evidence of this.

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How War And Censorship Are Killing Russian Rap Culture, One Beat At A Time

Censorship in Russia has increased rapidly over the last couple of decades, especially since their invasion of Ukraine. Russian rap, which has often challenged the politics and society of Russia, has become even more censored than before, even causing some rappers to emigrate.

How War And Censorship Are Killing Russian Rap Culture, One Beat At A Time

Russian rapper Egor Krid performs during a concert in St Petersburg.

John Vandevert

In retrospect, rap in 1990s Russia was truly free. How so? Look around: the bright post-Soviet future of which Russians caught a glimpse during the 1990s has collapsed, replaced with something much darker, with one of its victims being rap.

In my PhD research on 1990s rap in Russia, I find the era allowed Soviet nostalgia, sexual promiscuity, and self-reflection to live alongside political cooptation, much like in the 1999/2000 song “Beat Battle”, a covert political message in support of centrist electoral candidate Grigory Yavlinsky. The 1996 track “Vote or Lose” by Bachelor Party (in Russian: Malchinik, Мальчишник) is yet another case:

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What you can’t find is censorship. Whatever one thinks of Boris Yeltsin’s embrace of the West, thanks to rap, a strong community was created. Come 2023, and censorship has changed that community’s fabric forever.

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