Vladimir Putin has spent much of the past five months hunkered down with his generals and bankers, managing the military and economic upheaval he triggered by invading Ukraine.
Aside from a few quick visits to nearby former Soviet Republics, the Russian president’s visit to Tehran yesterday (where he met leaders of both Iran and Turkey face-to-face) was his first time back on the road since Feb. 24. And Putin could rightfully claim some small, but meaningful diplomatic victories that confirm the deepening divisions in the world, according to Russia’s state news agency Tass.
On Wednesday, Syria announced that it was cutting ties with Ukraine. Though not a surprise in itself, since Damascus has been reliant on Russian military support for the past five years, the timing appeared to coincide with Putin’s visit to the region.
This followed a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, and particularly strong rhetoric Tuesday from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who declared that if Putin hadn’t started the war with Ukraine, the “dangerous creature” NATO would have done it eventually, adding that “NATO would know no bounds if the way was open to it, and if it was not stopped in Ukraine.”
The Russian leader also had a significant talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is playing the role of mediator to end the grain blockade but also push a plan to attack Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria.
Putin’s aim is to evolve the narrative beyond the war on the ground in Ukraine, and turn his military aggression into greater global power and influence, in opposition to the West and the U.S. in particular. An easy first step was taken on friendly turf, invited by America’s sworn enemy in Tehran. A much more significant next step? A Putin visit to Beijing.
Turkey Expects Deal This Week On Ending Wheat Blockade
Harvesting wheat in Kherson
On his trip to Tehran, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that progress on grain exports had been made according to Tass. This would mean that Russia would lift the blockade on Ukrainian wheat, an issue that has been threatening famine across Africa.
Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defense minister, has said Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN will sign a deal this week on the grain exports corridor after talks in Istanbul. A coordination center is to be opened in Istanbul allowing routing of those exports via the Black Sea.
Meanwhile, the European Union will amend its sanctions on Moscow on Wednesday by allowing the unfreezing of some funds of top Russian banks that may be required to ease the flow of the global trade of food and fertilizers. This move comes amid criticism from African leaders about the negative impact of the sanctions on trade, which may have caused the shortages caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its blockading of ports in the Black Sea.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it would create a $100 million fund in an attempt to “bolster Ukrainian agricultural exports” and protect against the global food security crisis.
U.S. Says Russia Set To Annex More Ukrainian Territory
\u201cThe Biden admin. says it has evidence that Russia is "laying the groundwork" to annex several regions of Ukraine. Russia is also "installing illegitimate proxy officials" in Ukrainian areas already under its control, according to the National Security Council's John Kirby.\u201d— CBS News (@CBS News) 1658260649
Russia is “laying the groundwork” to annex Ukrainian territories it fully or partially controls, including Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts, said John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson during a briefing late Tuesday.
Kirby said Russia has started to appoint illegitimate proxies and plans to hold “sham referenda,” transition the currency to the ruble, and force residents to apply for Russian citizenship. The Kremlin is “dusting off the playbook from 2014,” Kirby said, referring to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
U.S. To Help Ukraine Build Air Force
Charles “CQ” Brown
The U.S. and its allies are expected to begin training Ukrainian pilots as a part of a long term project to help Kyiv build a future Ukrainian air force. The Air Force chief of staff Charles “CQ” Brown told Reuters that discussions were under way, “You want to build a long-term plan on how you build their Air Force and the Air Force that they’re going to need for the future.”
The West provided anti-aircraft weaponry to Ukraine which has allowed it to prevent Russia from using its far more advanced Air Force to establish dominance in the skies. Ukraine has also started securing U.S. fighter jets and started training its pilots to fly them.
Another Zelensky Ally Dismissed As Kyiv Tries To Clean House
Mykola Tyshchenko, a lawmaker from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's Servant of the People party, was fired Tuesday from the position of party chief in the Western Zakarpattia Oblast. The party attributed Tyshchenko's dismissal to his bad reputation.
Tyshchenko has been involved in numerous scandals, including his Velyur restaurant’s violation of COVID-19 regulations. Tyshchenko was replaced by Victor Nikitu.
Elena Shulyak, head of the Servant of the People part, said "Today, in the face of a full-scale war with Russia, the party should focus on the movements on the front line and the strengthening of the rear brigade, not with public scandals and dubious PR actions.”
Tyschenko becomes the third official to be fired by Zelensky after former Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova along with State Security Service (SBU) head Ivan Bakanov were suspended Sunday night, for having failed to crack down on law enforcement officials who collaborate with Russia.
U.S. Adds Moscow To List Of Countries With “Pattern” Of Human Trafficking
Ukrainians feeling their country
Washington has added Russia to its “Trafficking in Persons Report,” which lists countries involved in a “policy or pattern” of human trafficking and forced labor or whose forces or sponsored forces recruit or use child soldiers. “Millions of Ukrainians have had to flee their homes… an estimated 90 percent of whom are women and children.” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “That makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation.”
Kyiv Says Moscow Placed 108 Ukrainian Orphans Up For Adoption In Russia
According to Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets, Russia has forcibly deported 108 Ukrainian orphans from the Donetsk Oblast, placing them up for adoption. Children between the ages of 5 and 16 are being set up with foster parents across the country upon arrival in Russia. The children have reportedly received fast-tracked Russian citizenship to speed up the process, says Lubinets.