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In The News

Russia’s "Smaller" Operations And Shrinking Ambitions

U.S. Department of Defense officials report that instead of the typical battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, which number several hundred soldiers, the Russians have now shifted to attacks by smaller units.

Russia’s "Smaller" Operations And Shrinking Ambitions

Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas

Meike Eijsberg, Cameron Manley and Emma Albright

A new Pentagon report has found that Russia is continuing to reduce the scale of its military actions toward more "small" operations, which is another sign that it has lowered the ambitions of its invasion of Ukraine.

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The Washington Post, citing a U.S. Department of Defense official, reports that instead of the typical battalion tactical groups, which number several hundred soldiers, the Russians have now shifted to attacks by smaller units, each ranging from a few dozen to a hundred soldiers. These smaller units have also scaled down their objectives and are targeting towns, villages and crossroads.


The change suggests a decrease in ambition compared to the beginning of the war when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an all-out assault and asserted that Ukraine should be liberated from its historical mistake of seeking national independence. But after a month of failing initial attempts to seize key Ukrainian cities, the Russian ministry announced that its aims would be limited to the southeastern Donbas region. And now the new report suggests even those objectives in Donbas are being scaled back, though the Washington Post reports that Russian troops have made “appreciable gains” between the southern cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv.

Russia Says 1,000 More Ukrainian Soldiers Have Surrendered In Mariupol

Soldiers surrendering to Russian army

Cover Images/ZUMA


A new total of 771 soldiers have surrendered from Azovstal in Mariupol within the last 24 hours.

Russian authorities say that a total of 1,730 soldiers have now surrendered since Monday, after the Russian army took over the last holdout in the strategic port city.

How FSB “Confirmation Bias” Has Driven Putin’s Invasion

Emblem of Federal Security Service

commons.wikimedia.org


Russia has faced failure after failure on the battlefied: retreating first from Kyiv and then from Kharkiv. The ‘second phase of the special operation’ (the withdrawal to the administrative boundaries of Luhansk and Donetsk regions, as well as the capture of southern Ukraine as far as Transnistria) is also proceeding with difficulty.

Why push on? Why bear more losses? Speaking with former FSB agents, Anin Roman attempts to answer these questions for Russian-language digital news outlet iStories Media.

After Vladimir Putin met with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, the latter told NBC: "I think he's in his own war logic right now… his own world... I think he believes he is winning the war."

The FSB, Russia’s security services (main successor of the KGB) and, in particular its most secretive faction, the so-called Fifth Service, is feeding the Russian president’s physical and informational isolation.

"They are selling (him) smoke," a former FSB officer says of his colleagues.

"They were making things up, misinterpreting and sometimes fantasizing, and the leadership was happy to believe it," echoes another former intel officer.

"You have to report what management wants to hear, otherwise you won't get promoted. What's more, you could find yourself in trouble," confirms another secret service interlocutor.

Roman writes that psychologists refer to this cognitive distortion as “confirmation bias:” when a person chooses only the information that is consistent with their ideology or pre-established opinion.

The leadership of both the FSB and the country thereby become "executive morons", who refuse to heed all the information available. The "executive morons", in turn, recruit others like them. The ubiquity of the FSB, penetrating almost all public authorities across the country: police chiefs, judges, governors, ministers, presidential administration officials, top managers of state-owned companies, university rectors - all candidates for these positions are approved by the FSB, does not result in an all-seeing, all-knowing organisation. Rather, everyone is forced to make decisions based on the opinion of the ‘executive morons’, everyone believes the lies they know to be false.

Russian Rock Icon: Stop Kissing Putin’s Ass


Yuri Shevchuk is considered by some as the greatest Russian rock songwriter of his generation. On Wednesday night, he had some choice of words for President Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin hierarchy.

In an anti-war speech at the beginning of his concert in the south-central city of Ufa, which has since gone viral, Shevchuck said: "The Motherland, my friends, is not having the president's ass kissed all the time." Most of the crowd broke out into applause before the first song was even sung.

​Another Risk For Moscow: Ethnic Separatism On The Rise Across Russian Federation

Launching the large-scale military attack against Ukraine, Russia was bound to risk exacerbating existing socio-economic and political tensions across the vast territory of the Russian federation.

One of the most troublesome for Moscow is the rise of regional and ethnic separatism within many of Russia’s 85 federal subjects, which include republics, krais, oblasts and cities of federal importance (two located on the Crimean peninsula are not internationally recognized).

Pavel Lysyansky, writing for Kyiv-based Livy Bereg, notes that: “Ethnic separatism manifests in the impossibility of performing the main functions of the country since the regional elite of remote regions of Russia will not follow the instructions of the federal center if it is weakened. Read more here.

In Finland And Russia, Deescalating Rhetoric Around NATO And Nukes

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin

Kay Nietfeld/dpa/Zuma


Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that Finland’s application to join NATO does not include plans to deploy new military bases or nuclear weapons in the country.

In an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Marin said: "This topic is not discussed. And it all depends on our national decisions. No one will impose bases or nuclear weapons on us if we do not want it. And it does not seem to me that there is an interest to deploy nuclear weapons or open their bases in Finland."

Meanwhile, Moscow has also continued to reverse its rhetoric around the decision by

Finland and Sweden to join NATO, after initial threats by senior officials.

Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko said in an interview with the Izvestiya newspaper published on Thursday that “in military terms, Russia's reaction will be proportionate and adequate to the presence of NATO in the territories of these two states, to what types of weapons will be deployed,” she said. “But I can assure you that Russia's security will certainly be ensured." she told the newspaper.

U.S. Embassy Reopens In Kyiv


The U.S. has reopened its embassy in Kyiv, which had been closed before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine of February 24.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the reopening of the embassy in the capital — after diplomats had been evacuated to the Western city of Lviv and then across the border in Poland — is another sign of Washington’s support for Ukraine in the face of the war against Russia.

“When we suspended operations at the embassy, we made the point clear: … this would in no way prevent our engagement with, and support for, the Ukrainian people, government, and civil society as well as our allies and partners," Blinken said.

Other countries, including Switzerland, Israel and Canada, have also reopened their embassies in Kyiv in the last few weeks.

Europe Offers €9 Billion Loan To Ukraine, €300 Billion To End Gas Reliance

International Gas Pipeline route from Russia to Europe

www.flickr.com


The European Commission has proposed a €9 billion loan to Ukraine to help keep the country going in its fight against the Russian forces. The Commission also wants to set up a reconstruction facility for after the war. "We also need to think about the day after for the wider reconstruction effort,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “The EU would and should not be the only one contributing to this effort.”

The offer was shared only minutes after the EU announced plans to mobilize up to 300 billion euros of investments to end reliance on Russian oil and gas. Russia supplies 40% of the EU's natural gas and 27% of its imported oil, both of which will be brought down to zero by 2030. "We are taking our ambition to yet another level," von der Leyen said as she presented the update at a briefing in Brussels.

G7 Finance Ministers Meet To Discuss Ukraine’s Economy

Janet Yellen-US Treasury Secretary

Federico Gambarini/dpa/ZUMA


G7 finance ministers are meeting today in Konigswinter Germany, to discuss a plan to reboot Ukraine’s economy, which has been seriously damaged by the war.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said ahead of the meeting that what has been agreed on so far was “not enough” and encouraged US partners to “join in increasing their financial support.”

This comes after the United States planned to send a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine and Japan saying it will double aid for Ukraine to $600 million in a coordinated move with the World Bank.

Ukraine Forecasts Agriculture Output Will Be Cut In Half, Wheat Prices Will Nearly Double

Field of wheat

pixabay.com


Ukraine’s agriculture output this year is expected be half that of 2021, the country’s Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine Mykola Solsky said on Wednesday.

Beyond that the cabinet minister also warned that, "the next winter planting campaign is in jeopardy" if the war continues.

According to Solsky, the world should prepare for wheat prices to rise to $700 per ton. Currently, the price of a ton of wheat on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is about $430. "Are we ready to pay $500, $600, $700 per ton? The situation is critical for Asian and African countries, which import cereals mainly from Ukraine," Solsky added.

“Z” Russian Gymnast Banned For A Year

Ivan Kulyak

Yegor Aleyev/TASS/Zuma


Russian gymnast, Ivan Kulyak, has been disqualified by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) for a year, after displaying the letter “Z” on his chest in March at the World Cup stage in Qatar.

The letter “Z” has been displayed on tanks and vehicles used by the Russian military and has become a symbol of support for the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian athletes are currently suspended indefinitely from competition due to their country’s invasion of Ukraine, and even if the ban is still in effect in a year, another six months will be added to Kulyak’s disqualification.

George W. Bush’s Iraq-I-Mean-Ukraine Gaffe


Former U.S. President George W. Bush mixed up Ukraine and Iraq in a speech criticizing Vladimir Putin’s invasion. He condemned “an absence of checks and balances in Russia, and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq — I mean, of Ukraine. Anyway.”

Bush launched the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which has been widely criticized in retrospect, even by those who defended it at the time. The former U.S. president has always stuck by his position.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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