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Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories
Important Stories (Важные Истории) - is an association of independent Russian-language journalists created in 2020 focused on reportage, investigative reporting and data research.
photo of a missile attached to a fighter jet
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Cameron Manley

Russia Unleashes Powerful New "Hybrid" Missile In Latest Air Attacks On Ukraine

As Moscow launches the heaviest bombardment of Ukraine in months, evidence suggests that it may have started using a new hybrid missile that would be able to evade some high-tech Western air defense systems.

Russia carried out its largest missile attack in weeks on Ukraine on Thursday, targeting energy facilities in what officials say is part of the first new air campaign against the Ukrainian power grid since last winter. Power cuts were reported in five Ukrainian regions, along with multiple civilian deaths.

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But beyond the significance of the casualties and targets, experts are also pointing to the weapons employed. An attack in Kupyansk, in Ukraine's Kharkhiv region on Tuesday suggests that Russia has begun using a new missile system that exhibits formidable destructive potential and the ability to bypass Western air defense systems.

The Sept. 19 attack killed eight people. Oleg Sinegubov, the head of the local administration, provided a sobering account of the incident: “Two of the dead were volunteers who helped with evacuation efforts,” he said. “The occupiers cynically struck with the new Grom-E1 missile.”

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photo at night of workers at a gas plant
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Ekaterina Mereminskaya

Backfired! How Russia's Playing Games With Gas Prices Became A Big Problem For Its War

A complex compensation mechanism for fuel companies, currency devaluation, increased demand due to the war, logistics disruptions, and stuttering production growth have combined to trigger price rises and deepening shortages at home in the Russian energy market. That is a real risk for the war in Ukraine.

Updated Sep. 20, 2023 at 3:20 p.m.

In Russia, reports of gasoline and diesel shortages have been making headlines in the country for several months, raising concerns about energy supply. The situation escalated in September when a major diesel shortage hit annexed Crimea. Even before that, farmers in the southern regions of Russia had raised concerns regarding fuel shortages for their combines.

“We’ll have to stop the harvest! It will be a total catastrophe!” agriculture minister Dmitry Patrushev had warned at the time. “We should temporarily halt the export of petroleum products now until we have stabilized the situation on the domestic market.”

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As the crisis deepens, experts are highlighting the unintended consequences of government intervention in fuel pricing and distribution.

The Russian government has long sought to control the prices of essential commodities, including gasoline and diesel. These commodities are considered "signalling products", according to Sergei Vakulenko, an oil and gas expert and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment. Entrepreneurs often interpret rising gasoline prices as a signal to adjust their pricing strategies, reasoning that if even gasoline, a staple, is becoming more expensive, they too should raise their prices.

The specter of the 2018 fuel crisis, where gasoline prices in Russia surged at twice the rate of other commodities, haunts the authorities. As a result, they implemented a mechanism to control these prices and ensure a steady supply. Known as the "fuel damper," this mechanism seeks to balance the profitability of selling fuel in both domestic and foreign markets.

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Photo of ​China's Xi Jinping giving a speech while Russia's Vladimir Putin is sitting down, as they meet in Moscow on March 21
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Vazhnyye Istorii

Russia's Dependence On China Is Deep And Wide — It May Also Be Irreversible

Russia is digging itself into a hole as it becomes increasingly dependent on China, as a result of international sanctions and isolation. This shifting dynamic, analysts argue, is bound to have ripple effects around the world


Russian President Vladimir Putin has scored a "huge own goal" with the war in Ukraine, according to CIA Director William Burns.

He was referring to Russia's losses at the front, international sanctions, the expansion of NATO and Russia's growing dependence on China — something that has escalated in recent years and may well become one of the enduring challenges Putin's government has created for Russia.

The risks associated with this final point, the deepening dependence on China, are substantial — and breaking free from it will prove to be a formidable task.

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Russia's evolving relationship with China has become a focal point in international geopolitics and economics. This transformation has been catalyzed by a combination of factors, including Western sanctions, Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and China's meteoric rise in the global economy since the early 2000s.

The shift in Russia's economic alignment toward China began in earnest in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict and the resulting Western sanctions. Prior to this, Russia had maintained strong trade ties with Europe, particularly in energy exports. But as sanctions took hold, Russia turned to China as an alternative trading partner and a source of investment.

These hopes for increased commerce between the two countries come as Moscow seeks continued support for its war on Ukraine. China's top diplomat Wang Yi is currently visiting Russia for security talks, which Russian media say could pave the way for Vladimir Putin visiting Beijing soon.

Yet despite attempts to gain diplomatic punch from such a visit, Putin would arrive in the Chinese capital weaker and more beholden to China than ever.

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Photo of a customs official stamping a passport in Minsk, Belarus
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Boris Gorozovsky

How Russia And Belarus Are Cracking Down On Exiles — And A Passport Fix To Fight Back

Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is making it impossible for citizens who've fled the country to renew their passports, which may make some effectively stateless. What are some possible solutions?

Under strict new measures introduced by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, foreign embassies may no longer issue documents to Belarusians. This will make it impossible for Belarusians outside of the country to renew passports unless they return — which could lead to criminal prosecution for some who fled after the 2020 protests.

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Russia, on the other hand, has adopted a different approach to encourage the return of its citizens abroad. After considering a 30% tax on emigrants' income, they settled on a 13% personal income tax rate.

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Photo of people walking past a currency exchange rate board in Moscow on July 20.
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Ekaterina Mereminskaya

The Science Of Designing A Sanctions Model That Really Hurts Moscow

On paper, the scale of sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine is unprecedented. But opinion on the impact of sanctions remains divided in the absence of a reliable scientific foundation. A new study by Bank of Canada offers a way out.


The world has never seen sanctions like those imposed against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. There have been targeted sanctions, of course, or sanctions against rogue countries like North Korea with wide support from the international community. But never in history has there been such a large-scale sanctions regime against one of the world’s biggest and most important economies.

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Here's the thing though: these sanctions were introduced in a hurry because the West needed to respond to the war decisively. No one calculated anything, they relied on generalizations and holistic visions, they were “groping in a dark room,” as Elina Rybakova, senior researcher at the Brussels think tank Bruegel, put it.

As a result, debates around the effectiveness of sanctions and how best to use them to influence Russia continue to do the rounds.

Supporters of sanctions have a clear and unified message: we must stop Russia from being able to continue this war. We must deprive them of the goods and technologies necessary for the production of weapons and military equipment, and prevent Russians from living normal lives.

Opponents argue that the sanctions backfire. They insist that Russia is a large enough economy, highly integrated into the energy market and international supply chains, and therefore has enough resilience to withstand restrictions. Those who impose sanctions will be the ones to lose markets and suppliers. They will face increased energy prices and countless other problems. Russia will be able to replace lost relationships with new and even stronger ties with other states.

Economists at the Bank of Canada have attempted to resolve this debate and figure out who is hit hardest by sanctions. They pieced together a model featuring three parties: a country imposing sanctions, a country against which they were imposed, and a third independent country.

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photo of putin and kim jong-un at a space center
Cameron Manley

What Kim Wants From Putin: Hardware And Know-How For North Korea's Space Program

Vladimir Putin was eager to welcome Kim Jong-un for a rare visit to Russia in order to replenish depleting supplies of shells and ammunition. But North Korea has its own demands help to build satellites as part of an advanced space program.


Much of the focus from Wednesday's highly anticipated Putin-Kim summit has been on the weapons that North Korea will be sending to Russia, which is short on ammunition for its war against Ukraine.

But since every bilateral summit is a give-and-take, what will North Korean leader Kim Jong-un take home to Pyongyang?

Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed during the summit at a Cosmodrome in Russia's far east that Moscow is ready to assist North Korea in the construction of satellites.

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This announcement comes as North Korea aims to transform itself into a "world-class space power."

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image of a priest holding a prayer book
Important Stories

How The Russian Orthodox Church Has Become A Willing Pawn In Putin's War

Since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church has fully supported the Kremlin. Priests or members of the church that disagree with this politicization and militarization of the church face heavy consequences such as removal.

Since March 2022, the Russian Orthodox Church has increasingly fallen in line with militarization efforts. Meanwhile, initial hopes that Orthodox Kyiv would welcome the invasion of Ukraine with open arms — hanging portraits of Moscow Patriarch Kirill and ringing bells — were quickly dashed.

As a result, Kirill adopted an increasingly hard line. He required priests to include a prayer for the "victory of Holy Russia" and threatened harsh consequences for those who used the word "peace" instead of "victory" in their prayers, calling them pacifist heretics.

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Photograph of a kindergarten in Belgorod, Russia, where sand bags are seen protecting the windows
Vazhnyye Istorii

Belgorod Postcard: Fear And Sandbags For Russians Going Back To School Near Ukraine Border

It's back to school in the Russian region that has felt the war more than any other. Special measures are taking place, including sandbags and explosion-proof windows. But parents are more anxious than ever.

BELGOROD — Nowhere in Russia has felt the war in Ukraine more acutely than the region of Belgorod. Nearly one out of every three Russian civilians to have died since the beginning of the full-scale invasion is from Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, according to the Russian publication “7x7”. That's an estimated total of more than 50 civilians in the region who've been killed since Feb. 2022.

Despite the ongoing danger, regional authorities have decided not to continue with online learning in educational institutions ahead of the new school year. Independent Russian news site Vazhnyye Istorii (Important Stories) has looked into how students in the border region will face the coming school year, which begins with the constant sound of explosions and classrooms that have been equipped with shatter-proof windows.

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September 1 was marked by a number of new installations in Belgorod schools.

Ceremonial assemblies, which are custom on the first day of the academic year and are normally celebratory events that parents attend, were held only for the first and eleventh grades in most schools, and even then, not everyone was permitted entry.

Readers of the “Belgorod No. 1” Telegram channel complained that, in one school, face recognition controls had been set up.The school’s administration, carefully surveyed by employees of the National Guard and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, checked passports against the list of invited schoolchildren at the gates.

Bomb shelters and 'face control'

“How has it happened that I, a parent, am not allowed to attend my own child’s ceremony? — a city resident complained. “Parents always used to come to the school [on the first day of the year], they would take pictures with their children, teachers, classes. There were no fences or locks. And now look: they have built barriers, closed the gates, installed turnstiles blocking. Who do they think we are?"

It feels like prison

Another Belgorod woman complained that it "felt like I was taking my child to prison, not school... You can’t go into the classroom with the children, you can’t even take a picture of your child at their desk.”

Some schools also held cautionary meetings with parents and showed parents and children bomb shelters that would be used in emergencies.

Photograph of \u200bwomen raising Russian flags on Knowledge Day as a new academic year starts at primary / nursery school

Russia, Belgorod - September 1, 2023: Women raise Russian flags on Knowledge Day as a new academic year starts at primary / nursery school


Dubious safety

Almost 50 schools and all 67 kindergartens in the city have returned to full-time in person teaching, the press service of the city mayor’s office reported.

“Another year of distance learning and our children will forget how to read and write,” warned Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov in June, after two teachers from a rural school in the Valuysky city district were hospitalized after being hit by shelling. Schools and universities in Belgorod and in the regions bordering Ukraine were transferred to distanced learning in October 2022.

“Lessons that for some reason were considered not so important, such as computer science and an additional language, were taught to children at all," the mother of a student at one Belgorod school complained to the governor. "Children had to study them themselves using lesson cards without teachers.”

Children returned to in-person teaching in two or three “waves”: the number of children in a wave was calculated based on the capacity of the bomb shelters that the schools had access to at the time. Schools also decided to reduce lesson time by 5–10 minutes in order to avoid large concentrations of children in hallways at any one time.

Some residents, though, had questions about the bomb shelters. “At our school, one of the shelters is in the locker room on the first floor, where there is a huge window - what kind of safety is that? Why don’t they turn the basement into a shelter?” — said one resident of the Valuysky district.

Children aged three to five will be taught the basics of safe behavior on the street and at home, and preschoolers will be taught how to behave during shelling and when explosive devices are detected.

Parental angst

On August 21, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported that before the start of the school year, the windows of the first floors of educational institutions in Belgorod had been covered with sandbags.

“All schools are required to take these security precautions,” the director of the largest school in the region, Education Center No. 1, which regularly comes under fire, explained to the agency.

Who is responsible?

To strengthen the building's defenses against shelling, about 12 truckloads of sand were needed. The height of the protective structure reached several meters. A week later, the cornice of the facade of the school collapsed. The decorative ledge under the first floor windows could not withstand the weight of the bags.

On August 28, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov reported that more than 65,000 square meters of special armored films were purchased for 50 schools and 70 kindergartens in the region.

The strength of the film was tested by employees of the mayor's office and the National Guard: various shells were dropped from a UAV - from fragmentation grenades to mortar mines. Parents were involved in gluing the windows. “Who is responsible if we make a mistake?” - asks the mother of a Belgorod schoolboy, Tatyana.

Photograph of a kindergarten in Belgorod, Russia, where sand bags are seen protecting the windows

August 25, 2023: Sand bags are seen by the windows of a kindergarten.


No guarantees

Belgorod universities are faced with a shortage of students: Belgorod State University for example recruited 400 fewer students than usual, the acting director of the university Evgenia Karlovskaya reported.

Universities were also affected by personnel shortages: 297 employees left BelSU alone in 2022. Fifty teachers associated their departure with an anti-war position: one teacher, Tatyana Novikova, was fired for pacifist comments.

At the beginning of August, BelSU students were told they would return to full in-person teaching.

“Not everyone wants to return to the border city, where the situation is not entirely stable,” one student explained her fears of full-time education on the page of Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov. “Not everyone's parents let them study. No one guarantees that we will not go back to distanced learning after a week of in-person classes. And a lot of money is spent on travel and housing.”

Gladkov himself supported the decision of the university administration : “The decision made by the leadership of the National Research University "BelSU" seems justified to me. Of course, the situation may change, we will make decisions based on the operational situation. Now we are preparing for full-time in-person education not only at universities, but also in schools and kindergartens.”

“We are special armored pupils," said one student. “We will accept the fact that we will have to listen to the sounds of explosions as a melody."

“Yes, I’m afraid of shelling," another confessed. "Yes, I'm afraid of all the regular explosions. Yes, I want to leave."