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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Sergey Lavrov, Putin’s Decoy-In-Chief

The Russian Foreign Minister, among the country’s most recognizable figures, embodies both the corruption and confusion of the Putin regime. Not everything is what it seems — and that’s the point.

From the outside, one might have the impression that the Russian Federation is run through a highly complex and well-coordinated apparatus that ensures that any single cog in Vladimir Putin’s system is by definition both in synch with the other cogs — and utterly replaceable. The Kremlin appears to us through this lens as an impregnable citadel with long arms and peering eyes that are literally everywhere.

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And yet, this is a completely false picture — and there’s no greater proof than in looking more closely at one of Russia's most prominent figures, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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Why China Is Still Watching Ukraine So Closely

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed the rules of diplomacy. As Russia and China show budding unity, the world's diplomats must look at the effects of Eastern Europe on East Asia — and Taiwan specifically.

-Analysis-

PARIS — A few days ago in Tokyo, during the “Quad” summit (the security group of Japan, Australia, India and the U.S.), President Joe Biden promised to use force if China ever attacked Taiwan. Shortly after, the White House made it clear that nothing had changed in the doctrine of "strategic ambiguity" which was (and remains?) U.S. policy on the question of Taiwan.

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Is Odessa Next? Putin Sees A Gateway To Moldova — And Chance For Revenge

After the fall of Mariupol, Vladimir Putin appears to have his eye on another iconic southern coastal city, with a strong identity and strategic location.

Air strikes on the port city of Odessa have become more frequent over the past three weeks, most often hitting residential buildings, shopping malls, and critical infrastructure rather than military targets. The missiles arrive from naval vessels on the Black Sea and across the sea from the nearby Crimean coast, with the toll including multiple civilian deaths and a growing sense of panic. In Odessa, fears are rising that it could follow Mariupol as Vladimir Putin’s next principal target.

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Since the beginning of the war, more than half of the population — about 500,000 people — have left the city, even as others are flowing into Odessa from other war-torn regions in southern Ukraine, where the situation is even worse: people from Nikolayev, Kherson, Crimea, and even from Moldovan Transnistria.

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Territory Gains And Losses Point To Long War

Russia says it has conquered new territory in Donbas, while Ukraine says it has retaken parts of the city of Kharkiv. The competing claims come as Vladimir Putin appears to be bracing for a long "protracted" conflict.

Some press reports come from the battlefield, some come from headquarters.

The latter was the source for the lead story in today’s The New York Times that declared “Ukraine War’s Geographic Reality: Russia Has Seized Much of the East,” based on an assertion of the Russian Defense Ministry that “its forces in eastern Ukraine had advanced to the border between Donetsk and Luhansk,” the two provinces of Donbas.

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The article continues with an important caveat: “If confirmed,” the report signals that Russia could soon gain control over the entire Donbas region, which could put Moscow in position to force Kyiv to agree to its terms at the negotiating table.

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Geopolitics
Oleksandr Detsyk

How Sanctions Are Quietly Destroying Russia's Economy

The European Union has prepared the sixth package of sanctions against Russia, which includes restrictions on Russian oil imports, as well as disconnecting more Russian banks from the SWIFT bank circuit. The effectiveness of these measures are not always visible, but they are real ... and potentially fatal .. for the Russian economy.

-Analysis-

KYIV — Are sanctions working? To answer that question, it makes sense to first ask which sanctions have been most effective so far?

Economic sanctions against Russia for its aggression toward Ukraine began to be imposed immediately after the 2014 occupation of Crimea and the outbreak of the war in Donbas, but those cannot be considered effective. In any case, they did not deter Moscow’s invasion in 2022.

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But the sanctions imposed by the U.S., the European Union and their allies since February 24 have already hit the aggressor's economy significantly. The blocking of Russia's foreign exchange assets abroad has become the most painful. According to various estimates, this has affected about half of its gold and foreign exchange reserves, worth around $300 billion.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Russkiy Mir Or Bust? How Putin's "Russian World" Will Backfire In An Epic Way

Under Putin, the phrase "Russkiy Mir," translated as "Russian world" but also "Russian peace," has driven Kremlin's foreign policy. It's built on the idea of a civilization that stretched well beyond Russia's borders, but it is Putin himself dooming Moscow to fade in importance, and the ancient capital of Kyiv to rise from the ashes.

-Essay-

The phrase “Русский Мир” (Russkiy Mir — “Russian world”) has appeared frequently in statements by Vladimir Putin and his top henchmen to justify the invasion of Ukraine. It’s the idea that Russia is not just a nation-state, but a civilizational-state with an important role to play in world history.

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In Putin’s vision, the Kremlin has a duty to protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers all over the world, including in the former Soviet republics.

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Economy
Laura-Mai Gaveriaux

Dubai Postcard: Russian Oligarchs Find Refuge From Sanctions In UAE

Hit with Western sanctions, Russian oligarchs are racing against time to relocate their assets to tax havens. They turn to private banks where transactions, opaque as they are in the UAE for instance, make it almost impossible to trace funds.

DUBAI — In the neo-baroque hall of the Burj Al Arab hotel, surrounded by colored marbles, one can hear all the world’s languages. A mirroring image of this cosmopolitan bubble that Dubai has become over the past 30 years, a sort of Monaco of the Middle East. But from large red armchairs, it’s a Slavic atmosphere that stands out the most.

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At 2,000 to 12,000 euros a night, the rooms at the Burj Al Arab, situated on an artificial island, make it the most expensive palace in the emirate of Dubai — and the preferred meeting site of Russia’s richest businessmen. They are, of course, close to the Kremlin’s networks since it is virtually impossible to make a fortune, and above all, to keep it, without at least getting Vladimir Putin’s seal of approval first.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Acclaimed Ukrainian Photographer Maks Levin Hasn’t Been Seen Since March 13

The veteran photojournalist was covering the Russian invasion north of Kyiv, after spending years chronicling Ukraine’s longstanding battles in its eastern regions against pro-Russian separatists.

Maks Levin, a leading Ukrainian combat photographer and documentary filmmaker, has disappeared while covering the war north of Kyiv. Levin, 41, last made contact on March 13 while working in an active combat zone.

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It later became known that in the area where Levin was working, intense combat operations began, and colleagues fear he may have been injured or captured by Russian troops.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

The Sergei Shoigu Enigma, 'Last Man In The Bunker' With Putin

Gloom and uncertainty increasingly surround Putin as his would-be blitzkrieg of Ukraine stalls. The world wonders whether he'll double down, or if could be betrayed by his entourage. Sergei Shoigu, the man running Russia's military, is iron-clad loyal. He also hasn't been seen in public in two weeks.

By the end of December 1942, anyone who understood anything about the war could not help but realize that Germany had lost.

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Adolf Hitler's entourage could have avoided the terrible consequences for themselves and the rest of the world by simply deposing the mad Führer. They might have even remained the political elite in a country that was not yet utterly destroyed. But they did not; they simply watched as the war was lost and the country went to hell. Right to the very end, Hitler's Germany was the perfect example of a regime that avoided collapse by shrinking a nation's power to a single bunker.

For almost a month now, Russia has been fighting a war against Ukraine. During this time, the world community has begun to learn a lot more about Russia's army and intelligence.

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Geopolitics
Sergey Utkin

And Russia's Interests? No Good Scenario From Ukraine Invasion

A top analyst at one of Moscow's most prestigious research institutes comes down clear and strong: Russia's military invasion of Ukraine will leave the country isolated on the world stage, with grave consequences for the country's future.

-OpEd-

MOSCOW — The military operation in Ukraine poses long-term challenges for Russia.

Sanctions and other measures may appear to be a temporary outburst of indignation, but one should be under no illusions. If the talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives once started and immediately paused do not lead to substantive agreements — and such an outcome is highly likely — pressure on Russia may continue for at least as long as Russian military forces remain in Ukraine.

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Having launched an operation in Ukraine, Russia went all in, challenging the country's development goals that Russian ministries and research centers worked so hard to achieve. The business people and investors who came to Russia in the old reality had completely different plans for the future, which are unlikely to be adapted to the new reality. Few and infrequently will want, and indeed can, travel between Russia and the West over the closed airspace.

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Geopolitics
Christoph B. Schiltz

Ukraine, What Now? Here Are Putin's Four Options

The situation in eastern Ukraine is highly explosive. What will happen after the recognition of the self-proclaimed "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states? Will Putin hunker down or double down? Instant analysis from German foreign policy thinkers on what happens next.

-Analysis-

It is a rogue play directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Moscow seemed to nurture hopes for a top-level meeting between Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden, the Russian president decided Monday night instead to recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics as independent states.

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Geopolitics
Pavel Lokshin

Peace-Loving Putin v. War-Mongering West: How Russian Media Is Spinning Ukraine

The message from state-controlled media in Russia is clear: we are a peace-loving country constantly provoked by the West. The coverage is very different to the war hysteria before the annexation of Crimea and hides how the Kremlin benefits financially from tensions in Ukraine.

-Analysis-

MOSCOW — For days now, Russian state broadcasters have had ample opportunity to convey to domestic audiences the Kremlin’s official line on the Ukraine conflict. The message: the West is talking up the threat of war and endangering Russia.

An example was Saturday night’s evening news on the state broadcaster Pervyi. The program opens with an alleged violation of Russian territorial waters in the Pacific by a U.S. submarine, a story that has long since been dismissed as inaccurate by the U.S. military.

This is followed by a fragment on Putin’s phone conversations with U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, in which they are said to have discussed “provocative speculations” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the “impasse the intra-Ukrainian conflict has reached.”

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