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In The News

War In Ukraine, Day 85: 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.

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.

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What Happens Now To Mariupol Soldiers?

Up to 1,000 Ukrainian troops have reportedly surrendered from the Azovstal steel plant in the port of Mariupol, with all sent to a prisoner camp in Russian-controlled territory in Donbas. Ukrainians are hoping for a prisoner exchange, though Moscow may try some for war crimes.

Mariupol has fallen. The first 300 of the last Ukrainian troops holding out in the Ukrainian port city were taken early yesterday from the Azovstal steel plant toward the Russian-controlled former penal colony in Olenivka, Donetsk region. By Tuesday night, another column of seven buses, accompanied by Russian troops arrived in Olenivka, with a total of up to 1,000 soldiers reportedly surrendered by Wednesday morning.

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Ukrainians have been calling Tuesday’s events an evacuation, but Russia says it is the capture and surrender of Ukrainian troops, BBC Ukraine reports.

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Finland And Sweden In NATO? It Just Got Complicated

Turkey's Erdogan puts up a veto, while Orban's Hungary plays it coy. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin throws a curveball.

Following Finland’s and Sweden’s historic decisions to apply for NATO membership, major questions are emerging as to how quickly — if at all — they will become actual members of the military alliance.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a longstanding NATO member, surprised some observers by coming out strongly against Nordic countries joining.

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"Neither of these countries have a clear, open attitude towards terrorist organisations. How can we trust them?" Erdogan said on Monday. Turkey has accused Nordic countries, particularly Sweden, of harboring extremist Kurdish groups as well as supporters of U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, a longstanding Erdogan nemesis whom Turkey blames for the 2016 coup attempt.

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How Millennials And Boomers See Putin's Nuclear Threats Differently

Baby boomers who grew up under the threat of nuclear armageddon warn against a nuclear escalation of the war in Ukraine. But the younger generations are not cowed by Putin's blackmail. And that’s a very good thing.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — It is a sentence that no German Chancellor had ever had to utter before. “I am doing everything I can to prevent an escalation that would lead to World War III. There must not be a nuclear war,” said Olaf Scholz.

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In The News
Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger.

Sweden & NATO, Musk Pauses Twitter Buyout, Black Hole Picture

👋 Hæ hæ!*

Welcome to Friday, where reports say Sweden could follow Finland’s lead to join NATO, Elon Musk puts buying Twitter on hold, and we catch a first glimpse of a black hole that’s living next door. Meanwhile, French economic daily Les Echos shines a light on the dubious working and sourcing practices of Shein, the Chinese fast-fashion superstar retailer.

[*Icelandic]

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Geopolitics
Gregor Schwung

"Just 106 Seconds To Berlin" - How Putin Exploits Europe's Nuclear Fears

Russian propaganda plays on the revival of the West’s fear of a nuclear attack, especially knowing how close European capitals are to Moscow's atomic warheads. But Europe must remember the lessons of the Cold War and not play into Putin's hands.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — “Take a look at this picture,” the expert on Russian state TV says excitedly. “There’s nothing they can do about it.”

On the screen is a diagram that shows how long it would take a Russian nuclear missile to reach various European capital cities from its base in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad: 106 seconds to reach Berlin, 200 to reach Paris. “Would you like to know about London? That would take 202 seconds,” the presenter says.

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This is not the first time that Russian TV has threatened the West with nuclear war. And the reaction from across Europe is clear – panic.

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In The News
Anna Akage and Emma Albright

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
Benjamin Quénelle

Meet The Russians Protesting The War At Their Peril

Despite legal threats or worse, a notable minority of Russians, from students to elected officials, are finding ways to oppose the invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, many others have left the country since the war began, creating a brain drain that could last for many years.

MOSCOW — On this Wednesday in the middle of spring, Valeria Pasternakova and Polina Petrova, both in their twenties, are in a small courtroom of the municipal tribunal of Khamovniki, a district near the center of Moscow. A banal case before an administrative judge offers a view into the judicial absurdity that Vladimir Putin's opponents face.

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All over Russia, those opposed to the "special military operation" in Ukraine finds different ways to express themselves. But many end up in court.

The lawyer asks questions to the police officer who wrote the protocol for the students' arrest. Seated opposite of Valeria and Polina, he is nervous and vague in his answers. The judge, in her sixties, is protecting him: She rejects questions and requests with evasive glances and pouting. She yawns, showing impatience and boredom, when Polina Petrova, in her energetic plea, looks at her straight in the eyes.

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In The News
Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet

Russia Strikes Odessa, Marcos Wins In Philippines, Warhol’s Record Marilyn

👋 Osiyo!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Odessa is in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, the Marcos are back to power in the Philippines and an iconic pop art portrait by Andy Warhol sets a new record. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the debate surrounding postmodern architecture and its preservation.

[*Cherokee]

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In The News
Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou and Anne-Sophie Goninet.

Victory Day In Russia And Ukraine, Sri Lanka PM Resigns, Bitcoin Sinks

👋 ສະບາຍດີ!*

Welcome to Monday, where Putin blames the West for the war but makes no major announcement, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister resigns amid weeks of unrest, and Bitcoin keeps sinking. Persian-language media Kayhan-London also looks at how, despite the Ukraine conflict, Iran isn’t budging on its nuclear ambitions.

[*Sabaidee - Lao, Laos]

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In The News
Anna Akage, Sophia Constantino and Emma Albright

"Nazi," "Evil," "Victory" - Putin And Zelensky Face Off For May 9

Also making news: Russian parents search for soldier sons, school bombing toll rises, Bono, Justin Trudeau, Jill Biden visits, Mariupol 4--year-old separated from mother, hacking Russian TV...

Today’s date May 9, marked annually in both Russia and Ukraine to commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi forces during World War II, has taken on additional meaning this year as the war in Ukraine rages on.

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While weeks of speculation fizzled that Russia would have used the date for a major announcement about the war, there was much to unpack from the occasion.

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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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In The News
Emma Albright, Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou and Anne-Sophie Goninet.

Zelensky Pleads For Mariupol Ceasefire, Otoniel Extradited, Maradona’s Jersey

👋 Bonghjornu!*

Welcome to Thursday, where the Ukrainian President asks for a truce to evacuate civilians from Mariupol as Russia intensifies its assault on the Azovstal plant, Colombia extradites the world’s most dangerous drug trafficker and Diego Maradona's “Hand of God” jersey sets a record. Meanwhile, Buenos Aires-based daily Clarin looks at how the trend in dieting changes and diversification reflect inequalities in Argentine society.

[*Corsican]

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Cameron Manley

What The Obsession With Putin’s Health Says About The Grim State Of The War

The ongoing speculation around the Russian president being suddenly gone from power, because of either illness or death, captures the reality that this is Putin’s war. What could come next is no less troubling.

Every few days, a fresh round of speculation circulate about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deteriorating health: He’s got Parkinson’s or Rett syndrome or inoperable cancer. The latest reports this week declared that Putin was heading any day into surgery for cancer, and would be out of the public eye for an extended period and temporarily turn over the reins of power to a deputy.

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Part of the explanation is that, objectively, Putin has appeared weaker and less steady in recent public appearances. Some point to a widely viewed video last month of the Russian President showing signs of limp arm during a meeting with his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, followed a week later by an apparently shaky Putin during Easter Mass.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Irene Caselli, Bertrand Hauger, Cameron Manley and Emma Albright

Major New EU Sanctions Against Russia Include Ban On Oil Imports

Testimonies are emerging of civilians being evacuated from Mariupol and Lyman, as Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities continue. Meanwhile, the EU has revealed plans to enforce its sixth package of sanctions against Moscow.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced a new package of sanctions against Russia. Speaking to the European Parliament on Wednesday morning, von der Leyen unveiled plans to ban Russian oil imports as well as a proposal to ban three banks, including Sberbank, the country’s biggest, from the SWIFT international payments networks.

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Von der Leyen also announced that three big Russian state-owned broadcasters “that amplify Putin's lies and propaganda aggressively” would be banned from EU airwaves. The proposal needs to be approved by all EU member states to become effective.

The ban on oil poses a serious risk to the European economy, and will require countries to seek other energy sources after having long been reliant on Russian supply.

"Let's be clear: It will not be easy,” said von der Leyen. “But we simply have to work on it. We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, to maximize pressure on Russia, while minimizing the impact on our own economies."

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Ideas
Anna Akage

Why Putin's 'Mass Mobilization' Trap Could Make Victory Impossible

Reports are circulating that Putin might use May 9, Russia's "Victory Day", to announce a mass mobilization of the war in Ukraine. That would be a huge escalation for what's still referred to as a "special military operation," and has so far mostly counted on recruits far from major population centers.

-Analysis-

The general ineffectiveness of the Russian army’s military capacities has been one of the biggest surprises of the invasion of Ukraine. Over the past two decades, the West has once again come to fear the Russian army that had been greatly expanded after the low moment at the end of the Cold War.

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But since the beginning of the Ukraine invasion, Russia, considered the world’s second most powerful military force, has been hampered by strategic and technical failures. There were early reports of Russian soldiers’ looting because of shortages of food and fuel, as well as poor troop morale.

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