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TOPIC: russia

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Real Purpose Of The Drone Strikes Inside Russia? A Decoy For Ukraine's Counterattack

Putin is hesitant to mobilize troops for political reasons. And the Ukrainian military command is well aware that the key to a successful offensive lies in creating new front lines, where Russia will have to relocate troops from Ukraine and thus weaken the existing front.

This article was updated at 8 p.m. local time May 31 with reports of new strikes inside Russia


On the night of May 30, military drones attacked the Russian capital. There were no casualties – just broken windows and minor damage to homes. Ukraine claims it had nothing to do with the attack, and it is instead the frenzied artificial intelligence of military machines that do not understand why they are sent to Kyiv.

While the Ukrainian president’s office jokes that someone in Russia has again been smoking somewhere they shouldn’t, analysts are placing bets on the real reasons for the Moscow strikes. Many believe that Kyiv's real military target can by no means be the capital of Russia itself: it is too far from the front and too well defended – and strikes on Russia, at least with Western weapons, run counter to Ukraine’s agreements with allies, who have said that their weapons cannot be used to attack inside Russia.

Eight apartment buildings, four homes, a school and two administrative buildings were damaged during the shelling in Shebekino, a village in the border region of Belgorod, its governor said, as the oblast increasingly becomes a hotbed of straying violence.

On Wednesday, new reports of a “massive” shelling attack inside Russia's borders that injured at least four people in Belgorod and a drone sparked a fire at an oil refinery further south.

If the goal is not directly military, maybe it is psychological: to scare the residents of the capital, who live in a parallel reality and have no idea how life feels for Ukrainian civilians. Forcing people to live with this reality could push the Kremlin to retreat, or at least make concessions and negotiate with Kyiv. If neither sanctions nor the elite could sober Vladimir Putin up, could angry Muscovites?

But neither Russia's military command nor its political leadership depends on the opinion of citizens. And there are enough special forces in Moscow to crush any mass protest.

Laying bare Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inability to guarantee his country's security, in front of Russia’s remaining international partners or among the country’s elites, is also an unlikely goal. The Russian army has already seen such embarrassing failures that a few drone strikes on the Kremlin can’t possibly change how Putin is seen as a leader, or Russia as a state. So why would Kyiv launch attacks on Moscow?

Let's go back to the date of the shelling: May 29 is Kyiv Day, a holiday in the Ukrainian capital. It was also the 16th attack on Kyiv in May alone, unprecedented in its scale, even compared to the winter months when Russia had still hoped to cut off Ukrainian electricity and leave Kyiv residents, or even the whole country, freezing in the dark.

The backdrop: the Ukrainian counter-offensive to liberate the occupied territories, which is in the works, if not already launched.

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Drones On Moscow: Vladimir Putin On The Defensive Like Never Before

In another scenario, Putin could be bragging about Russia's control of Bakhmut after nearly a year of fighting, and the bombing of the Ukrainian Intelligence’s headquarters, which was recently acknowledged by Kyiv. But instead he must retreat to the ultimate home front after drone attacks in the capital.


PARIS — In February of last year, when Russian President Vladimir Putin dubbed his invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation,” he was telling Russians that it would be over quickly. Now, 15 months later, drones are striking apartment buildings in Moscow, bringing a whiff of war to inhabitants of the Russian capital, who had so far thought they’d been spared.

The psychological shock is far greater than the military impact.

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It is a symbol of the failure of the Russian president’s Ukraine campaign. Pro-war nationalist bloggers were quick to criticize the lack of air defense, which allowed the drones to strike Moscow. But if they had really wanted to taunt the government, they could have compared it with the performance of the Ukrainian air defense which, thanks to Western equipment, knocks down most of the Russian drones and missiles fired at Kyiv.

In the same vein, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary outfit Wagner and rival to Russia's military commanders, commented on his Telegram channel: “The people have a right to ask these questions," and, in a message aimed at the military establishment, added a pointed note: “May your houses burn."

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Russia Accuses U.S. Of Enabling “Terrorists”, N. Korea Satellite Fail, NZ Air Weight

👋 Grüss Gott!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Russia accuses the U.S. of encouraging cross-border "terrorist" attacks, a North Korean military reconnaissance satellite launch fails and New Zealand air travels must weigh in. Meanwhile, Hannelore Crolly and Ricarda Breyton in Berlin-based daily Die Welt unpack reports that Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko may be trying to create another migrant crisis in the EU, with Russia’s help.

[*Swabian, Germany]

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The Foreign And Domestic Forces That Keep Russia's Military-Industrial Complex Turning

The continuing heavy shelling of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities shows that Russia still has more missiles than Ukrainians would have hoped. The look through the web of Kremlin diktats and murky international commerce that keeps the Russian military churning out hardware that drives the war in Ukraine

The continuing heavy shelling of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities shows that Russia still has more missiles than Ukrainians would have hoped.

For more than a year, Russia has denied that it has transitioned to a full war-time economy, pretending instead that the so-called "special military operation" is going according to plan. Meanwhile, the Kremlin is scrounging for every possible resource to support the war, spending record amounts to strengthen the army.

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Western sanctions were supposed to make this impossible – or at least complicated. But so far, Russia is still increasing its military spending and arms production, and finding ways to import prohibited components.

How is the Russian military-industrial complex increasing its capacity – and how much is the government spending on war?

In 2023, Russia will spend a record $357 billion from the federal budget on army and security forces – a 60% increase compared to 2021. Every third ruble from the federal budget goes to the war in Ukraine or to support the regime.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg: part of the war spending has been disguised in the budgets for education, social programs and support to individual regions and the economy overall.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Hannelore Crolly, Ricarda Breyton

Belarus May Be Pushing Migrants Into The EU Again — This Time With Russian Help

In 2021, Belarus strongman Lukashenko triggered a migration crisis when he actively drove asylum seekers to the EU. According to the German government, those numbers are on the rise again.


BERLIN — In the nine months between July 2022 and March 2023 alone, Germany's Federal Police registered 8,687 people who entered Germany undocumented after a Belarus connection. This has emerged from the Ministry of the Interior's response to an inquiry by MP Andrea Lindholz, deputy chair of the Christian Social Union (CSU) parliamentary group, which was made available to Die Welt.

The migration pressure on the Belarus route — which was now supposedly closed after a huge crisis in 2021 that saw Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko threatening to "flood" the EU with drugs and migrants — has thus increased significantly again.

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"Apparently, about half of the people who enter the EU illegally every month via the German-Polish border enter the EU via Belarus," Lindholz told Die Welt. In an autocratic state like this, border crossings on this scale are certainly no coincidence, she said. "It is obvious that these illegal entries are part of a strategy to destabilize the EU."

In addition to flexible controls at the border with Poland, stationary ones are also needed, said Lindholz. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser should agree on a concrete roadmap with Poland "on how to significantly reduce illegal entries into Germany." Lindholz also called on the German government to revoke landing permits for airlines that facilitate illegal migration via Russia and Belarus.

The Belarus route had already caused concern throughout the EU in 2021. At that time, sometimes highly dramatic scenes took place at the border with Poland. Thousands of migrants tried to enter the EU undocumented — many of them transported there by soldiers or border guards of Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko. Poland even feared an attempt to break through the border en masse.

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Driss Rejichi

A Key New Ally For Russia That Makes The West Cringe: Tunisia

Tunis and Moscow have been increasingly close — at the cost of relations with the West, which had once looked to Tunisia as a model of democracy. The two countries are brought together by Kremlin's efforts to woo African countries, but also a natural alliance of its strongman Presidents Putin and Saïed.


TUNIS — Back on December 16, a surprising scene was unfolding at the headquarters of the Independent High Authority for Elections. In the chairs of the reception hall, the president of the government agency Farouk Bouasker and four other members of the organization were seated in front of … a Russian delegation.

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Arriving from Moscow the same day, they were members of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, a body that monitors and evaluates public action but has very little power in Vladimir Putin’s regime. Yet they were welcomed with the honors previously reserved to the European Union delegations, and presented with a copy of the new electoral code.

Deployed to Tunisia at the invitation of Farouk Bouasker, close to Tunisia's strongman President Kaïs Saïed, their mission would be to follow and analyze the process of the legislative elections organized the next day. It was the first such meeting since the coup of July 25, 202, when Saied issued an emergency declaration firing the prime minister and assumed all executive power.

It is the first ever delegation of this kind sent by Russia in the country. If their mission doesn’t differ from that of their European predecessors, the context of their coming is far from trivial.

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In The News
Emma Albright, Laure Gautherin, Sophie Jacquier, Marine Béguin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Drones On Moscow, Maduro Back In Brazil, Cheese Race Win By KO

👋 Lasso fyafulla!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where two people were injured as Moscow has been targeted by another drone attack, Venezuela’s President Maduro is welcomed back in Brazil for the first time since 2019, and a woman wins UK’s annual cheese race by knockout. Meanwhile, Joanna Wisniowska in Warsaw-based daily Gazeta Wyborcza writes that Poland may have been a little too successful at safeguarding its moose population …

[*Tamang, Nepal]

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Nikolai Kozhanov

Iran And Russia, An Alliance Of Common Enemies — Sealed By Sanctions

Russia attacks Ukraine with Iranian shahed drones, thinks about buying Iranian missiles, sells Iran Su-35 fighters, and starts repairing its civilian aircraft. How is it that Iran has become Russia's main ally?


The rapprochement between Iran and Russia began even before the war with Ukraine, as there was a significant reshuffle of power within Iran. People from highly conservative circles came in, in alliance with the security forces, from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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They had no doubts that sanctions on Iran would not be completely lifted even if a nuclear deal was signed.

In an interview with the Russian edition of independent media outlet Important Stories, Nikolai Kozhanov, associate professor at the Center for Persian Gulf Studies at Qatar University, explained how strong the Iran-Russia alliance is, and why it is evident that a global confrontational process was underway, even before Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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eyes on the U.S.
Asafa Jalata

The Unique Role Of African Americans In Building A New U.S.-Africa Alliance

Recent allegations by the U.S. ambassador to South Africa that the African nation gave ammunition and weapons to Russia in December 2022, amid Russia’s war on Ukraine, illustrate the complexity of U.S.-Africa relations.

Even as South Africa investigates those claims, the Biden administration is trying to strengthen ties with the African Union, a continental member organization, and 49 of Africa’s 54 countries, including South Africa, on geopolitical and commercial issues.

The only African countries the U.S. is not courting are four that were suspended from the African Union, and Eritrea, a country with which the United States doesn’t have a formal relationship.

The U.S. is making this grand African play as it competes with China to influence the continent’s future. And while this particular U.S.-China contest is relatively new, U.S. involvement in Africa is not.

The way the U.S. has been involved on the continent, though, has changed over time, depending on the era, U.S. interests and a particular African nation’s needs. In 1822, for example, the U.S. began to send freeborn African Americans and emancipated former enslaved African Americans to Africa, where they settled the colony that would eventually become Liberia. That settlement was originally governed by white Americans.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Stefan Beutelsbacher

Ukraine Blacklist: Shaming The Companies Still Doing Business With Russia

Ukraine has compiled a blacklist of companies it says are "sponsoring" war by still doing business with Russia. The list is causing a stir within the European Union, which is currently working on its 11th round of sanctions.

BRUSSELS — The blacklist is doing the rounds among diplomats in Brussels. It's a sensitive document: a list compiled by the Ukrainian government of what it calls "sponsors of war".

Kyiv accuses more than two dozen companies in Europe, America and Asia of still doing significant business with Russia.

By doing so, it says, they provide Vladimir Putin with large revenues to finance his war. Some companies, the Ukrainians believe, may even be supplying banned products to the Russian army.

Now the blacklist, compiled by a Ukrainian authority called NACP, is getting significant European Union (EU) attention for the first time. The member states are currently negotiating new sanctions against Russia, intending to launch what is now the eleventh package. Technically, they say, the list from Kyiv will not become part of this package. Nevertheless, it is causing quite a stir.

So far, the EU has banned imports of many Russian products, for example coal, oil and vodka. It seized the yachts of oligarchs loyal to Kremlin and froze central bank reserves.

In the eleventh round of sanctions, measures are planned that are to take effect beyond European borders. Experts are calling them extraterritorial sanctions. Brussels plans to punish companies outside the EU that help Putin circumvent the sanctions. That's what makes the list from Kyiv so explosive.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Cameron Manley

Ukraine Is Getting Inside Russia’s Borders — And Inside Russian Heads

A series of brazen attacks into Russian territory, from the border region all the way to the placing a target on Putin's life, may have limited military ends. But it is a perfect example of psychological warfare against an increasingly vulnerable nation.


For the Russian military, the turbulence of the past few days is unpleasant, but not unusual. For the Russian nation, something altogether new appears to be underway.

On Monday, Russian anti-Kremlin fighters claimed to have attacked two villages inside Russia’s Belgorod region, after crossing from Ukraine. By Tuesday, the Russian regional governor said the cross-border incursion had been crushed. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu threatened to respond to similar attacks “promptly and with extreme harshness.”

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Meanwhile, a media report late Wednesday said that U.S. intelligence sources believe Ukrainian secret services have orchestrated a series of brazen attacks deep inside Russia, including the May 3 drone strike on the Kremlin itself.

Taken together, these incidents could be a sign of things to come — as Ukraine appears to see a new opening to take advantage of Russian vulnerability inside its own borders in a bold form of psychological warfare.

In more immediate terms, the Belgorod attacks come as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky returns home from a diplomatic world tour, armed with promises from allies for more powerful weaponry, including long-range cruise missiles and, eventually, fighter jets.

At the same time, Ukrainian forces also finally appeared to cede full control of Bakhmut — a potentially Pyrrhic victory for Russian forces, who are reported to have lost as many as 100,000 soldiers and tied up vital resources for months in the battle for the city.

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Dominique Moïsi

U.S.-China-Global South: The New Geometry Of Our "Tripolar" World

Approaching the world as a simple opposition between East and West falls short. An emerging "tripolar" geopolitics requires we establish new ways of thinking and managing both conflict and opportunity.


PARIS — Has the world become tripolar?

Is there a reformulation of the “classic” confrontation between a Global West and a Global East, happening under the watch of a Global South that does not support Russia's aggression against Ukraine but simultaneously expresses its reservations against the Western world?

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Of course, this new tripolar order is asymmetrical, to say the least. The Global South is infinitely more diverse in its composition than the Global West and East can be. But we can no longer be satisfied with thinking of the world in terms of bipolarity between the U.S. and China. And Europe is far from having become an independent actor within the multipolar world.

In the tripolar world that is revealing itself, each pole obeys its own rules and expresses a specific kind of emotion.

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