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Anna Akage

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Photo of three ​Ukrainian soldiers in trenches near Bakhmut, Ukraine
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

A Decisive Spring? How Ukraine Plans To Beat Back Putin's Coming Offensive

The next months will be decisive in the war between Moscow and Kyiv. From the forests of Polesia to Chernihiv and the Black Sea, Ukraine is looking to protect the areas that may soon be the theater of Moscow's announced offensive. Will this be the last Russian Spring?

Ukrainian forces are digging new fortifications and preparing battle plans along the entire frontline as spring, and a probable new Russian advance, nears.

But this may be the last spring for occupying Russian forces.

"Spring and early summer will be decisive in the war. If the great Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the downfall of Russia and Putin," said Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence.

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Skinitysky added that Ukraine believes Russia is planning a new offensive in the spring or early summer. The Institute for the Study of War thinks that such an offensive is more likely to come from the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk than from Belarus, as some have feared.

Still, the possibility of an attack by Belarus should not be dismissed entirely — all the more so because, in recent weeks, a flurry of MiG fighter jet activity in Belarusian airspace has prompted a number of air raid alarms throughout Ukraine.

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photo of ice on the river in Moscow
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Russia Is Suddenly Deploying Air Defense Systems On Moscow Rooftops

Russia is increasingly concerned about security from the sky: air defense systems have been installed on rooftops in Moscow's government quarter. Systems have also appeared in several other places in Russia, including near Vladimir Putin's lakeside home in Valdai. What is the Kremlin really worried about?

-Analysis-

The Russian Defense Ministry has refused to comment. State Duma parliamentary officials say it’s a fake. Still, a series of verified photographs have circulated in recent days of an array of long-range C-400 and short-range air defense systems installed on three complexes in Moscow near the Kremlin, as well as on locations in the outskirts of the capital and in the northwest village of Valdai, where Vladimir Putin has a lakeside residence.

Some experts believe the air defense installations in Moscow were an immediate response to recent Ukrainian statements about a new fleet of military drones: The Ukroboronprom defense contracter said this month that it completed a series of successful tests of a new strike drone with a range of over 1,000 kilometers. Analyst Michael Naki suggests that Moscow’s anti-air defense systems were an immediate reaction to the fact that the drones can theoretically hit Kremlin.

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Yet the air defense installations in Valdai seem to have been in place since late December, following Ukrainian drone attacks on a military airfield deep inside Russia’s Sorotov region, 730 kilometers (454 miles) southeast of Moscow.

Others pose a very different rationale to explain Russia’s beefing up anti-air defenses on its own territory. Russian military analyst Yan Matveev argues that Putin demanded the deployment of such local systems not as defense against long-range Ukrainian drones, but rather for fear of sabotage from inside Russia.

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Photo of a railway tracks in Belarus
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Rail War: How Belarusians Are Secretly Fighting Putin And Lukashenko

It remains unclear whether Belarus' strongman Alexander Lukashenko will join Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Yet as popular support for the war remains low, many in the country are actively fighting back by sabotaging the rail network.

On March 24, exactly one month after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Vitaly Melnik set fire to trackside railway electrical cabinets, resulting in massive delays for 22 freight and 17 passenger trains. Earlier this month, a regional court in Belarus convicted Melnik, a 40-year-old man from Minsk, to 13 years in a maximum security colony.

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Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Melnik had also "posted negative messages on the Internet about [Belarusian President] Alexander Lukashenko," announced the prosecutor.

On Dec. 27, three other Belarusian citizens were sentenced to prison for terms of 21 to 23 years. Their crime? Trying to prevent the transportation of military equipment to Ukraine during the early days of the Russian invasion.

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Photo of ​Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looking down in a cemetery in Lviv on Jan. 11
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

And If It Had Been Zelensky? How The War Became Bigger Than Any One Person

Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Denys Monastyrsky was killed Wednesday in a helicopter crash. The cause is still unknown, but the high-profile victim could just have well been President Zelensky instead. It raises the question of whether there are indispensable figures on either side in a war of this nature?

-Analysis-

The news came at 8 a.m., local time: a helicopter had crashed in Brovary, near Kyiv, with all the top management of Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs on board, including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky. There were no survivors.

Having come just days after a Russian missile killed dozens in a Dnipro apartment, the first thought of most Ukrainians was about the senseless loss of innocent life in this brutal war inflicted on Ukraine. Indeed, it occurred near a kindergarten and at least one of the dozens killed was a small child.

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But there was also another kind of reaction to this tragedy, since the victims this time included the country's top official for domestic security. For Ukrainians (and others) have been wondering — regardless of whether or not the crash was an accident — if instead of Interior Minister Monastyrsky, it had been President Volodymyr Zelensky in that helicopter. What then?

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Photo of a Polish soldier seen working at the construction of the fence along the border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Saturate The East! Poland Revamps Its Military Strategy In Response To Russian Threat

Poland has a border with Russia and Belarus, so it is not just watching how the Ukraine war develops. Warsaw is rethinking its entire defense strategy.

KYIV — It will soon be exactly one year since the Russian Federation launched its large-scale invasion of Ukraine. During that time, neighboring Poland has been playing the role of a front-line country — NATO's eastern outpost.

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Polish government agencies have been hard at work on what to do if the country is attacked. In particular, a new defense directive. After all, Poland’s Political and Strategic Defense Directive, which has been in effect since 2018, must be updated because it simply doesn't match today's reality.

Poland's Deputy Minister of National Defense, Wojciech Skurkiewicz, announced a change in defense doctrine with the defense forces set up on the Vistula River, located in northeastern Poland. Ukraine's experience shows the need to protect the country's entire territory as quickly as possible.

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Photo of rescuer workers taking away a corpse in Dnipro
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

“Everything Was Blown Away” — In Dnipro, Voices Of The Survivors

A Ukrainian reporter on the scene of one of the worst attacks on civilians since Russia's invasion began.

DNIPRO — I met Oleg in one of the hospitals in Dnipro. His body was covered with wounds and scratches.

Oleg was with his wife in their apartment in a high-rise building in this central Ukrainian city on what seemed like an ordinary weekend. Then a Russian missile hit — and they miraculously survived, among the 75 wounded. As of Monday morning, 40 of their neighbors are confirmed dead, and at least 35 still missing.

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Oleg tries to piece together the moment of the strike:

"There was a long explosion. Everything was blown away," he recalls. It is still difficult for him to speak and keep his eyes open for any extended time, because of burns and wounds from the glass.

"We could not leave the apartment by ourselves because the door collapsed. Rescuers got us through the window of the 4th floor. I am glad that I am alive and that my wife is fine. I thank our rescuers, medics, and the Armed Forces. I hope everything will be fine," Oleg says on Sunday, still apparently under shock.

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Inside Russia's "Game Of Thrones" To Succeed Putin
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Inside Russia's "Game Of Thrones" To Succeed Putin

As Vladimir Putin's end increasingly seems near (political or physical), the battle to replace the Kremlin strongman heats up. Here are the main characters in this very Russian blood sport.

Today, Russia deservedly ranks among the most isolated and inhuman regimes in the world. And it's not just because of the war — this is the result of two decades of political and moral degradation of the Russian state.

The clans surrounding Vladimir Putin today resemble organized crime groups.

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Some of them command their own armies, like Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin and the head of the Rosgvardia, Viktor Zolotov. Others, like Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Security Council, have security units.

And each clan has its financial resources — banks, state corporations and large companies. Some clans own entire regions, like Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya.

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Photo of Valery Gerasimov with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Putin's Choice For New Ukraine Commander Is All About Closing Ranks At Home

The choice of General Valery Gerasimov to replace General Sergey Surovikin is a political defeat for Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov — and a sign that Putin may be getting skittish on the home front.

-Analysis-

Vladimir Putin has once again replaced his supreme military commander in Ukraine, just three months after a previous change at the top. The announcement Wednesday is clearly a sign of Putin's disappointment in the direction of the war – but perhaps more notably, a major political victory for the military establishment over outsiders who had been trying to gain influence.

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Putin’s choice of General Valery Gerasimov to replace General Sergey Surovikin is not expected to affect the immediate course of the war, but it speaks to a change in the Russian president’s mindset. Unsatisfied with the Wagner PMC mercenary group, and its owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, recently tasked with a bigger share of the fighting, Putin has decided to rely on the established military elite again.

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Meet The Mufti Of Ukraine, From Friday Prayers To The Front Line
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Meet The Mufti Of Ukraine, From Friday Prayers To The Front Line

Russia has a complicated history with Islam, often built on Moscow's repression of the religious minority. Now, Muslims in Ukraine are ever more committed to a project for a multi-religious society that Kyiv espouses. Ukrainian Mufti Said Ismagilov has taken up arms for that cause, and to defend his nation.

BAKHMUT — Before Feb. 24, Said Ismagilov dedicated his service to the Muslims of Ukraine. Since Feb. 24, his service has shifted to the front line.

A native of Donetsk, Ismagilov was the Mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (UMMA). His decision to volunteer at the front, currently fighting in one of the paramedic brigades in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, is connected to his roots.

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"Russians have been coming to my family for a century, destroying and taking away everything we own, everything we value," says the 44-year-old.

Recently, a video appeared on social networks of Said reading out Sura 48 of Al-Fath, one of the chapters of the Quran dedicated to victory. The clip showed the ruins of Bakhmut, against the background of the unfinished mosque, delayed due to the full-scale invasion.

Among the many motives for Ismagilov to take up arms is a personal one that embodies the history of Ukraine.

"In 2014, the same Muscovites came to Donbas and persecuted me," Ismagilov recalled. "I had to go to Kyiv to settle in Bucha. But the Muscovites came there in 2022 and robbed my apartment. Honestly, I'm getting sick of them. We have to destroy this empire."

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photo of a woman in a pink jacket walking as seen through a blown out window
Ideas

Cargo 300: For The Wounds Of Ukraine Have No Time To Heal

After a grim New Year, a soldier and mother reflects on the trauma of the past 10 months: fear, the corpses of friends and the choice between her own children and joining the war effort.

-Essay-

The Facebook feed of holiday photos is not pleasant.

Someone is seen celebrating in a trench; others in blacked-out cities. Another is in a foreign country. And some spend a first holiday without a beloved father, son or husband.

It is all sadness.

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Cargo 300 is a military term for transporting a wounded soldier out of combat zones. Cargo 200 is for the deceased.

As I return to civilian life, I realize that from now on and for decades to come, we will be a nation of "300s," wounded by war, physically and morally crippled, regardless of whether or not we were directly on the battlefield.

Immediately after demobilization, I travelled to Germany, where my children were all this time. I met a friend who had served eight months in Iraq.

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photo of Yevgeny Prigozhin
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Putin's Pet: How Wagner Group Boss Prigozhin Is Gaining Power — And Enemies

Putin used to keep his respectable and criminal circles of friends separate. But the increasing power of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a former prisoner and head of the Wagner paramilitary group, has many inside and outside the Kremlin worried.

-Analysis-

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner PMC, has complicated relations not only with the Russian Defense Ministry, but also with the inner circle of Vladimir Putin. But in both cases, his position is increasingly one of power, as Prigozhin's role in the war with Ukraine has become ever more crucial.

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With convictions for theft, assault, and involving minors in criminal activity, Prigozhin spent many years in prison in his youth. In 1981, a court in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) sentenced him to 13 years in a maximum security penal colony, serving nearly 10 years.

One of Prigozhin's cellmates recently circulated a message that said that during his incarceration he belonged to the lowest caste of prisoners — the so-called "offended" who provided sexual services to other prisoners.

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Ukrainian soldier climbing stairs from an underground shelter in Zaporizhia region, heading towards the entrance and the daylight
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Zelensky Will Not Promise Victory In 2023

Will 2023 be the year of victory? A negotiated settlement? The beginning of the new year was a time for speeches in Kyiv and Moscow aimed at inspiring the respective nations 10 months since Russia’s bloody invasion. Yet, for one good reason, certain words were not spoken.

-Analysis-

In Ukraine, New Year's was a sad and violent occasion: Kyiv, the capital, along with other cities, were subjected to drone attacks as the air-raid alarms barely stopped sounding in most parts of Ukraine throughout the would-be “holiday” weekend.

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Ukrainians couldn’t help noticing the contrast with other parts of the world, not just because people were ringing in the new year with celebrations, but more importantly because of the array of politicians, military experts and journalists making predictions for how the war will go in 2023.

The single question underlying all the others: Will the war in Ukraine end this year?

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