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News Feed Brief summaries of major developments throughout the week (June 20–24, 2022): Ukraine’s Severodonetsk withdrawal, a collaborator is killed in Kherson, trouble at Katyn

In the digest below, Meduza condenses the latest news stories in and around Russia and Ukraine. (Cover page photo: Stanislav Ostrous.)

This feed is now closed. You can find next week’s updates here.

🧑‍🎤 Little Big releases first video of 2022: The Russian band Little Big released a new music video on Friday (its first of the year), titled “Generation Cancelation.” Band members are calling it their “antiwar manifesto.” In a press release shared with Meduza, Little Big said the song “criticizes the war, propaganda, and politics […] through a selection of visuals filled with references and Easter eggs to the current geopolitical situation.” On social media, band members have said, “We adore our country, but we completely object to the war with Ukraine, and we believe that any war is wrong.” The band is now based in Los Angeles.

⚖️ Son of former Dagestani official is sentenced to 13 years in prison for murder: A jury of his peers has convicted Murtazali Majidov, the son of Dagestan’s former prime minister, of murdering a college student in 2018. Majidov was already convicted of the murder last year, but the Moscow City Court overturned the verdict. Majidov has been sentenced to 13 years in prison.

🪦 Only Russia’s flag now flies above the Katyn war cemetery: Reportedly on orders from Russia’s Culture Ministry, the Polish flag has disappeared from the Katyn war cemetery outside Smolensk. “There can be no flags of Poland at Russian memorials! Especially after openly anti-Russian statements by Polish politicians,” explained Smolensk Mayor Andrey Borisov. The memorial site contains the remnants of more than 4,400 captured Polish officers, who were murdered in 1940 in what is known as the Katyn massacre. Soviet officials denied responsibility for the killings until 1990.

Poland’s flag removed from Russia’s Katyn war cemetery
Smolensk Mayor Andrey Borisov / Vkontakte

⚖️ Extradition requests denied: Several European countries have begun refusing Russia’s extradition requests, Attorney General Igor Krasnov reported on Friday. According to Krasnov, Germany, the UK, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Croatia, Montenegro, Czechia, and Estonia have all refused to hand over people facing criminal prosecution in Russia. Krasnov also said that the refusals were for “political reasons” and that Russian authorities “will not copy such unreasonable behavior.”

🇩🇪 Nationalizing Nord Stream 2?: The German government is considering expropriating part of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and repurposing it as a connection for a liquefied natural gas terminal, Der Spiegel reported on Friday. According to the magazine, converting parts of the pipeline is possible, but it threatens environmental damage. Berlin is also concerned that Moscow would retaliate by expropriating German companies in Russia, Der Spiegel said. On Thursday, Germany’s economy minister warned that the country is facing a natural gas “crisis” and triggered the second phase of a three-stage emergency gas plan after Russia cut flows through Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

🪖 Ukrainian troops to withdraw from Severodonetsk: Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said on Friday that Ukrainian forces were ordered to withdraw from the embattled city of Severodonetsk. Sources in the military told the Kyiv Independent that the troop withdrawal is already underway, but there has been no official confirmation from the Ukrainian Armed Forces as yet.

Apartment buildings in Severodonetsk. June 24, 2022
Alexander Reka / TASS
Alexander Reka / TASS

⚔️ Strong words from Lavrov after Ukraine’s EU announcement: At a news conference in Baku on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed the West is putting together a coalition to fight a war against Russia. “When the Second World War was starting, Hitler gathered a significant number, if not a majority, of European countries under his banner for a war against the Soviet Union. Now, both the EU and NATO are gathering a similar modern coalition for a fight, and by and large for a war, against the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said.

📝 Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner on Ukrainians in Russia: After Russia's Interior Ministry reported that 55,202 people have been granted temporary asylum in Russia since the end of February, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova called the number “meager,” noting that 1.5 million people have entered Russian (many of them against their will) from Ukraine. “What’s the status of the rest of them? Why have they still not gotten [asylum]?” Moskalkova said, adding that said she plans to file reports with the FSB and the Interior Ministry on behalf of the other refugees. She also spoke out about the lack of an official return process for Ukrainians who want to go home.

🧃 A win for Russia’s toddlers: The Russian Union of Juice Producers has asked the government to increase the maximum package size allowed for juice products intended for children under three years old from 0.2 liters to 0.5 liters, Kommersant reported. According to the outlet's sources, the increase will allow manufacturers to save packaging, which has become more difficult to obtain due to sanctions. 80 percent of the material used to manufacture the standard 0.2-liter packages currently used for children’s juice boxes in Russia is imported.

💥 Occupying "administration" member killed: Dmytro Savluchenko, head of the Russian-backed regional administration’s Family, Youth, and Sports department in Ukraine's Kherson region, was killed when a car exploded on Friday. According to Ukrainian journalist Denis Kazansky, it’s unclear whether the explosion was the work of Ukrainian intelligence or of local criminal groups. Various parties are currently vying for control of stolen goods, such as grain, in the Russian-occupied region, and looters are wont to attribute murders and explosions to Ukrainian special forces, Kazansky said.

🇪🇺 Ukraine’s EU timeline: Ukraine will be able to join the EU in 2029 at the earliest, according to Natalia Forsyuk, Director General of Ukraine’s Government Office for Coordination of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. Sealing the deal any sooner won’t be feasible due to the “huge amount of legislation that needs to be adopted and implemented” by Ukraine. Ukraine’s membership negotiations, however, are expected to start early next year, Forsyuk said.

🕵️ Zelensky sours on Ukraine’s ‘top spy’: Ivan Bakanov, the wartime chief of Ukraine’s Security Service, has fallen out of favor with President Volodymyr Zelensky following “a string of failures and the loss of Kherson,” reports Christopher Miller for Politico. Zelensky wants to replace Bakanov “with someone more suitable,” says Miller, citing “four officials close to the president and a Western diplomat who has advised Kyiv.”

🧑‍🏫 A great curriculum for a great nation: Education officials in Russia have drafted amendments to national teaching standards for middle- and high-schools that would introduce history lessons on the current “special military operation” in Ukraine. The new curriculum would also address “the causes and consequences of the USSR’s collapse, the revival of the Russian Federation as a world power, the reunification of Crimea with Russia, and other major events of the 20th and early 21st centuries,” including the “difficult 1990s” and “strengthening of Russia’s defense capabilities.” (In recent months, multiple senior state officials in Russia have advocated more patriotic classroom instruction related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.)

🛢️ Crafty but crude: Investigative journalists at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project studied company records and live ship tracking and discovered that Sovcomflot — a Russian state-backed shipping company sanctioned by the U.S. and EU — is still delivering crude oil to European ports by basing subsidiaries in Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates and sailing under Liberian flags. Each shipment carries more than $240 million worth of fuel, learned OCCRP, but who is buying the oil remains unclear.

👩‍🎤 Eurovision 2023 is headed elsewhere: In a statement released on Thursday, the European Broadcasting Union announced that Ukraine is too unsafe to host the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest. Citing the force majeure situation of the Russian invasion (travel reluctance, the ongoing risk of air strikes, and other dangers), the EBU has decided, “with regret,” “to move the event to another country.” A replacement host hasn’t yet been selected.

🎨 The Hermitage will hold onto its art: The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg announced a one-year moratorium on all exhibitions in Europe and the United States, effective after its exhibits in these countries are returned. This marks the museum’s first moratorium since the 1990s (when it restricted exhibitions across Russia due to security concerns and financial risks). The Hermitage’s director says the museum will now focus on domestic exhibition activity. (In April, French officials refused to return two of the Hermitage’s exhibits because the exhibits’ owners, Petr Aven and Moshe Kantor, are under EU sanctions.)

🛡️ Shoring up the Union State: At a meeting on Thursday with his Belarusian counterpart, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu advocated “urgent joint measures to strengthen the defense capabilities of the Union State” (the supranational organization consisting of Russia and Belarus), stressing the need to raise the “combat readiness” of the regional grouping of troops and air defense system. (On June 22, Belarus began mobilization training exercises near the Ukrainian border.)

📱 Circumventing Western boycotts: The Russian retailers Ozon and Svyaznoy have started selling electronics acquired by “parallel import” (non-counterfeit goods imported without the intellectual property owner’s permission). In a statement to the news agency RIA Novosti, Ozon announced on Thursday that it’s now using parallel imports to sell “popular electronics brands, including smartphones, computers, and their components.” (After the invasion of Ukraine, hundreds of foreign companies, including major electronics manufacturers, ceased all operations and sales in Russia, leading federal officials in Moscow to legalize and simplify parallel imports.)

🤝 EU candidacy for Ukraine and Moldova: On Thursday, leaders of the European Union agreed to make Ukraine and Moldova candidates for membership in the bloc. This status does not confer membership (which could take decades longer), but the decision is widely viewed as a signal to the Kremlin that these former Soviet republics’ future lies with Europe, not Moscow. EU leaders said Georgia would become a candidate after meeting certain conditions. “Today is a good day for Europe,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. “This decision strengthens us all. It strengthens Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, in the face of Russian imperialism. And it strengthens the EU.”

⚖️ Another war crimes trial in Ukraine: A trial in Kyiv is underway against Russian soldier Mikhail Romanov, who is charged with murdering a man in the town of Bohdanivka (outside Ukraine’s capital) and raping his wife. (In April, Meduza published an investigative report about Russia’s brief but brutal occupation of Bohdanivka.) Romanov’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Prosecutors say they have been unable to confirm reports on social media that the soldier died in battle, and Ukrainian officials believe he is now in Russia. Romanov’s suspected tank division is currently fighting in the Luhansk region.

Major events on June 22, 2022

  • 💰 Money for both sides: Russian YouTuber Evgeny Bazhenov (better known as BadComedian) announced on Wednesday that he’s donated his latest monetization proceeds to civilians “on both sides” of the conflict in Ukraine (noncombatants in the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, as well as in Ukrainian-controlled Ukraine), adding that he refuses to divide civilians into “right and wrong.”
  • 🔍 The death of Maks Levin: Reporters Without Borders says it has evidence that Russian soldiers executed journalist Maks Levin in a forest near Kyiv on March 13. “The evidence against the Russian forces is overwhelming,” the NGO said in a summary (though the report itself says “hypothesis number one” is that Russian soldiers shot Levin after mistaking him for a Ukrainian soldier due to his blue armband, before firing two more bullets into his head when he was on the ground, possibly after he’d already died).
  • ⚖️ Nacke’s arrest stands: In a hearing closed to the public, a Moscow court rejected journalist and blogger Michael Nacke’s attempt to challenge his arrest (in absentia) in the felony case against him for spreading “disinformation” about Russia’s military. (Nacke now lives abroad.) The judge ruled that Nacke’s “arrest” is necessary to “ensure heightened security measures and prevent the disclosure of information about the case’s defendant.”
  • 🛡️ Tense times for the Baltic states: Estonia’s Defense Ministry has accused Russia of holding training exercises that include simulations of missile strikes against targets inside Estonia. Tallinn also says Russian helicopters have violated Estonian airspace repeatedly throughout June, ahead of next week’s NATO summit in Madrid. Also on Wednesday, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told reporters that NATO’s existing defense plans for a Russian invasion of the three Baltic states is to “allow them to be overrun” before liberating them after 180 days.
  • 🏖️ Tomorrow’s holiday getaway: Russia’s invasion has reduced Mariupol’s Azovstal iron and steel works to rubble (like much of the city), but Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin says the factory’s old grounds will enjoy a second life as an “industrial park or a recreation area.” He claims the city’s population will rebound to 500,000 by 2035.
  • 💱 Russia’s default, probably-maybe-definitely: Vladimir Putin signed an executive order on Wednesday that allows Russia to use rubles to pay its foreign-currency-denominated sovereign debt. The government has 10 days to choose the banks for this new payment scheme, which the West is sure to reject, prompting declarations that Russia is in default.
  • 🛂 Held up at the Finnish border: Filmmaker Alexander Sokurov (the director of movies like “Russian Ark” and “Faust”) says he was barred from leaving Russia to attend a conference in Milan. Border guards apparently claimed to be enforcing pandemic-related restrictions on exiting the country through ground checkpoints. (Sokurov was trying to reach a flight that departed from Helsinki.) Last December, the filmmaker seemingly enraged Vladimir Putin during a virtual meeting when he warned the president that the nation faces a constitutional crisis and suggested that Moscow should jettison certain regions of the country from the Russian Federation.

Major events on June 21, 2022

  • 🕵️ America’s ‘Nazi hunter’ in Ukraine: During a visit to Ukraine, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the launch of a War Crimes Accountability Team “to centralize and strengthen the Justice Department’s ongoing work to hold accountable those who have committed war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.” Garland appointed Justice Department veteran Eli Rosenbaum to lead the team. As director of the department’s Office of Special Investigations in the 1990s and 2000s, Rosenbaum oversaw the identification, denaturalization, and deportation of more than 100 accused Nazi war criminals.
  • 🔮 Russian cyberattacks as a ‘crystal ball’: Jared Cohen, the head of a Google project called Jigsaw that “explores threats to open societies and builds technology that inspires scalable solutions,” told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine since 2014 are “essentially our crystal ball for what is likely to come” in disinformation and other forms of information warfare. Cohen argued that tech companies will need to experiment with different responses to such threats.
  • 💥 A borderlands pilot death: During a training exercise on Tuesday, a Sukhoi Su-25 jet aircraft crashed in the Rostov region, killing the pilot, according to military spokespeople. Sources told the news outlet Baza that the plane may have collided with power lines.
  • ⛓️ Ole misbehavin’ Navalny: For the first time since he was recently transferred to a maximum-security prison outside Vladimir, Alexey Navalny has been formally reprimanded. On social media, he said his infraction was appearing out of uniform at his previous prison (where officials reprimanded the opposition leader dozens of times). According to Navalny, the new prison’s decision extends the validity of his past reprimands, allowing the maximum-security prison to declare him a “malicious offender” and place him in punitive isolation confinement.
  • 👩‍❤️‍💋‍👩 Eat your hearts out, Britney and Madonna: On the grounds that the display constitutes illegal “gay propaganda,” a court in Moscow has banned the distribution of footage from October 2021 showing a same-sex kiss between the entertainers Ksenia Sobchak and Anastasia Ivleeva. The ruling was issued on March 2, but journalists reported it only this week.
  • 🧑‍💻 Russia’s qualified labor shortage: Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov warned on Tuesday that Russia has 170,000 too few I.T. specialists, following an exodus of qualified workers triggered by foreign sanctions against the Russian economy. Zubov urged Russian lawmakers to adopt legislation that will simplify the procedure for granting residence permits to foreign I.T. specialists and their families. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities have developed various incentives to boost the country’s I.T. sector, including military service deferments and preferential mortgage rates for workers in the industry.
  • 🪄 The disappearing antiwar statement: The Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg has deleted from its website an antiwar statement published on February 25 (in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine). The message was reportedly removed in April, but journalists only noticed its disappearance now. Spokespeople for the center say they unpublished the statement on orders from local law enforcement but offered no further details.
  • 🗳️ Pressured to quit in Karelia: After 12 years on the job, Natalia Zakharchuk announced on Tuesday that she is stepping down as editor-in-chief of the Karelia-based news outlet Stolicaonego. She attributed her decision to pressure from incumbent Governor Artur Parfenchikov, who she suggests is “apparently afraid of losing re-election.”