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News Feed Brief summaries of major developments throughout the week (July 5–8, 2022): Seven years in prison for calling it a war, Russia runs low on french fries, and a proposed total ban on ‘gay propaganda’
In the digest below, Meduza condenses the latest news stories in and around Russia and Ukraine. You can find last week’s news feed here.
🍟 Freedom from fries: Several restaurants in the fast-food chain that inherited McDonald’s Russian network won’t be serving any french fries or potato wedges for the time being. Spokespeople for the new chain (“Delicious, Full Stop”) told RBC that the lack of fries is due to 2021 being a “lean year for potato varieties” in Russia. The company says it’s also found it impossible to import from the usual foreign markets to sustain its potato supplies. According to the news outlet RTVI, the problem is mainly the result of disrupted access to planting-material supplies from Belgium and Poland. (Russia’s Agriculture Ministry denies any domestic shortage of potatoes. “We’ve got potatoes, full stop,” the ministry wrote on its Telegram channel.)
🏳️🌈 A total ban on “gay propaganda”: Writing on Telegram, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has endorsed an outright ban on the “propagation of non-traditional values” — bureaucratic speak for prohibiting any promotion of LGBT rights. Volodin argued that leaving the Council of Europe now frees Russia to guard itself more aggressively against “alien values” like marriage equality. (For almost a decade, Russia has already banned the dissemination of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations” in the presence of minors.)
👮 A drug bust in Moscow’s higher education: FSB spokespeople revealed on Friday that federal agents arrested Russian Customs Academy Vice-Rector Zalim Kerefov earlier this week on charges using his work computer to run five separate drug trafficking stores on the Dark Net. Officials say the operation had been active since 2020. Three colleagues also confessed to buying drugs from Kerefov for recreational use. After taking Kerefov into custody, the FSB raided a drug lab believed to be supplying him with narcotics and arrested another three people.
🪦 Counting the tombstones: Working with volunteers and open-source data, journalists at BBC Russia and Mediazona have confirmed the deaths of more than 4,515 Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine. According to the BBC, the number of military personnel buried in Russia since the start of the February 2022 is likely twice as high, given regular evidence of “new military funerals that the local authorities do not report.” Journalists found that 17 percent of the dead are officers, while volunteers remain the “fastest growing” casualty category (averaging 30–40 reported deaths per week). Killed soldiers over the age of 45 are not rare.
Russia’s Defense Ministry hasn’t commented for months on the number of its troops killed in Ukraine. In late March, the military acknowledged 1,351 deaths. Ukrainian officials say more than 35,000 Russian combatants have been killed since the start of the February invasion.
⚖️ Seven years for “disinfo” against the military: State prosecutors have asked a judge to sentence Krasnoselsky District Moscow Municipal Deputy Alexey Gorinov to seven years in prison for disseminating “deliberately false information” about the Russian army. Gorinov was arrested in late April and charged under Russia’s new criminal law against “fakes” concerning the armed forces. Officials have also issued an arrest warrant for Elena Kotenochkina (one of Gorinov’s colleagues in Moscow’s municipal government), but she fled the country before she could be apprehended. The offense attributed to Gorinov and Kotenochkina is that they called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “war” instead of a “special military operation” and argued that the invasion’s goal is to seize Ukraine’s territory and end its independence. The two Moscow deputies also said Russia’s invasion is killing Ukrainian children on a daily basis, and they described the war as “the actions of a fascist state.”
Update: The judge granted prosecutors’ request and sentenced Gorinov to seven years in prison. An arrest warrant remains in effect for Elena Kotenochkina. Gorinov’s verdict is the first time Russia’s courts have sent anyone to prison for sharing “fakes” about the military. (The crime itself was introduced as a wartime measure after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.)
👮 Former Meduza journalist now a fugitive from the law: Police in Russia have added former Meduza publisher Ilya Krasilshchik to a national wanted list in connection with a felony investigation into alleged “disinformation” he published on his Instagram page in April about Russian war atrocities in Bucha. Krasilshchik says he has no plans to return to Russia. In June, he launched a new project called “Support Service” that is devoted to reporting on and assisting the victims of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
🪖 Putin supports expanded troop status in the “special operation”: Vladimir Putin has endorsed a proposal by federal lawmakers to “equate in status” the soldiers in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics with Russia’s own troops. “It’s already being implemented in practice,” the president acknowledged, adding, “If there’s anything left to do here, have a look and get it done.” Putin also stated his support for extending troop status to Russia’s border patrol agents.
🪖 Mothers accuse Izvestia of getting their sons killed in Ukraine: In a complaint addressed to the Defense Ministry, sent through a local branch of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, a group of women in Russia’s Astrakhan region accused Izvestia war correspondent Valentin Trushnin of unprofessionalism that resulted in the deaths of their sons on the frontlines in Ukraine. According to the complaint, obtained by BBC Russia journalist Ilya Barabanov, Trushnin revealed troop locations to enemy artillery, enabling an attack that killed five Russian soldiers and critically injured another three.
⚖️ Brittney Griner throws herself on the mercy of the court: WNBA star Brittney Griner’s trial in Russia will resume on July 14. On Thursday, she pleaded guilty to drug charges that carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence. When Griner arrived in February to play basketball, Russian customs officers found vape cartridges with 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage. “But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner told the judge. Her ultimate fate seems to depend now on “specialized [diplomatic] channels,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov suggested to reporters. (Russia’s state media has hyped a possible trade for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who’s been imprisoned in the U.S. for the past decade.)
🚑 Missile strike on Kramatorsk: A Russian missile strike on Kramatorsk killed at least one person and injured six others on Thursday, reported Donetsk Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko. According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, the strike damaged 17 buildings, including 16 apartment buildings, as well as four cars. Meduza cannot independently verify these claims.
🌾 Turkey releases Russian ship reportedly carrying Ukrainian grain: Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry summoned Turkey’s Ambassador on Thursday after Ankara released a Russian-flagged cargo ship (the Zhibek Zholy) that Kyiv suspects of transporting grain stolen from Russian-controlled territories of Ukraine. Earlier, Kyiv asked the Turkish authorities to detain and arrest the cargo ship. In turn, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the Zhibek Zholy hadn’t been detained, but would undergo a routine inspection. Turkey released the cargo ship on Wednesday evening.
⏸️ Russia hits pause at the front: The Russian Defense Ministry appears to have confirmed assessments from analysts that its forces are taking an “operational pause.”
“In the units carrying out combat missions during the special military operation, measures are being taken to replenish combat capabilities. Servicemen have been given the opportunity to rest, and receive letters and parcels from home,” the Defense Ministry’s spokesman said on Thursday.
Earlier, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) concluded that Russian forces had “largely initiated an operational pause” after capturing the last Ukrainian holdout in the Luhansk region, the city of Lysychansk, on July 3.
“The Russian Defense Ministry claimed territorial gains every day from the start of the war but has not claimed any new territory or ground force movements since completing the encirclement of Lysychansk on July 3. However, Russian forces still conducted limited and unsuccessful ground assaults across all axes on July 6. Such attempts are consistent with a Russian operational pause, which does not imply or require the complete cessation of active hostilities. It means, in this case, that Russian forces will likely confine themselves to relatively small-scale offensive actions as they attempt to set conditions for more significant offensive operations and rebuild the combat power needed to attempt those more ambitious undertakings.”
🇺🇦 Ukrainian troops hoist national flag on Snake Island: Ukrainian soldiers raised a large Ukrainian flag on Zmiinyi Island on Thursday morning. This was first reported by the Zgard volunteer unit, which shared photos of the flag raising on Facebook. Ukraine reclaimed the island in the Black Sea at the end of June, after Russian troops were forced to retreat from the outpost. The Russian Defense Ministry framed the withdrawal as a “gesture of goodwill.”
Later on Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that its aircraft had launched a missile strike on Zmiinyi Island in response to the flag raising that morning. Earlier, the spokesman for the Odesa Regional Military Administration said that two Russian missiles had struck the island and “seriously damaged” its pier. Although the Ukrainian authorities did not report any casualties, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that “part of the Ukrainian military personnel were destroyed, the rest fled.” Meduza could not independently verify this claim.
🚒 Forest fires prompt state of emergency in Khabarovsk: Russia’s Khabarovsk Territory has declared a state of emergency due to forest fires, Governor Mikhail Degtyarev announced on Thursday. Under the state of emergency, residents are forbidden from visiting or driving through the forests, the region’s Forestry Ministry said. According to the state news agency TASS, more than 260 firefighters are working to distinguish ten forest fires in the region. Russia’s Federal Forestry Agency reported in late May that the number of forest fires in Russia has increased by 16 percent since 2021. The Khabarovsk Territory is the second Russian region to declare a state of emergency due to forest fires this year — the authorities in Yakutia did so in late June.
💸 Funding Ukraine’s reconstruction: The EU has begun work on a “legal framework” that would allow frozen Russian assets, including that of “oligarchs,” to be put towards reconstruction efforts in Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano, Switzerland on Wednesday. Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said such a move would be “absolutely illegal” and would “antithetical to all of the norms and rules of international law.”
💥 Ukraine refutes Russia’s claims about destroying American HIMARS: Russia is “spreading false reports” about destroying two US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have destroyed two of Ukraine’s HIMARS missile launchers in an air strike in the Donetsk region. According to CNN, journalists couldn’t identify any HIMARS missile launchers in the footage of the alleged strike released by the Russian Defense Ministry. CNN also underscored that it could not independently verify either claim.
🗳️ Occupation authorities in Kherson prep for ‘referendum’: Volodymyr Saldo, the Kremlin’s collaborationist “governor” in Ukraine’s Kherson region, says that preparations for a referendum on joining Russia are already underway, Kommersant reported on Wednesday. According to Saldo, the occupation authorities in Kherson have not only set up an “election commission,” but are also selecting polling places and developing a system for compiling voter lists. As Meduza reported previously, the Kremlin reportedly plans to stage sham referendums in occupied regions of Ukraine and then move forward with annexing these territories.
⚖️ Paused Novaya Gazeta fined over ‘fake news’: A Moscow court has handed independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta an administrative fine of 300,000 rubles ($4,700) for allegedly distributing “knowingly unreliable information of public importance under the guise of reliable reports.” A source familiar with the case materials told TASS that the newspaper was fined over a video of its editor-in-chief, Nobel Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine. The video originally appeared on Novaya’s website, but was taken down on instructions from Russia’s censorship agency Roskomnadzor. In late March, Novaya Gazeta suspended publication until the end of the war, citing warnings from the federal censor.
🛩️ Lithuania speaks Ukraine’s language: Lithuania will send a Bayraktar TB2 combat drone to Ukraine on Wednesday, according to Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas. After Lithuanians crowdfunded the 5 million euros (roughly $5.09 million) to purchase the weapon, its manufacturer, Bayrak, offered to donate the weapon so that the donated funds could be used for humanitarian aid instead.
🚧 The work that awaits Mariupol: Restoring Mariupol will take at least 7-10 years and $14 billion, according to Mayor Vadim Boichenko, though he stressed that the final cost won’t be known until the city returns to Ukrainian control. 1,356 multi-story buildings and 40 percent of the city’s residential buildings were damaged due to the war, most of them beyond repair, Boichenko reported. “We’re working with various experts from cities that were destroyed during the Second World War: Gdańsk, Warsaw, Dresden, and Rotterdam. We’re learning about their experiences rebuilding those places. We’re hoping that any Marshall Plan for the whole country will have a separate section for Mariupol,” he said.
🪖 Ukraine cancels movement restrictions for soldiers after public backlash: Ukraine’s General Staff has walked back a controversial decision that would have required conscripts and reservists to obtain official permits in order to travel outside their places of residence. Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi announced on Wednesday that the requirement had been abolished and sent for revision. This comes after President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to public backlash on Tuesday by instructing Zaluzhnyi to cancel the requirement and asking the General Staff not to make such decisions without him.
✂️ No more Instagram or YouTube for occupied Kherson: A spokesman for the collaborationist government installed by occupying Russian troops in Ukraine’s Kherson region announced on Wednesday that access to Instagram and YouTube is now blocked locally. Officials acknowledge, however, that the American social networks are still available through VPNs. Occupying forces in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions disabled mobile Internet service by Ukrainian telecoms back in late May (though Moscow says the Ukrainian companies cut these ties themselves).
🚿 A pinch of compassion at Russia’s pretrial detention facilities: Russia’s Justice Ministry will now allow pregnant women, young mothers, and disabled people imprisoned at pretrial detention facilities to shower every day. Officials approved a new code of conduct on Wednesday that expands basic rights for certain inmates, including guarantees on privacy when using bathrooms. The reforms also allow for searches and inspections without undressing prisoners (though guards can still demand strip searches) and offer inmates more access to health records, audiobooks, email, and more.
💰 Federal government plans pay raises for the military amid inflation: The Russian Finance Ministry’s indexation plans will reportedly increase the federal government’s salary fund for public-sector employees by 1 trillion rubles (currently about $15.8 billion) by 2025, with more than half of these funds earmarked for the armed forces. The new plan would nearly double the government’s current appropriations for 2022–2024. According to RBC, salaries for military personnel will be indexed based on anticipated inflation rates, while pay for other federal employees is fixed to expected growth rates for average salaries in Russia. (Despite radical measures by the Central Bank following the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s inflation rate remains above 17 percent.)
⚓ Kyiv asks Ankara to check Russian ships for stolen grain: Ukraine has asked Turkey to help investigate three Russian-flagged ships as part of Kyiv’s efforts to probe what it alleges is the theft of grain from Russian-occupied territory, revealed Reuters in a special report, citing official documents. Officials in Kyiv say they suspect “grain was being taken from recently occupied territory, particularly Kherson, where it said there were several grain elevators that the owners don’t have access to due to the occupation.”
🏒 Getting into the NHL is even harder than you thought: Russian ice hockey goalie Ivan Fedotov is reportedly hospitalized at a military facility in Severodvinsk, outside Arkhangelsk, where he is being treated for acute gastritis. Last week, police in St. Petersburg (700 miles to the south) arrested Fedotov on suspicion of evading military duty for planning to quit CSKA Moscow and Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League to take a spot with the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL. (CSKA is technically part of the Russian Army, and its members are officially considered military personnel, complicating any contract terminations by players.)
🪖 Governor calls for general evacuation of Donetsk: Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Ukraine's Donetsk region, is calling for a general evacuation of the area. At a press conference in Kramatorsk on Tuesday, he said leaving the region is necessary to save lives and continue the nation's defense against Russian invaders. “Once there are fewer people, we will be able to concentrate more on our enemy and perform our main tasks,” Kyrylenko said.
👮 Beaten up for a passport cover: A disabled man in Omsk says police officers arrested and beat him for brandishing a passport in a case imprinted with the Ukrainian coat of arms. Zakhar Zakurdaev says he displayed his passport cover to a doctor during a medical examination on March 15 and expressed his opposition to the invasion of Ukraine. On March 28, police officers arrested and allegedly beat him, forcing him to sign a document stating that he has connections to “mass protests” and might be involved in “Ukrainian groups” (including the Azov battalion). Zakurdaev was also charged with “discrediting” Russia’s armed forces.
🪖 Ukrainian leaders spar over movement freedoms for soldiers: President Volodymyr Zelensky responded on Tuesday to a controversial decision by Ukraine’s General Staff that requires conscripts and reservists to obtain official permits in order to travel outside their places of residence. Zelensky says he is reviewing the military’s policy and asked the General Staff not to make such decisions without him. The military’s permit policy is based on a law from 1992, but it remains uncertain if soldiers must get permits for temporary travel or only for permanent relocation. On social media, Ukrainians have complained that the new requirements will fuel corruption.
Update: Ukraine cancels movement restrictions for soldiers after public backlash
🪖 Latvia’s draft will return: Latvia is reinstating compulsory military service amid growing tensions with Moscow. “The current military system of Latvia has reached its limit. Meanwhile, we have no reason to think that Russia will change its behavior,” Defense Minister Artist Pabriks said on Tuesday. Latvia’s population has declined to less than 2 million people in recent years. The country has only 7,500 active-duty soldiers and National Guard members, backed by 1,500 NATO troops, reports The National.
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