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News Feed Brief summaries of major developments throughout the week (July 18–22, 2022): Deal reached on Ukrainian grain exports, new felony charges against Navalny’s righthand man, and Google is blocked
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.
⛓️ Russian soldiers held captive for refusing to fight: Russian soldiers who refused to continue fighting against Ukraine are reportedly being held captive in the Luhansk region. According to media reports citing soldiers, their family members, and human rights workers, the servicemen were detained by their superiors after attempting to resign from the army.
The estimated number of prisoners ranges from several dozen to several hundred. At least some of the objectors reported being held in the city of Brianka, where the administration of the self-proclaimed Luhansk “People’s Republic” has reportedly been running illegal prisons since 2014.
👮 “Justifying terrorism” charges opened against Navalny’s righthand man: The Russian authorities have opened another felony case against Leonid Volkov (one of imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s closest associates), charging him with “justifying terrorism” for writing on social media, “Putin is the number one terrorist in the world, and you need to deal with him accordingly.” Volkov (who now lives abroad in exile) says he believes this is the eighth criminal case launched against him. He’s also being investigated for allegedly defaming tycoon Evgeny Prigozhin, recruiting minors for political protests, financing “extremist” organizations, and creating an organization that infringes on privacy rights. Volkov currently oversees Team Navalny’s latest expansion: the Anti-Corruption Foundation International.
💱 Currency controls to remain, but cash dollars will always circulate in Russia: Russian Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina said on Friday that foreign currency restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future, as the country’s prospects for importing more foreign cash are still grim. At the same time, Nabiullina vowed that “cash dollars will continue to circulate” in Russia “even in the most apocalyptic scenario.” Her office estimates that Russia’s current foreign cash supply amounts to roughly $85 billion in U.S. dollars and euros. “[Russian] banks can buy and sell this currency, which means the currency will circulate in cash,” explained Nabiullina.
Following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Western nations froze the Russian Central Bank’s international reserves, forcing Moscow to impose strict currency regulations domestically, including limits on withdrawals from foreign currency accounts and limits on sending money abroad. (These measures have since been relaxed, albeit gradually.)
🪖 Russia plans to deploy military bases in Kherson: Russia will establish permanent military bases in Ukraine’s Kherson region “after [Kherson] becomes a part of Russia,” according to Kirill Stremousov, a member of the region’s Russian-backed “Military Civil Administration.” Stremousov said earlier that preparations have begun for a referendum on Kherson joining Russia.
🌾 Ukraine and Russia sign separate agreements to secure grain exports through Black Sea: Representatives from Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN have signed an agreement to resume grain exports from Ukraine. The document reportedly allows Ukraine to maintain control of the Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Yuzhne ports, and does not provide for ships other than those necessary for grain exports to dock in the ports.
Russia is slated to sign a similar agreement with Turkey and the UN later today. According to Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak, the deal is being signed in several stages to avoid any direct agreements between Russia and Ukraine.
Update: A delegation for the Russian government led by Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu signed the “mirror agreement” described below by Mykhailo Podolyak.
🚫 The “DNR” and “LNR” block Google: The self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic says it will block local access to the Internet’s most popular search engine, Google. On Friday, “DNR” head Denis Pushilin accused Google of “openly propagating terrorism and violence against Russians and the population of the Donbas on orders from the U.S. government.” A day earlier, Pushilin’s counterpart in Luhansk made similar allegations against Google, after which local Internet users reported a loss of access to Google’s website.
🪖 Russia’s objectors, hidden in a basement: Journalists at Verstka.media estimate that 1,793 soldiers from 22 regions across Russia have refused to fight in Ukraine since the start of the February 2022 invasion. More than 230 of these men are reportedly being held against their will in the town of Brianka in the self-declared “Luhansk People’s Republic.” The soldiers are allegedly being held in basements under armed guard (sometimes by mercenaries) until they agree to join the war. (There have been numerous reports of soldiers from cities across Russia returning to base after refusing to fight. Journalist Mikhail Afanasiev currently faces felony charges for reporting one of these instances in the Republic of Khakassia.)
💰 More occupied territory shifts to the ruble, signaling another annexation: The “Military Civil Administration” in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region announced on Thursday that it is now paying local pension benefits in Russian rubles. Officers in Russia’s Federal Emergency Management Agency reportedly delivered the first payments in the form of humanitarian aid, giving individuals 10,000 rubles (about $170) for the month of July. Collaborationist authorities in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions (parts of which are also occupied by Russian troops) previously announced ruble-denominated pension payments. The shift to Russia’s currency likely signals the Kremlin’s preparations to stage “referendums” in the regions to justify another major annexation.
🧺 Deal on Ukrainian grain exports expected on Friday: Spokespeople for the Turkish president say an agreement will be formalized in Istanbul on Friday to open a corridor to export grain from Ukraine. President Erdoğan and UN Secretary-General António Guterres will attend a signing ceremony that brings together representatives of the Ukrainian and Russian governments. Kyiv has said any deal on the safe export of agricultural products must also guarantee the security of Ukraine’s southern regions and its naval positions in the Black Sea. “Tomorrow we’re waiting for news from Turkey on the unblocking of our ports,” Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday.
👮 Novosibirsk politician charged with talking smack about the military: On Thursday, police officers in Novosibirsk arrested and charged local city councilwoman Helga Pirogova with “discrediting” Russia’s armed forces (a misdemeanor in Russia). She was ultimately released from custody and will face trial later. According to fellow councilmember Anton Kartavin, Pirogova is four months pregnant. Officers detained her immediately after she helped organize a charity auction to raise money for activists who owe fines for joining opposition protests in 2021.
🎭 Filmmaker in exile grants interview to Dud, repeats support for Abramovich: Popular Russian YouTuber Yury Dud released a two-hour interview recorded in France with stage director and filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov, who left Russia in late March and has openly denounced the invasion of Ukraine. Meeting in Avignon, France, Serebrennikov again urged the West to lift sanctions against billionaire Roman Abramovich. He also said he always believed that Putin was the wrong person to lead Russia. People trained in the intelligence community, argued Serebrennikov, “have no concept of human development” and believe only that others can be “bought, recruited, or killed.”
🤥 Abramovich companies have supplied Russian military for years: Subsidiaries of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s company Evraz have supplied materials to the Russia military for over a decade, according to a new report by OCCRP. By analyzing information from Russia’s public procurement website, OCCRP investigators determined that Evraz companies worked with the Russian National Guard as well as with factories that produce explosives and tanks used by the military.
Evraz was included on a British sanctions list in May after officials suspected the company was providing steel for Russian tank production. At the time, Evraz representatives claimed that the company only provides materials for projects intended for civilian use.
🚫 Russia seeks to dissolve Jewish repatriation organization: Russia’s Justice Ministry has called for the liquidation of the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, an organization that helps Jewish people repatriate to Israel and the world’s largest Jewish non-profit. Officials from Moscow’s Basmanny Court told Interfax that the request will be considered on July 28 and was made in response to the organization’s violations of Russian law.
The Jerusalem Post reported in early July that the Russian authorities had sent a letter to the Jewish Agency for Israel demanding that it cease its operations in Russia. Representatives from the organization itself, however, told reporters that they had received no such letter and that they would continue working.
💰 New EU sanctions target Russian gold: The EU has imposed its seventh round of sanctions against Russia since the country launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. Among other things, the new package bans imports of Russian gold — Russia's second largest export — and expands the list of items subject to export controls because of their potential for military use. The EU also issued a set of “clarifications” to previous sanctions, including one that permits “technical assistance to Russia” in the aviation sector to ensure international standards are met.
🛢️ Russia’s gas is flowing again through Nord Stream 1: Russia resumed gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline on Thursday, avoiding a longer shutdown that threatened to cut off more than a third of Germany’s gas needs and the supply of numerous European nations. The pipeline had been offline since July 11 for scheduled annual maintenance, but many worried that Moscow would withhold further gas deliveries with tensions in the region escalating as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drags on. Gazprom has booked 30 percent of Nord Stream 1’s capacity, reported The New York Times.
🏥 Mariupol woman from viral photo returns to hospital site: The Telegram channel Mariupol Now posted pictures that appear to show Marianna Podgurskaya, the beauty blogger who was photographed outside the maternity wing of Mariupol’s Hospital No. 3 after Russia bombed the building in March, back at the site of the bombing. After the attack, the Russian authorities launched a disinformation campaign to sow doubt about the photo's authenticity.
📦 U.S. to send more missile launchers to Ukraine: The Pentagon announced that the U.S. will send an additional four HIMARS missile launchers to Ukraine. “As of today, we have transferred 12 HIMARS to Ukraine,” Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said at a press conference. “This is part of more than 20 that the United States and our allies have committed.” According to Milley, about 200 Ukrainians have been trained to use the weapons so far.
↔️ Thousands of Ukrainian children still stuck in Russia: Ukrainian Presidential Children’s Rights Commissioner Daria Herasymchuk reported that only 46 of the thousands of Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia since the start of the war have been brought home, according to Ukrainska Pravda. As of July 20, 5,100 Ukrainian children are officially confirmed to have been deported to Russia. “In open sources, the Russian authorities have reported that 350,000 children were, in their words, ‘evacuated’ to Russia. When children are evacuated, they are supposed to be returned to Ukrainian territory immediately, but that didn’t happen. We can’t call this evacuation — this is forced deportation and forced displacement,” said Herasymchuk.
❌ Prigozhin seeks to outlaw Meduza: Kremlin-linked catering tycoon Evgeny Prigozhin has asked the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to conduct an audit of Meduza’s activities and designate the news outlet as an “undesirable organization.”
In a press release published on Wednesday, Prigozhin’s company Concord listed a number of Meduza articles that the oligarch believes contain “false information about the special military operation in Ukraine” and “knowingly false information about the Russian Armed Forces’ conduct outside of the territory of the Russian Federation.”
According to Prigozhin, the designation would allow the authorities to “hold [Meduza’s] employees and leaders accountable for engaging in provocative activities on the territory of the Russian Federation.”
🪖 Recruiting violent criminals: Investigators and researchers have discovered that representatives of the Wagner Group private military company and officers in Russia’s Federal Penitentiary and Federal Security services have recruited roughly 200 inmates at 15 different prisons to fight in Ukraine. Journalists at iStories and activists at Russia Behind Bars say they are still trying to determine on what legal grounds prisoners are moved from their facilities. In the Komi Republic, for example, men in uniform reportedly arrived at a local penitentiary on July 17 and “rounded up everyone, except for the Ukrainians and those convicted of terrorism or sexual offenses.” “The delegation’s head said he’s been decorated as a Hero of Russia, that they’re ‘grabbing the land and hacking off ears,’ and that he needs ‘volunteers for dirty work: killing on command, no questions asked,’” a source told Russia Behind Bars.
🌐 Russian authorities target Wikipedia: Russia's federal censor, Roskomnadzor, announced it will penalize Wikipedia for failing to delete “an array of materials that have been banned, including fake news about the special military operation on Ukrainian territory.” Russian search engines will now be required to indicate in search results that the online encyclopedia violations Russian law.
🏍️ Europe cracks down on Night Wolves: Alexander “The Surgeon” Zaldostanov, leader of the Putin-aligned motorcycle gang the Night Wolves, reported that branches of the gang across Europe have been subjected to searches in recent days, some of which have resulted in arrests. “It all speaks to the fact that our so-called Western partners are terrified of the growing opposition,” said Zaldostanov. The Night Wolves are slated to be targeted by new EU sanctions this week.
🪖 Lavrov says Russian aims have moved beyond Donbas: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the geographical objectives of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine have expanded. In an interview with RIA Novosti and RT, Lavrov repeated the claim that Russia’s aim is to “denazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine, then continued: “Now the geography has changed. Far from being just the DNR and LNR, [our target area] also includes the Kherson region, the Zaporizhzhia region, and a number of other territories.”
Lavrov also said that as more weapons arrive in Ukraine from Western countries, Russia will seek to control more Ukrainian territory. “Because we can’t allow the part of Ukraine that’s controlled by Zelensky or his successor to have weapons that present a direct threat to our territory and the territory of the republics that have declared their independence,” he said.
🎧 Ukrainian man geolocates AirPods stolen by invading Russian soldier: A man living in Hostomel, outside Kyiv, says he used Apple’s “Find My AirPods” service to track his stolen earbuds to Ulyanovsk in Russia, where the soldier who apparently stole his electronics returned. Earlier in the war, while occupying Hostomel for several weeks, Russian troops ransacked the town’s homes for laptops, gaming consoles, alcohol, dishware, and more. The soldiers took the batteries out of children’s toys. “They even took my wife’s ‘Womanizer’ vibrator. Why?” Yuri Nikolaev asked journalists at Mediazona. He says he tried to get theft charges brought in Crimea by relatives living there, but the local police officers refused, saying they have no jurisdiction over crimes committed in Ukraine.
🛢️ Russian gas flows resume: Nord Stream 1 is expected to resume operation on time but at less than its daily capacity of some 160 million cubic meters, sources told Reuters. The pipeline accounts for more than a third of Russian natural gas exports to the EU, though Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom cut gas exports through the route to 40 percent of capacity last month, citing delays in the return of a gas turbine getting repairs by Siemens Energy in Canada. (That turbine is reportedly returning to Russia this week.)
🪖 Swedish volunteer is killed in Donetsk: A former Swedish lieutenant volunteering with Ukraine’s armed forces (reportedly assisting with recruiting and “tactical knowledge”) has died in a grenade attack in the Donetsk region. The Swedish military has confirmed that a former soldier from its ranks was killed in Ukraine, though Foreign Ministry spokespeople said they cannot corroborate media reports at this time. The killed lieutenant was reportedly 28 years old.
✈️ Putin visits Iran for talks on Ukraine, Syria: Vladimir Putin arrived in Tehran on Tuesday, making his first trip outside the former Soviet Union since he launched Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. The Russian president met with Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi (pictured below) and he is set to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan later in the day. On the agenda in Iran are talks on Syria, Russia’s war against Ukraine, and the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports.
📺 Veterans’ group seeks to restrict access to independent TV network: The organization Veterans of Russia has contacted the heads of Russia’s federal censor, Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Digital Development Ministry with requests to prevent the resumed broadcasting of the independent television network Dozhd (TV Rain) and to monitor its content on all cable television channels. “Media outlets like that one promote ideological propaganda under the guise of anti-war rhetoric and effectively engage in treasonous activity against Russia and its pluralistic people,” said organization chairman Ildar Rezyapov.
Dozhd suspended its broadcasting in Russia on March 3. Two days earlier, its website was blocked in Russia for spreading allegedly “false information” about Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. The network resumed programming on YouTube on July 18.
⛓️ Russian “filtration camps” in Mariupol: Vadym Boichenko, Ukraine’s mayor of Mariupol (which is now under Russian occupation), says there are more than 10,000 people being held at four different “filtration camps” in and around the city. Most of the refugees at these facilities are state and municipal workers, and the absence of doctors at the centers means detainees aren’t receiving necessary medical care. Boichenko says he thinks these camps won’t be emptied until occupying officials can hand out Russian passports and immediately deploy released men to the war’s frontlines.
During wartime, it’s not always possible for journalists to verify information shared by eyewitnesses and government officials.
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