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News Feed Brief summaries of major developments throughout the week (July 25–29, 2022): Moscow wants more than Bout, dozens of POWs killed in Olenivka, and Ukraine investigates torture footage

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.

🔐 Russia requests another prisoner in potential swap

The Russian government made a request to add convicted assassin Vadim Krasikov to the prisoner swap deal proposed by the U.S. According to CNN, the U.S. government considers the Russian counteroffer illegitimate because it was communicated through an “FSB backchannel.” Nonetheless, American officials reportedly inquired with the German government about the feasibility of including Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany, in the trade.

The White House’s original prisoner trade proposal offered convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in exchange for American basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. The two countries' top diplomats discussed the deal by phone on Friday, but Russia gave no clear indication of whether it intends to accept the offer.

In 2020, the German authorities charged Krasikov with murdering Chechen field commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin the previous year. According to the German Attorney General’s Office, the assassination was carried out “on behalf of state agencies of the Russian Federation” in response to Khangoshvili’s role in the Second Chechen War. An investigation conducted by The Insider, Bellingcat, and Der Spiegel after the murder found that Krasikov was previously wanted in Russia in connection with two contract killings, but in 2015 he was removed from wanted lists and issued a passport under the name Vadim Sokolov.

❌ U.S. imposes sanctions on ‘FSB co-optee’ Alexander Ionov

The U.S. Treasury Department has imposed sanctions against Russian national Alexander Ionov, the founder of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. In a statement released on Friday, the Treasury Department described Ionov as “an FSB co-optee who uses his positions and various companies to promulgate the Kremlin’s disinformation and malign influence agenda.” According to the Treasury Department, Ionov has been cooperating with the FSB since at least the summer of 2020, in addition to working with entities associated with Kremlin-linked oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin to “publish and disseminate disinformation.” 

Alexander Ionov became widely over the past few years for making formal appeals for the Russian authorities to blacklist independent media outlets and journalists. In the spring of 2021, Ionov filed an official complaint that resulted in Meduza being designated as a “foreign agent.” Ionov later filed complaints against the Russian investigative outlet iStories and The Bell founder Elizaveta Osetinskaya. Ionov was also among the “initiators” of an appeal that led the Russian authorities to designate the American university Bard College as an “undesirable organization.”

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Mr. Anti-Globalization Meet Alexander Ionov, the self-described ‘human rights defender’ who demanded that Russia label Meduza a ‘foreign agent’

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Mr. Anti-Globalization Meet Alexander Ionov, the self-described ‘human rights defender’ who demanded that Russia label Meduza a ‘foreign agent’

☎️ Blinken and Lavrov make first contact since war began

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held their first phone conversation since the start of Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine. The primary topic of the call was the prisoner exchange offer announced by the U.S. earlier this week. Blinken also warned Lavrov that the world won’t accept any attempt by Russia to annex occupied Ukrainian territories and stressed the importance of Russia honoring the grain export deal it signed in Turkey last week.

The conversation was “frank and direct,” Blinken reported. According to a press statement from Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Lavrov accused the U.S. of prolonging the war in Ukraine by supplying weapons to Ukrainian forces. Regarding the prison exchange, the statement said, Lavrov suggested that the U.S. pursue a path of “quiet diplomacy.”

After the call, Blinken said, “I can't give you an assessment of whether I think [a prisoner exchange deal is] any more or less likely.”

⚖️ Ukraine launches investigation over graphic torture video

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office has launched criminal proceedings on war crimes charges over a graphic video that appears to show Russian soldiers castrating a Ukrainian prisoner of war. “Cruel treatment of prisoners of war, their torture, including physical mutilation, is a gross violation of […] the 1949 Geneva Convention,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement on Friday.

Commenting on the video on Friday, Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets said that the Ukrainian parliament also plans to make appeals to the UN Committee against Torture, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

🪖At least 53 Ukrainian POWs feared dead after missile strike on prison camp

Ukraine and Russia traded accusations on Friday after a missile strike on a prison camp outside of Donetsk reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war. The Russian side has used the prison camp in Olenivka, a village located inside DNR-controlled territory, to hold Ukrainian captives since the start of the February invasion — including such high-profile POWs as the Ukrainian troops captured after the siege of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant. 

The authorities in Donetsk blamed the Ukrainian side for the strike, claiming that a US-made HIMARS missile system carried out a direct hit on one of the prison camp’s barracks, killing 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war and injuring 75 others. The Russian Defense Ministry also accused Ukraine of carrying out a “blatant provocation.” In turn, Ukrainian officials denied the allegations and accused Russia of deliberately shelling the prison camp, in order to frame Ukraine for war crimes and cover up “the torture of prisoners and executions.”

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At least 53 Ukrainian POWs feared dead after missile strike on prison camp near Donetsk

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At least 53 Ukrainian POWs feared dead after missile strike on prison camp near Donetsk

⚖️ Kyiv court eases Russian soldier’s war crimes sentence

An appeals court in Kyiv has sentenced Vadim Shishimarin, the first Russian soldier convicted of a war crime in Ukraine since the start of the February invasion, to 15 years in prison, the Ukrainian news outlet Graty reported on Friday. Shishimarin, 21, was sentenced to life imprisonment in May for killing a civilian, 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov, in the Sumy region in the early days of the war. Shishimarin pleaded guilty, but claimed he was just following his officer’s orders.

read more about the trial

‘I fired so they’d leave me alone’ The first Russian soldier charged with a war crime in Ukraine testifies in court, confessing to following orders

read more about the trial

‘I fired so they’d leave me alone’ The first Russian soldier charged with a war crime in Ukraine testifies in court, confessing to following orders

💰Washington offers $10 million reward for information on tycoon Evgeny Prigozhin

The U.S. State Department is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information about Kremlin-linked catering tycoon Evgeny Prigozhin and 12 other people linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA). Better known as the St. Petersburg “troll factory,” the IRA and its associates stand accused of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In 2021, the FBI offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to Prigozhin’s arrest. In response, his company Concord published a St. Petersburg address where the oligarch could supposedly be found.

👮 Russia sends its cops to occupied zones to train local collaborators

Russia’s Interior Ministry has officially established “temporary police departments” in Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, which Russian troops currently occupy. The officers are reportedly administering checkpoints, patrolling the streets, and working with the local “civil administrations” to familiarize personnel with Russian policing standards. (Journalists previously reported that Russia’s Interior Ministry sent police officers from Moscow and St. Petersburg to patrol occupied cities in Ukraine.)

⚖️ Activist sentenced to prison for reposting ‘Putin execution’ video

After a military court in Smolensk sentenced a local activist to 6.5 years in prison on Thursday for reposting comments and a video online, the defendant threatened to kill himself, shouting in the courtroom, “You’ll become infamous! I’ll slit my wrists today!” Sergey Komandirov has been in pretrial detention since his arrest in October 2021. He was convicted of “justifying terrorism,” inciting hatred, insulting state officials, and “rehabilitating Nazism.” In 2017 and 2018, Komandirov worked as a volunteer and photojournalist for the local branch of Alexey Navalny’s campaign office.

The illegal content in question is a YouTube video created by Tatarstan activist Karim Yamadayev, where he portrays a judge who executes a “fictional” Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov before teasing another death sentence against Vladimir Putin. In March 2021, Yamadayev was fined 300,000 rubles ($4,800) for posting the video. He later fled to France and requested political asylum.

⚖️ Woman who protested the invasion on Russia’s live state TV is fined again

A judge in Moscow has fined former state television editor Marina Ovsyannikova 50,000 rubles (about $800) for “discrediting” Russia’s military. Her offense was picketing outside a courthouse on July 13 to protest the imprisonment of opposition politician Ilya Yashin. In an interview during the demonstration, Ovsyannikova called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “a terrible crime” for which its perpetrators would face an “international tribunal.”

“I said that the war is the worst crime of the 21st century. Do you really doubt this?” Ovsyannikova said in court on Thursday. “Every decent person in this world understands that war is horror, blood, shame, and countless crippled lives. And no higher goal can justify the killing of civilians. Why am I on trial here? I’m a citizen of the Russian Federation. The Constitution guarantees me the right to free speech and free thought.”

On March 14, 2022, after years of working for Channel One Russian state television, Ovsyannikova jumped in front of the camera during a live news broadcast with an antiwar sign. She was later fined 30,000 rubles (currently about $485) for releasing a video recorded before her televised stunt where she encouraged more public protests.


‘Everyone knows they’re lying’  How Marina Ovsyannikova rebelled against Russian state television 


‘Everyone knows they’re lying’  How Marina Ovsyannikova rebelled against Russian state television 

🛂 Estonia closes more doors for Russians and Belarusians

The Estonian government announced on Thursday that it is suspending all short-term education visas and student residence permits for citizens of Russia and Belarus. The policy change also bars Russians and Belarusians from obtaining permits for seasonal work in Estonia without long-term national visas. (Previously, all they needed was a tourist visa issued by any of the 26 Schengen states.)

In the spring, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic all suspended the issuance of tourist visas to Russian nationals in protest against the February invasion of Ukraine. The European Commission’s current rules reportedly do not permit a total ban on all Schengen visas for Russians.

🎖️ Command shakeup in Russia’s military

On Thursday, Vladimir Putin appointed Colonel General Viktor Goremykin to serve as Russia’s new deputy defense minister, assigning him oversight of the Armed Forces’ Senior Political-Military Directorate. According to researchers at the Conflict Intelligence Team, command of Russia’s troops in the battle for control of Ukraine’s Donbas region has been transferred to Goremykin’s predecessor, Colonel General Gennady Zhidko.

💰 OCCRP identifies apparent proxy for sanctioned Russian banker with strong Kremlin ties

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (outlawed in Russia as an “undesirable organization”) has published a new investigative report revealing that a Canadian national named Eric Whyte is listed in documents from the Pandora Papers leak as the beneficial owner of offshore companies that were apparently used to hide high-end real estate assets worth an estimated $130 million owned by Andrey Kostin, the head of Russia’s state-owned bank VTB and believed to be one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies.

💼 Russian sleeper-agent network in Ukraine reportedly led Kremlin to believe invasion would be quick and easy

Before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin established a network of sleeper agents inside the Ukrainian security apparatus, according to a new investigation from Reuters. It was with these agents’ help that Russian forces managed to capture the Chernobyl nuclear plant on the first day of the full-scale war. According to five sources, military experts from Vladimir Putin’s inner circle believed that the secret agents would allow Russia to quickly force the Ukrainian government to flee or surrender.

💱 Russia ramps up the flood of rubles into Kherson

The Russian-backed "administration" in Ukraine’s Kherson region announced it will begin making monthly social welfare payments to give local residents the “Russian standard of living.” According to occupation administration representative Ekaterina Gubareva, pensioners, people with disabilities, and single parents will receive 10,000 rubles ($164) a month, while World War II veterans will receive 5,000 rubles ($82) a month. Additional subsidies will go to caretakers of people with disabilities, parents and guardians of children, pregnant women, and new mothers.

🎓 Soldiers’ kids utilize promised scholarships

Children of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine have begun enrolling in Russian universities, where they're eligible for scholarships usually reserved for high-achieving students. According to Kommersant, while other incoming scholarship grantees are listed by name or by social security number on many university websites, the soldiers’ children are identified only by code numbers. According to the universities, the students’ names were classified at the request of the Science and Higher Education Ministry.

This year, 10 percent of Russia’s government-funded university scholarships have been designated for the children of soldiers who fought in Ukraine. Children whose parents were killed or injured in the war can go to college without taking the state exams that usually determine acceptance.

📄 U.S. Senate seeks to add Russia to list of state terrorism sponsors

The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution calling on the State Department to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The bill, which is non-binding, cites actions by Russia that “generated insecurity and incited violence against innocent civilians” in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine. The New York Times noted that the resolution’s passage puts more pressure on the Biden administration to add Russia to the list, which already includes Iran, Cuba, Syria, and North Korea.

🕊️ Washington still waiting for Moscow to decide on deal for Griner and Whelan

The U.S. government has made an offer to Russia, hoping to secure the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. The Biden administration “put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Wednesday, adding that Russia and the U.S. have “communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.” Griner faces up to 10 years in prison for bringing medical cannabis into Russia, while is currently serving a 16-year prison for alleged spying.

Sources told CNN that the White House plans to offer Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year U.S. prison sentence. Moscow, however, says it has received no formal request to discuss a prisoner exchange. “There have been only media reports. The Foreign Ministry is guided by standard diplomatic processes,” Russian officials said on Wednesday evening.

further reading

‘She's an amazing soul’ American basketball star Brittney Griner has been in a Russian prison for over four months. Is her release on the horizon?

further reading

‘She's an amazing soul’ American basketball star Brittney Griner has been in a Russian prison for over four months. Is her release on the horizon?

⚖️ The Insider founder hit with ‘discrediting’ charges

Roman Dobrokhotov, editor-in-chief of the investigative outlet The Insider, is being charged with “discrediting” the Russian army. Dobrokhotov faces a fine ranging from 50,000 rubles ($840) to 500,000 rubles ($8,420), depending on whether he’s charged as an individual or as an official representative of his organization.

👋 Central Bank deputy chairman to step down next week

Russian Central Bank Deputy Chairman Yuri Isaev’s last day on the job will be August 1. The bank’s spokespeople announced on Wednesday that he is resigning “at his own request.” (A source told Meduza that his exit is due to health reasons.) Appointed to the Central Bank in January 2022, Isaev previously headed Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency, which exercises bankruptcy administrator functions of insolvent banks, non–governmental pension funds, and insurance companies.

Insider sources told Meduza that the Federal Security Service advocated Isaev’s appointment, getting him the position “just in time” for the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. At the Central Bank, he’s overseen foreign currency transactions, including the mechanism for paying foreign currency debt to creditors from “unfriendly countries.” His office is also responsible for reviewing deals to purchase the assets of exiting foreign companies. (Isaev is the fourth senior bank official to resign since early 2022, following Dmitry Skobelkin, Sergey Shvetsov, and Mikhail Alekseev.)


The banker’s dilemma How Elvira Nabiullina and her team have tried to save Russia’s economy amid war and sanctions


The banker’s dilemma How Elvira Nabiullina and her team have tried to save Russia’s economy amid war and sanctions

🏥 U.S. approves treatment of Ukrainian soldiers at American military hospital

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a plan allowing injured Ukrainian soldiers to receive treatment at an American military hospital in Germany, CNN reported on Wednesday, citing a memo and two U.S. officials. Under the new policy, up to 18 Ukrainian soldiers could be treated in the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center at once, though they would have to leave Ukrainian territory before the U.S. could airlift them to the hospital. Though Austin reportedly first approved the policy in May, no Ukrainian soldiers have been treated at Landstuhl yet.

⚖️ Jailed Vladimir Kara-Murza faces another criminal case

State investigators have initiated a new criminal case against jailed Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza, his lawyer Vadim Pokhrov reported on Wednesday. The case was reportedly opened under the Criminal Code article on “undesirable organizations,” which stipulates punishments of up to four years in prison. However, according to Pokhrov, Russian investigators have yet to officially bring additional charges against Kara-Murza or notify his lawyers about the new proceedings. 

Vladimir Kara-Murza was jailed in April pending trial for allegedly violating Russia’s wartime censorship laws. If convicted of spreading “disinformation” about the Russian military, he faces up to ten years in prison.


A dissident from a book After twenty years of opposing Putin’s regime, and living to tell the tale, Vladimir Kara-Murza is sitting in a Russian jail cell


A dissident from a book After twenty years of opposing Putin’s regime, and living to tell the tale, Vladimir Kara-Murza is sitting in a Russian jail cell

⚖️ Meet Zelensky’s new prosecutor general

The Ukrainian Parliament has appointed Andriy Kostin as the country’s prosecutor general. A lawmaker from President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party and a lawyer by training, Kostin served as head of the parliament’s legal policy committee. According to the news outlet NV, 299 lawmakers backed Kostin’s appointment on Wednesday, after Zelensky put forward his nomination earlier in the day.

As noted by the Kyiv Independent, Kostin is “seen as a staunch Zelensky loyalist” and has been accused of obstructing judicial reform efforts. In 2021, a panel of Western experts vetoed Kostin’s candidacy in the contest for chief anti-corruption prosecutor. The Ukrainian Parliament dismissed the previous prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, on July 19. This came after Zelensky suspended Venediktova and filed a motion for her dismissal, citing ongoing criminal investigations into state prosecutors suspected of collaboration and treason.

✈️ Iran-Russia passenger flights increase to 35 per week, plus maintenance support for Russia

In a new memorandum of understanding signed by Russia’s deputy transport minister and the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, the two nations’ airlines will be allowed to operate cargo flights without capacity restrictions. The agreement also “provides the possibility” of exporting parts and equipment manufactured in Iran to Russia, as well as carrying out repair and maintenance services and technical support of Russian aircraft by Iran’s repair centers.

🌉 Russian traffic suspended across crucial Antonivskyi Bridge following latest Ukrainian airstrike

Russian occupation forces suspended all traffic across the Antonivskyi Bridge (a crucial roadway that crosses the Dnieper River in Kherson) following the latest airstrike by the Ukrainian military. In conflicting statements, the head of the local collaborationist authorities, Kirill Stremousov, said first that several missiles fired by a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (M142 HIMARS, manufactured by the American company Lockheed Martin) damaged but did not destroy the bridge. After Ukrainian media released a video purportedly showing missiles hitting the bridge, Stremousov said there had not actually been any damage at all. More footage soon appeared online (see below) showing the bridge intact.

The Antonivskyi Bridge is one of three crossings over the Dnieper River that the Russian military currently controls. Several days prior to this most recent airstrike, another rocket attack forced occupation forces to suspend some traffic across the bridge.

🛩️ Putin seeking Bayraktars

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reported that Vladimir Putin has expressed interest in partnering with the Turkish company Baykar, which manufactures Bayraktar drones. According to CNN Turk, Erdoğan mentioned Putin’s comments at a meeting of the Turkish ruling party’s central executive committee.

Ukrainian forces have used Bayraktar drones to do significant damage to Russia’s military in recent months. The Russian government regularly reports on the destruction of Ukrainian Bayraktars; in fact, as of June, Russia’s Defense Ministry had reported destroying 20 more Bayraktars than Ukraine ever had.

According to American officials, the Russian government is planning to purchase weapons-capable drones from Iran. Russian and Iranian leaders have denied the reports.

📝 Proposed bill would allow extrajudicial blocking of fundraising calls for Ukraine

State Duma deputy Vasily Piskaryov, head of the parliament's Security and Anti-Corruption Committee, has proposed allowing the Russian government to block online fundraising appeals for Ukraine, according to the committee’s Telegram channel. In particular, Piskaryov wants to change the law “On Information, Information Technology, and Information Protection” to allow for the “extrajudicial blocking of publications containing calls to raise funds to finance an enemy under conditions of military operations that involve the Russian Federation.”

According to Piskaryov’s committee, all of the agencies affected by the law support the change. After the draft bill is prepared, it will be reviewed by a State Duma commission and then submitted for consideration.

🏢 From apartments to boarding houses

The Russian-backed occupation authorities in the Kherson region are offering spots in temporary boarding houses on the Azov Sea to Ukrainians who lost homes in Mariupol and Nova Kakhovka. “The Arabat Spit in the Kherson region’s Henichesk district can provide a place to live for Mariupolites, Nova Kakhovka residents, and everybody who needs to leave temporarily. This invitation is especially for Mariupolites,” said Vladimir Saldo, the head of the Kherson occupation “administration," on Telegram. According to Saldo, several buildings on the Arabat Spit are ready for residents, though he didn’t specify how many people each one can house.

🔍 Missing soldiers’ families demand that Putin locate their husbands and sons

The families of 106 Russian soldiers reported missing while fighting in Ukraine have appealed directly to Vladimir Putin, demanding that the military locate these men. The letter to the president recounts stories from wives and parents about how the Russian authorities have given them conflicting information about the missing soldiers. (For example, one mother was told that her son is currently alive on the front, taken hostage by Ukraine, and killed in action.)

Russia’s Defense Ministry hasn’t commented on troop losses in Ukraine since late March when it acknowledged the deaths of 1,351 soldiers. Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, claim that the Russian military has lost almost 40,000 men.

📻 Pro-Kremlin pundit won’t face charges for insulting everyone in Yekaterinburg

Police in Moscow have declined to open an investigation into television and radio pundit Vladimir Solovyov, rejecting a report filed by a man in Yekaterinburg who says Solovyov’s on-air remarks in April about his city being “the center of vile libtards” constitutes illegal hate speech and defamation. Regional lawmakers and Governor Evgeny Kuyvashev subsequently condemned the pundit’s remarks in one of the year’s rare public scandals among figures loyal to the Kremlin.

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