Ukraine, Briefly

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This week, Russia and Belarus signed a deal formalizing the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear missiles on Belarusian territory, Al Jazeera noted. Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously announced the deployment in March, emphasizing Russia’s readiness to use nuclear weapons to defend its territorial integrity. NATO dismissed the need to adjust its nuclear posture in response but criticized Putin’s nuclear rhetoric as dangerous. Analysts have suggested that the deployment is more of a political signal and intimidation tactic rather than a significant military gain for Russia. Ukraine has condemned the agreement, stating that Belarus has been “taken hostage” by Moscow. The weapons will remain under Russian control, including decisions on their use.

Also this week:

  • Russian officials announced that a counterterrorism operation successfully expelled saboteurs from the Belgorod region, which shares a border with Ukraine, the Washington Post reported Militias with Russians fighting on Ukraine’s side launched an attack on a border post and targeted a building belonging to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The governor of Belgorod reported one fatality and eight injuries during the evacuation. The Legion of Free Russia, one of the militia groups involved, claimed that its fighters were still in control of Russian territory, contradicting the Defense Ministry’s statement that 70 fighters were killed and several vehicles destroyed. Ukraine denied any involvement in the assault. The attack highlights Russia’s ongoing struggles to secure its border zone with Ukraine despite previous security measures, drawing criticism from Russian hard-liners. The Legion of Free Russia and the Russian Volunteer Corps consist of ethnic Russian fighters, including Russian citizens, who oppose Putin and seek to “liberate” their homeland.
  • Meanwhile, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s private mercenary Wagner Group, issued a warning that Russia could face a “revolution” and lose the war in Ukraine unless the country’s “elites” fully commit to the fight, CBS News reported. In a video interview, Prigozhin criticized Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other elites who lead privileged lives while soldiers and their families suffer. He expressed concerns about the strategic blunders made by Russian forces in Ukraine and called for martial law. He revealed estimates of casualties among Wagner mercenaries, claiming to have recruited 50,000 convicts, but noting that 20 percent of them have died. Prigozhin’s ability to openly criticize senior Russian officials without consequences has raised questions. Despite some limited successes, he stressed his dedication to the war and his allegiance to Putin.
  • Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a number of agreements with China during a visit to Beijing this week, emphasizing the strong bilateral ties between the two nations – despite criticism from the West over the ongoing war in Ukraine, Reuters wrote. The signed agreements focus on deepening investment cooperation, agricultural product exports to China, and sports collaboration. Russia’s energy shipments to China are expected to rise significantly this year. China has refused to link its partnership with Russia to the situation in Ukraine, asserting its right to collaborate with any country of its choosing. The deepening of ties with China is seen as a strategic move by Russia, providing economic opportunities and support in the face of Western sanctions.
  • In contrast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy embarked on a diplomatic mission, visiting Saudi Arabia and Japan, to garner support from non-Western countries in the ongoing conflict with Russia, Vox noted. While Western nations have maintained their support through the provision of arms and economic sanctions against Russia, countries like Saudi Arabia, India, and Brazil have refrained from taking sides, citing their own foreign policy objectives and saying the Ukrainian war is outside their realm of concern. Zelenskyy made his case at the Arab League summit, addressing leaders from 22 Middle Eastern and North African states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These Gulf nations face a dilemma because they maintain trade ties with both Western countries and Russia. Zelenskyy also engaged with representatives from various countries at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, with the aim of securing support from major players in the Global South, such as India and Brazil, which until now have stayed mostly neutral, while continuing to do business with Russia.
  • Elsewhere, Cuba has granted preferential treatment to Russian investors, including the ability to lease land for 30 years, duty-free importation of agricultural machinery, and the right to repatriate profits in foreign currency, the Miami Herald added. The move signifies a strengthened alliance between the two countries and a shift away from opening Cuba’s economy to US investors. Russian banks have also been authorized to open subsidiaries in Cuba to finance Russian businesses on the island.
  • Russian authorities have extended the pre-trial detention of US journalist Evan Gershkovich by three months, according to the BBC. Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal correspondent, was arrested in March on espionage charges while reporting on the war in Ukraine. The extension of his detention until Aug. 30 comes despite calls from US officials for his immediate release. Gershkovich has denied the charges, and both the Wall Street Journal and the US government have called the accusations baseless. The journalist faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Russian authorities have not yet presented any evidence publicly to support their allegations.
  • German police are currently investigating the reported illnesses of two Russian exiles who attended a conference in Berlin last month, according to the Associated Press. The two participants fell ill either during or after the April 29-30 event associated with prominent Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The poisonings sparked concerns that the participants may have been poisoned, potentially by a nerve agent. Russia has long used nerve agents against those it perceives as its enemies.

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