Russia Watch Team: Arnaud Huss, Nicolas Girard, Corentin Delon, Anastasia K., Erwann Leyral, Olga Shevchuk, led by Ilinka Léger and Enzo Padovan.
12/12/2022: G7 declared that Russia must pay the repairs for the damages sustained by Ukrainian infrastructures – Enzo Padovan
On 12th December, G7 member-States released a public statement, relayed on the British government website. G7 leaders thus condemn the “war of aggression” organized by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, and the destructions caused by Russian bombings on local electrical infrastructures. These attacks have seriously damaged the country’s power grid; The Guardian estimated, in an article published on 16th December, that the Ukrainian’s energy consumption has been halved, because of those regular strikes.
Therefore, the G7 members have reaffirmed their will to help Kyiv overcome this challenge. “We are determined to help Ukraine repair, restore and defend its critical energy and water infrastructure”, the statement specifies. “Russia will ultimately need to pay for the restoration of critical infrastructure damaged or destroyed through this brutal war”. The possibility of a criminal conviction of Vladimir Putin and his government, in regards to international Law, has also been touched upon. Moreover, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, was present during the communiqué’s redaction. According to Meduza, a Russian-speaking opposition newspaper, the Ukrainian Head of State called on the international community to organize a “Global Peace Formula summit”, in order to work on a solution to the current conflict.
13/12/2022: Despite sanctions, parts of the tech industry keeps trading with Russia – Enzo Padovan
On 13th December, the Reuters newspaper published an investigation’s results, jointly led by the Royal United Services Institute, on electronic components’ supplying to Russia. Since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict, numerous sanctions have been adopted in Western countries in order to limit the tech industry’s exports to Moscow. Nonetheless, the investigation reveals that those measures have not succeeded in completely preventing said exports. According to Reuters, exchanges of electronic components and computers with Russia, amounting to more than 2.6 billion dollars, have taken place between April and October. If those exports mainly stem from Turkish or Hongkongese companies, Western firms are not out of the picture either. In the same period, Intel Corporation sold 457 million dollars of supplies to Russia, with rising exchanges every month.
On the same day, the US Department of Justice released a news article on its website, about the arrest of five Russian citizens and two Americans, which has also been confirmed by the TASS governmental news agency. Those arrested are accused of trying to buy military-grade and computer equipment forbidden by the sanctions, in order to sell it to the Kremlin. One of the suspects, Vadim Konoshchenok, has potential ties with the FSB, the Russian intelligence service. Some groups, private and public, are thus trying to bypass the sanctions against Moscow.
13/12/2022: Russian Parliament approves draft law on banning foreign words – Olga Shevchuk
On 13th December, the State Duma approved in the first reading amendments to the law “On the State Language”, which prohibits the use of foreign words at the state level. As stated in the explanatory note, this bill “emphasises the unifying role of the Russian language as the state language of the Russian Federation in a single multinational state, expands and clarifies the areas in which the use of state language of the Russian Federation is mandatory.”
The document notes that the law will improve the general level of literacy of citizens, the correct use of the official language of Russia. Moreover, it will ensure quality control of dictionaries, reference works, as well as compliance by all official norms and rules of the modern Russian literary language. Also, the media will be forced to use the Russian literary language, without foreign words.
15/12/2022: End of the misunderstanding between the Vatican and Russia following the Holy Father’s remarks – Corentin Delon
On 15th December, an official statement of apology from the Vatican to Russia was published, announcing that “The Vatican Secretariat of State apologises to the Russian side. The Holy See has a deep respect for all the peoples of Russia, their dignity, their faith and their culture, as well as for the other countries and peoples of the world”. This statement follows the polemical remarks of the Holy Father Francis, published by the Jesuit media América at the end of November, calling Ukraine “martyred” and stating “[as] a rule, the cruellest, perhaps, are those who come from Russia, but who do not adhere to the Russian tradition, such as Chechens [and] Buryats”.
These statements were strongly criticised by the Chechen head of state, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the president of the Buryat Republic, Alexei Tsydenov. The spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, who had denounced a “perversion of the truth at a level that can not be named”, insisting on the unity of the Russian “family” as a “multinational and multi-confessional country“, has welcomed in a statement taken by the media Vedomosti this papal apology. She recognized a certain “ability to admit its errors, which have become a rare phenomenon in the modern world”. Moscow considers the incident settled, and indicates through Maria Zakharova’s declaration to be pleased to “continue a constructive interaction with the Vatican”.
15/12/2022: Leaked data from Russian state television V.G.T.R.K. sheds light on the mechanisms of Russian propaganda – Ilinka Léger
On 15 December, the American newspaper The New York Times published an investigation revealing the method of creating war narratives by Russian public television. 900,000 e-mails exchanged between employees of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (V.G.T.R.K. / Всероссийская государственная телевизионная и радиовещательная компания – ВГТРК), between January and March 2022, were published online by the hacker group DdoSecrets. The New-York Times thus reconstructed Russian state television’s strategy to create a counter-narrative about the war in Ukraine from this large database. According to the newspaper, V.G.T.R.K. employees relied on “excerpts from American cable news, right-wing social media and Chinese officials” translated into Russian, in order to discredit Western sanctions and give an alternative version of the facts of war such as the bombing of Mariupol. The American channel Foxnews and its presenter Tucker Carlson have been the object of particular attention by Russian programmers.
Researcher Vasily Gatov, a specialist in Russian media at the University of Southern California, says that “apart from the political machine that the Kremlin operates directly, V.G.T.R.K. is the second most important part of propaganda in Russia“. Furthermore, he claims that the Russian state media are issued a daily document by the Kremlin that specifies what information to broadcast and how to cover it (negatively or positively).
16/12/2022: Ukraine faces a precarious energy situation – Erwann Leyral
On 16th December, the independent newspaper The Moscow Times reported Russian strikes in the city of Kherson, which allegedly killed two people the day before and deprived the city of electricity on Thursday. While winter weather is slowly settling in the Ukrainian city, Volodymyr Zelensky has confirmed, via the official website of the presidency, that Russian strikes had caused the death of two people, in an intensive shelling that he deplores: “Just since the beginning of this day, Russia has bombed Kherson more than 16 times! Only in one day! And it is so every day”. Russian forces, accordingly to the daily reports published on the official Telegram channel of his Ministry of Defence, hit only “A storehouse of weapons, military and special equipment of Ukrainian troops” on 15th December.
According to the Ukrainian Minister of Energy, Herman Galushchenko, all the Russian strikes have damaged 9 energy production plants. He also reckons, through the communication of the Ministry of Energy, that 50% of consumers could be deprived of power, in this campaign described by the Ukrainian president as “Russian energy terror”. This terror, still according to Volodymyr Zelensky, “must be defeated in all its forms”. Energoatom’s Telegram channel warns of possible power cuts in the south and east of the country.
16/12/2022: EU sanctions parliamentary political parties in Russia – Arnaud Huss
On 16 December, the European Union voted the 9th package of sanctions against Russia, because of the “special military operation”. In addition, an economic and humanitarian aid plan of 18 billion euros for Ukraine was approved, according to Euronews. According to the Russian government news agency TASS, the European Union has sanctioned 168 companies in the defence and mining sectors, which are important economic sectors for Russian exports (chemicals, engines, electronic parts, and civilian drones).
According to the BBC Russian service, the list of sanctions targeting political figures is growing: 12 ministers and deputy ministers, 20 members of the Russian constitutional court, 40 deputies and 44 members of the council. In addition, 4 TV channels, banks, and 5 political parties including the “Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Liberal Democratic Party, Fair Russia, United Russia and New People” are included in the measures. Duma Deputy Speaker Alexander Zhukov commented on the latest EU measures via Ria Novosti: “I am already in all the sanctions. […] One can say that this is not surprising”. The sanctions also affect the close entourage of certain political figures such as the President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. The latter even “welcomed” the measures against his daughter, as indicated by his words relayed by Russia Posten: “I am immensely proud of you, my beloved! Welcome to the EU sanctions list.”