Russia Geopolitical Watch – From April 9 to April 15, 2022

Russia  Geopolitical Watch Team: Lauren Lemaire-Hec, Manik Tadevosian, Enzo Pavodan

04/09/2022: France refused to return the paintings of P. Konchalovsky and V. Serov to Russia – Enzo Padovan –

On April 9, following the end of an exhibition by the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which took place from September 22, 2021, to April 3, 2022, the French Ministry of Culture has officially announced that two pieces from the collection would be kept by national authorities, whilst the others will be sent back to their respective owners. The Louis Vuitton Foundation was exhibiting the Morozov collection in Paris; said collection, which regroups paintings of famous artists such as Paul Gauguin or Vincent Van Gogh, bears the name of an entrepreneurs and art collectors’ Russian family, dating back from the early 20th century. The first seized painting, created by Piotr Konchalovsky during the 1910’s, is named Self-portrait in gray. Its current owner, Piotr Aven, is the famous Russian oligarch who created the Alfa-Bank company. Because of his proximity with Vladimir Poutine’s regime, a part of his international assets have been confiscated following European sanctions. The other art piece, painted by Valentin Serov, belongs to the Moscow Museum of Avant-Garde Mastery, Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor. Mr Kantor is also rumored to have strong ties with the Russian government, which explains the French authorities’ decision: they refuse to give the paintings back for as long as Russian oligarchs’ assets are being frozen on the international scene. In addition, one last painting, owned by the Dnipro’s Art Museum, in Ukraine, will remain in France for now. The art piece will not be returned until the conflict with the Kremlin has been stabilized, which would ensure a safe possibility of return for the precious work of art. 

04/11/2022 : Austrian Chancellor arrives in Moscow for talks with Vladimir Putin – Lauren Lemaire-Hec –

On 11 April, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer arrived in Moscow to meet with the Russian president, becoming the first European leader to meet Vladimir Putin in person since the war in Ukraine began. The chancellor intends to discuss the possibility of a Russian-Ukrainian dialogue and the war crimes committed in Ukraine. He also said on Twitter that “we need humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire and a full investigation into war crimes”. Russian press secretary Dmitry Peskov also said that “gas issues, cannot be excluded from discussions either, because this topic is very, very relevant for the Austrian side”. Earlier, on 9 April, Karl Nehammer visited Ukraine where he met with Volodymyr Zelensky, condemning the Russian aggression and promising political and humanitarian support.

04/12/2022: Vladimir Putin announces that Russia will continue its space exploration projects – Lauren Lemaire-Hec –

During a visit to the Vostochny Cosmodrome with his Belarusian counterpart on 12 April, the Russian president said Russia will continue its space exploration projects and relaunch its lunar programme. Vladimir Putin affirmed the need to continue the development of new cargo ships and nuclear-powered space technologies, and mentioned the launch of the Luna-25 automatic lunar lander, which is expected to operate in the third quarter of 2022. In addition, Vladimir Putin said that Russia would carry out all its plans in the space sector “consistently and coherently, despite the difficulties and attempts of the outside world to prevent it”.

04/12/2022 : Joe Biden calls Russia’s war in Ukraine a “genocide” –Manik Tadevosian-

US President Joe Biden accused his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of conducting “genocide” in Ukraine during a visit to Iowa on 12 April. First, in a speech on inflation, Biden confirmed to the press that he had used the word “genocide” to describe Russia’s actions. “Yes, I did use the word genocide, because it is increasingly clear that Putin is trying to erase the very idea of being Ukrainian” Biden said.  If “the lawyers, at the international level“, will decide on the qualification of genocide, “for me, it looks like it“, he assured. As for Emmanuel Macron, the French head of state was more “cautious”: “I would say that Russia unilaterally unleashed a brutal war, that it has now been established that war crimes were committed by the Russian army and that those responsible must now be found” he explained. Moscow denies all accusations. Vladimir Putin even stated on 12 April that “there is no doubt (that the Russian objectives will be fulfilled), they are absolutely clear and noble (…) the main objective is to help the people of Donbass”, adding that their “task is to accomplish the set objectives with minimal losses”.

04/13/2022: Russian ministry of foreign affairs announces sanctions against 398 US congressmen and 87 Canadian senators – Enzo Padovan –

On April 13, 2022, the Russian government decided to suspend access to the national territory for 398 members of the House of Representatives, the American Congress’ Lower House. This is a response to President Joe Biden’s administration voting a new series of sanctions against 328 members of the Russian State Duma, the house of representatives’ equivalent at the Russian Federal Assembly. Moreover, the Russian ministry of foreign affairs has announced, in continuation, that 87 Canadian senators would see their Russian visa denied, in response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s support of sanctions penalizing Russian members of parliament. These measures are obviously acts of reprisal against international sanctions aiming at destabilizing the war effort in Ukraine, which would, by extension, weaken Vladimir Putin’s regime. President Putin had, by the way, already forbidden President Joe Biden, as well as Prime Minister Trudeau and other American and Canadian representatives, from entering Russia’s territory. Therefore, almost all members of the American Congress are now the targets of “mirror” sanctions of visa suspension. In the same declaration, the Russian ministry of foreign affairs has declared that, because of the international decisions targeting Moscow, an increase of the number of foreign dignitaries put on the “blacklist” was likely. 

04/14/2022 : The Russian cruiser Moskva is “severely damaged” – Manik Tadevosian-

The flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was “severely damaged” by an ammunition explosion caused by a fire, the Russian Defence Ministry announced on 14 April. It also added that the crew has been fully evacuated and an investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire. The Ukrainian military said the Russian cruiser was on fire after being hit by one of their missiles. “Neptune missiles protecting the Black Sea caused significant damage to the Russian ship” said the Ukrainian governor of the Odessa region, Maxim Martchenko. The cruiser Moskva was known for its participation in an attack on Snake Island in the early days of the invasion, during which 19 Ukrainian sailors were captured and subsequently exchanged for Russian prisoners. It has since sunk in the Black Sea. “During the towing of the cruiser Moskva to the port of destination, the ship lost its stabile (…). In rough sea conditions, the ship sank” the defence ministry said. 

04/14/2022 : Russian authorities comment on Sweden and Finland’s possible entry into NATO – Lauren Lemaire-Hec – 

On 14 April, the Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, commented on his Telegram channel on the potential membership of Sweden and Finland in NATO. Earlier, on 11 April, both countries were considering joining the North Atlantic Alliance this summer. “If Sweden and Finland join NATO, the length of the alliance’s land borders with the Russian Federation will more than double,” said D. Medvedev, adding that “in the future, the length of the alliance’s land borders with the Russian Federation will increase”. In that case, “there can be no question of a non-nuclear Baltic”. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on 25 February that if Finland and Sweden joined the alliance, Russia would have to take retaliatory measures, reaffirming the principle that the security of some states should not be built at the expense of the security of others. In addition, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Vladimir Putin had instructed the Russian Defence Ministry (Sergei Shoigu) to develop proposals on exactly how to “strengthen” the western flank in the context of likely NATO expansion: “After developing Putin’s order to strengthen the borders, everything will be discussed at a separate meeting, until Shoigu provides Putin with ideas on strengthening the western borders – that takes time”.

04/15/2022: Russia dismisses 18 employees of the EU delegation in Moscow – Lauren Lemaire-Hec – 

On 15 April, Russia declared 18 members of the EU delegation in Moscow persona non grata, who will have to leave the country “in the near future”. The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the head of the delegation, Markus Ederer, informing him that “on the Russian side, the European Union is declared responsible for the gradual destruction of the decades-old architecture of bilateral dialogue and cooperation”. This decision was taken in response to the expulsion of diplomats from the Russian Permanent Mission to the EU and the European Atomic Energy Community on 5 April.

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