Russia Geopolitical Watch Team: Lauren Lemaire-Hec, Manik Tadevosian, Ilinka Léger
02/13/2022: Russian ambassador to Sweden says Russia doesn’t care about Western sanctions.- Lauren Lemaire-Hec –
The Russian ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, said in an interview on 13 February that Russia “doesn’t give a shit about Western sanctions”. According to him, so many sanctions have been imposed on Russia that “in a way they have had positive effects on [its] economy and [its] agriculture”. Against the backdrop of heightened tensions over the Ukrainian crisis, the interview with the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet focused on Sweden’s possible entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. During the exchange with the newspaper, Viktor Tatarintsev said that the US and NATO are aggravating the security situation, which explains Moscow’s opposition to Swedish membership of NATO. Furthermore, as the Secretary of the Russian Security Council had stated on 30 January 2022, the ambassador said that “the last thing people in Russia want is war”. Viktor Tatarinstsev also stressed that “the more pressure the West puts on Russia, the stronger the Russian response will be“.
02/15/2022: Duma calls on Putin to recognise the independence of the DPR and LPR. – Lauren Lemaire-Hec –
On 15 February 2022, deputies of the Russian Duma voted to adopt a resolution on the recognition of the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk (LPR) People’s Republics. Recognised only by South Ossetia (de facto State), the two republics declared their independence from Ukraine in May 2014. Two draft resolutions had been formulated, one by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), another by the United Russia party. The Communist Party’s draft received 351 votes in favour, 16 against and one abstention and was therefore adopted. Unlike the United Russia proposal, which called for consultations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the CPRF draft implies an immediate appeal to President Vladimir Putin on the need to recognise the LPR and DPR as independent. The adopted text states that the Ukrainian authorities “have become intolerant of the historically established norms of life, as well as of the expression of the will and religion” of the inhabitants of the Ukrainian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk. In addition, the text also proposes that Kiev’s policy should be considered comparable to the “genocide of its own people“.
02/16/2022: The former head of the Antipinsky oil refinery has been accused of embezzling $10 million. – Lauren Lemaire-Hec –
A new case was opened on 16 February 2022, following accusations by the Tyumen Region Investigative Committee. Gennady Lisovichenko, a former Russian petrochemical executive who was arrested in Italy on 2 February 2022, is now accused of having given himself a $10 million bonus. According to investigators, Gennady Lisovichenko falsified the minutes of the board of directors’ meeting and awarded himself this bonus the day before he resigned in November 2018. The former managing director of the Antipinsky oil refinery is now being held in a prison in Lecce, Italy. Lisovichenko’s lawyer, Ruslan Elkanov, refrains from commenting on the details of the new charges, saying they “still need to be processed”.
02/15/2022: Alexei Navalny imprisoned for more than a year, faces fifteen years in prison. – Manik Tadevosian –
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, imprisoned for more than a year for a controversial fraud case, faces an additional fifteen years in prison following a new trial that opened on February 15. In this trial held in the prison colony No. 2 of Pokrov, 100 km east of Moscow, investigators accuse Alexei Navalny of having embezzled more than 356 million rubles (4.1 million euros) of donations to his anti-corruption organization. Vladimir Putin’s main opponent also faces up to six months in prison for contempt of court in one of his previous hearings. These new measures have been strongly denounced by Alexei Navalny’s supporters. During the hearing, the 45-year-old opponent said “I will continue to fight“.
02/16/2022: Investigation opened after discovery of mass graves of civilians in Donbass. – Lauren Lemaire-Hec –
The Russian Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation on 16 February 2022 into the discovery in Donbass of five mass graves of civilians who died in 2014. According to the committee, the Ukrainian armed forces used prohibited methods of warfare and cruel treatment of civilians in the Donbass. Under Article 356(1) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, the penalties can be up to 20 years of jail-time. The website of the investigative body said that the mass graves were found specifically on the territories of the DPR and the LPR, with “the remains of at least 295 civilians who died as a result of indiscriminate shelling by Ukrainian armies”. White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki said in a briefing that the claims of the investigation could be disinformation and a pretext for invading Ukraine.
02/18/2022 : Shelling erupts on Ukraine’s eastern front, leaders of self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics announce civilian evacuations to Russia. – Manik Tadevosian –
Bombing has intensified on the Ukrainian eastern front and the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists are accusing each other of using heavy weapons. A car bomb exploded in Donetsk, a kindergarten and many houses in eastern Ukraine were also hit. In this context, the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass announced evacuations of civilians to Russia on February 18. Accusing Kiev of preparing an invasion after a rise in tensions, the leader of the separatist republic of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin said in a video posted on his Telegram account, “today a massive and centralized departure of the population is organized to the Russian Federation, first of all, women, children and the elderly must be evacuated.” Shortly after, his counterpart from the republic of Lugansk, Leonid Passetchnik spoke in a statement broadcast by local media: “In order to avoid casualties among civilians, I call on the inhabitants of the republic (…) to leave in the shortest possible time to the territory of the Russian Federation.”
02/18/2022 : The U.S. blames Russia for renewed tensions between Ukraine and the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. – Ilinka Leger –
The heightened tensions since February 17 between Ukrainian forces and separatist forces in the Donbass region have led to international reactions. On February 18, Joe Biden stated that the United States has “reason to believe that Russian forces intend to attack Ukraine (…) in the coming days. (…) We believe they will target Kiev, a city of 2.8 million innocent people”. Russia had said on February 16 that it intended to start withdrawing its troops from the Ukrainian border, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a meeting of NATO defense ministers that there were no satellite images to confirm the withdrawal. According to the Russian state news agency TASS, the Ukraine-Russia meeting within the framework of the OSCE, will not be held because Russia believes that the Ukrainian request is unfounded. The OSCE said that 870 violations of the ceasefire, negotiated under the Minsk agreements, were observed on Friday, February 18. On February 19, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics announced a general mobilization of the male population in anticipation of fighting.