Russia Geopolitical Watch – From May 21 to May 27, 2022

05/21/2022: The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs bans 963 US citizens from entering its territory -Enzo Padovan–

On the 21st of May, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published a list of 963 American citizens’ names, which have all been banned from entering its territory until further notice. All of these individuals are effectively accused of encouraging “russophobic” behaviors in the US: yet, the Kremlin has specified, in the same declaration, that it drew a clear line between the American people, and its leaders, the so-called responsible of the hatred directed towards Russia. On the list, names include President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, but also other politicians, journalists, State executives (William Burns, the director of the CIA, is amongst them), as well as nearly 400 members of the House of Representatives, who have all voted in favor of sanctions against Moscow. Moreover, 26 Canadians have been targeted by similar measures, notably the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It is also interesting to observe that Facebook’s owner, Mark Zuckerberg, is one of those 963 Americans; just like the cofounder of DreamWorks animation studios, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and actor Morgan Freeman. The reason why M. Freeman was included amongst the other names dates back from September 2017, when he recorded a video accusing Russia of interfering in the November 2016 presidential election, in order to weaken the US. However, Moscow has declared that these sanctions were “necessities”, and “aim at forcing the American regime in power […] to change its behavior, by recognizing the new geopolitical realities”. To finish, Vladimir Putin’s government has announced that they remained open to “honest” discussions with Washington, and that the banned names also included American citizens suspected of having committed crimes against Russian children, who had been adopted in the US. 

05/24/2022: A bill on the extrajudicial banning of foreign media that “discredit” the army proposed for first reading in the State Duma. -Simon Bouclier-

On 24 May, the lower house of the Russian parliament approved the first reading of a law allowing the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation to revoke licences and deprive foreign media of accreditation. Foreign journalists may have their rights revoked if they broadcast information “aimed at discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation” or related to “the imposition of economic and political sanctions by foreign states against the Russian Federation” according to the bill.  

The date of the second reading of this law has not yet been set, but the bill is already facing a lot of criticism. According to Andrey Lugovoy, an LPDR deputy who participated in elaboration of the bill, if foreign media feel that the law is unfair or that they are being abused, they can always challenge it in court. 

05/24/2022 : Russian court rejects Alexei Navalny’s appeal and confirms his nine-year prison sentence under “harsh regime” -Amandine Paillette-

On May 24, the political dissident Alexei Navalny was refused an appeal by the Russian judiciary following a March 22 decision sentencing him to nine years in prison under a “harsh regime”. His judgment was based on charges of “fraud” and “contempt of court”. Thus, a judge of the Moscow City Court said “The verdict of the Lefortovo court of March 22 is unchanged”. In the first instance, accused of financial embezzlement, Alexei Navalny was sentenced to nine years in prison under the regime called “harsh”. This kind of detention implies more arduous conditions for the prisoners. 

Incarcerated one hundred kilometers away from Moscow in the colony of Pokrov, the convict expressed himself by video conference. He said: “I despise your court, your system. Of course I don’t want to be in a cell. I would rather see my children grow up. But I call on people not to be afraid, to be afraid is a crime against our future”. Detained since his return from Berlin last January 2021, the political opponent had been poisoned, requiring several months of convalescence. Alexei Navalny continues to hold responsible the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. 

05/24/2022 : Chinese and Russian bombers fly together near Japanese territory -Manik Tadevosian-

Russian Tu-95 and Chinese Xian H-6 bombers flew for 13 hours over the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement on 24 February. The ministry added that “the event took place within the framework of the implementation of the provisions of the military cooperation plan for 2022 and is not directed against foreign countries”. According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the aircraft acted in accordance with international law in carrying out their missions and there was no violation of the airspace of foreign states. These flights between the Russians and the Chinese come at a time of heightened tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over the Kuril Islands. Moreover, the bomber flights took place as Tokyo hosts a summit of the “Quad”, an informal alliance of US, Australian, Indian and Japanese leaders. Japanese Defence Minister Nabuo Kishi called the joint exercise a “provocation”. He also added “while the international community is responding to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the fact that China has undertaken such an action in collaboration with Russia is (…) worrying”. In response, Japan also sent fighter jets to meet the Russian and Chinese aircraft. 

05/25/2022: Yevgeny Roizman fined 85,000 roubles -Lauren Lemaire-Hec-

The former mayor of Ekaterinburg, Yevgeny Roizman, was fined 85,000 roubles on 25 May for “disrespecting authority”. At the end of April 2022, the former mayor had shared someone else’s post with a screenshot of his own comment under a post by Sergei Lavrov stating that “the operation in Ukraine is aimed at ending the US race for world domination”. Yevgeny Roizman was tried by the Ekaterinburg court for his comment “is that why you decided to screw up your own country?” According to the court, the information is “expressed in an indecent form, which offends human dignity and expresses disrespect for the authorities of the Russian Federation in the person of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov”. Earlier, in March and April, the former mayor was fined three more times under the article on discrediting the Russian military for anti-war statements on Twitter and YouTube, and a post on Telegram.

05/27/2022: The Kremlin is once again discussing a possible offensive on Kyiv, as the Russian army advances in Donbas – Enzo Padovan

On the 27th of May, the Meduza newspaper (a Russian-speaking independent news website) has published an article declaring that, according to a couple of sources close to the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin is contemplating a renewal of the offensive on the Ukrainian capital. Inspired by the current progresses of their army in Donbas (only 5% of the Luhansk Republic’s territory is controlled by Kyiv’s troops, against 40% for the Donetsk Republic), the Russian government doesn’t seem to have abandoned the capital’s capture as a major objective of the campaign. Yet, it is important to remember that the invasion force ended up crushing itself against the Ukrainian defenders, and that Moscow is very much aware of the high cost of men and material such an attack could bring.

Nevertheless, still according to Meduza’s sources, Russia is counting on two main points to justify this offensive: first off, as the conflict gets bogged down and keeps dragging on, the Western nations are still obliged to cede their weapons to Ukraine and stop importing Russian gas, two resources that some of these countries desperately need in the near future. Thus, Moscow is betting on a weakening of the support to Kyiv, which could give its forces an opportunity to renew their push towards the Ukrainian capital. Moreover, with the steady progression in Donbas, discussions regarding referendums concerning the annexation of separatists’ territories to Russia are ongoing. The Kremlin could, if the results are positive, use the popular support to claim new territories in Ukraine, then giving a better legitimacy to the conflict. In any case, Vladimir Putin’s government still believes a clear victory in Donbas during the autumn is possible. 

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