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Russia Geopolitical Watch – from November 12 to November 18, 2022

Russia Watch Team: Ilinka Léger, Enzo Padovan, Arnaud Huss, Nicolas Girard, Corentin Delon, Olga Shevchuk, Anastasia K., Erwann Leyral

11/12/2022: Russia wants to reconnect the Russian Agricultural Bank to SWIFT Nicolas Girard

On November 12th, Sergey Vershinin, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated in front of the press that ”reconnecting Rosselkhozbank (to SWIFT), […] is a key issue”, the RiaNovosti press agency reports. The Deputy Minister wishes to reconnect the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the telecommunication system SWIFT in order to facilitate exchanges in the food and agriculture area, which are both sectors left out of the western sanctions towards Moscow. As a reminder, following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 by the Russian army, several Russian banks had been excluded from SWIFT, a system enabling worldwide financial transactions between banks.

This statement from the Deputy Minister occurred a day after a meeting between Russian and UN officials in Geneva on November 11th. According to the website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UN report, the discussions held in Geneva were about the Black Sea Initiative, Ukrainian food products export and Russian agricultural exports (crops, fertilizers). However, there was no mention of the reconnection of a Russian bank to SWIFT.

11/14/2022: Lusaka asks Russia to explain the circumstances of a Zambian’s citizen death in Ukraine – Enzo Padovan

On November 14, the Zambian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stanley Kasongo Kakubo, released a press statement about the passing of one of his fellow citizens in Ukraine. Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda was a 23 years-old Zambian national, and studied nuclear engineering at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. Mr. Nyienrad had been condemned, back in April 2020, to serve nine years and six months in a Russian prison, following an infraction whose nature is unknown. Despite this condemnation, on September 22 2022, the Zambian student died on the Ukrainian front, a fact that Russia only made public on November 9. “The Zambian Government has requested the Russian authorities to urgently provide information on the circumstances under which a Zambian citizen, serving a prison sentence in Moscow, could have been recruited to fight in Ukraine and subsequently lose his life”, the statement declares.

The American news outlet CNN had already investigated on these convict recruitments during the summer. This investigation revealed that numerous Russian detainees had been drafted to be sent on the frontlines, in exchange of shortened terms. According to Meduza News, an independent media, a share of those prisoners were assigned to the Wagner private military company, affiliated to Vladimir Putin’s power; however, those weren’t foreign citizens, as it is the case with Mr. Nyirenda. His body is currently in Rostov-on-Don, waiting to be returned to Zambia.

11/15/2022: Russia participates to the G20 summit in Indonesia – Enzo Padovan

On November 15, the G20 summit started on Bali Island, in Indonesia. As the newspaper Svoboda indicated, Vladimir Putin had previously explained that he would not be physically present at the conference, to which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was also invited. Thus, it is Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who represented Moscow during the meetings. However, this Russian presence has sparked some controversy. First off, The Guardian revealed that the G20 members disagreed to take a picture of all the delegations’ leaders, refusing to pose with Mr. Lavrov.

Moreover, a second article from The Guardian underlined the speech of Rishi Sunak, British Prime Minister, during the conference. Mr. Sunak criticized the humanitarian impact of the Ukrainian conflict, stating: “The weaponization of energy and food is totally unacceptable. Two-thirds of Ukraine’s grain goes to developing countries, yet Russia has destroyed grain stores and blocked shipments”. These declarations prove the meeting’s complexity, but the TASS press agency (one of the most important in Russia) expressed Moscow’s point of view on the matter. Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin’s spokesperson, answered positively when he was asked whether or not he was satisfied with the G20 summit. “The voice of Russia is heard”, he commented on November 15. G20’s final document, approved on the 16 by all parties, has been qualified as “balanced” by the Kremlin, as it showed multiple points of view on the Ukrainian issue.

11/15/2022: Mariupol and Melitopol awarded the title of “City of Military Glory” as part of the commemorations of the fight against Nazism – Erwann Leyral

A video conference meeting was held on Tuesday 15 November between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the “Victory” organising committee. Relayed by the official website of the Kremlin, this meeting dealt with the commemoration of Soviet citizens who died during the Second World War, as well as the attribution of honorary titles to certain Russian cities and the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the liberation of the Leningrad blockade. The Russian President deplored an “attempt by a number of states to rewrite […] history“. Furthermore, the main speakers underlined the presence of volunteers from all over Europe in the SS units. Finally, Vladimir Putin mentioned the harshness of the battles fought in the four regions “returned to Russia” (Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Zaporijia) opposing the Red Army to Nazism. As a reminder, these four Ukrainian regions were “integrated” into the Russian Federation on 30 September, which was described as an “attempt at annexation” by the United Nations General Assembly.

In order to promote the historical link of these regions with the Russian space, the Head of State signed decrees adding Mariupol and Melitopol to the 45 “cities of military glory” and granting the title of “city of labour valour” to Astrakhan, Vologda, Gorlovka, Zlatoust, Kapsiysk, Lugansk, Norilsk, Orsk and Yakutsk.

11/15/2022: “Russian-made” missile strikes in Poland – Anastasia K.

On the evening of 15 November, following the massive strikes on Ukrainian territory, the Polish authorities announced explosions in the border region with Ukraine, causing two deaths. To date, the international authorities have not reached unanimity on the origin of the fire: the Polish Defence Minister has suggested that the missiles were of “Russian manufacture“. Washington, while excluding the intentional character, explained that these missiles would have been redirected by a Ukrainian anti-aircraft defence system. This version is supported by the Russian authorities, who however speak of a “provocation” on the part of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Zelensky was quick to declare that “action” was needed, as the strike was an “attack on the collective security” of NATO. Although the Ukrainian authorities acknowledged that their anti-aircraft systems were trying to intercept a missile in the vicinity of the explosions, they contradicted the Russian version, accusing Russia of spreading “propaganda“. They also called on the international authorities to remember the MH17 airliner incident. According to Frédéric Encel, the attitude of the Ukrainian president confirms his desire to remain in “his role” as “warlord“. On 17 November, the Ukrainian leader finally declared that he was not sure what had happened, while reaffirming that he was “sure that it was a Russian missile“. 

11/16/2022: Russia endorses veteran status for special operation volunteers in Ukraine – Corentin Delon

On November 16, the Council of the Russian Federation officially adopted a law granting veteran status to all citizens enrolled in “government volunteer formations“. The meeting, which was broadcast live on the Federation Council’s website, also grants combat disabled status to those who were wounded during the “special operations” (OSV) without, however, listing the word “war”. The council also recalled that this “federal amendment for veterans” expressly applies to volunteer detachments, set up on the basis of state agencies’s decision for “the performance of tasks assigned to the armed forces of the Russian Federation during a special military operation“. Additionally, the Russian daily Vedomosti clarified that “The law, which will come into force upon its publication, applies to legal relations arising from February 24, 2022 in the territories of Ukraine, Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, and from September 30, 2022 in Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.” Russia being a bicameral federation (2 chambers), this decision of the Federation Council ratifies the law previously approved in 3rd reading by the State Duma on November 10. Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin had described it as a “just decision” in which “Volunteers and their family members, as well as military personnel of the Russian Federation, will enjoy the benefits and social support measures established by the law“.

11/16/2022: The Parliament of the Czech Republic adopts a resolution on the recognition of the regime in Russia as a terrorist – Olga Shevchuk

On November 16, after a missile, originally fabricated by Russians, hit Polish territory, the lower house of the Czech Parliament adopted a resolution in which Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime was designated as “terrorist”.

The Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic […] condemns, in accordance with the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the current Russian regime as terrorist,” the document says.

This resolution condemns the Russian attack on Ukraine, in particular the attacks on energy infrastructure. It does not recognize the results of the referendums on the basis of which the Russian authorities annexed part of the Ukrainian territory. According to Svoboda, 129 out of 200 deputies voted for the resolution, 14 voted against, 57 did not participate in the vote. Earlier, the parliaments of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia recognized Russia as a sponsor of terrorism. Russia’s official response to this decision did not follow.

11/16/2022: Fourth meeting of the Moscow Format on Afghanistan – Nicolas Girard

On November 16th, officials from Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia’s five ex-Soviet republics, gathered in Moscow to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. According to the press release from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, officials from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia  and Turkey were present at this meeting, known as the Moscow Format. However, they came to the Format as guests.

The participants of this meeting highlighted the need for Kabul to form a government ”that mirrors the principal ethno-political groups”, and also to put an end to the terrorist threat in the country. The Moscow Format countries called on Washington and NATO allies to ”compensate for damage inflicted to the Afghan people [during the twenty years of its military presence]”. According to the Russian news agency TASS, no Taliban official took part in this meeting, unlike in 2021.

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