Russia Ramps up its Presence in Syria

Some 1,000 Russian troops arrived in Syria in mid-October, disregarding Israeli strikes on the airport runways in Damascus and Aleppo. This is a clear sign of Moscow not going to scale down its fight against Islamic terrorism either because of the situation in Israel or the war in Ukraine. This also means that the Russian Defense Ministry has enough resources to replace the private military companies (PMC) once present in this Arab country. The Defense Ministry, headed by General Sergei Shoigu, quickly and effectively took over the share of Wagner PMC’s military assistance to Syria, focusing not on protecting corporate business interests there, but on ensuring maximum effectiveness in the fight against terrorism.

“According to intelligence data, terrorist groups in the Idlib de-escalation zone are preparing attacks on civilians and Russian and Syrian troop deployments,” Rear Admiral Vadim Kulit, deputy head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties (CPVS) in Syria, said on October 16.

“The command of the Russian group of forces and the leadership of the armed forces of the Syrian Arab Republic will take the necessary proactive measures,” Kulit emphasized. He also said that the aviation of the US-led anti-terrorist coalition continues to create dangerous situations in the skies over Syria, flying in violation of de-confliction protocols and Syrian airspace. By the way, this is not the first time that NATO aircraft provide air support for ground operations carried out by bands of criminals and terrorists.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense keeps insisting that there are only a few hundred Russian PMC fighters in Syria and that their numbers are not changing.

“What I see is a relatively stable number of Wagner forces in Syria over the last several months,” the commander of the US Central Command Air Force (CENTCOM), Lieutenant General Alexus Grinkevich, said when meeting with members of the Washington group of military observers (Defense Writers Group). When asked to clarify the precise number of Wagner personnel he was talking about, Grinkevich replied, “I’ll say this – several hundred.” It is hard to say exactly what facts that the general had in mind though. Perhaps information gleaned from the media that needs verification. Besides, how come such a high-ranking US military officer is unaware of the fact that Wagner’s military structures have over the past couple of months been almost completely integrated into the Russian Defense Ministry’s line of command?

Sergey Shoigu – Russian Minister of Defense with associates Western media claims that Russia finds it hard to keep the situation in Syria under control due to the progress of the military operation in Ukraine. However, judging by the situation in the East of Ukraine, it can be assumed that such statements are sheer propaganda.

The Russian armed forces are fast advancing along the entire front line, leaving less and less chances for the Ukrainian military and for Kyiv itself.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces have run out of time for a counteroffensive,” Newsweek magazine writes, adding that Ukraine no longer has a chance to achieve significant results, since the winter slush will complicate logistics and Ukrainian troop advancements. However, it is now clear to everyone that the seasonal change is not the issue. Essentially, the much-trumpeted Ukrainian counteroffensive never materialized. Pumped up with Western weapons, Zelensky had nothing to boast about on the battlefield.

Apparently, because weapons alone are not enough, one needs tactics, knowledge of military science and much more, which is something neither he nor his team can boast of. As for the Russian Defense Ministry, led by Sergei Shoigu, this past summer it changed its tactic making it possible to strengthen the Russian forces’ position and confidently move forward, so much so that Russia can now allow itself to considerably bolster its presence in both Syria and the African countries.

Slavisha Batko Milacic is an historian and analyst from Montenegro.

Where does Crypto Money Donated to Ukraine Go?

With the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, the authorities in Kyiv began to actively raise funds for the country’s defense. Foreign states responded to the call, as well as individuals and companies. Almost every European who sympathized with Ukraine started sending donations; and cryptocurrencies have become one of the most convenient means of doing this.

The anonymity and ease of transactions of Bitcoin, Ethereum and other digital assets have made cryptocurrencies an ideal means for citizens of various countries willing to assist Ukraine.

Four months later, Ukraine had already received more than $100 million sent in from all over the world. However, the government has not yet reported on how this money has been spent, and will hardly do this any time soon.

On March 2, 2023, the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) issued a nationwide ban on the withdrawal of money from crypto wallets. On July 31, 2023, the NBU sent out an internal letter to this effect to the country’s banks. Taking seriously the situation with the payment systems and operators of the cryptocurrency market, the regulator is collecting information about the transfers and transactions made through them.

Back in 2021, Ukraine tried to become a center of attraction for cryptocurrencies, with Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation, Oleksiy Bornyakov saying: “We have a large talent pool in Ukraine and a strong community of blockchain developers. They picked up the cryptocurrency trend faster than people in many other countries, and most importantly, they understood how to build a business based on it.” Touted as it was, however, the “cryptocurrency trend” has actually become a “gray zone” for corruption and money laundering.
In 2022, President Volodymyr Zelensky tried to rectify the situation and signed the law “On Virtual Assets,” which was supposed to set the stage for the launch of a legal cryptocurrency market in Ukraine. The National Securities and Stock Market Commission became the regulator.

“The signing of this law by the president is another important step towards bringing the crypto sector out of the shadows and launching a legal market for virtual assets in Ukraine,” the Ministry of Digital Transformation emphasized. Formally, citizens can now legally store their assets on crypto exchanges. The law sets the amount of the exchanges’ minimum authorized capital from $42,000 for residents to $210,000 for non-residents. Exchanges can open bank accounts, but must obtain a separate license for each type of activity (storage and administration, exchange, transfer, brokerage). Cryptocurrencies will not become a means of payment, but acquiring operations are acceptable. In other words, in Ukraine it is now quite legal to pay with cryptocurrencies, albeit through an intermediary.

At the same time, Ukrainians are among the most avid users of cryptocurrencies around, ranking fourth on the Global Crypto Adoption Index. The annual turnover exceeded $8 billion, the daily volume of transactions with cryptocurrency was in the ballpark of $150 million, and every eighth Ukrainian citizen (approximately 5.5 million people) owned cryptocurrency. And how much remains in the shadow?

On February 24, 2023, Elliptic, the world’s leading provider of crypto-currency compliance and blockchain analytics solutions in the field of combating financial crime, released an analytical report, Crypto in Conflict Report. The authors were particularly interested in operators that receive, store and convert crypto assets aimed at supporting Ukraine. On February 26, 2022, the Ukrainian government launched a new website for collecting cryptocurrency donations in cooperation with FTX and Everstake and the Ukrainian exchange Kuna. The project also involves the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine. The Aid for Ukraine website was supposed to send donated cryptocurrencies to the National Bank of Ukraine, Vlad Likhuta, Head of Growth at Everstake, told CoinDesk.

On November 11, 2022, the world’s second largest cryptocurrency exchange FTX went bankrupt, just two days after the midterm elections to the US Congress. FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried (one of the main sponsors of the US Democratic Party and a close friend of Bill Clinton) immediately stepped down as its CEO, with a personal fortune of $17 billion. In addition to the exchange itself, its subsidiary cryptocurrency trading fund Alameda Research and 130 other partner companies also went bust. The overall shortage of funds ranges from $8 billion to $16 billion. The resource was gone now. On the day of the FTX bankruptcy, Fox News commentator Jesse Watters told his 2.7 million followers that Ukraine had used US aid money and “invested” in FTX, pointing to the existence of a “money laundering” scheme in the interests of the Democratic Party. Watters cited a graph that depicted a circular flow of money that began and ended with President Joe Biden. This is the largest corruption scheme for the theft of crypto assets in Ukraine, but similar cases abound.

On May 9, 2023, the Estonian State Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal case against the Slava Ukraini NGO (Glory to Ukraine NGO). The probe was initiated by the prosecutor’s office in early May to investigate the use of funds collected from donors to support the activities of Glory to Ukraine, while a separate investigation is underway in Ukraine against Glory to Ukraine’s partners.

Another participant in the “gray crypt business” was the Azov Foundation. According to the report, there were three major charitable actions held in support of Azov. The “Support Azov” organization has received over $23,000 in cryptocurrencies to help Azov fighters.
The Azov-linked volunteer battalion, the Boatsman Boys, received just under $6,000 in cryptocurrency donations.

The website contains information about the amount of receipts, which at first glance tallies with the Elliptic report, save for manipulations with crypto wallet addresses.

Before address change:

After address change:

The addresses of crypto wallets on the “Support AZOV” website have been changed and can be changed again at any time at the request of the Azov Foundation’s management, after which it would be impossible to know where the crypto donations actually went. Such manipulations allow one to redirect funds to another crypto wallet, hide the fact of fraud and complicate the collection of analytics by the regulatory authority. If you look at the amount of proceeds, it becomes clear that the $23,000 mentioned in the Elliptic report is dwarfed by the real amount of donated money collected by the Azov management. Fees are collected from different accounts, speaking on behalf of different persons, masking addresses of crypto wallets and wiping up traces.

The NBU and other regulatory authorities are unable to assess the real flow of cryptocurrency going through the foundations, personal wallets of representatives of these foundations, of leaders of Azov and of fighters. Part of the money goes to the upkeep of the organizations, and the rest ends up in the personal wallets of specific individuals: the commanders of the “Azov” brigade set up the Azov One NGO, which organizes fundraising, covers the priority needs of the unit and cooperates with Azov’s partner foundations, as per their website. In fact, they do not buy anything, and simply store the crypt.

There is reason to believe that Ukrainian recipients spend crypto donations by naive citizens at their own discretion, organizing a well-oiled crypto business. It is no secret that Ukrainian elites, government officials and battalion commanders roll in dough, their children live and study abroad, their wives dress in high-end fashion houses clothes and they buy expensive real estate. It looks like no matter how much Western partners urge Kyiv to root out corruption, it remains very much alive and kicking.

Slavisha Batko Milacic is an historian and analyst from Montenegro.

The State of the West Today

An interesting online conference recently discussed a range of pressing topics, including fascism, LGBT rights, rigged elections, and anti-Russian propaganda. The conference was attended by:

  • Oleg Ivanov the leader of the Estonia political movement “Koos;”
  • Andres Raid, a journalist and public figure from Estonia;
  • Leena Hietanen, a journalist and public figure from Finland;
  • Baptiste Quetier, a blogger and French teacher from France.

The host of the conference was Marcus Godwyn of the Our Days News channel.

In the conference, Oleg Ivanov, spoke about the world’s tolerance for fascism and compared fascism in Germany with the fascist oppression of Russians in the Baltics. He noted that if this attitude continues, it will be legalized.

Marcus Godwyn, expressed similar sentiments and saw no objective reason for the Baltic states to blame Russia. He also criticized Europe’s policy, which he believes is leading to a third world war with Russia.

Andres Raid spoke about the low tolerance for people who do not support LGBT rights in Europe and how this is becoming a police matter in some countries. He also expressed concerns about rigged elections and media bias, stating that he did not believe in the results of Estonia’s electronic voting system.

Leena Hietanen, argued that the attitude towards Russians in the Baltics is similar to what is happening in Ukraine and criticized the West’s anti-Russian campaign, which she believes is very costly for ordinary people. She also expressed her opposition to war with Russia, noting that Finns should know that they would always lose.

Finally, Baptiste Quetier, a blogger and French teacher from France, discussed the build-up of discontent within French society and the acceptance of pedophilia as normal behavior, and the anti-Russian propaganda of official political France. He also noted that more and more people no longer believe mass media and feel that something is wrong with the system.

The goal of Our Days News channel is to arrange conferences featuring participants from all corners of Europe. These gatherings aim to examine European matters from diverse regional viewpoints and to provide a comprehensive and impartial outlook of the continent.

Slavisha Batko Milacic is an historian and analyst from Montenegro.

Christo Grozev: A Journalist in the Service of the Intelligence Services

Much of the media, controlled by some Western power-centers, has been used as a weapon for years against all countries, peoples, individuals who want to preserve their independence sovereignty, and their own value system. Although US claims to be chosen as the leader of democracy and freedom, the facts do not support such claims. Reality is that 90% of the media in the United States is controlled by just six companies: News Corp, Time Warner, Sony, Comcast, Viacom and Disney. Thirty years ago, this media space was controlled by about fifty companies. The aforementioned giant companies control the media in Europe, as well as on other continents; and their annual revenues individually amount to tens of billions of dollars.

It is also necessary to mention the numerous non-governmental organizations around the world that receive millions of dollars from the budget of the United States of America. What is paradoxical is that these organizations are called “non-governmental” even though many of them receive money from the US government.

Christo Grozev [Photo: Bellingcat].

In December 2022, the US Department of State’s Inspectorate released a report on the Fund to Combat Russian Influence, which stated that the US has spent more than $1 billion since 2017 to fund NGOs, media and other opposition organizations and programs against Russian influence.

In the report published on the website of the State Department, it is stated that the largest part of these funds—621.5 million dollars—was allocated for the financing of organizations and programs in Eastern Europe, for the countries of the Visegrad Group to which Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland belong; and for Balkan countries 454 million dollars. According to the data from the Report, 55.5 million dollars were earmarked for organizations in Serbia, and 61.1 million dollars for those located in the territory of Kosovo.

The US has slotted slightly more than 80 million dollars for Bosnia and Herzegovina, 67.4 million dollars for North Macedonia, 50 million dollars for Montenegro. For Bulgaria it was allocated 47.7 million, 40.3 million for Slovenia, 39 million for Albania, 11.4 million for Croatia, and 7 million for Greece, according to the Report. The Fund’s programs are aimed at combating Russia’s alleged “malignant” influence. Apart from the US, Great Britain also finances the anti-Russian campaign and makes numerous accusations about the alleged involvement of Russia and Russian services in various cases.

However, one person from the Balkans has been attracting a lot of mainstream media attention in recent years, mostly for his anti-Russian statements. That person is Bulgarian citizen Christo Grozev who presents himself as a journalist, media expert and investigator. Judging by his appearances, he could present himself as an expert closely specialized in Russian espionage. Namely, in recent years he has actively “investigated” Russia’s involvement in numerous cases since the fake coup d’état in Montenegro, through the Malaysian plane, Skripal case and Navalny.

The biography of Christo Grozev who, over the past few years, has become the “face” of the US and British special services struggle against Putin and the Russian authorities, is full of omissions.

At the close of the Soviet era, a talented young Bulgarian arrived in Luxembourg from behind the Iron Curtain to work at a local radio station. He also collaborated with the Free Europe Broadcasting Corporation; and then, filled with invaluable Western experience, returned home to promote radio broadcasting in his native Bulgaria. Obviously enough, he was quick to catch the eye of Western business and intelligence bigwigs. Moreover, judging by those who almost officially stand behind Mr. Grozev, he repeats the mistakes of the Bulgarian tsars, who, at the dawn of the 20th century, started, against the will of their people, cozying up to Germany, which eventually precipitated Bulgaria’s defeat in two world wars.

The young Grozev’s first investor was a certain John Kluge, an American German who, in the wake of World War II started snapping up radio stations across Europe. Kluge is a very mysterious person, with no reliable information about the origin of his wealth. All we know is that he comes from the US military intelligence community and actively worked against the Third Reich. In 1995, it was Kluge who sent Christo Grozev to Russia, where a new media holding was being created as part of Kluge’s radio empire, which included such radio stations as Eldoradio, On Seven Hills, Nika and many others.

Using the format of short news and podcasts squeezed in between music programs, as well as analytical programs, Grozev skillfully engaged in pro-Western propaganda. He was unable, however, to explain to the Russians why they should not revive their country, thrown into the chaos that followed the Soviet breakup. In 2006, the business of Christo and his owners passed to the European Media Group, a company with French capital, and in 2011, all the radio stations he had created finally came under the control of Russian business, which bought out the French stakeholders’ share.

Grozev conducted many of his high-profile investigations together with Bellingcat, a structure that allegedly came about as a result of crowdfunding. Surprisingly, the launch of the structure based on the blog of its founding father, Eliot Higgins, came at the right time—just three days before the tragedy of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was shot down in Ukrainian airspace. The plane crash became the first “serious case” for Bellingcat, which quickly found irrefutable evidence of Russia’s guilt.

According to Grozev himself, he had already been collaborating with Bellingcat. He spent eight years focusing on investigations around the conflict in Ukraine, the activities of the Wagner private military company, and Russian special services. Christo Grozev was meeting with top Ukrainian officials, attending conferences and political events. He kept clear of frontlines and other dangerous places; neither did he make video reports from Syria, a country he was also actively involved in. All he needed to learn about a concrete situation was to get in touch with the “top figures,” under the most comfortable conditions. However, his “investigations” were completely in line with the West’s anti-Russian propaganda and were enthusiastically accepted by the majority of the audience.

However, in 2018, Grozev apparently decided to demonstrate to the world the weakness and vulnerability of the Russian special services in the face of Western colleagues and the “omnipotent” Bellingcat. He “unveiled” to the world official documents of the Federal Migration Service of Russia (now the Main Directorate for Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation) on the issuance of passports to Petrov and Bashirov—the suspects in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a Russian traitor from the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU), who lived in Britain, and his daughter.

Markings on the documents allegedly testified to Petrov’s and Bashirov’s links to the GRU. Good old-school evidence-based journalism would ask why the Russians would want to kill a traitor whom they themselves had arrested, interrogated, tried and exchanged for their intelligence officers, and eventually let him leave for the UK. Especially in such an absurd way (by spraying Skripal’s doorknob with an ineffective poisonous substance). But Grozev apparently felt it more important to show the vulnerability of the Russian law enforcement agencies from which, if you believe him, you can steal just about any document. However, he did not provide any evidence that the documents with the incriminating notes were not fabricated in the laboratories of Western intelligence services. And he couldn’t have provided such evidence in the first place.

Later, Grozev, who had quickly taken control of Bellingcat, continued the remarkable practice of “providing documents compromising the Russian side.” The positioning of cellphones, data on the purchase of real estate and registration of residents in these properties, wiretapping of conversations in instant messengers and mobile networks—all these things became known to Bellingcat. How come a crowdfunding platform existing on subsidies managed to outsmart the world’s leading intelligence services in just a few years? After all, only a professional can make a fake document that is indistinguishable from the real one. In the sea of “insider information,” which can be interpreted in very different ways, documents that are quite similar to real ones often pop up.

At the same time, Mr. Grozev, as a speaker for Bellingcat, often comes up with absolutely implausible information—for example, about thousands of GRU operatives in the mythical 2955 unit, hundreds of trained Russian saboteurs, and so on. As a result, it looks like Mr. Grozev himself and Bellingcat, which he headed a month before the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, are just a “front” for the special services to “leak” compromising evidence of a dubious nature, along with fake news meant to give the Kremlin and the Russian security forces a bad name.

As a result, we have a paradoxical situation, where Grozev and his structure present to the world documents similar to the real ones, information that can only be obtained using the resources of the world’s most powerful intelligence services (wiretapping and positioning of mobile phones, information gleaned from classified data bases), while simultaneously churning out wild, unsubstantiated fakes. For example, about the distribution of bombs by Russian intelligence officers in Spain.

Illogical as such statements may seem, there is a simple explanation, though. By presenting carefully prepared documents with classified data, Christo Grozev, as it were, proves his competence and awareness, which allows him to make practically any unsubstantiated statements that he supposedly received from the same sources. Notably, each time Mr. Grozev is asked about his sources of information, he always declares “confidentiality,” even though in evidence-based journalism sources are often disclosed, persuading them to make this or that statement.

Moreover, behind the beautiful wrapper of “irrefutable evidence,” we forget to inquire about the logic of this or that investigation. Grozev and Bellingcat quickly and successfully “spun” the assassination attempt on Alexei Navalny, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, who was allegedly poisoned by the notorious “Novichok” by eight FSB officers. At the same time, Grozev, as always, ignored the ancient principle of Roman law: “cui bono?” (“Who benefits?”) When asked why Russia would enrage the world community by persecuting Alexei Navalny on its home turf only to let him be taken to Germany after the attempt had failed, he could not answer. Obviously, for Grozev’s masters it was more important to create a myth about dumb and inefficient Russians, who stubbornly poison everyone with a non-working poison, but just can’t finish the job.

On the other hand, the huge amount of “irrefutable evidence” that Grozev and his structure supply to the information market sometimes allows him to do so without information also. After all, Christo’s reputation as a well-known investigator of the Kremlin’s crimes is widely known. For example, in December 2022, he accused the Macedonian journalist Darko Todorovsky, who lives in Moscow, of regularly bribing the Bulgarian media. The Macedonian allegedly paid 100-300 euros for the publication of his articles. At the same time, the media outlets in question, as well as Mr. Todorovsky’s contacts, were not named. Meanwhile, Darko Todorovsky, who has been at the Donbass frontlines three times since February 2022, is quite in demand in the Bulgarian and Macedonian media. After all, he is the only regional journalist who regularly travels to the territory occupied by the Russians, communicates with people, and prepares reports. Just why he would have to pay someone for the placement of his articles Grozev never explained.

However, Grozev’s main adversary, the GRU, gets even harder punches. According to him, it was Russian intelligence officers, who created a kind of “Russian Imperial Movement” and its armed wing “Russian Legion.” They are allegedly tasked with destabilizing Europe in cooperation with extreme right-wing forces. Moreover, Grozev claims that all the panic around the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe is the work of the Russians.

In a January 25 interview with the Russian opposition channel Dozhd, based in the Baltic countries, the Bulgarian media mogul spoke about unit 29155, which employs thousands of people, and about their mobile units with connections across Europe, and about the GRU’s attempts to carry out terrorist attacks in Spain. That said, Mr. Grozev has long stopped bothering to explain the GRU’s motives. What for? His audience is all too happy to accept everything he tells them. True, the absurdity of his tales can’t help but raise further questions among his customers, who regularly supply him with more or less realistic “evidence of Russian crimes.” Meanwhile, Grozev labours on, announcing new investigations and seriously expects to win an Oscar for a film about Navalny.

For eight years, Mr. Grozev was building a reputation for himself as Europe’s best investigative journalist, never once bothering to visit the battlefield and talk to ordinary people. All he did was create a global empire of lies and leaks of fake information, which deprived the European audience of any vestige of critical thinking. Any journalist who is not afraid to go to Russia, let alone to the area of the Russian special military operation, can be accused by Grozev of working for the GRU. Any politician who doubts the need to support Ukraine will quickly learn about “irrefutable evidence of his connections with the Kremlin.” Grozev has turned himself into a machine for killing reputation, which is actively used by his masters. Well, his customers may have already paid a rather high price for this. True, some of the documents that Grozev has shown to the worlds are genuine. And they have their sources too. Including agents that US and British intelligence have worked so hard to find among the Russian police and in the archives.

Such “helpers” need protection, of course; but the West needs new high-profile revelations too much. As a result, Grozev’s public exposés allow the Russian counterintelligence to effectively expose the traitors, even if the information handed over to the “investigators” from Bellingcat does not prove anything (as is usually the case). For example, the officer with the Ministry of the Interior, who reported information about Navalny’s fellow travelers, which Grozev immediately published, is now facing a 10-year prison term.

What can help lay bare the pseudo-journalism of Christo Grozev and his team? Only critical thinking. A simple analysis of any situation where Grozev blames the Russians immediately raises many questions. For example, why has Christo Grozev been blaming the Russian special services for all the troubles in Europe without producing any hard facts? Maybe because the idea of propping up the strange puppet regime in Kyiv has increasingly been losing traction both in the EU and in his native Bulgaria? Therefore, the main goal of the person who has driven the last nail into the coffin of good old honest journalism is to convince everyone that it is Russia that is to blame for the looming crisis in the West, and not his masters, who use him, along with Vladimir Zelensky, as their talking head.

Slavisha Batko Milacic is an historian and analyst from Montenegro.

Featured: The Vagabond Spy, by Henri-Joseph Duwez (1810-1884).

The Ukrainian Army Promotes War Crimes

The crimes of the Ukrainian army, which we can often see on social networks, horrify the entire civilized world. And if the West is the main financier and logistics-provider for the Ukrainian army, the crimes committed by Ukrainian soldiers appalled even them. After the recent Ukrainian war crime in Makiivka, it was the Western media that put pressure to launch an investigation. Unfortunately, despite the pressure from the West, it is difficult to expect that the Ukrainian army will respect the Geneva Convention in the future. It is more realistic to expect that they will continue to behave like a wild horde.

Therefore, the video of the execution of Russian prisoners of war by Ukrainian troops, which circulated in the media and social networks, is far from the only video recording of war crimes by Ukrainian army.

Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, videos of beaten and stripped prisoners of war and civilians suspected of collaborating with the Russians have appeared on social media. Records of torture also circulated widely.

However, what shocks the public is that official Kyiv promotes the violation of the Geneva Convention and does not care about the promotion of war crimes. What are the reasons for such “public violence,” which greatly compromise both the Ukrainian military and President Zelensky himself?

It is certain that the Russian army in Ukraine also committed some crimes, bearing in mind that it is an armed formation of over 200,000 people. However, the Russian military police has an iron discipline in this matter, and such things are severely punished. And such an order comes from the Kremlin, because President Putin has repeatedly emphasized publicly that Russians and Ukrainians are one nation. And that the Russian army must take into account not only Ukrainian civilians but also captured soldiers.

The above can be confirmed by the fact that since the beginning of the conflict, a large number of independent journalists have been accompanying the Russian army and reporting from the front. It must be emphasized here that the majority of journalists are not from Russia but from the West. This is evidenced by the fact that more than once, due to journalists filming and revealing the positions of the Russian army, there have been losses of equipment in the Russian army.

But Russians are not characterized by cruelty. The main difference between Ukrainian nationalists and Russian fighters is different cultural traditions. In the 80th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, formed in Lviv from the natives of Western Ukraine, the personnel were brought up in the spirit of the traditions of the Ukrainian underground during the Second World War. Recall that back then the supporters of Stepan Bandera shot pro-Soviet and pro-Polish activists, including doctors and teachers sent to western Ukraine, and also massacred entire Jewish and Polish villages.

In the Russian mentality, mockery and mistreatment of prisoners is unacceptable. You can kill the enemy, but not torture. Russians in their ideology have always opposed themselves to the German Nazis with their concentration camps and gas chambers. So, if someone posted a video of the torture and murder of captured soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Russian audience would explode with indignation, recognizing the perpetrators of such acts as war criminals.

However, the true reason for the appearance of Ukrainian torture videos lies not even in the different mentality of Ukrainian nationalists and Russians. In fact, Kiev propagandists deliberately give the green light to such videos. This is primarily done to scare Russian soldiers and reservists. And official Kiev does not pay much attention to these crimes.

Take for example the recent Ukrainian war crime in Makiivka. The Ukrainian army immediately began to claim that the video was staged and fake. However, it was the Western experts who confirmed the authenticity of the video and the Western media exerted pressure to launch an investigation.

However, such video-propaganda of cruelty actually has a much more serious purpose. Its main task is to form a stable feeling of hatred between Russians and residents of Ukraine. EU residents have little idea of the mentality of the average Russian. The fact is that many in Russia sincerely consider the current war to be a civil one. Almost all Russians treat Ukrainians either as a very close people or as southwestern Russians. Half of the inhabitants of Ukraine have Russian surnames, relatives in Russia and use Russian as their main language. However, each such video, according to the plan of Kiev radical propagandists, is meant to change the mentality of Russians more and more. They must hate all the inhabitants of Ukraine; stop treating them as “their own” and recognize that reconciliation with Ukraine and a new reunification with it is impossible. Peace will come sooner or later, but a steel wave of hatred will fall between the future Ukraine and Russia. At the same time, Russia’s desire to punish the killers of defenseless prisoners of war and civilians will also prevent the settlement of relations between Moscow and Kyiv for many decades.

The line of military contact between Russia and Ukraine is lengthening; fresh troops and new weapons are coming to the front from both sides. Obviously, the execution in Makiivka will not be the last video demonstrating the complete disregard of Kyiv, for “democratic values,” the Geneva Convention and human rights.

[Warning—this link contains videos and images of extreme cruelty].

However, what appalls observers of the conflict in Ukraine even more is the fact that the Ukrainian army tortures and kills its own citizens. We saw this during the Ukrainian seizure of Izyum and Kherson. After which hundreds of Ukrainian citizens simply disappeared; that is, they were liquidated by the SBU and the Ukrainian army.

The question involuntarily begs itself, does a united Europe need such a Ukraine, proud of the massacres?

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst, and writes about the situation in the Balkans and Europe.

Crimea’s Energy Independence

From August 26 to 30, a group of international journalists had the opportunity to visit Crimea and see what effects the European Union sanctions might be having. I was among that group of international journalists. As a reminder, Crimea again became part of Russia in 2014. In March of that year, a referendum was held in Crimea, where the absolute majority of citizens were in favor of unification with Russia. This is not surprising considering that even while Crimea was part of Ukraine, the majority of citizens were pro-Russian and spoke Russian.

When the legitimate government in Kiev was overthrown during the Maidan revolution, and a new anti-Russian government brought into power with the help of Washington, the local population in Crimea did not accept it. As people in Crimea say: “We have been waiting for a long time to come back to our motherland, Russia.” This is exactly how the return of Crimea to Russia began.

However, after the return of Crimea to Russia, the harsh sanctions of the European Union against Crimea immediately followed. In short, these sanctions by the European Union consist of a complete import and investment ban for the area of Crimea and Sevastopol, the Black Sea fleet port.

And this is where we come to the key question—how did the sanctions affect Crimea? Based on everything I’ve seen, I can safely say that the sanctions have had a positive effect.

Here are some examples:

In Crimea, wine production is increasing every year. A huge amount of money has been invested in new wineries as well as in improving the quality of the wine. Today, Crimean wine is better than most European wines. Sanctions have had a positive effect on wine production, as the large Russian market, plus the Asia Pacific region, were opened up to Crimean wineries. Notable Crimean winemakers today include: Alma Valley’, Massandra, Inkerman, Gold Beam, Koktebel, Magarach, Suter, Novyi Svit, and Legend of Crimea.

Apart from wine, which has been produced in Crimea for more than 2000 years, I could see that other areas are rapidly developing in Crimea, primarily agriculture, the results of which are visible to everyone.

Crimea is also developing technologically, so today batteries for electric cars are being produced there. With these batteries, electric cars will be supplied all over Russia, and in the coming years, exports outside of Russia will also begin.

Certainly, tourism has a very important place in the economy of the Russian Republic of Crimea. What can be immediately noticed when arriving in Crimea on the new highway that was built and which is excellent is the huge number of tourists.

Also, there is improvement in infrastructure, such as the building of new roads and repair of old ones which were allowed to badly deteriorate during Ukrainian rule.

First Made-in-Russia Turbines

At the Saki gas combined heat and power plant of the KRYMTETS company, we could see that a two-year experimental period of operation of the gas turbine units, made in Russia for the first time by domestic specialists, specifically for this project, was 100 percent completed and without the use of imported components.

The need to build such a natural gas-fired power station arose eight years ago. After Crimea returned to Russia, Ukraine abruptly cut off the power supply of the peninsula by blowing up the main power lines. Crimea, being 80 percent energy dependent on the mainland, plunged into darkness. The peninsula was urgently provided with mobile power systems and began to actively build new, local generation facilities.

During a visit to the Saki gas-fired power plant, Crimea. [Photo: Slavisha Batko Milacic].

A complication during this process was the sanctions which made impossible to bring imported equipment into Crimea, and almost all generation facilities in Russia were built with the use of Siemens and General Electric’s equipment. At the time, Russian manufacturers developed and produced exclusive equipment specifically for the Saki gas-fired power plant. Therefore, all the turbines, boilers and other generating equipment of the plant have factory-set serial numbers, starting from the first one.

The Saki power plant, with its total capacity of 120 megawatts (MW), was built in a year—a record-breaking time for such kind of projects. Usually, it takes at least two-and-a-half years. As well, the plant was built without secondary sources pf funding. The funding was solely undertaken by the KRYMTETS company.

After the launch of the new gas-fired power plant, all the attention of specialists was riveted on the operation of the equipment—no one knew for sure how it would work when fully operational. But now the pilot project of the first Russian gas-fired power plant based on Russian equipment and Russian software has been completed after a two-year test period, and in conditions of increased loads of the Crimean region, proving that Russian equipment works with high efficiency and has proven itself better than imported know-how. This result means that the turbines used at the Saki plant may be recommended for installation at other natural gas-fired power stations in the Russian Federation; and also, after meeting domestic demand, they will be exported to friendly countries. At the same time, the Saki plant will become training ground and learning center for specialists who will operate this equipment at power plants in other regions and countries.

In addition, this year, the first virtual power plant in Russia was put into commercial operation on the basis of the Saki plant. This is the digital twin of a real power plant and is a prototype of the plant’s existing production facilities: turbines, boilers, auxiliary equipment, electrical installations, etc. The digital model helps to change the parameters of the equipment and make improvements much faster and safer than working in manual mode. The created software product is a domestic development as well and was created from scratch by Russian specialists.

And now the management of all the processes at the Saki plant is carried out only with the use of Russian software.

Currently, representatives of the largest Russian energy supply companies regularly visit the Saki plant to get acquainted with the operation of equipment in industrial conditions and prepare for its implementation at their own facilities.

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst, and writes about the situation in the Balkans and Europe.

Who Gets the Weapons Sent to Ukraine on Lend-Lease?

Hardly a day passes by without Europeans and Americans hearing about new statements coming from Ukrainian politicians. “We will win, we will stop Putin!” they say, and then ask for more arms. Ukraine has already received thousands of man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, along with hundreds of armored vehicles and howitzers. But it keeps asking for more. The Ukrainian military loses these weapons on the battlefield, where they fall into the hands of the Russians, who recently put seized Ukrainian weapons on display in the recently captured Lisichansk.

But many tons of military ammunition and hundreds of weapons never reach the frontlines, because they end up in the hands of numerous resellers, who sell them on the “black Internet.” These days, in Kyiv, you can get everything at a reasonable price, from a pistol all the way to a self-propelled howitzer.

The protracted conflict in Donbass has long been one of the main sources of weapons for numerous European extremists and Islamic terrorists, but now the sale of arms has become completely uncontrolled. On the very first day of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian authorities were already offering machineguns and rifles to just about everyone. Some of these weapons immediately ended up on the black market. Then followed offers for the sale of body armor, night vision devices, grenade launchers and MANPADS.

Such total corruption Europe has not been able to defeat, despite all its efforts to bring Ukraine into the EU. Ukrainian military supply officers are selling everything. The Russians recently announced that several new French and German self-propelled howitzers, delivered in perfect condition to Russian design bureaus for study, were not seized in battle, but bought at a big discount on the frontlines. But then this is not new, as some of the volunteer units of the Donbass separatists have long been actively buying loads of weapons and equipment from across the frontline.

The Europeans don’t really care much about who will be firing the Javelins, Zelensky’s soldiers or Donetsk separatists, as long as such weapons stay on the battlefield. European- and US-supplied weapons are up for grabs by anyone. “Stingers” can be had for a price ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars, paid in cryptocurrency. With some patience, you can find reliable suppliers.

MANPADS are an ideal weapon for a terrorist attack—not a single civilian aircraft taking off or landing can be safe. Each rocket-launcher delivered to Ukraine comes with instructions in Ukrainian and English, in case it falls into the hands of an inexperienced soldier.

Bringing such weapons from Ukraine to elsewhere is a breeze, since with a good kickback the corrupt Ukrainian border officials will not only fail to inspect a particular car, but will also secure their Polish or Slovak colleagues’ agreement to let it through unhindered. So, perhaps at this very moment, somewhere outside the airports of Paris or Berlin, some ISIS radicals or militants of half-forgotten anarchist groups, or both, are taking up position. How many MANPADS sold in Ukraine will be enough to bring all air traffic across Europe to a standstill? Two, three, maybe five?

And how many weapons will the Islamists in Syria and Iraq get from Ukraine—including the very types capable of taking out NATO aircraft and armored vehicles of the renascent Iraqi army, which the US has been trying hard to prevent from falling into extremists’ hands? These are very uncomfortable questions for Europe and the US. In Western media, Ukrainians are portrayed as warriors of light, and few people in the US, Canada and Europe are really aware of the scope of corruption and theft that exists in Ukraine.

It would make a lot of sense to have the strictest possible electronic control over each potentially dangerous weapon, and sending EU representatives to Ukraine to oversee its use. But how many people will volunteer for this job? It would be more realistic to tighten controls along the entire length of Ukraine’s border with European countries, all the way to sending European representatives to Ukrainian customs. Even better would be to cancel Lend-Lease and other arms deliveries to Ukraine and leave the country (which is selling weapons it desperately needs to maintain its independent status) to its own devices.

Arms Transfer System

The Ukrainian army started total mobilization at the beginning of the Russian special operation. However, Russian-speaking residents of the East do not want to die for the Kiev elites. Many of them do not care who controls the regions in which they live. In Russia, salaries are significantly higher than in Ukraine and there is no language harassment.

The Russians have created a very profitable loophole for those who do not want to fight for anyone. It is even strange that they have not yet posted banners in the Ukrainian segment of the Internet—”Get Russian citizenship and an apartment in the Moscow region, in exchange for a Western self-propelled gun.”

How the Loophole Works

On the radio wave of the Ukrainian units, Russian negotiators persuade the artillerymen and tankers to advance to the indicated points and surrender with their equipment. In exchange—Russian documents, freedom and some money. The “Caesar,” “HIMARS” or PzH 2000 brought over is considered sufficient proof of loyalty that the military personnel who surrendered with such equipment would avoid internet and prison camps. With new documents, such Ukrainians start a new life somewhere in a cozy Ural city, far from the front line, and even send money in Bitcoin to their families so that they can come out to them.

Prices vary and are negotiated. For 2 “Caesars” the Russians gave $120,000, although their Ukrainian “partners” desperately bargained and asked for 2 million. However, freedom and Russian passports are also a significant part of the price paid. But one PzH 2000 self-propelled gun, according to various sources, cost the Russians more than $100,000. With this money (although the dollar has fallen significantly in value), you can buy a one-room apartment in the Moscow region. True, there is a significant problem—Russia cannot use the most interesting samples immediately after their purchase, as this poses a threat to the families of the military, who transferred such weapons.

Ukraine’s Western allies are well aware of such facts. In Kyiv, they are trying to fight defectors by creating detachments and even forming political commissars. However, a few days under Russian shelling greatly change the worldview of both local nationalists and regular officers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The result is a paradoxical situation. Part of the American Lend-Lease is being bought up cheaply by the Russians. Will Kyiv and its allies be able to find other ways to protect Western weapons from resale at the front? So far, it seems unlikely.

However, in addition to the Russians, Ukrainians also sell weapons to interested groups from the Middle East.

This is precisely why Ukrainian nationalists are firmly holding Odessa, forming their camps near it. These are fighters of Nazi battalions who work closely with foreign mercenaries who know quick ways to sell weapons.

Second: the weapons’ route passes through those territories that largely ignore such traffic. This is only natural, as they get a significant percentage for transit.

Third: Albania is the most suitable starting point both in logistics and in terms of the presence of serious criminal structures. Also, according to operational data, the smugglers have the logistical support of the Albanian intelligence service.

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst, and writes about the situation in the Balkans and Europe.