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Ukraine Recap: Putin goes in search of friends while his ministers threaten his enemies

21 Jul 2022

It’s childish, I realise, but I experienced a frisson of amused pleasure on watching the video of Vladimir Putin pacing up and down for nearly a minute while waiting for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, to show up for their photo opportunity when the two leaders were visiting Tehran this week.

The Russian president was in the Iranian capital to pursue closer relations between the two countries – the visit followed hot on the heels of news that Iran plans to supply hundreds of armed drones to bolster Russia’s depleted war machine – and he took the opportunity to also discuss the situation in Syria.

But, as Scott Lucas – an international security expert based at the University of Birmingham – writes here, the meeting felt like a “pact of the isolated”. Both Iran and Russia are labouring under punitive economic sanctions imposed by the international community, and it was a meeting more concerned with the optics of a new “anti-west axis” than an actual alliance. Lucas believes it’s a convergence driven not by strength but by weakness.


Read more: Russia and Iran's growing friendship shows their weakness not their strength


One region where Russian influence is on the rise is the Balkans, where separatist Serbian leaders are showing support for Putin’s war in Ukraine as well as talking up plans to establish a new army dedicated to splitting Bosnia and Herzegovina and establishing Republika Srpska as a Serbian state in its own right. This would almost certainly lead to a new outbreak of conflict in this deeply troubled region.


This is our weekly recap of expert analysis of the Ukraine conflict. The Conversation, a not-for-profit newsgroup, works with a wide range of academics across its global network to produce evidence-based analysis. Get these recaps in your inbox every Thursday. Subscribe here.


Andi Hoxhaj, a fellow in European Union law at the University of Warwick, believes that the EU is not helping matters with its delays to extending membership to various countries in the region including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia. This could drive some countries nervous about security issues to seek closer ties to Russia, he writes.


Read more: Russia's influence in the Balkans is growing just as the region's fragile peace is threatened


Gas tap back on – for now

One rare bit of good news surfaced yesterday with the announcement that the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which had been down for ten days, had resumed pumping gas from Russia to western Europe via Germany. While the volume of gas now being pumped is far below the pipeline’s total capacity, it had been feared that Russia might decide to shut it down for the duration, leaving European countries scrambling to look for alternatives before winter hits in a few short months.

Western Europe is still scrambling to secure its energy supplies. But – writes Francesca Batzella, who specialises in the politics of energy in Europe – their efforts to heat and light the long dark nights ahead will put pressure on the EU decarbonisation plans. Coal and nuclear power will come back on to the agenda rather moving strongly towards the development of renewables.


Read more: Ukraine war: hope for the best, prepare for the worst – Europe sweats over the future of Russia's gas supply


Battlefield: Crimea

While Putin was on the road with the purpose of winning friends and influencing people, his ally – former president Dmitry Medvedev – was busily playing bad cop. Responding to the prospect of Ukraine using US-supplied HIMARS artillery to target military targets in the Crimea – which is where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is stationed. Medvedev promised “judgement day” if this were to occur – something he didn’t elaborate on, but which in his previous pronouncements has included the threat of a nuclear response.

Stefan Wolff, professor of international security at the University of Birmingham and Tatyana Malyarenko, professor of international relations at the National University Odesa in Ukraine, spell out here the dangers that a renewed focus on Crimea could quickly spin out of control.


Read more: Ukraine war: why Moscow could go nuclear over Kyiv's 'threats' to Crimea


Crimes of war

Amid the growing evidence that rape is being used as a tactic of war in Ukraine, representatives of 45 countries gathered recently in The Hague for the Ukraine Accountability Conference. As you would hope, the conference condemned the use of sexual violence in war. It also underlined the need for specialised support and treatment for survivors.

Valerie Oosterveld, professor of international law at Western University in Canada, outlines the challenges facing those who are tasked with investigating allegations of sexual violence in Ukraine, not least that many of the crime scenes are still in conflict zones or occupied by Russian troops. But she believes a coordinated response acting on principles established by similar investigations in conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the genocide in Rwanda, the civil war in Sierra Leone and elsewhere will have the best chance of bringing justice to victims in this brutal conflict.


Read more: How to ensure justice for the survivors of wartime sexual violence in Ukraine


Another form of war crime outlined by US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, recently has been the systematic kidnapping of what is believed to be between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians who have been forcibly removed to Russia. This could include as many as 260,000 orphans or children separated form their parents during the fighting.

Alexander Hinton, professor of anthropology and specialist in the study of genocide at Rutgers University in Newark, says this is “straight out of Russia’s playbook” from other conflicts dating back more than 100 years. But this time, he writes, there is a far better chance that investigations by the Ukrainian authorities and the International Criminal Court could result in Russia being held to account.


Read more: Russia’s mass kidnappings of Ukrainians are a page out of a wartime playbook – and evidence of genocide


Hearts and minds

A fortnight ago I mentioned a story from our colleagues in Australia about a Russian propaganda movie depicting Ukrainians in the country’s east as bloodthirsty right-wing skinheads intent on brutalising ethnic Russians living in the region. This week the author of that story, film expert Greg Dolgopolov from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, has written about a Ukrainian movie, U311 Cherkasy, made in 2019. The minesweeper U311, he writes, “took on the might of the Russian navy and gave them the proverbial finger” when Crimea was annexed in 2014.

As we know, giving the Russian navy the finger now resonates with the Ukrainian resistance after the defenders of Snake Island south of Crimea did the same thing to an invading Russian warship on the day the invasion began. The U311 held out against overwhelming odds for three weeks before defiantly singing national songs even as Russian special forces eventually overran the ship. Their resistance became a national touchstone for Ukrainians. Unsurprisingly it remains a box office hit in Ukraine to this day.


Read more: U311 Cherkasy, the little minesweeper of a Ukrainian film that gave the finger to the Russian Navy


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