The failed 1991 coup attempt in Moscow which led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Credit: David Broad via Wikimedia Commons
A coup came and went over the weekend, with the fiery head of the Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin threatening to restore justice to Russia before negotiating a deal to live out his days in exile. While the short-lived rebellion may show cracks in the Kremlin’s power, the economy is still surviving thanks to oiltankers that hoodwink insurers and spoof sanctions to export Russian oil abroad. Despite Russia’s turmoil and Ukraine’s progress in recapturing territory, Western allies are concerned that Ukraine’s counteroffensive is not moving fast enough. How can Ukraine exploit the attempted coup to bolster its war effort?
With the war coverage, developments in the arts and culture often get overlooked. But Ukraine’s culture is still evolving inside and outside of the country. A cultural center in Denmark is forging new artistic connections between the countries, while back in western Ukraine, a ballettroupe highlights the life of a Soviet-era poet who criticized Russian colonization.
All this and more in this week's newsletter!
Ukraine Unlocked is a weekly newsletter providing a roundup of the cultural, political, and economic developments in the country. We hope to provide students, professionals, and the casual reader with greater insight into Ukraine as its role on the global stage evolves throughout the 21st century.
Vladimir Putin tours the factory of his former ally,Yevgeny Prigozhin (pictured on the right). Credit:archive.government.ru via Wikimedia Commons
Times of Trouble
Inbound Coup? On Friday, after months of open criticism against Russia’s Ministry of Defense, the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, made a string of posts to social media accounts saying, “The Wagner Group commanders’ council has made a decision. The evil that the country’s military leadership is carrying out must be stopped…We’re 25,000 strong, and we’re going to get to the bottom of the lawlessness in this country.” The posts followed Prigozhin’s claims that Kremlin leadership intentionally bombed his troops.
First 24 Hours: The Wagner Group allegedly took control of a military base in Rostov-on-Don, the largest Russian city near Ukraine’s border, and planned to march on Moscow. Prigozhin urged Russians to support his “march to justice” and threatened to destroy anyone who got in their way. In response, Kremlin officials ramped up security in Moscow and Rostov while setting up blockades on the road to the capital. President Putin called the rebellion a treacherous “stab in the back” and vowed to quash the uprising.
Shortest Coup Ever? On Saturday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Prigozhin announced they had negotiated a deal where Wagner troops would pull back on their advance to Moscow in exchange for impunity for Wagner mercenaries. The deal also stipulates that Prigrozhin will move to Belarus in exile. While Putin and stability in Russia seem to have returned, analysts are saying the brief emergency shows Putin’s grip on Russia is slipping.
Death from Above: A new video game, "Death from Above," is centered on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Players act as Ukrainian drone operators in the game and carry out attacks on Russian military bases. A portion of the proceeds from the game will be donated to Ukrainian-based charities. Another game, "Ukrainian Farmy," has players control Ukrainian drivers trying to steal Russian equipment. Some of the earnings from "Ukrainian Farmy" will go to Ukrainian nonprofits. The creators see the games as a social media counter to Russia’s disinformation campaigns and part of the larger pro-Ukrainian propaganda initiative.
🤔 Human Moment:🤔 Obama shares some hot takes on what happened in Crimea during his time as president during an interview with CNN.
Destroyed building in Kyiv, Ukraine. Credit: Ales Ustsinau
What Does it Mean to Rebuild?
Not Quick Enough:Ukraine’s allies are disappointed with the pace of the counteroffensive this summer. Three officials spoke with CNN saying that the offensive has “not met expectations” thus far. Even Zelenskyy admitted progress had been “slower than desired.” But Ukraine has pushed back against this criticism, saying that people outside of the country do not fully comprehend the difficulty of the situation. Ukraine will likely use this criticism to fuel its demands for more weaponry as the counteroffensive drags on further into the summer. With the recent internal drama in Russia, Ukraine may use this opportunity to try and push further into occupied territories. While the West is disappointed with how the counteroffensive has started, confidence levels remain high that Ukraine will eventually break through.
Recovery Conference Nets Large Help:During a two-day conference in London, Ukraine secured $66 billion for the rebuilding efforts that will follow the end of the war. British Foreign Minister James Cleverly said that nearly 500 companies had also committed to being part of the effort to rebuild Ukraine. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, who attended the conference, said that his country would not wait for the war to end to start the rebuilding process. He also highlighted that the first priority would be to rebuild Ukraine’s energy sector.
The bombed theater in Mariupol. Credit:Donetsk Oblast War Administration via Wikimedia commons.
Exporting and Renewing
Danish Diplomacy:Ukraine House, a cultural center in Denmark, seeks to build connections between the two nations through art. The organization opened its doors in February of last year and has served as a center for Danes to learn more about the culture of the country that has occupied headlines during the last year and a half. Ukraine House just finished its first major exhibition “The Muses are Not Silent,” which displayed the terrors of war through paintings, photography, sculpture and film. Check out this article to see the various pieces that were on display at the exhibition.
Russian Facade:In occupied Mariupol, Russian forces have used the site of a bombed theatre to push cultural propaganda on its residents. A large fence with portraits of Russian playwrights surrounds the destroyed theater. Performance artists of the theatre who remained in the city formed a new troupe and began to produce Russian shows. Meanwhile, those who fled reorganized themselves in Western cities and are producing “The Scream of the Nation,” a play about the Ukrainian poet Vasyl Stus. He died in a Soviet labor camp in 1985 but was an outspoken critic of Russian colonization and a fierce advocate for the Ukrainian language.
🧹 Human Moment:🧹 Ukrainians clean up after a Russian attack.
Oil tanker. Credit: W. Bulach via Wikimedia Commons
Spoofing the System
Dark Fleets: Back in February, an oil tanker’s transmitter showed it sailing in circles in the Sea of Japan. The odd movements prompted an investigation by The New York Times, which revealed at least six oil tankers using fake transmission signals to hide the fact they were transferring oil from Russia to China.
Motives for Deception: The tankers are owned by shell companies that can be traced back to Chinese businessmen. However, many tankers across the globe are insured by Western companies due to the significant financial risk. These insurance companies are bound by Western sections and cannot insure tankers that transport Russian oil. The six ships in the investigation are all insured by American Club, a U.S.-based company. Therefore, the ships use sophisticated transmitters to hide their true routes and maintain their coverage, which is required to operate in major ports.
Money and Punishment: The ships have been hauling about $1 billion in oil while using Western insurance coverage. The U.S. enacted protections for insurance companies that unknowingly cover ships that violate Western sanctions. A spokesman for the company did not comment on investigations into the ships because of privacy laws. As of May 30th, the ships were still listed on American Club’s website. The spoofing is not limited to Russia, as the same practices are likely used to transport oil from sanction-ridden countries such as Venezuela and Iran and reveal a deeper systemic issue.
Looking to lend support to Ukraine? Below are some ways you can help:
Help forPEACE, which seeks to connect foreign donations with on-the-ground organizations in Ukraine
Ukrainian refugees in Moldova. Credit: UN Women via Flickr
Corporations’ Hire Campaign: Amazon, Hilton, and Pepsi have pledged to hire over 13,000 Ukrainian refugees in Europe over the next several years to alleviate the lack of employment opportunities. In addition, staffing agencies such as Accendo announced they would help 150,000 refugees find employment. Other corporations like Microsoft and Accenture released plans to train over 80,000 refugees. The wave of support follows the U.N.’s announcement earlier this month that global refugees reached an all-time high of 110 billion this year.
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