Bakhmut in early April, which is still at the center of Ukraine's counteroffensive. Credit: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine via Wikimedia Commons
The collapse of the Wagner-Kremlin relationship means Russia lost one of its most effectivefighting groups. Losses are also mounting for some of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs as Western sanctions throttle their wealth. But are these tools as effective as they seem?
Former Vice President Mike Pence and acting CIA Director William Burns visited Kyiv this week. During the unannounced visit, Ukrainian intelligence officials revealed a new strategy to Burns about how they plan to force Russia to the negotiatingtable. This approach presupposes that Ukraine will be able to recapture a significant amount of territory during the counter-offensive. For the Republican Party, support for Ukraine has emerged as a divisive issue but will Pence be able to push the party to unify in backing the country’s war effort?
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.
Former Vice President Mike Pence Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.
Support from Usual and Unusual Places
Pence Visits Ukraine:Former U.S. Vice President and current GOP Presidential Candidate Mike Pence visited Ukraine this past week. Pence saw firsthand the places where some of the worst atrocities of the war took place. He also met with Zelenskyy where he expressed his admiration and support for the country’s resolve in the face of Russia’s invasion. Pence’s support for Ukraine sets him apart in the crowded GOP field. While Republicans used to be a party of foreign policy hawks, leading candidates like Trump and Desantis have questioned the level of support that should be given to Ukraine.
CIA & a Push For Peace: The Zelenskyy administration revealed a new plan for ending the war to CIA Director William Burns during his unannounced visit to Ukraine last week. The Ukrainians want to make a major push and recapture land that would put them near the border with Russia and then lobby for negotiations between the two sides. “Russia will only negotiate if it feels threatened,” said a senior Ukrainian official. Burns met with Zelenskyy and Ukrainian intelligence officials where he promised that the U.S. would continue to share intelligence. The visit comes after the U.S. suffered from one of the largest intelligence leaks where Ukranian battlefield information was posted online. Burns also made a call to Russia’s intelligence chief to reiterate that the U.S. had nothing to do with the Wagner mutiny.
Human Moment: Ukrainian singer and bandura player Maryna Krut and paramedic Iryna Tsybuh perform “Contra spem spero.”
The book "Ivan and Phoebe" written by Oksana Lutsyshyna. Credit: Deep Vellum
Add It to the List
Summer Reads: A man is tortured for participating in protests against the Soviet regime during his youth while also contemplating why he knows so little about Ukrainian culture: these are some of the through lines of Ukrainian author Oksana Lutsyshyna's newly translated book “Ivan and Phoebe.” The novel follows a man as he goes from a passionate activist to a dejected husband and father living in rural Ukraine who questions whether his participation in the protests really meant anything. The book explores what the turbulent ‘90s meant to a generation that is now defending itself from the very country it won independence from in 1991. You can buy the book here.
Joint Polish-Ukrainian units conduct training for the counteroffensive. Credit:Ministry of Defense of Ukraine
The Dog Days of July
21 Miles of Obstacles: Ukrainian troops have met an unexpected obstacle in the opening weeks of their counteroffensive: their country’s terrain. Russia has built fortified defense in southern Ukraine's flat, open fields, which are advantageous for the army that is on the defensive. Ukrainian forces have little cover as they advance through these vast open areas. Meanwhile, Russian troops can hide in the intermittent tree lines to ambush attackers. Over the last year, Russia has constructed multi-layered defenses of significant obstacles and wide trenches that can stop tanks in their tracks. The combination of natural and artificial barriers means the campaign to recapture territories will likely be slow and grueling. As Zelesnkyy noted last week, the counteroffensive is moving slower than Ukrainian officials and their allies expected.
The Collapse of an Empire: Yevgeny Prigozhin, the exiled former head of the Wagner Group, had deep ties to the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns and controlled a large media empire within Russia. Prigozhin owned the Internet Research Agency, also known as the “troll factory,” which interfered in America's 2016 presidential election. In 2018, U.S. officials indicted Prizogzhin for using fake social media accounts to spread disinformation surrounding the election. An independent Russian media outlet, The Bell, reported that negotiations are underway for Priogzhin to sell his stake in the company. Still, the subsequent owners will be under the watchful eye of Kremlin leadership.
The Loss of an Army: General Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, reported that the Wagner Group would no longer actively fight in Ukraine. While some Wagner mercenaries remain in southern Ukraine, they are no longer fighting side-by-side with the regular Russian military. The development bodes well for Ukraine, as this was “the most effective unit of the Russian Federation that knew how to achieve success at any cost.” The Wagner troops played a pivotal role in Russia’s capture of Bakhmut in May after a 10-month siege.
Human Moment: Take a look at the grueling but heroic work medical workers are doing near the frontlines of the war. Warning: graphic content
Eight Russian billionaires. Credit: Acratopotes via Wikimedia Commons
The Complexities of Sanctions
Hemorrhaging Wealth: Thanks to Western sanctions, 22 of Russia’s wealthiest billionaires lost a combined $90 billion dollars over the last year and a half. Viktor Vekselberg, an owner of the third largest aluminum producer in the world, lost over 60% of his net worth.
Not so Fast: The numbers are deceptive: other top oligarchs have maintained or increased their net worth. The growing economic relations with China, Saudi Arabia, and India have kept Russia’s economy stable. The most powerful oligarchs are also careful not to criticize the Kremlin or its invasion of Ukraine. Many who have voiced concerns mysteriously died from heart attacks, suicides, or accidents.
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
An aerial view of Madison, Wisconsin. Credit: rawpixel.com / Carol M Highsmith
Forging a New Life
Touch of Ukraine: For our readers who live within driving distance of Madison, Wisconsin, a new Ukrainian restaurant is set to open on July 13th. A group of eight refugees, with the help of their sponsor, are opening “Touch of Ukraine Bar and Grill,” which will feature American-Ukrainian fusion cuisine. The menu will serve fusion entrees like chicken sandwiches with Ukrainian breading and traditional dishes like Borsch and Varenyky. The idea for the restaurant came from the group’s desire to contribute to the community, which welcomed them after they had fled Ukraine.
To help people pursue their passions about the Eurasian region we are collecting jobs that are connected to the area. If you have a relevant job you would like posted here please contact us.