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Visit by Japan’s Kishida to Kyiv gives sharp contrast to Xi in Russia
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, becoming the first postwar Japanese leader to visit an active war zone and the final member of the Group of Seven advanced nations to make the trek to Ukraine’s capital to show support.
Kishida’s arrival came as Chinese leader Xi Jinping holds meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is Xi’s first visit to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine. On Tuesday, in another show of support for Moscow as a war crimes arrest warrant increasingly isolates the Russian leader, Xi invited Putin to China for a visit.
The remarkable split screen of the two Asian leaders holding summits on opposite sides of the Russia-Ukraine conflict underscored Kishida’s linking of security concerns in Europe and East Asia with an eye toward China’s growing assertiveness in the region, and his efforts to demonstrate his country as a leading Asian nation in siding with the West against Russia.
The timing of Kishida’s trip was initially coincidental, according to those familiar with the planning, but it nonetheless presented a symbolic and stark contrast to China and highlighted how the Russian invasion has reshaped security calculations in Asia.
ISW: Evidence suggests Putin has not been able to secure no-limits bilateral partnership with China
. Putin and Xi signed a “Joint Statement by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on Deepening Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation, Entering a New Era” on March 21, which stressed that Russian–Chinese relations are comprehensive, strategic, and at the highest level in history. The Joint Statement outlines a variety of bilateral intentions and affirms the commitment of Russia and China to each other’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity, among other diplomatic promises. The commitments made by Xi and Putin were notably lopsided, however, indicating that Xi is agreeing to a more reserved version of Russian–Chinese relations than Putin likely desires, as ISW observed on March 20. Xi praised Putin, reaffirmed China’s commitment to Russia in the UNSC, and amplified China’s position on a political settlement of the war in Ukraine; but Xi did not go much further than offering those statements. Putin, by contrast, announced a number of measures that signal Russia’s continued orientation towards and dependence on China in the energy and economic sectors, which appear very one-sided compared to Xi’s relatively tempered commitments. Xi additionally did not signal an intent to provide support for Russia’s war in Ukraine beyond vague diplomatic assurances, which is likely a step down from what Putin hoped to secure in negotiations. Putin has likely failed to secure the exact sort of partnership that he needs and desires, and Xi will likely leave Moscow having secured assurances that are more one-sided than Putin intended them to be. Putin observed that Russia and China had “a very substantiative and candid exchange of views” on the prospects for the further development of Russian-Chinese relations. Such rhetoric notably lacks the language normally used in diplomatic readouts to indicate that the two parties have come to definitive and substantive agreements.
"We are becoming a commodity colony." Putin promised China 100 billion cubic meters of gas and all Russian LNG
Russia is ready to increase the supply of natural resources to China, President Vladimir Putin said after a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Kremlin.
The talks, which marked the first face-to-face meeting between Putin and Xi since the start of the war in Ukraine, were "successful" in the words of the Russian president and "took place in a warm, comradely and constructive atmosphere."
Russia, as Putin said, intends to provide "uninterrupted oil supplies" to China, as well as to sharply increase gas exports. Last year, Gazprom was supposed to pump 15 billion cubic meters to China through the Power of Siberia pipeline, and by 2024 its capacity is expected to reach the planned 38 billion cubic meters per year.
"The total volume of gas supplies by 2030 will be at least 98 billion cubic meters, plus 100 million tons of LNG," Putin said. The volume named by the president is all the gas that Russia, according to the plan, should produce by 2030, Interfax notes. Now LNG production is three times less and amounted to 32.3 million tons in 2022.
“Russian business is able to meet the growing demand from the Chinese economy for energy resources both within the framework of current projects and those that are currently in the process of being coordinated,” Putin stressed. One of such projects is the Power of Siberia-2 gas pipeline through the territory of Mongolia with a capacity of 50 billion cubic meters per year.
Having been under discussion for more than 7 years, the project is "practically" agreed in all respects, Putin said. There are also "opportunities for a significant increase in exports of meat, grain and other categories of goods to China," he said.
Russia is offering China natural resources in exchange for support the Kremlin sees as critical to continuing the war with Ukraine, a Kremlin source told the Financial Times. At the end of last year, Russia increased oil exports to China by almost 10%, coal - by 21%, and gas - by 1.5 times, becoming its largest supplier for the first time. China responded by sending $4.8 billion worth of electronics and machinery to Russia, replacing the departed Western companies.
“The logic of events dictates that we are fully becoming a resource colony of China,” the FT source says. – Our servers will be from Huawei. <...> China will receive gas through the Power of Siberia. By the end of 2023, the yuan will be our main trading currency.”
The sanctions further highlighted the asymmetric nature of Russia-China relations, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies: "It's hard to hide the fact that Russia is now a junior partner."
'No Body, No Payment': Wagner Mercenary Deaths Being Hidden From Families Back In Russia
The first time that Vitaly Votanovsky was contacted to find out the fate of someone fighting in Ukraine for the notorious Wagner mercenary group was in November 2022.
He received a Telegram message from the aunt of 22-year-old Andrei Kargin saying that she hadn’t heard from her nephew for months since he deployed to Ukraine as part of the Russian group, and she was beginning to wonder what fate he had met. She filled out all the necessary paperwork to be contacted in the event of his death, but had received no word from Wagner. Desperate, she reached out to Votanovsky, a well-known local blogger and activist based in Russia’s North Caucasus who had been investigating the true death toll of Moscow’s yearlong invasion.
By the end of February, Votanovsky had found Kargin’s grave in Russia at a special cemetery for Wagner fighters killed in Ukraine. His aunt had never been contacted by Wagner to let her know that her nephew had been killed or if she wanted to attend a funeral. The only news she received was a photo taken by Votanovsky.
Since then, Votanovsky has been contacted by numerous families about the fate of their relatives fighting as mercenaries for Wagner in Ukraine.
He told RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, that since he began tracking the graves of those killed in Ukraine, he’s found relatives for families across southern Russia, such as cities like Stavropol and Volgograd, and even as far away as Belarus and Kazakhstan. In most cases, the families had not been informed of the deaths and only discovered that their relatives were no longer alive after someone had discovered one of Votanovsky’s photos on his Telegram channel.
Meduza finds out what the Russian presidential administration is thinking about The Hague's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin "Even the CIS has ceased to be a safe space for him"
The decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin was hailed by the Kremlin as the West’s “most unexpected move,” according to Meduza sources close to the Russian presidential administration. According to two interlocutors of the publication, the Russian authorities were not ready for this situation.
Moreover, in 2023, the Kremlin was going to promote the image of Putin (including for the domestic Russian audience - on the eve of the presidential elections) as a “fighter against the West”, “defender of the countries of Latin America and Africa from colonial oppression” and “one of the main leaders of the multipolar world ". Meduza’s interlocutors point out that this requires foreign travel, which Putin is now limited to due to the decision of the ICC. Theoretically, the President of the Russian Federation can be detained on the Hague warrant in 123 countries. Sources close to the Presidential Administration note that so far the Kremlin does not quite understand how it is possible to “ensure the security” of the president in the new conditions.
“Even the CIS is no longer a safe space [for Putin],” one of the sources stated (among the countries that have ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC are, for example, Tajikistan).
At the same time, the same interlocutor added: the Kremlin doubts that one of the countries that used to be part of the USSR could decide to arrest Putin, but "tenths, hundredths of a percent [the probability of this] is always there." Meduza’s sources consider Putin’s arrest to be “impossible,” precisely because the Russian president simply won’t go to a country where there is at least a minimal risk of being arrested.
Meduza’s interlocutors noted that despite the war that Russia unleashed in 2022, Vladimir Putin traveled abroad relatively regularly and participated in forums and summits. For example, in the summer of 2022 he visited Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran, and in the autumn - Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Armenia (at the same time, after February 24, Putin never traveled to Western countries).
According to two interlocutors close to the Presidential Administration, such trips were very important, including for internal Russian propaganda, which, relying on the news about these visits, could tell citizens that “Russia still has more friends than ill-wishers” and the country remains "one of the pillars of a multipolar world."
“Restrictions on foreign visits will work in the opposite direction. Before the warrant, [Putin's] trips were combined with trips of foreign leaders to Moscow. Now it will not be possible to maintain the same frequency of meetings - you cannot constantly invite everyone to your place, ”said one of Meduza’s sources.
Difficulties with foreign visits have already begun: in August 2023, the next summit of the BRICS countries is to be held in South Africa ; the authorities of this country on March 20 announced that they "took note" of the ICC warrant. At the same time, presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov claims that the Kremlin is “calm” about the decision of the International Criminal Court in The Hague and “continues to work” (State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin called the warrant “aggression against Russia”, the Investigative Committee, on behalf of Alexander Bastrykin, opened a criminal case against the judges who issued the warrant, and Deputy Head of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev threatened with a precision missile attack on the courthouse in The Hague).
Simultaneously with Putin, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for children's ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova, a key figure in the system of forcible removal of Ukrainian children to Russia. Meduza sources close to the Kremlin note that the Presidential Administration now assumes that the list of officials who will be issued warrants in The Hague may expand, for example, it may include the governors of regions that accept children from the annexed Ukrainian territories. However, according to the Kremlin, this will not affect their lives in any way: “In fact, civil servants, one might say, do not go abroad [during the war].”
Treasury Continues to Sanction Procurement Networks for Iran’s UAV and Weapons Programs
Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), designated four entities and three individuals in Iran and Turkey for their involvement in the procurement of equipment, including European-origin engines of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in support of Iran’s UAV and weapons programs. This procurement network operates on behalf of Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), which oversees several firms involved in UAV and ballistic missile development.
“Iran’s well-documented proliferation of UAVs and conventional weapons to its proxies continues to undermine both regional security and global stability,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “The United States will continue to expose foreign procurement networks in any jurisdiction that supports Iran’s military industrial complex.”
U.S. speeds up deliveries of Abrams tanks, Patriot systems to Ukraine
The U.S. is accelerating the training and delivery of Abrams tanks and Patriot missile defense systems for Ukraine, as preparations ramp up for expected heavy fighting this year.
The Pentagon will refurbish existing M1A1 Abrams tanks in order to get them to Ukraine this fall, a major acceleration of the original timeline that wouldn’t see the tanks head to Ukraine for a year or more, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, 65 Ukrainians are wrapping up training on the Patriot missile system at Fort Sill, Okla., in the coming days, base military officials said as they hosted a small group reporters to view the instruction. The Ukrainian air defenders and two donated Patriot systems will be on the battlefield in a matter of weeks, after training began in mid-January.
U.S. officials have long said that it would take months to get the Ukrainians trained and ready to operate Abrams tanks and Patriot systems, both of which come with expensive and complicated logistics and maintenance chains.
At the training range in Oklahoma, however, Brig. Gen. Shane Morgan, commanding general of the Army’s Fires Center of Excellence, called the Ukrainian soldiers “impressive, and absolutely a quick study” in complex equipment.
Dossier Center Investigation: Prigozhin's Cyber Troops
Translated: How the IT infrastructure of Wagner, Troll Factory and Concorde works
In early autumn 2022, unknown hackers gained access to more than 1 million documents of Yevgeny Prigozhin's structures. For several months, the group maintained access to the network, pumping out all the fun from there. Some of the files from the #Wagnerleaks archives were at the disposal of journalists from Die Welt, the Dossier Center, Insider, Paris Match, and Arte.
For five years now, the Dossier Center has been investigating the murder of three journalists in the Central African Republic who were trying to make a documentary about the Wagner PMC. We managed to study the internal structure of Prigozhin’s business empire, including the so-called “Troll Factory” (Lakhta project), the Concord group of companies, the so-called PMC “Wagner” and other business activities of the Kremlin chef: school meals, construction, hotel business, chocolate trading, media business, mining of gold, diamonds, oil, and other minerals, international political consulting, a meat processing plant in the African jungle, a car wash - and more.