- Joke of the week
Policy & Research
- Energy blackmail
- War Hacktivism
- Pelosi concludes secret visit to Ukraine
- US State Department confirms temporary return of some diplomats to Lviv
Kremlin’s Current Narrative
- Russia: The West wants to destroy Russian culture
- Kremlin: China claims that NATO plans to destabilize a new region in China
Joke of this week
Policy & Research
In its latest attempt to use energy supplies as a threatening weapon against Europe, Russian energy giant Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria after demanding their payments in rubles, a move that would have curbed sanctions against the Kremlin. This was the first practical consequence of the controversy around Moscow’s intentions to force energy transactions from “hostile” countries into rubles, a reaction that at the same time threatens its revenues, which are crucial funding for the war. The cut was a warning shot not only to the two countries involved but to Europe as a whole, applying significant pressure on gas prices while the continent is still heavily dependent on Russian supplies.
Poland has reduced its dependence on Russian gas in recent years and is now confident in its ability not to depend on its resources, not least because its gas stocks in storage are at 76% of capacity. In contrast, despite evidence that gas flow has drastically reduced in a couple of days, Gazprom denies that it has stopped supplying gas to Poland and dismisses the situation at the country’s refusal to follow the new payment procedure. Bulgaria, on the other hand, in response to the drastic measure, has finally decided to join most of its NATO allies indirectly supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia while it seeks alternative suppliers. The decision was made by Bulgaria’s prime minister, Kiril Petkov, in contrast with the position of the president, Rumen Radev, a retired non-interventionist general who has spoken out against sending weapons so as not to further fuel the conflict.
The Kremlin is no longer just a player in the cyber warfare that has characterized the past few years and has intensified with the invasion of Ukraine but has also become the target of “digital assailants” who have gained access to financial and government information and poured it out onto the open web. Some of these, form a group of hacktivists operating independently, who instead of being a hindrance as predicted by Christopher Painter, a former U.S. diplomat on cyber issues, are indirectly aiding U.S.-based cyber operations. Russia’s reputation for cyber superiority, which made it an off-limit target for years, has been shattered, making the practice “one of the most accessible forms of striking at an unjust regime or its supporting infrastructure,” said Emma Best, co-founder of Distributed Denial of Secrets. The further effect of this form of attacks is the impact on Putin’s image and his propaganda of the unbeatable strongman who is instead now facing constant hacking from independent activists who are doing it for ideological reasons and not for personal gains, like volunteers in war.
Moreover, Ukrainian authorities are directly benefiting from hacktivism and actively supporting some of the operations they carry out, uncovering valuable information about Russian troops and FSB agents. One Russian criminal cybernetwork, Conti, had sided with Russia at the beginning of the invasion, forgetting about the operatives in Ukraine who have since managed to turn the choice against them, giving them a “taste of their own medicine.” Of course, not all groups are driven by selfless sentiments; some of them have taken advantage of the discovered vulnerability for personal profit, stealing several Russian credentials that were 50% more in March than in the previous month. Others, such as Network Battalion 65 are soliciting ransomware payments to devote them as donations to Ukraine but allegedly have not collected any money so far.
Pelosi concludes secret visit to Ukraine
On Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi travelled to Kyiv to meet with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy becoming the highest-ranking US official to visit Ukraine since the outbreak of war. Nancy Pelosi led the congressional delegation consisting of senior representatives of the House of Democrats: Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and Rules Committee Chairman Jim Mcgovern. The meeting with Zelenskyy and other top Ukrainian officials lasted for three hours. The trip aimed at getting a first-hand assessment of the war effort from the Ukrainian government. During the meeting, the Congressional delegation praised the Ukrainians for their effort and courage to defend their country and assessed their fight as a “struggle of freedom against tyranny”.
Nancy Pelosi reiterated the US’s firm support for Ukraine “until victory is won”. Furthermore, the Congressional delegation discussed the needs of Ukraine for the next phase of the war with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. As one of the representatives of the delegation stated, he came to Ukraine with three areas of focus: “weapons, weapons, and weapons”. For his part, Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed in the meeting the importance of the financial assistance of the US and expressed Ukraine’s gratitude for this support. The Congressional delegation’s trip to Kyiv was another sign of support from the most senior level of the US leadership. To appreciate this support, Zelenskyy awarded Nancy Pelosi with the Order of Princess Olga.
US State Department confirms temporary return of some diplomats to Lviv
On Tuesday, the deputy chief of Mission for the US Embassy in Ukraine and the members of the embassy team travelled to Lviv. As State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated, the embassy team met with interlocutors from the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to him, for now, it was temporary, but Tuesday’s travel was the first step ahead to more regular travel in the immediate future. Moreover, the US accelerates preparations for returning the diplomats to the embassy in Kyiv as soon as possible. Besides, the State Department constantly assesses the security situation in Ukraine to ensure the resumption of embassy operations in Kyiv as it would facilitate the US support toward the Ukrainian government and people.
It is noteworthy that the US diplomats have been making day trips from Poland to Lviv, where they are currently based, consistently, while in the past week it was not feasible to make such trips every day. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit to Kyiv informed Zelenskyy that the US diplomats would return to Ukraine the next week and it would be the first time since the outbreak of the war that the US evacuated its diplomats to Poland. Furthermore, the US intends to return at least some diplomats to Kyiv demonstrating that Kyiv is safe after Russia withdrew its troops from the city. Another important step toward this goal was the nomination of the ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, who is currently the US ambassador to Slovakia. The US did not have a Senate-confirmed ambassador to Ukraine since the Trump administration recalled the previous ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in 2019.
Kremlin’s Current Narrative
Russia: The West wants to destroy Russian culture
Kremlin claimed that it’s no secret that the current acute crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations has become a starting point for Russian enemies who have unleashed a real war to destroy Russian culture. Kremlin also recalled, “the mass looting” (“the sale of the national heritage”), which according to Russia, occurred immediately after the revolution and with the direct participation of numerous Western buyers. Russia claimed that Western powers started transforming into ruins and ashes everything which was carried by and belonged to Russian culture even during the Great Patriotic War. As it became a common tactic, Kremlin aims at escalating hatred toward the West through its narratives. Thus, Moscow states that Russians were to be deprived of the opportunity to be called people, they were destined for the fate of working cattle working for the Aryan supermen. “And cattle should not have a culture,” added Kremlin.
Moreover, Russia claimed that the ideology of Nazism assumed not only the transformation of Russians into slaves but also the deprivation of Russians of their culture since slaves do not have culture. Kremlin believes that more than 80 years ago Russian culture was destroyed. “Burned, stolen, destroyed, blown up,” said Kremlin. According to Russia, “today, Russian culture is also being destroyed.” Furthermore, Kremlin stressed that we all witnessed how those who, as we thought, lived in the space of Russian culture, and lived extremely comfortably, who received all the available possible benefices in all their forms, both despised and at the same time hated this culture.
Kremlin: China claims that NATO plans to destabilize a new region in China
According to Kremlin, the Chinese portal CGTN says that NATO is trying to destabilize the Asia-Pacific region (APR) to ensure US world domination. As the author of the publication noted, the North Atlantic Alliance positions itself as a “defensive” alliance but at the same time, it is intensively expanding and unleashing military conflicts. “Faced with Beijing’s growing influence, Washington is not just staging provocations but seeking to form a united front to contain China. NATO is an ideal mechanism for achieving this goal,” the columnist argued. As the author of the publication noted, the North Atlantic Alliance positions itself as a “defensive” alliance but at the same time, it is intensively expanding and unleashing military conflicts.
According to Russia, China thinks that the alliance is a tool of the United States to achieve hegemony. Kremlin stated that the United States sees a rising China as an obstacle to unchallenged dominance. Kremlin added that the Asia-Pacific states should have enough wisdom to choose peace and stability in Asia. “Thanks to the right decision, they will prevent the West from pumping up the region with weapons and fomenting war,” said Kremlin. Moreover, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, NATO in connection with the situation in Ukraine ceased to suit Washington because there is a need for consensus on this issue. “NATO is not suitable for the Americans. The last meetings they held were not within the framework of NATO (a meeting dedicated to supporting Ukraine) but simply gathered delegations because NATO is still based on a consensus,” stated Lavrov. However, Lavrov claims that the USA always needs to quickly and single-handedly resolve all issues.
Bilateral relations between Taiwan and the United Kingdom remain on an upward trajectory. The UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss urged NATO to enhance its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and specifically highlighted Taiwan’s need for protection against China. “NATO must have a global outlook, ready to tackle global threats,” Truss said. “We need to pre-empt threats in the Indo-Pacific, working with allies like Japan and Australia to ensure that the Pacific is protected. We must ensure that democracies like Taiwan are able to defend themselves.” Following these remarks, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry publicly expressed its thanks to Foreign Secretary Truss, asserting Taiwan’s commitment to expanding cooperation with the UK and other like-minded partners to bolster security across the Taiwan Strait and facilitate the development of a free and open Indo-Pacific. Chinese state-affiliated media criticized the remarks as a “hawkish set-piece” and a part of a broader attempt to “reestablish the global “superiority” of the Anglo-Saxon civilization.”
The lack of an asylum law constrains Taiwan’s ability to provide large-scale assistance to Ukrainian individuals seeking relocation to the country following the start of the Russian invasion. Concurrently, Taiwanese authorities seek to devise ways to expand the number of targeted immigration programs for selected groups, including relatives of Ukrainian residents in Taiwan holding residence permits as well as students and scholars. Most recently, Ukraine’s men’s national basketball team announced that they are planning on temporarily relocating to Taiwan for training in anticipation of the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European qualifier.
By Elita Khmelidze, Eleonora Sobrero, Aidana Zhakypbekova, Marcin Jerzewski
Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Center for Security Policy, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against the liberal-democratic system.