By Yana Dlugy
Good evening. I'm the new writer of the Russia-Ukraine War Briefing.
A few things to know about me: I grew up in Moscow, spent childhood summers in Odesa and have worked as a journalist in both Russia and Ukraine. I reported on the former Soviet Union for Newsweek and later Agence France-Presse from Moscow and headed AFP's Kyiv bureau. I have also worked as a journalist in the Middle East and Europe. Here's the latest.
Russia's fallout with Finland
Just days after formally applying to join NATO, Finland said today that Russia would cut off supplies of natural gas to the country.
Russia said that it was suspending gas shipments because Finland had failed to make payments in rubles. But President Vladimir Putin has a history of using Russia's energy supply as a political weapon.
Finland's state energy provider, Gasum, called the move "highly regrettable" but anticipated. "We have been carefully preparing for this situation," it said, adding that it expected normal operations to continue.
Gasum supplies about 60 percent of Finland's domestic market and gets all of its supplies from Russia. It said that during the next few summer months, when demand is lower, it would turn to Estonia for supplies and afterward to other sources.
The gas shut-off, which is expected to happen tomorrow, will come a week after Russia suspended electricity exports to Finland. Putin has warned Finland that its move to join NATO, along with neighboring Sweden, was a "mistake."
The two countries' histories have been intertwined for centuries. After more than 600 years as an eastern province of the Kingdom of Sweden, Finland was annexed in 1809 to Russia, which ruled it until the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.
The Soviet Union attacked Finland in 1939, expecting to steamroll through its smaller neighbor. But the outgunned and outmanned Finns held off the Red Army for months in what became known as the Winter War, a scenario being echoed today on Ukraine's battlefields.
Although Finland ceded 11 percent of its territory to the Soviets in an eventual peace deal, the country retained its independence.
After World War II, Finland managed to survive as an independent and unoccupied country in the shadow of the Soviet Union by agreeing to neutrality, in what became known as a policy of Finlandization (another idea that has echoed throughout the Ukraine conflict).
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Russian troops dig in
Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, is springing back to life after Russian forces were pushed back from its immediate outskirts. But the Russians are close enough to remain a threat, my colleagues Carlotta Gall and Finbarr O'Reilly report.
Heavy fighting continues within earshot of a ring of villages to the east that the Russians recently abandoned. In recent days, both armies have traded artillery fire across hills to the north and east of the city. The current Russian positions still allow them to shell Kharkiv.
"We are afraid they will come again," said Olha, 66, in the village of Vilkhivka, four miles east of Kharkiv's city line, as the bombardment sounded from across the hills. "God help us that it does not happen."
Although the Ukrainian forces are confident they will eventually rout the Russians, they also say they are encountering tough resistance from units that have dug in. Some Russian troops north of Kharkiv are entrenched, becoming much harder to drive back.
"There is a whole underground city there," one officer who gave his code name, Tikhi, said, gesturing farther north. "They have trenches, bunkers, everything is operating underground. We tried one time to take it. It was quite scary."
The soldiers have been unable to advance for three weeks because they lacked the necessary artillery support against the well-dug-in Russian troops, Tikhi said.
The Russian units being deployed today are better trained and more experienced than the ones who were deployed in February and March, said a businessman who enlisted at the beginning of the war and goes by the code name Odin.
"It is getting much more difficult," he said.
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Thanks for reading. I'll be back on Monday. — Yana
🇺🇦 Russian occupation authorities announced plans to destroy the Azovstal Steel Plant and turn Mariupol into a resort city. Depriving Russia of the most important economic benefits it hoped to reap by taking Ukraine and instead installing a Dream Island is some North Korea-grade thinking.
🇺🇦 Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin announced that Russia will make revenue off of the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant that Russian forces seized from Ukraine. This is because Russia is a mafia state and this is the kind of stuff they do.
🇺🇦 In the occupied town of Izium, Russia is forcing men to either join the Russian army, or be shipped to Russia.
🇺🇦 A command cohort of defenders is still in Azovstal, and they claim 'a certain operation is underway' and they can't disclose what the operation is. These are the men men that have not learned the art of submission, nor have they been trained to the art of war, but their astonishing success will teach the enemies of liberty that undisciplined freemen are superior to veteran slaves.
🇺🇦 Former British spy Christopher Steele—of Steele Dossier fame—who ran the Russia desk at MI6 in London, claims that Russian President Putin is seriously unwell and now in need of constant medical care. This is the first credible and non-speculative evidence I've seen that Putin is, in fact, sick.
🇺🇦 Christopher Steele also said that high-ranking colleagues do not know what the illness is. This tells us that all of the speculation is just speculation. All the claims of Parkinson's, brain cancer, blood cancer, etc, are just speculation.
🇺🇦 Christopher Steele's authority on this topic comes from his network of high ranking Russian officials in and outside the Kremlin. (A large number of his Russian contacts were murdered after he published the Steel Dossier in 2016—this is what caused FBI special agent Clint Watts to say "Follow the trail of dead Russians")
🇺🇦 Asov commander says that Azovstal defenders have received medical attention
🇺🇦 Russian forces are focusing on digging in and reinforcing defensive positions in Kharkiv and along the Southern Axis in preparation for Ukrainian counteroffensives
🇺🇦 Russian forces continue to make marginal gains to the north, west, and south of Popasna as a result of breaking through the lines.
🇺🇦 Reconstituting forces is taking longer than expected because of low moral
🇺🇦 Nothing is happening in Kherson other than RU digging in.
🇺🇦 The next big fight seems to be geared towards Izium
🇺🇦 (Thanks Rob B)
📢 Countries apply to be in NATO. NATO doesn't seek to expand. Saying NATO is encroaching on Russia is Kremlin messaging. Russia has three primary propaganda efforts directed at the West, and that's the first.
📢 Yes, Ukraine has a nazi problem, but it's a very small percentage of the country, and not representative of the whole. Using a small group to smear the entire group is called "guilt by association." Russia has three primary propaganda efforts directed at the West, and that's the second.
📢 If you ever hear anyone say "What about America…" in an effort to redirect attention away from Ukraine and onto the west, that is called "Competitive victimhood" and the associated meme is *always* created by Russian-backed media. Russia has three primary propaganda efforts directed at the West, and that's the third.
⚠️ Note: I got lazy with my citations and I apologize. My top sources are: Current and former military planners, singularly-focused pundits, and all manner of vetted open-source intelligence. Top cited open source pundits and sources include: CP Scott, Institute for the Study of War, Kyiv Independent, Aaron Parnas, John Aravosis, Malcontent News, and mainstream news with high levels of journalistic integrity and track records. Sadly I can't source private individuals, of course.
⚠️ Speaking of sources, thanks to all of you who have forwarded me tips. You're the private individuals I wish I could source publicly
⚠️ These posts are not affiliated with my employer, nor done during my employer's time. Every item I report is from my own research, my own opinion, and written during my own time.
⚠️ Note: War happens fast and even high fidelity news needs a ton of corrections after the dust settles. Also, I've been spoiled by social media's format where I can update the final product every time I find a typo. That poses a problem because…
⚠️ I started a Substack newsletter to accommodate the individual emails requests. Feel free to subscribe!