15 votes

Megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 25-26

This thread is posted Monday/Wednesday/Friday - please try to post relevant content in here, such as news, updates, opinion articles, etc. Especially significant updates may warrant a separate topic, but most should be posted here.

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15 comments

  1. ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    A couple of weeks ago I typed out a very long comment detailing my observations about Tbilisi, in regards to the war. It got deleted in its entirety when my 10-year-old laptop ran out of memory...
    • Exemplary

    A couple of weeks ago I typed out a very long comment detailing my observations about Tbilisi, in regards to the war. It got deleted in its entirety when my 10-year-old laptop ran out of memory from one too many Chromium tabs. I got upset and left it for later.

    I've now moved to Saint Petersburg, Russia. Long story short, it's easier and cheaper to stay here for the final leg of the journey (getting all the documents ready and, Belgium willing, applying for the work visa). So, this is both the (abridged) version of my experiences in Georgia and my initial impressions of the war sentiment in the second-biggest (and second-everything) city in Russia.

    I.

    I was a little afraid of going to Georgia, despite it being the prime spot for Russian refugees. It's a good spot for two reasons: many people here speak Russian (as well as English), and Georgia is a pro-EU, pro-West nation. What I was afraid of was any sort of disdain or hatred towards Russians in the world in general (quickly proven to be nonexistent) and here in particular (especially so after the 2008 Georgia—Russia war, which led to seccession of two Georgian regions as separate republic).

    I spoke English where I could.

    II.

    Georgia stands with Ukraine. The country makes it clear from the very first step you take out of the boarding tunnel: there are massive screens, backed by static posters, saying as much: "Georgia stands with Ukraine". The dynamic screen message ends its appeal with "Be Brave. Like Ukraine". Similar screens stand in particularly-crowded parts of the city, including some metro stations.

    Random people on the street, including Russian speakers, wear yellow-and-blue pins somewhere on their person. These pins are sold by street vendors on every major street, along with flags, key ring accessories, textile stripes, and other decorative items in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. There are yellow-and-blue stickers on cars and mopeds.

    III.

    The first person to greet me in Georgia spoke Russian to me with not a hint of adversity. It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a certain level of hospitality from a country known for its warm reception of guests, but it did take me by surprise.

    Since then, enough Georgians spoke Russian to me that I started feeling rather comfortable in Tbilisi... despite the rare, but prominent, sticker or graffiti saying "Russians are not welcome here".

    I've heard plenty of Russian spoken on the street. Heard some Ukrainian, too.

    IV.

    Plenty of Georgians fly the Ukrainian flag from their windows and balconies. It's even more frequent to see than the strangers wearing yellow-and-blue pins, and seemingly regardless of the region of Tbilisi, of its economic and social status.

    Often, the Ukrainian flag is accompanied by the flag of Georgia.

    Equally often, the flag of Georgia flies along the flag of EU. Most Georgian plates have the EU framing: a panel on the left, with the EU-blue background and the letters "GE" framed inside a circle of yellow stars.

    V.

    In Saint Petersburg, the symbols of the war propaganda appear as often as the slogan "No to War!" scribbled somewhere in black market.

    For every person wearing the St. George's ribbon (in support of Russia's war effort), I've seen one "No to War!".

    Posters with the infamous Z (as shaped by a St. George's ribbon) are present around the city, but they're few and far between. Reading about Russia from the Western and Western-aligned media outlets, you'd think people are drowning in Zs and Vs here. Not the case. For what it's worth, I've only seen one car with an obvious V symbol on its side, and none with Z.

    Stark contrast to my deep Siberian neck of the woods, where the governor(?) had embraced the Z meme and introduced it into the region's name (which has a Cyrillic "З" in it) on posters and such. Plenty of cars there bear a Z: printed, improvised, or drawn into the dirt. I thought I'd see more of that in a much larger city like Saint Petersburg. Maybe it's true that my neck of the woods is the redneck capital of Siberia.

    On a metro one day, I saw a girl sitting opposite me, wearing a protest symbol: a pendant made of glass, yellow and blue separated vertically, and framed with a metal Nuclear Disarmament / "peace" symbol. It was subtle enough that most people wouldn't notice, but it's clear what its message is when they do. Perhaps the subtlety is how she get onto the metro (which is guarded by the transport security police) in the first place.

    14 votes
  2. [5]
    AugustusFerdinand
    Link
    Russian parliament votes to scrap military age limit

    Russian parliament votes to scrap military age limit

    Russia’s parliament has passed a law scrapping an upper age limit for people signing up to join the army, in a sign Moscow may be looking to recruit more troops for its military campaign in Ukraine.

    4 votes
    1. [4]
      ThatFanficGuy
      Link Parent
      Worth noting that this is for military contracts. Putin is currently trying to make as many eligible people as possible sign a contract, in order to send them to fight in Ukraine. This has been...

      Worth noting that this is for military contracts.

      Putin is currently trying to make as many eligible people as possible sign a contract, in order to send them to fight in Ukraine. This has been referred to as "silent mobilization". No civilian is being forced to sign one, but men of age have been receiving invitations to the recruitment centers in Moscow in order to get persuaded to do so. (People were fearing an actual silent mobilization when the news broke because of the involvement of recruitment centers. Not the case.)

      What this law means is that a 8-year-old boy and a 80-year-old man can now sign a military contract and serve in Ukraine. Technically. Not sure they'd let someone of such ages anywhere near the pen, nevermind actual equipment. My guess is, it's aimed at 16- and 17-year-olds from the poorer regions of Russia: the promise of a massive paycheck (200k₽ / mo. is what your average IT worker makes in Moscow) is very enticing for someone who's only ever seen 20k₽.

      4 votes
      1. [3]
        cfabbro
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Also of note is that according to The Guardian article I posted last week when this law was a mere proposal, it's supposedly more about bolstering the number of personnel in other areas of the...

        Also of note is that according to The Guardian article I posted last week when this law was a mere proposal, it's supposedly more about bolstering the number of personnel in other areas of the military, rather than just seeking to recruit more frontline soldiers.

        Two members of the ruling United Russia party who introduced the law said the move would enable the military to utilise the skills of older professionals.

        “For the use of high-precision weapons, the operation of weapons and military equipment, highly professional specialists are needed. Experience shows that they become such by the age of 40-45,” it said.

        Currently, Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18-30 can enter into a first contract with the army.

        The lawmakers added that the proposed legislation would also make it easier to recruit civilian medics, engineers and operations and communications specialists.

        4 votes
        1. [2]
          ThatFanficGuy
          Link Parent
          Also also of note, the current wildfire situation in Siberia is argued to be going much worse because of the military units having been redeployed to Ukraine and the border.
          3 votes
          1. cfabbro
            Link Parent
            Ah yeah, that's a very good point. I suppose this new law also makes it easier for them to recruit civilian firefighters as well, which they desperately need right now to combat all the wildfires.

            Ah yeah, that's a very good point. I suppose this new law also makes it easier for them to recruit civilian firefighters as well, which they desperately need right now to combat all the wildfires.

            3 votes
  3. ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    Boris Bondarev, the recently-resigned Russian ambassador to the UN, talks to Julia Ioffe about his work in the Russian Foreign Ministry [paywalled]. The brief from the article:

    Boris Bondarev, the recently-resigned Russian ambassador to the UN, talks to Julia Ioffe about his work in the Russian Foreign Ministry [paywalled]. The brief from the article:

    Under Swiss guard and fearing for his safety, a former Russian diplomat opens up about his shocking resignation, Putin’s nuclear threat, and how it all ends.

    3 votes
  4. [8]
    sp00ky
    Link
    Chinese and Russian propaganda work in tandem to blame the West for war in Ukraine

    Chinese and Russian propaganda work in tandem to blame the West for war in Ukraine

    A new ASPI report demonstrates that in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, social media posts by Chinese diplomats on US-owned platforms almost exclusively blamed the US, NATO and the West for the conflict. Chinese diplomats amplified Russian claims about US biological weapon labs in Ukraine and linked this disinformation narrative with conspiracy theories about the origins of Covid-19. Chinese state media mirrored these narratives while replicating the Kremlin’s language describing the invasion as a ‘special military operation’. As Western governments collectively encouraged Silicon Valley to restrict the reach of Russia’s disinformation ecosystem, China’s propaganda system quickly became an alternate vehicle for the Kremlin’s false narratives.

    For some, this situation has become untenable. Professor and former US diplomat David L. Sloss suggests that the time has come to ban both Russian and Chinese state media from US social media platforms. This position may sound extreme to some given how fundamental freedom of speech is to democracy. Yet authoritarian regimes are exploiting democratic openness in their political warfare campaigns and calibrated strategic responses must be taken to shift this calculus.

    2 votes
    1. [7]
      skybrian
      Link Parent
      I'm wondering who outside of China would read Chinese state media to find out what's going on in Ukraine? I would guess hardly anyone in the US or Europe. Do they have more influence in other...

      I'm wondering who outside of China would read Chinese state media to find out what's going on in Ukraine?

      I would guess hardly anyone in the US or Europe. Do they have more influence in other countries?

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        China is the biggest trade partner to a lot of Asia, Australia and Oceania, and South America. It has for a while maintained strong interest in Africa, including trade, investments in...

        China is the biggest trade partner to a lot of Asia, Australia and Oceania, and South America. It has for a while maintained strong interest in Africa, including trade, investments in infrastructure, military presence, and cultural ties. Similar investments of money and influence can be found in its relationship with the Pacific states (and Australia specifically) and the Latin American states. The Chinese economy has been under a strong push to invest abroad for the last 40-something years, including by opening local production of Chinese brands in other countries.

        While nowhere near a 1:1 correlation, I think China would seek to maintain its public image of trustworthiness and being a strong ally wherever it invests, as part of its foreign policy of domination. It absolutely does not help that China is fostering a climate of overseas censorship (something that has been referred to as "sharp power"). Neither does the extensive espionage and cyberwarfare network China works around the world.

        In other words, China is trying very hard to shape the world's opinion of itself, including through perceived personal/individual grievances of Chinese citizens living or studying abroad. (See: /r/sino)

        It wouldn't seem like too much of a stretch that wherever China seeks to hold power, it will also seek to promote their own interests. (Of particular interest to me currently are accounts of Australians encountering Chinese influence in their country. I'm superficially familiar with the context through this video from Wendover Productions, and would like to learn more.)

        4 votes
        1. skybrian
          Link Parent
          I agree that they’re trying. I think that trade and public opinion are fairly independent, though? For example, Europe depends on Russia for natural gas, but just because they buy a lot of natural...

          I agree that they’re trying. I think that trade and public opinion are fairly independent, though? For example, Europe depends on Russia for natural gas, but just because they buy a lot of natural gas doesn’t mean they believe Russia’s lies about Ukraine, or that they’re happy about being a trading partner with Russia.

          Similarly, Australia trades with China but that does that mean that Chinese media has a lot of influence in Australia? I would be surprised if it did. Trade disputes are a big source of friction and results in negative opinion of China.

          And of course the huge amount of Chinese imports in the US doesn’t mean that Americans have a positive opinion of China. We buy their products, but that doesn’t mean we buy their politics. Though, there are some influences, like American movies being made so that they will play well in China. American companies that have interest in trading with China will avoid criticism, but this relative neutrality doesn’t have that much impact on public opinion, I don’t think? One result is that Americans have a more negative view of those companies.

          So what I’m wondering is where the Chinese are more successful with their attempts at influence? What are signs of this? It would be surprising if they were successful at improving popular opinion of Russia when they can’t even do it for themselves.

          1 vote
      2. [4]
        sp00ky
        Link Parent
        This is veering further away from relevance to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, of course, but I'll just point out that "Chinese state media" is far broader than branded TV stations or newspapers...

        This is veering further away from relevance to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, of course, but I'll just point out that "Chinese state media" is far broader than branded TV stations or newspapers (although yes, I believe Sloss's comments were aimed at these overt entities -- so I'm not really disagreeing with your question). China fully understands the importance of information warfare and is increasingly using it to push authoritarian, anti-liberal-democracy messages and ones that dilute or disarm any criticism of the CCP. It does this through ownership of foreign media outlets, planting CCP-trained journalists, flooding the internet with pro-China bloggers, commenters, etc. This is not new news.

        I'll quote from a past Reporters Without Borders report:

        Over the course of the last decade, China has actively sought to establish a “new
        world media order” under its control, an order in which journalists are nothing more
        than state propaganda auxiliaries. Beijing is lavishing money on modernizing its
        international TV broadcasting, investing in foreign media outlets, buying vast amounts
        of advertising in the international media, and inviting journalists from all over the
        world on all-expense-paid trips visits to China. The regime even organizes its own
        international events as an additional way of promoting its repressive vision of how
        the media should function.

        Through its embassies and its network of Chinese culture-and-language Confucius
        Institutes, China no longer hesitates to harass and intimidate in order to impose its
        “ideologically correct” vocabulary and cover up the darker chapters in its history.
        International publishing and social network giants are forced to submit to censorship
        if they want access to the Chinese market. In Southeast Asia, authoritarian regimes
        are adopting Internet control regulations based closely on Chinese legislation.

        This expansion – the scale of which is still hard to gauge – poses a direct threat
        not only to the media but also to democracies. If democracies do not resist, Chinese
        citizens will lose all hope of ever seeing press freedom in their country, and Chinese-
        style propaganda will increasingly compete with journalism as we know it outside
        China, thereby threatening the ability of citizens everywhere to freely choose their
        destiny

        3 votes
        1. [3]
          skybrian
          Link Parent
          There are plenty of signs of extensive effort. But does it work, or is it mostly seen as foreign propaganda to be ignored?

          There are plenty of signs of extensive effort. But does it work, or is it mostly seen as foreign propaganda to be ignored?

          1 vote
          1. [2]
            sp00ky
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            (And… this was meant to be a private message. I’m not sure how I messed that up. Sorry!) Sorry, I was too late to reply to your question about the effectiveness of state sponsored propaganda and...

            (And… this was meant to be a private message. I’m not sure how I messed that up. Sorry!)

            Sorry, I was too late to reply to your question about the effectiveness of state sponsored propaganda and don’t want to necrobump it now. I don’t have a quantitative answer to your question. The general answer though is that dis/misinformation propaganda campaigns do have impact, as seen in Russian social media “meddling” during the US presidential election in 2016. But more generically, the level of impact will vary with the target audience’s awareness of the campaign and the audience’s posture for critical consumption of media. When these are lower, the propaganda will be more effective. I’m mainly thinking of social media, but it also applies to traditional media (TV, newspapers, etc.). If a media platform’s ownership is convinced to suppress certain topics (e.g. on human rights abuses or topics critical of authoritarianism), they can reduce common awareness and thereby mobilized responses to them.

            1 vote
            1. skybrian
              Link Parent
              Yeah, that was mostly a rhetorical question - it's difficult to answer! I suspect that the reach of misinformation has a lot to do with people's willingness to believe the message. Some rumors...

              Yeah, that was mostly a rhetorical question - it's difficult to answer!

              I suspect that the reach of misinformation has a lot to do with people's willingness to believe the message. Some rumors spread wildly because they confirm many people's beliefs. They are "too good to check." Messages that contradict their existing beliefs will be questioned and rarely shared.

              I've occasionally seen a Republican meme about how Biden is spending huge amounts of money on Ukraine and not doing anything to help Americans. China (or more likely Russia) could certainly have people making memes like that. They wouldn't look foreign, though. They'd just look like yet another Republican meme. And if they don't make the memes, some Republicans would probably make similar memes anyway.

              Proving effectiveness of an advertising campaign is often hard. Maybe it's just a redundant effort that doesn't actually move the needle? So I don't take it as given that Russians had a real effect on the 2016 election. They certainly tried, but it might have happened anyway.

              Thinking about this like an epidemiologist, I think which memes people are vulnerable to, which rumors they're willing to spread, matters as much or more than who came up with them. Attempting to keep the bad memes out by banning certain actors is sort of like a zero-COVID policy. Keeping people in a bubble might just mean they're that much more vulnerable to rumors when exposed?

              Promoting skepticism about information spread by strangers seems pretty important.

              1 vote