Questions not being asked about the Mariupol die-hards, about the availability from today of Euro and dollar cash withdrawals at Russian banks, and much more
As I have remarked in earlier diary entries, the Russians are very sparing in the information they release daily on the status of the war effort. A couple of days ago, we were shown the 1300 or so Ukrainian marines who surrendered in Mariupol. Yesterday, Russian television devoted a lot of time to brief interviews with some of these prisoners of war, all of whom were Russian speakers, by the way. No surprises there, of course, since the whole region is basically Russian speaking, which is why there is a civil war going on against the extreme nationalist government in Kiev which has sought from the beginning to wipe out the language, the culture and all Russian ethnic identity.
There was another curious news item yesterday on Russian television: a video report on the capture of the latest mobile air defense system produced in Ukraine, which was abandoned by its technical crew in mint condition, with all of the manufacturer’s technical brochures still intact. Here again, most peculiarly, all of the technical documentation is in Russian! This would be amusing if the broad context were not tragic, set alongside the number of Ukrainian servicemen whom the Russians have listed as killed in action: over 23,700. That is approximately eight times the number Zelensky gave to the press the day before.
Finally, Russian news in the past day recounted how a Ukrainian freight plane loaded with Western military supplies was shot down by Russian forces as it approached Odessa from the sea.
Aside from these feature items in the news, Russian authorities continue to give no overall picture of how the campaign is proceeding. Strangely, Ukrainian news sources from the field can be more informative. Among the items today posted on www.news.google.ru are reports from the Ukrainian controlled administration of what remains of Lugansk under their control. They speak of Russian artillery attacks, on the damage being done to houses in hamlets, on the evacuation of civilians to the West ahead of Russian advances on the ground. All of this is in anticipation of the full-scale Russian onslaught on Donbas expected imminently.
Western media have been featuring today the “brave” decision of the remaining Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, holed up in the underground fortress of the Azovstal works, to refuse the Russian offer of their lives in exchange for unconditional surrender. But Western coverage asks no questions whatsoever about the decision and what it tells us about the regime in Kiev that these thousand or so die-hards are serving, seemingly heroically. Russian talk shows today shine a spotlight on that very question and produce some interesting interpretations. We are told that Kiev instructed the Azov battalion leaders and those aligned with them in Mariupol to fight to the end and not to negotiate with the Russians over surrender. From within the ranks of the desperate troops underground, whose ammunition, food and water are all depleted, we are told that anyone daring to speak in favor of surrender is being shot on the spot. We are also told that among the 1,000 or so hold-outs are 400 foreign mercenaries including a goodly number of high ranking NATO instructors. Since from the standpoint of Kiev those instructors are better dead than taken alive, we may assume they are from Member States lower in the pecking order than the British pair of cut-throats taken several days ago who may yet be saved by intervention of Boris Johnson in a prisoner exchange. Shall we assume that the NATO instructors in the lower tunnels of Azovstal are Polish or Lithuanian? I think that would be a fair guess.
So much for easy questions that go unasked, let alone unanswered by Western media, by Russian media or by both. Now I will raise a different question just to demonstrate how the news and analysis flow on this ‘special military operation’ or war, if you will, runs in a narrow rut. The net result is that we have very limited ability to understand what is going on and where we are all headed.
I will just turn attention to the announcement in Russia that as of today the public can make cash withdrawals of dollars and euros in substantial amounts, and also can order foreign currency transfers abroad, up to $5,000 if I understood properly. This means that poor Mr. Piotr Aven, the billionaire banker and Russian wheeler dealer sitting in London at present with his vast assets frozen under sanction rules, may yet be able to pay his chauffeur by ordering a transfer from his Sberbank account in Moscow.
Curiously no one is asking how and why Russia has reopened nearly free currency exchange and cash withdrawals after a month of strict clampdown. Where are the dollar bills and euro notes coming from? Surely the question is begging to be asked. It is not coming in from tourists to Russia since there are virtually no foreign tourists in Russia at present. It is not being carried by foreign business visitors for the same reason. So let us guess. Could it be that Germany and other select EU Member States are delivering plane loads of cash to Moscow to pay for their gas, oil and coal deliveries? Yes, this would allow them to claim they are defying Putin over payment in rubles while respecting the terms of their long term contracts with Gazprom. But it is a pretty picture that they would not want made public, since the European Parliament would make the life of them all quite unbearable if the word got out. Perhaps readers can offer better explanations.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022