Espreso. Global

Ukrainian prisoner execution and Putin's nuclear blackmail. Serhiy Zgurets column

13 April, 2023 Thursday

Russia is once again trying to intimidate our soldiers and all of us. A video of Russian soldiers torturing a Ukrainian prisoner appeared on social networks

On Ukrainian prisoner’s execution video

The enemy continues to intimidate both Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. On the evening of April 11, a disturbing video emerged on social media, depicting Russian aggressors torturing a Ukrainian prisoner and beheading him while he was still alive. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has urged the public not to share this video, while the Security Service of Ukraine has initiated an investigation into the violation of laws and customs of war. The execution of a Ukrainian prisoner will also be brought to the attention of the UN Human Rights Committee. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the enemy has disregarded the norms and rules of war. This latest act of intimidation and execution is just another example of the enemy's brutal tactics. In the past week, two similar videos have surfaced, showing the beheading of other Ukrainian soldiers. These videos were filmed at different times, during separate events - one in the summer and the other, possibly in Bakhmut. The enemy usually resorts to posting videos like this when they are struggling on the front lines, running out of strength, and feeling afraid of an offensive.

The occupiers' brutality serves as a systemic and psychological weapon to terrorize and intimidate Ukrainians. However, this has the opposite effect on our side as it does not instill fear. Instead, the focus is on how the world will respond, and it is hoped that they will finally understand that Russia is a terrorist state. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has emphasized that every country's leader must react to these actions, rather than waiting for them to be forgotten over time. They will not be forgotten, and failure to act will be incomprehensible. Immediate action is required, with a focus on the front line.

In this context, focusing on the front line means inflicting maximum damage on the enemy, which is currently being done by our Defense Forces. The civilized world should provide weapons and financial support to Ukraine and tighten sanctions against Russia.

IAEA is unable to protect ZNPP

Yesterday, Russia conducted a test of a new nuclear missile, and the country has been holding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) hostage for an extended period, posing a threat to global safety. The recent visit of the head of the IAEA, Raphael Grossi, to the ZNPP revealed that the plant's safety cannot be guaranteed. The number of Russian troops near the station has increased, making it impossible to protect. And they still don’t admit Russia is to blame for this. 

Energy expert Mykhailo Honchar noted that the IAEA is an international organization under the United Nations' umbrella and cannot be better than the UN itself. We can’t expect a miracle from them. Honchar believes that the IAEA's statements are, at most, vague and unclear. Moreover, the meeting between the executive director and the head of Rosatom Likhachev in Kaliningrad serves as an unnecessary impetus for Russia to continue nuclear blackmail. This is not only an indication of the IAEA's weakness, but also that of the Western world, which is unable to use available tools effectively. Honchar proposes that sanctions be imposed on Rosatom, the main operator of nuclear blackmail.

Mykhailo Honchar stated that Rosatom, together with the armed forces of Russia and the occupying contingent stationed at the nuclear power plant, is managing nuclear escalation in collaboration with the military command. Currently, the situation is precarious, with explosive devices being planted in the technical water circulation collector and cooling system of the second circuit. These collectors provide water to four out of six power units, and any damage to them could result in a Fukushima-like disaster within two to three days. This, in addition to Putin and Lukashenko's preparation to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus, indicates that they are planning to repeat nuclear blackmail.

The enemy's intent is apparent - if the Ukrainian Armed Forces engage in counteroffensive actions, they will face a nuclear ultimatum accompanied by Russian propaganda blaming Ukraine for shelling the ZNPP and escalating the situation. The Russians will also cite IAEA assessments to support their claims that the situation around the ZNPP is dangerous and deteriorating. To prevent such a scenario, strategic partners must be urged to exert pressure and impose strong sanctions. It is crucial to be prepared for these scenarios to prevent them from becoming a reality.

Sanctions against Rosatom

Honchar asserts that Russia's nuclear lobby, unlike the gas lobby, has operated quietly and discreetly but effectively. According to experts in the USA's nuclear industry, it would be logical to replace Russian supplies of uranium raw materials with American, Canadian, and Australian supplies. Most importantly, Russia's supplies must be singled out since Russia's share in the world market of uranium raw materials is only a few percent, likely no more than 5%. Kazakhstan is the primary player, but it remains under Rosatom's umbrella, even though it attempts to take certain steps. However, it still looks back at Moscow. Therefore, Western governments must take dynamic action, but the expert observes insufficient political will. Additionally, Hungary, a Trojan horse of Russia in Europe, blocks the EU's actions in this direction.

The example of Great Britain is instructive as it introduced sanctions against Rosatom, several enterprises, and individuals on February 24, which infuriated Russia. The British nuclear sector has little connection with the Russian one. France, unfortunately, is the primary obstacle to sanctions against Rosatom in Europe. The expert laments France's destructive position on several issues, as it has become a significant impediment to the progress of sanctions, including against Rosatom.

Sanctions against Russia are not effective enough

Although sanctions have been effective to some extent, they have not been sufficiently stringent in halting Russia's aggression, but have only slowed it down. The expert highlighted two crucial areas where sanctions could be more effective: the raw material block, which includes oil, gas, and petroleum product exports, and integrated circuits, necessary for producing high-precision weapons.

Recent reports indicate that Russia's revenues from oil and gas exports fell by 45% in the first quarter of 2023. However, upon closer examination, the situation appears different. This drop of 45% is compared to 2022, when Russia earned unprecedented revenues of $384 billion from energy exports, which was the highest in the last 27 years. In comparison, in 2021, Russia earned $253 billion, indicating a 51.5% increase in income in 2022. Therefore, while the first-quarter drop in 2023 is significant, Russia will still earn a considerable income by the end of the year, comparable to that in 2021. Notably, Russia earned its lowest income of $167 billion in 2020, when the price of oil fell on the world market. Nonetheless, despite this economic decline, Russia continues to prepare for a full-scale war.

Honchar emphasized the importance of taking action to reduce the price ceiling for Russian energy resources. This is crucial because as long as Russia continues to earn significant income, they can still pay taxes to the federal budget, despite facing sanctions. This financial stability allows them to finance the ongoing war. To counter this, the price ceiling must be lowered to the cost level. Regarding high-tech items such as microcircuits used to produce precision weapons or smart bombs that Russia has begun using on the front lines, there are loopholes in existing sanctions. The Russians are open about the fact that they have found ways around these restrictions. To prevent this, a new mechanism must be established to make it impossible for them to acquire the necessary components for producing high-precision weapons. It is essential to create a structure to seal the holes through which Russia obtains what it needs. This is necessary to tighten the lasso on the aggressor's neck.

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