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Author Amy Knight’s ‘Orders to Kill’ – a putrid wad of regurgitated Putin-hate and lies

The latest tome smearing Vladimir Putin repeats the mantra that ‘Putin kills journalists’ – unconvincingly

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(Irrussianality) – In her latest book, Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, Amy Knight wishes to convince us ‘how scary and unpredictable Russia has become.’ (p. 3) To this end, her book recounts multiples instances in which, she alleges, the ‘Putin regime’ has orchestrated the murder both of ordinary Russian citizens and of prominent political opponents. Knight is a respectable author whose 1993 biography of Beria I found quite informative. In Orders to Kill, however, she has abandoned academic neutrality in favour of political activism. The result is far from satisfactory.

orders to kill

Knight argues that ‘Russia has become a huge threat to the United States and its allies.’ (p. 7) The reason for this is the purportedly murderous nature of the Russian state and its leader, Vladimir Putin. Early on, though, Knight reveals a weakness in her argument. ‘I do not claim to have definitive proof of the complicity of Putin and his allies,’ she writes (p. 6) ‘but these many crimes form a familiar pattern.’ So, she doesn’t actually have any strong evidence to support her thesis; she just thinks that there’s a ‘pattern’. But she never explores alternative explanations for the ‘pattern’, nor does she consider the possibility that there isn’t really a pattern at all. Instead, Orders to Kill constitutes an extended attempt to squeeze all the cases studied into a predetermined system. This is a decidedly flawed methodology.

Knight begins her book with an analysis of political assassination in the Soviet period, in an apparent effort to suggest that assassination is part and parcel of Russian political culture. The problem is that the two main cases she uses to press her point – the murder of Sergei Kirov and the death of Maxim Gorky – are not very good ones. Knight has written another book about the Kirov murder, which I haven’t read but which apparently argues that Stalin ordered it. I’ve never found this point of view convincing, and was, for instance, not persuaded by Robert Conquest’s book on the subject, which argued the same thing. The Kirov case is speculation. So too is that of Maxim Gorky. There isn’t any firm proof that he was murdered. These two cases set the tone for much of that which follows in Orders to Kill – there’s a lot of speculation, only weakly supported by evidence.

After discussing the Soviet Union, Knight moves on to Putin era, mysteriously skipping almost all of the period when Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia. This is an important gap, and creates a false impression that ‘political’ murder began when Putin came on the scene. The first post-Soviet case that Knight covers is that of St Petersburg politician Galina Starovoitova, who was killed in 1998, before Putin became Prime Minister and then president. This is covered in Chapter 3 entitled ‘Galina Starovoitova: Putin’s first victim?’ The question mark is significant. Knight notes (p. 58) that ‘we still don’t know who ordered her murder’. It is a big leap from that to ‘Putin did it,’ especially as Knight fails to produce even single item of evidence linking Putin to the crime. The logic is solely that Knight thinks that the murder would have helped Putin politically, and therefore he must have been responsible. This isn’t good logic. Moreover, some people were convicted, Putin was no longer working in St Petersburg at the time, and as Knight points out, the Starovoitova murder was hardly the only one in the city – there had been several other murders in previous years, reflecting the relatively lawless state of the city. Divorcing the Starovoitova murder from that wider context seems disingenuous.

Next, Knight covers the apartment bombings which killed a large number of people in 1999. But again, she fails to provide any evidence to link the bombings to Putin. The logic is the same as before: Putin benefited, therefore he must have ordered them. Again, this is weak. It’s worth noting that Knight says that after the second apartment bombing, ‘Putin went ahead with a planned trip to New Zealand, as if to demonstrate that there was no cause for panic.’ ( p. 81) This is hardly compatible with a theory which says that Putin engineered the bombings in order to create panic and justify a clampdown in Chechnya.

From there Knight moves on to murders of journalists in the early 2000s. She writes, ‘scores of other Russian journalists were killed during Putin’s first term in office.’ This is simply untrue. The Committee to Protect Journalists keeps track of the number of journalists killed worldwide, and the data for Russia can be seen here:

dead journalists russia

According to these statistics, in Putin’s first term in office (2000-2003), 15 journalists were murdered in Russia. That’s not good, but it’s not even one score let alone ‘scores’ as Knight claims. Knight says (p. 104): ‘These cases could not be attributed directly to the Kremlin, because they often involved reporters covering local corruption throughout the country. But the general atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity that the Kremlin did nothing to discourage was what gave rise to these crimes.’ But as we can see from the graph above, the ‘general atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity’ has actually improved during Putin’s presidency – quite substantially, in fact. This is where the lack of broader context becomes a major failing. In starting her work in late 1999, and almost ignoring entirely the Yeltsin period, Knight presents the murder of prominent persons in modern Russia as an invention of Putin’s leadership, and as a matter of deliberate state policy, rather than a continuation, on a much reduced scale, of an ‘atmosphere of lawlessness’ which began under Yeltsin. This is deceitful.

A typical argument used by Knight is to quote the opinion of relatives or friends of a murdered person as evidence of Putin’s involvement. For instance (p. 120), she writes that, ‘Musa (wife of murdered journalist Paul Klebnikov) and Peter (his brother) have not seen evidence of Putin’s involvement in the murder, but they are convinced that the order to assassinate Paul came from the upper echelons of power.’ Maybe it did, but Musa’s and Paul’s opinion isn’t evidence. The same goes for the many other instances in which Knight makes this form of argument. For instance, discussing the murder of Central Bank official Andrei Kozlov, she says that ‘many observers … thought it unlikely that [Aleksei] Frenkel (former chairman of VIP-Bank who was convicted of ordering the crime) was behind the murder.’ Well, perhaps he wasn’t, but the fact that ‘many observers’ thought so doesn’t prove anything.

Similar problems lurk in the stories which follow. Knight devotes considerable space to the murder in London by polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. She describes the case well, and it is clear that there is compelling evidence to believe that the two main suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitrii Kovtun, were guilty of the crime, and given the difficulty of getting hold of the murder weapon, it isn’t unreasonable to believe that the Russian intelligence and security services were involved. This is the most compelling part of Orders to Kill. But as Knight has to admit, while ‘suspicions of his [Putin’s] involvement were widespread … there was no smoking gun.’ (p. 187) Likewise, she can’t provide any solid evidence linking Putin to any of the other murders studied in the book. This is a problem, especially as there quite credible explanations for many of them which have nothing to do with Putin or the Russian state (for instance, organized crime or aggrieved businessmen).

In other cases, it’s not even obvious that the death described was murder. A notable example is that of Boris Berezovsky. Knight spends a long time discussing his life and death, and concludes that ‘Berezovsky’s death remains a mystery.’ (p. 230) But is it? Berezovsky was financially ruined, and had just lost a major court case in which the judge had called him ‘an unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness who regarded truth as transitory, flexible concept, which could be molded to suit his current purpose.’ (p. 226) As Knight admits, Berezovsky suffered from depression but had stopped taking his medication. And the police investigation revealed that ‘there were no signs of trauma suggesting force had been used. No intruders were seen on the CTV cameras that surrounded the home. … there was good reason to assume that he had taken his own life.’ (p. 227) By devoting so much space to this case, Knight is clearly trying to imply that Berezovsky too might have been murdered by Putin, but in fact the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Similarly, Knight stretches credibility by insinuating that the Russian state (and therefore, Putin) was responsible for the Boston marathon bombings which killed 3 people and wounded 260 in the United States in April 2013. The sole ‘evidence’, if you can call it that, for this claim is that one of the bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, returned home to Dagestan from the United States for a few months in 2012. The insinuation seems to be that during that period the Russian secret services recruited Tsarnaev to carry out the bombing. But, as so often in this book, the suggestion is pure speculation not supported by any firm evidence. The logic is purely that Putin allegedly benefitted from the bombing as it encouraged the United States to believe that Russia and the USA faced a common enemy in Islamic terrorism, and because Putin benefitted from it, he must have done it. Knight writes (p. 236) that, ‘The Kremlin needed to distract Western attention from Russia’s insurgency [in Chechnya] and show that other nations faced the same problem.’ Based on this, she concludes (p. 237) that ‘a close look at the facts … point strongly to Russian involvement’ in the Boston bombings. This is quite a leap.

Underlying the entirety of Orders to Kill is a particular view of Russia as a country in which nothing significant ever happens without the direct participation of Vladimir Putin. Knight therefore asks of the killing of Boris Nemtsov, ‘would anyone dare kill such as prominent figure as Nemtsov without the Russian president’s permission?’ (p. 269) ‘Quite possibly, yes’ would be the answer, especially since Knight, as mentioned, speaks of a ‘general atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity.’ The idea that Russia is a highly controlled state in which the president controls everything is surely wide of the mark; Russia’s problems derive as much, if not more, from an overly weak state as from an overly strong one.

Knight finishes her book by moving on from the murder of alleged domestic opponents of the Putin regime, and arguing that the murders show that ‘Russia is a dangerous and unpredictable adversary.’ (p. 309) In the process, she repeats some quite unproven complaints. For instance, she speaks of Russian ‘collusion with the Taliban in Afghanistan.’ (p. 308) But even if she is correct that all the murders described in her book were ordered by the Russian state, the killing of domestic political enemies is unrelated to foreign policy and whether Russia is, or is not, a ‘threat’ to the West. The two are entirely separate – a state can be entirely oppressive and yet very friendly with Western powers. The linkage is revealing, however. It shows that the ultimate purpose of this book is to propel a specific foreign policy agenda for Western powers – one which involves confronting Russia. This isn’t, then, an academic study; it’s one pursuing a definite political agenda. Readers should bear this in mind.

Certainly, there have been an alarming number of murders of journalists, politicians, and human rights activists in Russia in the 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is far from desirable and indicates that Russia still has a long way to go towards establishing a firm rule of law. The problem long predates Vladimir Putin’s presidency, however, and Amy Knight’s efforts to show that the murders of prominent persons in Russia form part of a concerted campaign by Putin to cow political opposition into submission are not at all convincing. Orders to Kill fails to provide any compelling evidence to prove that the cases it examines are connected or that they represent a peculiarity of the ‘Putin regime.’ This book isn’t as egregiously awful as Luke Harding’s Collusion, but it suffers from many of the same deficiencies, above all a tendency to treat speculation as proof. I wouldn’t advise people to read it, but if they do, they should treat its claims with some caution.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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