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Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Russia ramps up military production, prepares for long war

by Daniil Ukhorskiy October 31, 2023 7:20 PM 7 min read
Russia builds new military facilities around the country to increase production capacity, journalists of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty find. (Image by Schemes/ RFE/RL)
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RFE/RL: Russia ramps up military production, prepares for long war

Russia is building new military facilities around the country and increasing production capacity, according to an investigation by Schemes, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty investigative project.

Satellite imagery Schemes analyzed show a massive hangar constructed at the Kazan Aviation Plant, which maintains Tu-22 and Tu-160 strategic bomber aircraft. These bombers carry missiles such as the Kh-22 and Kh-55, which are used in deadly airstrikes against Ukrainian civilians.

Construction is particularly active in the aviation sector, with expansions of fighter repair facilities, helicopter plants, and missile manufacturing facilities completed in 2022, according to satellite imagery Schemes referred to.

Most of the construction projects journalists identified began before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but according to military experts interviewed by Schemes, construction accelerated after the invasion.

Military experts also told Schemes that Russia’s investment in the massive military facilities shows that the country’s leadership is preparing for a long war.

Read the full story in Ukrainian here.

European companies import 13 billion euros of Russian raw materials since full-scale invasion of Ukraine

European companies purchased 13 billion euros worth of Russian raw materials, including metals, since the country’s all-out war against Ukraine, Investigate Europe media outlet found. According to the publication, this shows a significant sanctions gap.

Critical and strategic raw materials include metals such as copper, aluminum, and nickel and are essential for European industries, according to the journalist investigation. The UK banned imports of these Russian metals in May 2023. Sanctions by the EU didn’t follow.

Since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, European companies, including giants like Airbus, have reportedly kept purchasing critical materials from Russian entities close to the Kremlin, such as state-owned Vsmpo-Avisma.

Vsmpo-Avisma alone sold at least $308 million worth of titanium to the EU, according to Investigate Europe. The company is reportedly co-owned by Sergey Chemezov, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Commenting on the journalists’ findings, Airbus told Investigate Europe that they want to reduce dependence on Russian materials but did not voice support for a ban. According to transparency advocates interviewed for this piece, the critical materials sector is fueling Russia’s war, and it is “perfectly logical” to ban the goods.

A divergence of interests within the EU has stalled sanctions progress, which requires unanimity among member states. Poland has pushed for complete decoupling from Russia, but other countries are looking to protect their economic interests, according to the journalist investigation.

Since March 2023, the EU has been working on the Critical Raw Materials Act, looking to reduce dependency on Russia and other third countries.

Read the full story in English here.

Journalists find suspects in major Ukrainian criminal cases hiding abroad amid Russian war

An investigation by Ukrainska Pravda found suspects in major Ukrainian criminal cases who, in an apparent attempt to escape justice, have fled abroad with their families following the Russian full-scale invasion.

In Geneva, journalists spotted Mykhailo Kiperman, a close associate of indicted oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) suspect Kiperman of facilitating the embezzlement of Hr 600 million ($16.5 million) from the state-owned oil refining company Ukrnafta.

According to Ukrainska Pravda, Kiperman left Ukraine just a day after Russia’s full-scale invasion and has not returned since.

Near Monaco, Ukrainska Pravda also identified the villa of Serhii Bubka, an influential ex-athlete and Olympic champion. SBU suspects him of collaborating with Russia: Bubka’s businesses allegedly sold fuel in occupied territories. Journalists spotted Bubka’s wife and sons entering and leaving the villa.

Ukrainska Pravda also traced a $25 million yacht reportedly belonging to Mykola Zlochevskyi, former ecology minister under pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych, to an idyllic town on the French Riviera. Journalists’ footage shows Zlochevskyi’s daughters partying onboard.

Zlochevskyi was suspected of offering the largest recorded bribe in the history of Ukraine – $6 million – to try to get a corruption case against him dismissed.

The bribery case was closed in September 2023 with a plea agreement that saw Zlochevskyi get off with a small fine, which caused public outcry and was extensively criticized by legal experts.

According to Ukrainska Pravda, these examples illustrate a broader pattern of Ukrainian elites, especially those facing charges, fleeing Ukraine and justice, while the rest of the country suffers as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian here.

Zaporizhzhia officials run the city reconstruction shadily, at inflated prices

Zaporizhzhia city authorities concluded reconstruction contracts at overblown prices through non-transparent tender processes, according to an investigation by Ukrainian media outlet Hromadske.

Russian attacks damaged over 500 buildings in Zaporizhzhia, and local and national authorities allocated approximately $30 million for restoration efforts.

According to Hromadske, Zaporizhzhia city authorities awarded contracts to companies that did not participate in the proper tender process, some companies procured materials at inflated prices, and the construction firms involved had connections to local authorities.

Acting mayor of Zaporizhzhia, Anatoly Kurtev, said that the journalists were wrong to focus on the price of individual building restorations and should have looked at the cost of the entire restoration plan instead. Kurtev did not comment on the irregularities in the tender process.

Read the full story in Ukrainian here.



Ukraine’s deputy police head suspended after journalists find possible corruption, Russia ties

Dmytro Tyshlek was suspended from his position as deputy head of Ukraine’s national police following an investigation by Ukrainian media outlet Bihus.Info, which revealed signs of corruption and alleged ties to Russia.

According to Bihus.Info, Tyshlek lives in a lavish house in the Kyiv suburbs belonging to people with connections to infamous Russian gangster Andrian Rodin (Andrey Imanali), the rent of which the top police officer cannot afford based on his declared income.

Previously, Tyshlek stayed in other fancy apartments he could not have afforded that were owned by businesspeople implicated in tax evasion and other illegal activities, according to the journalist investigation.

Additionally, according to an official Russian database, Tyshlek’s wife, Oleksandra Balakay, holds a Russian passport, valid as of June 2023, more than a year into the full-scale invasion. Dual nationality is not permitted under Ukrainian law.

Citing the Bihus.Info investigation, the head of the national police suspended Tyshlek pending a full investigation by law enforcement.

Ukrainian authorities charge top energy official with embezzlement following media investigation

Journalist investigation by Schemes, a RFE/RL project, led to an embezzlement probe against the subject of their report, Mykola Bozhko, a senior manager at Energoatom, the state-owned company that controls all Ukrainian nuclear energy facilities.

On Oct. 24, Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Agency (NABU) named Bozhko a suspect in an embezzlement case alongside four alleged accomplices.

The January 2022 investigation by Schemes revealed Bozhko’s alleged involvement in the stealing of Hr 100 million ($2.7 million) from the state energy company.

Bozhko was appointed in 2020 and tasked with overseeing the completion of a storage facility for nuclear waste. According to Schemes, he violated several laws while leading this project.

Schemes obtained an audio recording of a meeting where a voice resembling that of Bozhko is heard telling colleagues that money had been stolen and that they need to find a way to cover it up.

The journalists also obtained documents showing irregularities in the tender process for the project.

NABU said that Bozhko and his co-conspirators face charges of misappropriation or embezzlement with a maximum sentence of 12 years.

Meanwhile, in Russia


More proof that Russia imports Western components for missiles despite sanctions

European companies help Russian firms circumvent sanctions by supplying them with electronic components used to manufacture Kinzhal and Iskander missiles, according to an investigation by Russian independent media outlet The Insider.

The Machine-Building Design Bureau, known by its Russian acronym, KBM, produces the Kinzhal and Iskander missiles and is sanctioned by Ukraine and its Western allies. Russia considers the Kinzhal the most advanced weapon in its missile arsenal. Both the Kinzhal and Iskander have been used in deadly attacks against Ukrainian civilians.

Import-export records show that Russian companies supplying crucial parts to KBM get them via intermediaries in Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, and the U.K.

A previous investigation by The Insider showed that KBM was importing U.S.-produced electronic parts necessary for missile production through a China-based intermediary.

KBM head Sergey Pitikov is under UK and Canadian sanctions but has not been sanctioned by the U.S. or EU.

Pitikov’s daughter owns a house in Sweden that she could not have afforded without his financial support. This reflects a broader trend of the families of pro-war Russian politicians enjoying luxurious lives in Europe and not being subject to sanctions.

This week, an investigation by iStories, another independent Russian media outlet, also revealed that Russian intermediaries that supply missile manufacturers easily circumvent sanctions and buy electronic components as “dual-use goods,” which refers to goods that have both civilian and military applications.

Ukraine’s Western allies have struggled to find an effective way to close sanctions loopholes and end the supply of goods fueling Russia’s war effort.

Read the full story in English here.

Putin’s former right-hand man in Ukraine lives luxurious life in Russia after prisoner swap

Viktor Medvedchuk, a former Ukrainian politician and oligarch, who was widely believed to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s right-hand man in Ukraine, allegedly bought a $9.4 million yacht in July 2023, according to independent Russian media outlet Verstka.

According to customs data and company registration information reviewed by Verstka,  Medvedchuk registered the yacht in the name of the company belonging to his wife, Oksana Marchenko.

Ukrainian authorities arrested Medvedchuk for treason for the second time in April 2022 after he ran away from house arrest. Five months after being recaptured, he was sent to Russia as part of a prisoner swap in exchange for 200 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Read the full investigation in Russian here.

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