The Ukraine War in 2024

ANALYSIS, 25 Mar 2024

Swiss Policy Research - TRANSCEND Media Service

Drone warfare, NATO enlargement, Ukraine front lines, destroyed tanks.

March 2024 – A no-nonsense analysis of new developments and deceptions in the Ukraine War. Dedicated to the people of Ukraine, east and west.

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Media coverage of the Ukraine War

Overall, the quality of Ukraine War media coverage remains very low.

As in most previous conflicts, Western Nato-compliant media provide mostly propaganda and disinformation, although some of this propaganda collapsed in late 2023 in the wake of the failed Ukrainian counter-offensive (discussed below).

Western independent and pro-Russian media and commentators challenge official Western propaganda and provide alternative perspectives, but most of them continue to greatly overestimate the current Russian position and performance in Ukraine and beyond (also discussed below).

On the Russian side, there is a combination of official Russian state propaganda and independent Russian nationalist authors. The former emphasizes supposed Russian strength and Western disunity while the latter generally take a far more pessimistic stance.

During the coronavirus pandemic, genuine propaganda skeptics were joined by various conservative pro-Nato and pro-Israel authors who rejected political restrictions; however, during the Ukraine War and the Gaza War, most of these authors reverted back to war propaganda.

Thus, readers who want to build their own informed opinion about the war should either compare and triangulate different and opposing media sources or else follow uncensored real-time coverage and analysis provided by various Twitter and Telegram channels.

Military developments

As noted in previous analyses, Western politicians view the Ukraine war as an unprovoked and illegal Russian invasion to expand the Russian zone of influence, while the Russian leadership views the Ukraine war as a defensive operation to stop Kiev’s military assault on ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and to prevent a Nato expansion into Ukraine.

In 2022, there was a failed or aborted Russian advance towards Kiev; the successful Russian capture of Mariupol and Melitopol, which established a land corridor to Crimea; inconclusive positional battles in eastern Ukraine; the Russian annexation of four Ukrainian provinces; the Russian evacuation of Kherson city in the south and the Kharkov region in the north due to insufficient manpower; and the mobilization of an additional 300,000 Russian troops.

In 2023, after a mostly inconsequential Russian winter offensive and the Russian capture of the Donbas settlement of Bakhmut in May by Wager forces, the long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive began in June. The goal of this counter-offensive was to reach Melitopol in the south, cut off the Russian land corridor and lay siege to Crimea. However, despite substantial Western support, Ukrainian troops conquered only a few frontline villages.

Western expectations or hopes of a successful counter-offensive were mainly based on three assumptions, none of which turned out to be correct: first, the technical superiority of Western tanks compared to Soviet and Russian tanks; second, weak Russian defensive lines manned by poorly trained and equipped mobilized troops; and third, a Russian political propensity to once again evacuate positions in order to avoid high losses.

The idea of successful tank battles was based on outdated WWII thinking; nowadays, tanks are mainly fought not by enemy tanks, but by powerful anti-tank weapons, including anti-tank mines, high-precision artillery, guided missiles, helicopters, and even cheap suicide drones. For this same reason, Russian tank offensives were far less successful than anticipated.

Many Western commentators argued that the counter-offensive failed because Ukraine lacked an airforce; but this wasn’t a crucial factor, since Ukrainian airplanes approaching the front line are usually shot down within minutes. Similarly, the Russian airforce could not, until early 2024, operate successfully over or even near Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Instead, as previously anticipated by SPR, the most important strategic weapons are long-range drones and missiles. While Russia still has an advantage in this regard, Western-supplied cruise missiles and reconfigured Ukrainian drones have been able to sink several high-value Russian ships in the Black Sea and hit several strategic Russian targets, such as fuel refineries and airports, even hundreds of kilometers behind Russian state borders (see this map).

In February 2024, after a four-month battle, Russian troops conquered the heavily fortified settlement of Avdiivka, a suburb of Donetsk with a pre-war population of 30k. While pro-Russian commentators viewed this as a great military success, the reality is that this conquest came at a very high cost to the Russian military and has little strategic value.

In fact, by spring 2024 Russia had not yet achieved any of its political or military goals in Ukraine and, with the exception of the conquest of Mariupol and the land-corridor to Crimea, had not yet achieved any strategic successes at all. For instance, none of the four Ukrainian provinces annexed or incorporated by Russia back in late 2022 is under complete Russian control (see map below).

This is why many Russian nationalist commentators view the Russian position and performance in Ukraine rather negatively. As a result, several of them have already been jailed or even killed.

Western military analysts have long speculated that Russia may run out of modern tanks or other heavy equipment. While these predictions have not yet materialized, it is true that Russian losses remain very high and it is uncertain how quickly Russia can replenish them. On the other hand, tanks turned out to be less important in modern warfare than assumed by many analysts.

Nevertheless, as a result of Ukrainian losses and reduced Western military support, in early 2024 the Russian military regained the initiative in eastern Ukraine. If the Ukrainian front line should collapse, a direct Western intervention becomes quite likely, as discussed by SPR already back in 2022.

Such an intervention could take the form of a peacekeeping mission to secure the Ukrainian territory west of the Dnieper river (similar to the current situation in Syria or South Korea), but a direct military confrontation is also possible, especially if Russia intends to conquer Kiev or Odessa and establish a corridor to Moldova and Romania (see below).

Map: Military situation in Ukraine in March 2024 (SouthFront)

Military situation in Ukraine in March 2024 (SouthFront)

Military and civilian casualties

In the Ukraine war, both sides try to exaggerate enemy casualties while downplaying or hiding their own casualties. In contrast, SPR has always provided realistic estimates of casualties on both sides, which have since been confirmed by various investigations.

In terms of civilian casualties, by February 2024 the UN estimated about 12,000 deaths and about 20,000 wounded overall. Although tragic enough, these are record low figures for such a two-year high-intensity conflict. The main reason is that the Russian military continues to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, despite continued Ukrainian attacks on residential areas in the Donbas and Russian border regions.

In terms of military casualties, the figures are significantly higher. According to serious estimates, both sides are close to 100k deaths and about 150k seriously wounded. On the Russian side, the deaths include about 20k Donbas militias and about 20k former prisoners. The months-long frontal assaults on Bakhmut and Avdiivka alone cost about 20k and 10k Russian lives. On the Ukrainian side, about 50k soldiers have been amputated.

In addition, there are about 6 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled to other countries, including about 1.2 million who have fled to Russia. Although life in many Ukrainian cities is still relatively normal, adult male citizens and even some female citizens face forced mobilization at any time. Overall, the Ukraine War is a major humanitarian catastrophe.

Chart: Ukrainian and Russian losses (Mediazona); note: no estimated Ukrainian losses.

Ukrainian and Russian losses since 2022 (Mediazona)

2022 peace negotiations

In the spring of 2022, diplomatic negotiations between Russia and Ukraine took place in Belarus and Turkey. Several negotiators and mediators from both sides have since talked about these negotiations and some Western media have received the draft agreement.

Thus, the draft agreement appears to have stipulated: Ukrainian military neutrality (similar to Switzerland and Austria) without excluding EU membership; a reduction in the size of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and a limit to the range of Ukrainian missiles; no foreign weapons on Ukrainian territory; and (renewed) recognition of Russian as an official language in Ukraine.

The question of the Donbas territories and Crimea was to be discussed separately between the Ukrainian and Russian Presidents. According to some accounts, the Russian President was willing to return or “loan” the Donbas republics, and possibly even Crimea, to Ukraine. If so, this would have meant a return to the pre-2022 or even the pre-2014 borders of Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, Russian nationalists have responded very negatively to these revelations.

There is a general consensus that the Ukrainian government only aborted the negotiations, in early April 2022, due to pressure from the British and US governments, which were against any diplomatic negotiations with Russia and believed it was possible to achieve a more favorable outcome by continuing the war against Russia with Western support.

Thus, one might argue that since April 2022, Ukraine has no longer been fighting a war for its independence and perhaps not even for its territorial integrity, but a genuine proxy war against Russia on behalf of Britain and the US. Indeed, several US military strategists have since acknowledged that the Ukraine War is in fact a proxy war against Russia.

In this case, one might argue that the foremost US goal is not liberating Ukraine, but weakening Russia. This situation is somewhat similar to the 10-year Afghanistan War of the 1980s, when the US used Islamist fighters to successfully weaken the Soviet military in post-monarchist Communist Afghanistan, which later slid into years of civil war and Taliban rule.

It is sometimes emphasized that Western countries have already spent over $200 billion on the Ukraine War. While true, much of the military aid and some of the financial aid is spent not in Ukraine but on Western arms and equipment. Thus, for the United States in particular, the Ukraine War is a rather cost-effective way of attacking and weakening Russia.

Chart: Western military and financial support to Ukraine (Statista/IFW 2024)

Western military and financial support to Ukraine (Statista/IFW 2024)

Cultural and religious war

In addition to a military conflict, the Ukraine War is also a cultural and religious conflict. This conflict began back in 2014 with the gradual suppression of the Russian language in Ukraine and continued with the more recent replacement of the traditional Moscow-linked Orthodox church by a newly created and Kiev-controlled Ukrainian Orthodox church.

The reality is that to most former Soviet republics and former Warsaw Pact states, the “Russian world” is currently less attractive than the “Western world”. In contrast, to some Western conservatives and many Western ethno-nationalists – faced with a globalist onslaught and mass migration – Russian nationalism appears to be a more attractive model, even though Russia itself is faced with a complex post-Soviet multi-ethnic legacy.

These additional cultural and religious dimensions help explain why some people in Ukraine and Russia view the Ukraine War as a kind of East Slavic civil war.

Image: Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (Yahoo)

Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (Yahoo)

Geopolitical developments

In contrast to the rather inconclusive military developments in Ukraine, several important geopolitical developments linked to the Ukraine War have taken place since 2022.

Most importantly, in April 2023 and March 2024, Finland and Sweden joined the Nato military alliance, thus enlarging the Nato-Russia land border by over 1,300 kilometers. In September 2023, Azerbaijan, backed by the US and Israel, displaced 120,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). As a result, Armenia, a traditional ally of Russia, suspended its participation in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

Georgia remains split between supporters of a pro-Western course and a more neutral course. Meanwhile, Moldova has sought closer cooperation with Nato, and even Serbia, a longtime Russian ally, considers joining the European Union and cooperating with Nato. In East Asia, the US is expanding its military presence in several countries bordering China.

On the other hand, in early 2024 five new countries – Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – joined the China and Russia-led Brics alliance. In addition, Iran became a member of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

As part of these developments, China brokered a diplomatic normalization between Saudi Arabia and Iran and single-handedly ended the US-backed Saudi proxy war against Yemen. This, in turn, allowed Yemen to respond to Israel’s ongoing genocidal war against Palestinians in Gaza by shutting down Western ship traffic through the Red Sea.

Moreover, the US, Britain and France appear to have lost control over several central and western African countries whose pro-Western governments were deposed by military coups, including in Gabon, Niger, Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad. In contrast, the new libertarian government of Argentina is backed by the US and Israel and declined to join Brics.

In terms of economic warfare, Western countries have imposed multiple rounds of wide-ranging sanctions against Russia, but so far they seem to have had no substantial impact on the Russian economy, which can still import and export its goods and resources through third countries. Nevertheless, the US has been able to switch most of Europe’s energy supply from Russian resources to US-controlled resources and to largely exclude Russia from the Western banking system.

Map: BRICS countries in 2024 (VC); note: Argentina is not currently a member.

BRICS countries in 2024 (VC)

Propaganda and deceptions

Since the beginning of the Ukraine war, Western media have promoted well over one hundred propaganda stories and deceptions. These stories are produced by Ukrainian authorities, Western PR firms, or intelligence services. Their global distribution occurs via the three global news agencies AP, AFP and Reuters in New York, Paris and London, or via major American and British news outlets.

First year of the war

To recap, some of the top propaganda stories of the first year of the war included:

  • The claim that the Russian invasion was “unprovoked“; in reality, the provocation was so blatant that some have wondered if the US wanted Russia to invade.
  • The claim that Russia used energy or agricultural goods as a “weapon”; in reality, not Russia but Western countries used both energy and agricultural goods as a weapon.
  • The claim that Russia forced Western countries to pay gas exports in rubles; in reality, Western sanctions forced Russia to accept payments only after conversion into rubles.
  • The claims that Russia bombed the Crimea bridge and NordStream pipeline; in reality, the Crimea bridge bombing was a British-Ukrainian operation while the NordStream bombing likely was a US or US-backed operation.
  • Claims that Russia was “running out” of missiles, shells or whatever at any time.
  • Repeated claims that Putin was suffering from cancer and was close to death.
  • The false claim that Russian forces were “mass raping” Ukrainian women.
  • The claim that Russia bombed the Mariupol drama theater and refugee shelter; in reality, retreating Azov forces blew up the previously evacuated theater.
  • The claim that Russia bombed the Mariupol maternity clinic. Eyewitnesses saw no airstrike; both a Ukrainian deception or an accidental Russian bombing are possible.
  • The “Bucha massacre” hoax. No “massacre” occurred; Russian forces killed spotters, partisans and saboteurs as well as some civilians that approached checkpoints, while daily Ukrainian shelling also killed civilians and Ukrainian nationalists killed “collaborators”.
  • Claims that Russia bombed or shelled the Kramatorsk railway station, the Elenovka detention center, the Zaporozhie nuclear power plant, and some other places; in reality, all of these places were hit by Ukrainian missiles or artillery.
  • The claim that Russia fired a missile into Poland, killing two farmers; in reality, it was a misfired Ukrainian air defense missile.
  • The claim that Russia deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure like schools, shopping centers or building blocks; in almost all cases, these buildings served as military sites or ammunition storage, or they were hit by Ukrainian air defense missiles or downed Russian missiles, or they were located next to the actual target.
  • In contrast, Ukrainian war crimes – including torture and mass executions as well as the bombing and shelling of residential areas in Donetsk – were routinely ignored, downplayed or even blamed on Russia by Western media.

Second year of the war

In the second year of the war, major propaganda stories included:

The Wagner Group rebellion (June 2023)

On June 23, about 20k fighters of the Russian Wagner mercenary group – at the time the strongest mercenary group in the world, led by Russian-Jewish oligarch and Putin ally, Yevgeny Prigozhin (of “Russiagate” fame) – suddenly returned from the war zone in Ukraine to Russia, took control of the headquarters of the Russian Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don, and started driving towards Moscow.

Pro-Western commentators hoped this was a coup against the Russian government and the beginning of a civil war in Russia, while pro-Russian commentators hoped this was some kind of Russian psyop (e.g. to open a second front from Belarus) but feared it was a regime change operation run by the CIA.

Those who followed the war closely were not overly surprised by Prigozhin’s desperate move: for months already, Prigozhin had publicly and viciously criticized the Russian military leadership (but not President Putin) and their management of the “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine, including strategic and logistical decisions. Partly in response to this public criticism, the Russian military leadership in May 2023 decided to dissolve the Wagner Group and incorporate its fighters into the Russian military. Prigozhin tried to prevent this and wanted to “talk to” or rather capture the Russian Defense Minister (Sergei Shoigu) and the Russian Chief of Staff (Valery Gerasimow).

On their way to Moscow, Belarusian President and Putin ally, Alexander Lukashenko, intervened and brokered a peaceful solution that included the exiling of the Wagner Group to Belarus. Prigozhin continued working in Africa and elsewhere but, on August 23, he and Wagner Group founding commander Dmitry Utkin died in a plane crash while flying from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. A Russian intelligence operation seems the most likely explanation of this crash, although some other explanations remain possible.

Image: Prigozhin publicly critizing Shoigu for insufficient supplies during the Bakhmut operation. In the background are bodies of fallen Wagner troops. (May 2023)

Prigozhin publicly critizing Shoigu during the Bakhmut operation. (May 2023)
Collapse of the Kakhovka Dam (June 2023)

In the early morning hours of June 6, the large Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine collapsed, emptying the large upstream Kakhovka Reservoir and flooding the downstream plains near Kherson.

Ukrainian and Western media immediately claimed the Russian military destroyed the dam, while some Russian officials claimed Ukraine destroyed the dam. The available evidence instead suggests that neither side deliberately destroyed the dam. Rather, the dam appears to have collapsed due to structural and operational damage caused by repeated Ukrainian missile and artillery attacks in the autumn of 2022. In fact, the first parts of the dam collapsed already in April 2023 and parts of the road over the dam collapsed in early June.

A Russian eyewitness stationed near the dam confirmed this scenario: “It was quiet at night. There were no arrivals [i.e. no Ukrainian attacks]. The dam could not stand it, one support collapsed [next to the power plant], and flooding began.”

The motivation behind the Ukrainian Himars and artillery attacks on the dam between September and November 2022 was threefold: first, by attacking the Russian supply lines over the river, Ukraine wanted to force a Russian evacuation of Kherson city on the right bank of the Dnieper river (which happened on November 11); second, Ukraine tried to achieve a “limited flooding” of the Russian downstream positions near the river (as acknowledged by a Ukrainian commander); and third, Ukraine wanted to retake control of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant next to the dam (for the same reason, Ukraine shelled the Zaporozhie nuclear power plant in the summer of 2022).

Even prior to the collapse of the dam, both sides accused each other of having deliberately overloaded the dam by overfilling the upstream Kakhovka Reservoir. There is no strong evidence either of these claims were true. Rather, the Kiev region experienced heavy rainfalls and floods in the spring of 2023 and had to fully open the upstream Dnieper dams, while the Russians could no longer fully open the Kakhovka dam due to the damage caused by the previous Ukrainian attacks to the gentry cranes and sluice gates.

The emptying of the Kakhovka Reservoir not only flooded parts of the Kherson plains and the Russian positions near the Dnieper, but also shut down water supply to Crimea via the North Crimean Canal, which had been restored by Russia in the spring of 2022 after years of Ukrainian blockage. Thus, contrary to suggestions by the New York Times, a Russian destruction of the dam simply made no sense.

Image: Damage to the Kakhovka dam prior to its collapse (ACL)

Damage to the Kakhovka dam prior to its collapse (ACL)
International Criminal Court (March 2023)

In March 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants against Russian President Putin and Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for the potential war crime of “unlawful deportation of population (children)” from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

These arrest warrants were based not on an ICC investigation or a UN Security Council referral, but on a so-called state party referral initiated by Britain back in March 2022. In reality, both Ukraine and Russia simply evacuated families and orphans from the danger zone near the front line, and there is no evidence that Russia deported any of these people against their will, as even Western observers acknowledged; in fact, some of the evacuees have already returned to Russian or Ukrainian controlled territories. Thus, the ICC arrest warrants appear to be a politically motivated ploy orchestrated by Britain and other Nato states.

Interestingly, the ICC chief prosecutor, Karim Ahmad Khan, is a British lawyer who previously suspended investigations into well-documented US and Israeli war crimes, while his brother is a convicted child abuser. The ICC itself is largely funded by Nato states.

In March 2024, the ICC issued additional arrest warrants against two Russian military commanders responsible for the the Russian missile and drone attacks against Ukrainian energy infrastructure in the winter of 2022/2023. These arrest warrants appear to be more legitimate: although the Russian attacks were a response to the Ukrainian bombing of the Russian Crimea bridge in October 2022, they were likely illegal (and also ineffective), as previously emphasized by SPR.

Image: Children evacuated from the Donbas to Russia (Loffredo/Grayzone)

Children evacuated from the Donbas to Russia (Loffredo/Grayzone)

Other events

One other notable event in 2023 was the September 6 missile strike on the open market in Konstantinovka, a Ukrainian-controlled town in the Donetsk province. As usual, Western and Ukrainian officials immediately blamed Russia, but the evidence showed it was a Ukrainian missile strike. Western media, led by the New York Times, then claimed it was a misfired Ukrainian Buk air defense missile, but the evidence suggested it was a targeted false-flag strike with an AGM-88 or S-300 missile (as previously stated by Ukraine).

Interestingly, on the very same day US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, visited Kiev. Kiev previously used such visits by Western officials to launch false-flag attacks, such as the missile attack on the Kramatorsk railway station in April 2022, also blamed on Russia.

Finally, in several cases Ukrainian authorities claimed Russia struck civilian hotels or restaurants, but in most of these cases, video evidence later showed the facilities were in fact used, illegally, by large groups of foreign mercenaries or Ukrainian combatants. Still, in many cases these strikes likely did cause a substantial number of civilian casualties.

Image: Ukrainian missile strike on the Konstantinovka market (SF)

Ukrainian missile strike on the Konstantinovka market (SF)

Russian propaganda

Russian propaganda mostly focuses on real or imaginary Russian successes, Ukrainian weaknesses and Western disunity. In addition, Russian propaganda keeps emphasizing the alleged role of “Nazism” in Ukrainian politics. As previously detailed, in Russia “Nazism” is associated primarily with anti-Russian policy, not necessarily with anti-Jewish policy.

Russian propaganda has to hide the fact that in WWII Stalin himself planned to attack and conquer all of Europe, but Germany struck first. Moreover, in most of Eastern Europe – from Finland to the Baltic States, Western Ukraine and Romania – the German offensive in 1941 was welcomed as a liberation from Soviet occupation. In addition, the German WWII leadership didn’t consider Ukrainian nationalists as allies (and kept their leader in a concentration camp) because it viewed Ukraine as a future colony (“Germany’s India”).

At any rate, Ukraine is currently run by a former Jewish comedian, who was installed by a Jewish media and banking oligarch, and who is now controlled by largely Jewish US foreign policy strategists. In the 1990s, Russia was also run by mostly Jewish oligarchs, but Putin after 2001 removed most of them from power (although other oligarchs are still influential). Thus, Ukrainian nationalists are merely a tool used by far more powerful geostrategic and oligarchic actors.

Image: Ukrainian President Zelensky and Ukrainian oligarch Kolomoisky in 2019.

Ukrainian President Zelensky (center) and Ukrainian oligarch Kolomoisky (center-right) (Reuters)

Conclusions

The main winner or beneficiary of the Ukraine War currently is neither Russia nor Ukraine or Europe, but the United States. The US managed to entrap Russia in a very costly and likely unwinnable proxy war in Ukraine; switch the European energy supply from Russian to US sources; decouple Russia from the Western (but not global) economic system; add two Nordic countries to Nato and enlarge the Nato-Russia border by over 1,000 km; and draw several former Soviet republics closer to Nato.

The US is also expanding its military presence in East Asia in an attempt to encircle China, while China has been able to expand the Brics and SCO alliances and gain new allies in Africa. Saudi Arabia’s Brics membership in particular is of significant geostrategic value.

If Ukrainian front lines should collapse due to a lack of manpower and Western military support, Nato states may consider sending troops into Ukraine, either as a “peacekeeping mission” to secure Ukrainian territories west of the Dnieper river (similar to the situation in Syria), or as an active combat force against the Russian military. In the latter case, direct Nato-Russia combat may remain limited to Ukraine (similar to US-China combat during the Korea war) or it may start to engulf additional parts of Europe, which would increase the risk of nuclear war.

However, Ukraine will likely try to expand its own attacks on Russian territory by using domestically produced long-range drones and possibly Western-supplied cruise missiles. This would draw the Russian nation even deeper into the Ukraine quagmire and may either cause a further escalation of the war or possibly a destabilization of the Russian government.

The best solution for Ukraine likely would have been some sort of “Swiss model”, that is a neutral foreign policy and a federated multi-lingual domestic political system. Such a solution would no doubt have been accepted by Russia, but it was prevented by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and ambitious Angloamerican geostrategists.

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Swiss Policy Research, founded in 2016, is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit research group investigating geopolitical propaganda in Swiss and international media. SPR is composed of independent academics that for personal and professional reasons prefer to protect their identities, and receives no external funding; there are no financial sponsors or backers. Our articles have been published or shared by numerous independent media outlets and journalists, among them Julian Assange, and have been translated into more than two dozen languages.

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