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The wait for IKEA could make a difference

“I don’t think any study can allow us to predict the outcome of the war because it’s being decided in real-time right now.” And it’s not based on data, it’s in the heads of stupid people in the Kremlin.”

This is what Journalist, who has led the media Bellingcat’s investigations into Russian affairs and shed light on various atrocities of the Russian government, says when he is asked how he assesses the course of the war in Ukraine.

Putin’s failed plans

“Before I started serious journalism, I worked in radio. The first radio license I got in Russia for the American company I worked for was signed by Putin himself in St. Petersburg in 1995. So I met him in 1995,” says the journalist.

“I think that Putin now sees the war as something that is happening to him without him having any idea where it is going.

He had a plan, but it failed. He was offered another plan, but it also failed. So now he’s just reacting really week to week. It makes the whole thing very uncertain,” he adds, pointing out that this allows others to break into the Russian regime for further power.

He cites Yevgeny Prigozhin as an example, a close ally of Putin and director of the Wagner group, but it was reported yesterday that he had admitted that Russia had influenced the elections in the United States.

Could be beneficial

“This creates other power groups, such as Prigozhin, who have for years hidden their anger at being used only as capital and as pawns in the army,” says Grozev.

“So suddenly now he [Prygozhin] has his own power, his own ego, people who really believe in him.” So I see new players coming onto the political scene in Russia. And these are bad players, unfortunately.”

However, he says this can lead to good.

“In the short term, even worse conditions could arise, which the public in Russia will not tolerate.” One data point I can mention here is that we have been tracking the most frequently asked questions on Yandex, that is the Russian Google, since the beginning of the invasion.

Until now, one of the top-ten questions has been: “When will IKEA return to Russia?” And this gives me hope that this highly commercialized society will not long endure conditions such as in North Korea.”

The war could have been stopped earlier

Is there something that you think the West, whether it’s governments or the public, doesn’t understand when Russia is on one side, and how it works?

Grozev is quick to answer:

“One of the biggest misunderstandings is when it is assumed that the Russian regime is one collective group of people. This is a market. This is a market where everyone is competing against everyone else. And it is something that could have been used to even stop the war earlier.

For example, by talking to oligarchs who lost everything at the start of the war. Offer them a way out of their personal situation. But the West didn’t, and even in the case of [Roman] Abramovich, I saw that the reaction of the British government was that he had had his chance before: “He chose Putin, and now we’re not going to give him a way out.”

I think it was the wrong thing to do because the war could have been stopped by talking to many of them at the same time.”

Try to disprove excuses

The reporter asks Grozev what is the biggest impact he has seen from Bellingcat’s coverage following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I would say that even before the invasion started, we had a little bit of an impact.” I knew in the month of December that war was being prepared. And it could also be seen in public records, by looking at the location of troops and so on. It was also clear that the Russian government was looking for a “casus belli”, some pretext for war.

We spent the first months disproving such possible excuses, because it would have been much easier for Putin to start a war if there had been a false flag attack or a mass grave had been found or similar. That’s why we focused on refuting that kind of argument before it could become credible,” says Grozev.

Evidence is piling up

“After the war began, perhaps the biggest impact is knowing that there is a stack of evidence that we are collecting and that many law enforcement agencies, including international courts, have agreed to use. So we know we’re already providing them with evidence.”

Grozev says Bellingcat has found and documented more than 1,600 cases where civilians in Ukraine have been harmed.

“We don’t call it war crimes, because it’s not for us to identify, but these are cases where at least one civilian dies or is seriously harmed.” And we deliver this information directly, in raw form, after verification and localization, to law enforcement authorities. But from this we do not publish articles, we only make this information available on our website, which other media can then use.”

He also notes that Bellingcat journalists go out of their way to give numerous interviews to independent Russian media, in an effort to keep the Russian people informed.

“You don’t keep them all informed. You may be able to talk to 20% of them. But you are then giving them the truth that they can then use to talk to their relatives and friends, who will never follow the foreign media. Perhaps the biggest impact lies in that.”

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