Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Canada's NATO Delegation Offers Russia Some Geography Lessons

OTTAWA, Canada -- It seems Canada's delegation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not above blatantly mocking Russia in light of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Geography can be tough. Here’s a guide for Russian soldiers who keep getting lost and ‘accidentally’ enter Ukraine.

On Wednesday, the delegation's official Twitter account posted a helpful "guide" for Russian soldiers who claim to have "accidentally" crossed into Ukraine.

The post has already been re-tweeted thousands of times.

The Ukrainian military said Wednesday that Russian soldiers in armored infantry carriers crossed into eastern Ukraine just a day after Russian paratroopers were captured in the same area, Reuters reports.

Moscow claimed the incursions were simple mistakes but Ukrainian military spokesperson Colonel Andriy Lysenko said the paratroopers were on a "special mission."

"If this tactical group got lost and accidentally came into Ukraine like the paratroops of the 98th paratroop division then it remains for us to remind them that they can return to Russia, taking an easterly direction," Lysenko told reporters.

The Conservative government has aggressively denounced Russia's incursions into Ukraine and at least one poll suggests Canadians are satisfied with the hawkish tone taken by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In a speech to troops in Nunavut this week, the prime minister said Canada must also be prepared to respond to Russian antagonism.

"In Europe, we see the imperial ambitions of Vladimir Putin, who seems determined that, for Russia's neighbours, there shall be no peace...," he said.

"And because Russia is also Canada's neighbour, we must not be complacent here at home."

Source: Huff Post

British Troops Set To Join Ukraine Military Exercise

LONDON, England -- Britain is poised to send soldiers to Ukraine on joint military exercises within a fortnight, as the Foreign Secretary said Russia had become a pariah state for its intervention in the country.

Philip Hammond, British Foreign Secretary, said the Kremlin's involvement showed 'Russia has chosen the role of pariah, rather than partner'.

A small detachment of around 30 British troops is expected join 1,200 soldiers from 15 nations including America for the two weeks of war games, as Ukraine battles separatists backed by Russian troops in the east.

Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary, said the Kremlin's involvement showed “Russia has chosen the role of pariah, rather than partner”.

Speaking ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Newport, he called on the alliance to show it had the political will to repel an attack on any of its members, or the military partnership would unravel.

A “red line” must be drawn around the 28 member alliance that cannot be crossed he said.

Although Ukraine is not a member of NATO, Eastern alliance members including Poland and the Baltic states fear they may soon become the target of Moscow’s aggression and worry Western European members are not prepared to back them.

Mr Hammond said: “If we lack, or are perceived to lack, the political will to respond – and to do so quickly – the credibility of that commitment to collective defence will be undermined, and the very fabric of this, most successful of alliances, will unravel.”

“So we have to be clear with Russia, in particular, that while we support a political resolution to the situation in Eastern Ukraine, there is a red line around NATO member states themselves that cannot be crossed.”

The Ministry of Defence announced British troops are likely to take part in the annual Rapid Trident exercise near Lviv, Ukraine later this month.

A spokesman said: “Similar to our participation last year, a small troop of Light Dragoons are expected to participate in Exercise Rapid Trident, a routine and small-scale international exercise, in Ukraine this month.”

NATO has said it will ramp up its programme of exercises in Eastern Europe to keep forces rotating through the region, but will not build permanent bases in the area.

This week 120 soldiers from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment are taking part in a live fire training operation in Poland.

Julian Brazier, defence minister for Reserves, said: “These exercises are reminding people that these are our allies within NATO.”

“We committed ourselves when these countries joined NATO to join defence with them.

We also committed ourselves that we wouldn’t forward station a lot of troops on their Eastern border.

“But we reserve the right to exercise in them.

“But Russia has of course torn up the rule book.

These exercises are a way of reminding the world that NATO and in particular article five of NATO means something.

“Article five means that an attack on one is an attack on all.

Andrii Kuzmenko, Ukraine’s acting ambassador in London, said Ukraine would use this week’s NATO summit to ask for technical military supplies including communications gear and “anti-aircraft systems”.

Mr Kuzmenko said the West’s overall response to the Russian incursion in eastern Ukraine was “insufficient and weak” and warned the fighting was a “battle for Europe”.

The ambassador said Britain and America had particular duties to help his country because they had assured its security in a 1994 agreement where it gave up its nuclear weapons.

Mr Kuzmenko said: “This is not only the fight for Ukraine, this is a battle for Europe which has already begun”.

Source: The Telegraph UK

Kiev: Russian Troops Spotted At 10 Sites Inside Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine says Russian troops have been spotted at 10 locations in Ukrainian territory, including two major cities controlled by pro-Russian rebels seeking autonomy from Ukrainian rule.

A Russian rebel prepares his weapon for the the assault on the positions of the Ukrainian army at the Donetsk airport, eastern Ukraine.

Military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko said Russia is continuing to concentrate soldiers and military hardware in six areas in the Donetsk region, including Donetsk city and Luhansk.

Lysenko - speaking Tuesday - also said 15 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in fighting in the east since early Monday.

Separately, Ukraine's Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey (writing on his Facebook page) said Ukraine military objectives are shifting from a counter-insurgency operation to a battle against the Russian army.

He called the fight "our great patriotic war."

NATO estimates at least 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any military presence in Ukrainian territory. 

Meanwhile, the United Nations says the number of people displaced by the Ukraine rebellion has more than doubled in just a month.

The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that 260,000 people are displaced inside eastern Ukraine, compared to 117,000 announced in the first week of August.

The director of the UNHCR's Europe Bureau, Vincent Cochtel, told reporters in Geneva that shelling in the region also has left people with limited access to food, water and other basic necessities.

Separately, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for political dialogue between Russia and Ukraine, saying "there is no military solution" to the Ukraine crisis.

Ban made his remarks during a stop in New Zealand, a day after one of the leaders of the pro-Russian separatists, Andrei Purgin, said they are ready to discuss a cease-fire and prisoner exchange.

Source: Voice of America

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Baltic States Fear Putin Amid Escalation In Ukraine

TALLINN, Estonia -- In the latest chapter of the West's confrontation with Russia, President Barack Obama will travel to Estonia on Wednesday to stress U.S. solidarity with the Baltic states, the former Soviet republics rattled by Russian President Vladimir Putin's intervention in nearby Ukraine.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — the trio of tiny nations nestled against the western flank of the Russian Federation — only regained their independence from Moscow in 1991 amid the collapse of the USSR.

But as Putin appears to tighten his grip on swaths of Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, the Baltics fear they may be prey for their former ruler, experts say.

"The turmoil in Ukraine has deeply unnerved the Baltics," James Goldgeier, the dean of the School of International Service at American University, told NBC News.

"They feel extraordinarily vulnerable to Putin and they're seeking reassurance from the West."

Obama plans to head to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, ahead of his scheduled trip to Wales for a NATO summit meeting, where the unrest in Ukraine is expected to be a leading topic of conversation.

The White House has said the stop would include facetime with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, President Andris Berzins of Latvia and President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania.

The Baltic states are reeling after Putin's annexation of Crimea in March and Russia's ongoing intervention in Ukraine, reviving calls for troops on the ground and military assistance.

The anxiety has struck a nerve: NATO last week dispatched jets to intercept Russian bombers and fighters approaching Baltic airspace.

But analysts say the three states have little to fear because — unlike Ukraine — they are members of NATO and therefore protected by the alliance's principle of collective defense, also known as Article V.

"Article V is the heart of the North Atlantic Treaty," Goldgeier said.

"It's critical that the alliance be able to make that clear."

Putin is unlikely to wage an all-out military campaign against the Baltics, Goldgeier said.

But Russia may hit the former Soviet republics with cyber-attacks and other forms of "soft power."

"The biggest threat at the moment is not an open invasion but so-called 'hybrid warfare,' which encompasses informational warfare, cyber attacks, 'false flag' attacks or attacks with 'plausible deniability,'" Lithuanian political scientist Vykintas Pugaciauskas told Reuters.

The Baltics are also frightened by Putin's claims that he wants to protect ethnic Russians living outside his country — the very justification he gave before invading Crimea, according to Goldgeier.

"Estonia has a significant population of ethnic Russians," Goldgeier said.

"And the fear is that even if Putin and Russia didn't engage in any overt aggression, like a military invasion, they could still leverage that population to undermine Estonia's security."

Estonian President Hendrik Ilves has called Russia's apparent incursion in Ukraine "an undeclared war."

And a few leading Western leaders have also criticized Putin's latest moves.

In a speech to Parliament on Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil is "unjustified and unacceptable." 

“Russia needs to understand that if it continues on the current path then its relationship with the rest of the world will be radically different in the future," Cameron said.

Leaders in Kiev, meanwhile, appear to be trying to wrench Ukraine from Putin's grip and move closer to Western security forces and European economic powers. 

Ukraine's prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, on Friday announced that a bill had been introduced in Parliament to nix Ukraine's status as a nonaligned country and to “restore its aspirations to become a NATO member.”

“This law also reaffirms the main political goal of Ukraine — to become a member of the European Union,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said on his Facebook page.

Source: NBC News

I Can Take Kiev In Two Weeks, Vladimir Putin Warns European Leaders

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The Russian president is reported to have boasted his forces could sweep into Kiev in a fortnight if he wanted to as NATO announced it would build a new “spearhead” rapid reaction force.

I can take Kiev in two weeks, arrogant Putin warns European leaders.

Vladimir Putin has boasted to European leaders that his forces could sweep into Kiev in two weeks if he wanted.

The Russian president reportedly made the threat to the European Commission president during talks on the Ukraine crisis.

Mr Putin told Jose Manuel Barroso: “If I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks,” Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper reported, implying this could be the result if the EU stepped up sanctions against Russia.

His comments, relayed by Mr Barroso to colleagues at last weekend’s EU summit, emerged as NATO announced it would build a new “spearhead” rapid reaction force of up to 4,000 troops that can be flown into eastern Europe in 48 hours to respond to possible Russian aggression.

The EU’s new head of foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, also warned there was no military solution to what is now Europe’s biggest crisis in decades.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of the alliance, said NATO faced multiple crises on its southern and eastern borders that could erupt at any time.

Leaders of the alliance’s 28 members are expected to agree to the new force at this week’s NATO summit in Wales, and it is likely to include British troops.

The spearhead force is part of a package of measures to sharpen up the alliance as it faces crises in Iraq and Ukraine.

A senior NATO official said allies would take turns to command the spearhead and many of the arrangements would be in place by the end of the year.

Troops would be based in their home countries and come together when necessary.

The summit will agree to stockpile supplies in eastern Europe so that equipment and ammunition are waiting for the force when it arrives.

The alliance will also boost the number of exercises in the area, so that troops are constantly cycling through it.

Mr Rasmussen said the new spearhead force would “travel light and strike hard if needed”.

Source: The Telegraph UK

Ukraine Crisis: NATO To Create 'High-Readiness Force,' Secretary General Says

KIEV, Ukraine -- NATO members meeting this week in Wales are expected to create "a very high-readiness force" to deal with Russian aggression in Ukraine and other international conflicts, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

In a speech on the NATO website, Rasmussen said the fighting force will be part of an overall Readiness Action Plan that "responds to Russia's aggressive behavior -- but it equips the alliance to respond to all security challenges, wherever they may arise."

He said this "spearhead" force would be able to "travel light, but strike hard if needed."

NATO will look at possible upgrades to infrastructure that could include airfields and ports, he said.

The White House supports the idea of a rapid response teams for NATO, but National Security Spokesman Caitlin Hayden cautioned that the force would be "defensive" in posture.

The new force is "not intended as a provocation, or as a threat to Russia, but rather as a demonstration of NATO's continued commitment to our collective defense," Hayden said.

New bases will be set up and equipment pre-positioned at bases, a NATO diplomatic source said.

"We are also facing crises to the southeast and south," said a senior NATO official.

The plan "needs to be able to deal with all crises that we might be facing in the future from wherever they might come."

Rasmussen said President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine will attend the summit and NATO will "make clear our support for Ukraine."

On the ground, Ukrainian forces appear to be outgunned by Russian rebels.

"We have seen as recently as Saturday, that the Ukrainian army is very, very unarmed compared to the rebels," said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring the situation in Eastern Ukraine.

On Monday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that the presence of Russian soldiers on Ukraine soil is completely unjustified and unacceptable.

"Russia appears to be trying to force to Ukraine to abandon its democratic choices through the barrel of a gun," he said.

Cameron said new sanctions measures will be drawn up by the EU within a week.

Ukraine airfield attack reported 

A Russian army tank attacked airfields in eastern Ukraine on Monday, Ukrainian military officials said, amid worsening tensions between Kiev and Moscow.

A battle is under way at the airport of the eastern city of Luhansk, Ukrainian counter terrorism officials said.

"There is a very, very bad situation developing in Luansk," Bociurkiw said.

"Ukrainian officials are warning of a humanitarian catastrophe due to the lack of water and electricity."

Shortly before the attack, Russia urged the Ukrainian military to retreat from civilian locations in the east, saying pro-Moscow separatists in the region will not disarm for fear of getting killed.

The same day, Ukraine said one of its patrol boats was capsized and two of its crew are missing off the coast of the city of Mariupol.

Officials did not say who was behind the attack.

Poroshenko has said thousands of Russian troops are in his nation's east, helping the separatists.

Though Russia has denied sending its troops to Ukraine, it defended the rebels' action in the east.

"Washington and Brussels need to ask Kiev authorities to stop shelling the houses, schools, hospitals and so on because you leave militia with no choice but to stand up to protect their people," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Lavrov: 'Let us sit down and talk' "Let's not ask militia to lay down their weapons and allow themselves to be killed."

Lavrov said negotiations, not threats, will help resolve the crisis between the two neighbors.

"Let us sit down and talk instead of threatening with sanctions and stubbornly making absolutely unrealistic demands of the militia laying down arms," he said.

"This is what the peace plan of Poroshenko is about."

Russian President Vladimir Putin sparked controversy when he talked about "statehood" for eastern Ukraine.

"Substantive meaningful talks related to the issues of society's political organization and statehood in southeastern Ukraine should start immediately in order to protect people living there," Putin said Sunday.

The Kremlin later denied that Putin was calling for statehood in the region, saying he was referring to inclusive talks with all sides represented.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych the previous month.

Violence broke out in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April when separatist leaders declared independence from the government in Kiev.

Since then, the conflict between the pro-Russia rebels and the Ukrainian military has killed 2,600 people, according to the United Nations.

U.S. lawmaker visits Ukraine 

A U.S. lawmaker called for the arming of Ukrainian forces along the eastern border.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, is in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

He said the conflict in eastern Ukraine is not a rebel uprising, but a Russian invasion.

"We should be providing the Ukrainians with the type of defensive weapons that will impose a cost upon Putin for further aggression," said Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In the past, U.S. President Barack Obama has opposed supplying Ukraine with weapons.

Poroshenko warned that his nation's crisis with Russia has worsened, and is inching closer to a "full-scale war."

The European Union has demanded Moscow withdraw its troops or face additional sanctions.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said new sanctions are in the works for Russia.

Proposals will be ready for consideration in a week, he said over the weekend. 

Source: CNN World

Russia Calls For Cease-Fire With Rebels, But Ukraine Vows To Keep Up The Fight

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian officials pressed Ukraine on Monday to declare a cease-fire with separatists, but Ukrainians say they are locked in a war not just against the rebels but also against Russia — on behalf of Europe.

“A great war has come, the likes of which Europe has not seen since the Second World War,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said on his Facebook page Monday, adding that the fight must go on to “show that Ukrainians are not going to give up.”

Lost territory, trapped soldiers and increasing reports of Russian tanks and troops operating in eastern Ukraine have changed the course of events in the past few days.

Newly emboldened separatist forces are bearing down on strategic targets, such as the port city of Mariupol — which the Ukrainian military maintains it can defend — and the airport in Luhansk, where troops retreated in the face of a rebel onslaught Monday.

Ukraine and its Western allies have surmised that Russian forces are significantly aiding pro-Russian separatists.

“Russia is intervening overtly in Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday, announcing that the alliance would design a “readiness action plan,” complete with a rapid-response force, at its upcoming summit in Wales to respond to “Russia’s aggressive behavior.” 

The summit will coincide with a self-imposed deadline from the European Union to announce further economic sanctions against Russia .

European leaders agreed over the weekend to slap Russia with new measures within a week — unless it pulled back from Ukraine.

But Russia maintains that the E.U. threats are weak and that it is not militarily involved in the Ukraine conflict .

“Let’s sit down and talk, not threaten sanctions,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during an address to university students in Moscow on Monday, pushing for a cease-fire and dismissing Europe’s threats as “sanction inertia.”

Lavrov also scoffed at the idea that pro-Russian militias would surrender their weapons to Kiev, which he said would be tantamount to “destroying themselves,” even as he pledged that “there will be no military intervention” from Russia.

But Ukraine maintains that an intervention is well underway. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday accused Russia of launching “direct and open aggression” against Ukraine, which he said changed “the situation in the zone of conflict in a radical way.”

A spokesman for Ukraine’s military said Russian forces fired on troops at the Luhansk airport Monday and are supporting the separatists surrounding Ilovaysk, where hundreds of Ukrainian troops have been trapped for more than a week.

Russian officials have accused Kiev of not taking advantage of the separatists’ offer to let the troops out via a humanitarian corridor, in exchange for disarming.

During a Monday visit to Kiev, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called for the international community to respond by better arming Ukrainian troops.

“It’s great to provide night-vision goggles,” Menendez said at a news conference, referencing one form of assistance the United States approved to send to Ukrainian troops this summer.

“But what can you do if all you can do is see them but you can’t defend yourself against their attacks?”

He dismissed concerns that arming Ukraine would spur a negative response from Russia, listing significant events of the conflict, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March , the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the recent battles in the east, to make his case “Russia has done all of this without any provocation,” he said.

“From my perspective, this is a Russian fight against Europe being fought out on Ukrainian territory — everything [Russian President Vladimir] Putin doesn’t care for he sees in the Ukrainian people’s desire to turn to the West.”

Pro-Russian rebels are stepping up their demands, too.

Ahead of a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, among Kiev representatives, separatists and their interlocutors, Andrei Purgin — a Russian rebel leader in Donetsk — told the Russian news service Interfax that separatists intended to seek “recognition of our independence” during the talks.

The Monday discussions yielded little progress.

Putin said in a television interview that aired Sunday that “statehood” for eastern Ukraine should be part of talks to resolve the conflict, but he has repeatedly insisted that he wants greater autonomy for the region, not the breakup of Ukraine — despite Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

In the interview, Putin scoffed at Europe’s support for the Kiev government, arguing that it ran counter to purported European values.

“What are the so-called European values?” Putin asked.

“Maintaining the coup, the armed seizure of power and the suppression of dissent with the help of the armed forces? Are those modern European values?"  “Our colleagues need to remember their own ideals,” he said.

Putin stressed that a resolution to the conflict “largely depends on the political will of today’s Ukrainian leadership,” but said he did not expect the fighting to stop before Ukraine’s parliamentary elections, set for Oct. 26.

Once elected, Ukraine’s new parliament is expected to vote on a law to end the country’s nonaligned status, paving the way for it to eventually apply for NATO membership.

Rasmusssen told reporters Monday that Ukraine’s chances of being adopted as a member depend on whether the country can meet various criteria.

Source: The Washington Post