Thursday, October 02, 2014

Ukraine Will Have To Live With Putin's Delusions

KIEV, Ukraine -- As the Russo-Ukrainian war has shown, Russian elites perceive reality differently from their Western and Ukrainian counterparts.

Where the former see a "fascist coup" in Kiev, the latter see a democratic revolution on the Maidan.

Where the former see Viktor Yanukovych as a legitimate president, the latter see a corrupt and illegitimate dictator.

Where the former see a belligerent NATO on the march, the latter see a weak alliance in crisis.

Where the former see a civil war in eastern Ukraine, the latter see a Russian intervention.

Russia and the West do not just see things differently.

Their perceptions of reality are diametrically opposed; they negate each other.

If the Russians are right, the West is wrong--and vice versa.

Both sides cannot be right, and the two sets of views cannot be reconciled with each other.

Calls for "understanding" the Russians and giving their views a "fair hearing" are thus little more than calls for abandoning one's own views.

That would be justifiable, indeed right, if one's views were wrong.

But it's manifestly absurd if one's views are right.

There is deeper issue here.

We can determine whether perceptions of reality are correct or not.

Despite the insistence of radical post-modernists that all truth claims are equally invalid, reasonable people the world over know that there is a simple test of the veracity of some perception: does it actually correspond to things as they are?

Did Yanukovych flee as a result of a coup by a small cabal of fascists or was he forced from power by the sustained exertions of thousands of democratically-inclined Ukrainians?

The evidence overwhelmingly supports the latter view.

Was Yanukovych a legitimate ruler or had his corruption and abuse of power undermined his legitimacy in the eyes of a majority of Ukrainians?

Once again, the latter proposition can be easily proven.

Has NATO ever expressed openly anti-Russian views or undertaken openly anti-Russian actions since the collapse of the USSR or is it an alliance without purpose, whose member states cannot imagine deploying their troops to a conflict in Europe?

There is no evidence for the former claim.

Are there or are there not Russian agents, soldiers, and volunteers and massive amounts of Russian military equipment in eastern Ukraine?

Obviously there are.

In sum, Russian perceptions of the reality are wrong.

We can easily explain Russian inability to see "straight."

Putin has embraced and propagated, almost since coming to power, an ideology of hyper-nationalism, revanchism, and neo-imperialism that builds on deep-seated Russian resentment at having lost their position of greatness in the world, promotes a paranoid worldview, and deliberately constructs enemies in order to lend his regime legitimacy. 

Should the West therefore try to understand Russian perceptions even if it knows that they are completely wrong?

Obviously, understanding Russian delusions can help the West and Ukraine craft a better response to Putin's expansionism.

But it makes little sense to say that the West and Ukraine should try to accommodate these delusions in their search for peace in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.

Should the democratic world have accommodated Hitler's perceptions of Jews?

Or of Germany's need for Lebensraum?

Or of the innate superiority of the Aryan race?

The questions are rhetorical, but they are exactly the ones we should be asking about Russian perceptions.

The implications for policy are clear.

Finding a compromise under such conditions may be impossible.

And agreeing to disagree may be the best one can possibly achieve. Russia currently controls the Crimea and one third of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

Let it continue to do so.

The West has imposed sanctions on the Russian economy and supports Ukraine.

Let it also continue to do so.

Finally, Ukraine has adopted a defensive position and appears intent on preventing further Russian incursions into its territory.

It, too, should continue to do so.

There is no practical solution to the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The most one can hope for is to "freeze" it and thereby transform hot war into cold war between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and the West.

That cold war will continue as long as Putin remains in power and continues to promote his delusional views of the world.

Cold war may not be the West's optimal solution, but, while inconvenient for everyone, it will be infinitely preferable to a hot war. 

Source: The Huffington Post

EU Slaps Down Putin Bid To Revise Ukraine Trade Deal

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The EU has delivered a sharp personal rebuff to Russian President Vladimir Putin, flatly rejecting his attempts to revise Brussels’ landmark trade accord with Ukraine.

José Manuel Barroso

The so-called Association Agreement between the EU and Kiev has sparked outrage in Moscow and has been one of the underlying causes of this year’s conflict in Ukraine.

Russia regards the accord as the EU’s main weapon in a bid to wrench Kiev out of Moscow’s sphere of economic and political influence. 

Shortly after the deal was ratified last month, Putin insisted that it should be reopened and that “a package of amendments” should be introduced.

But in a letter of response to Putin released on Wednesday, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, retorted that the accord with Ukraine was a “bilateral agreement”, in which Russia could not interfere.

“Any adaptations to it can only be made at the request of one of the parties and with the agreement of the other,” Mr Barroso wrote.

Mr Barroso also said that he had “strong concerns” about a Russian decree that proposed trade barriers on Ukraine if the deal were implemented.

In an attempt to prevent Russian economic retaliation against Kiev, the EU last month postponed the implementation of the trade deal from November this year to December 2015.

During this period, Ukraine will enjoy open access to EU markets, while its own markets remain protected.

Many commission officials and European parliamentarians fear that by allowing Russian threats to weigh on the deal the delay has created a dangerous precedent but they acknowledge that Ukraine’s frail economy is in no state to withstand a full trade war with Russia.

The delay also postpones the moment when Ukrainian businesses will be fully exposed to competition from European companies – which Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has called a “grace period”.

EU officials say they will use the 14 extra months to persuade their counterparts in Moscow that the Brussels-Kiev accord does not pose a threat to the Russian economy.

Moscow has sought assurances that the EU will not use Ukraine as a backdoor for dumping European products in the Russian market.

Russian officials also worry that any western orientation of Ukrainian industry would damage Russian supply chains and hinder trade with Russia.

EU trade officials say that they can address these concerns easily but express fears that Moscow is not really interested in the logic of the trade deal.

Instead, they say Russia’s opposition is political and that Moscow wants Ukraine to join its rival Eurasian trade union, which includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Source: FT

Ukraine Rebels Close In On Donetsk Airport

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine advanced Wednesday on the government-held airport in Donetsk, pressing to seize the key transportation hub even as the two sides bargained over a troop pullout under a much-violated truce.

Smoke rises over a residential neighborhood near the airport after shelling in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. Rebels in eastern Ukraine appear to be successfully closing in on the government-held airport of Donetsk, a strategic victory for the pro-Russian separatists that further undermines a shaky cease-fire in the region.

Fighting for the airport has raged for months as the insurgents have tried to dislodge the government forces using it to shell rebel positions in Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city.

At least nine people were killed in the crossfire Wednesday in residential areas near the airport.

Civilian and military casualties have continued to rise in eastern Ukraine despite a cease-fire Sept. 5 and a second agreement Sept. 20 that spelled out how to create a buffer zone.

While that helped to enforce the cease-fire in areas where Ukrainians troops and rebels chose to retreat, non-stop fighting has continued at the airport and other strategic locations.

While the Donetsk airport building has been gutted by shelling, its long runway would let the rebels handle heavy cargo planes carrying supplies, instead of relying solely on truck convoys from Russia.

While it was impossible to get close to the airport Wednesday because of the fighting, an AP reporter in Donetsk saw that artillery fire hitting the airport was coming from government-held positions outside the city — an indication that Kiev may no longer hold the airport.

But Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko, told journalists in Kiev the airport was still under the control of government troops who were "brilliantly carrying out their duty."

Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko, however, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the rebels now control 90 percent of the airport.

"In two — or maximum three — days, the Donetsk airport will come under our control," he said.

The increasingly violent battle has pounded Donetsk's northern neighborhoods in a conflict that has claimed at least 3,500 lives since April, a month after Russia annexed Crimea.

One shell exploded Wednesday in a school courtyard in northern Donetsk and an AP reporter saw bodies of three people killed by it.

Shortly afterward, another shell hit a nearby bus stop, killing three people seen by the AP.

A minibus that was also hit was still burning hours later.

The Donetsk city council said three people were killed at the school — a teacher and two parents — and 70 schoolchildren were there at the time.

It also said six people were killed and several wounded at the bus stop.

The school's shelling drew a strong condemnation from the United Nations.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said that "targeting of schools is unacceptable in any circumstances."

"All parties should redouble their efforts to find a diplomatic solution," he added.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged the West to look into the allegations of mass graves of civilians in eastern Ukraine.

"It's a terrible tragedy. It's an obvious war crime," he said at a briefing.

"We hope that Western capitals will not keep silent about these outrageous facts." 

Lavrov said more than 400 bodies have been found in mass graves near Donetsk, but Andrei Purgin, a rebel leader there, clarified Wednesday that the figure referred to the total number of unidentified bodies in Donetsk morgues.

Purgin said the bodies of nine civilians have been found in a mass grave near Donetsk.

Authorities in Kiev have rejected rebel allegations that those people were killed by government forces.

In Washington, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was aware the of reports.

"We've certainly seen the disturbing reports of this discovery of additional graves in the Donetsk region. We call for Russia-supported separatists to allow access to the site and we would support a full and thorough investigation," Psaki told reporters. 

Source: The Huffington Post

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Merkel Evokes Cold War In Warning Of Long Ukraine Crisis

BERLIN, Germany -- Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union and the U.S. may be facing a long confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, citing the 40 years it took East Germany to escape communist control.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel waits for Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb to arrive for talks at the chancellery in Berlin, on Sept. 29, 2014.

Merkel, who grew up in former East Germany, signaled determination to uphold EU sanctions on Russia in comments in Berlin yesterday that underscored the fraught relationship with President Vladimir Putin, whose actions in the Ukrainian crisis she says are rooted in a Cold War mentality.

“I don’t see any change at the moment regarding Russia’s position,” Merkel said.

“We needed 40 years to overcome East Germany. Sometimes in history one has to be prepared for the long haul, and not ask after four months if it still makes sense to keep up our demands.”

Merkel’s warning added to her comments to German industry leaders last week that an end to the ‘‘deep-rooted conflict’’ with Russia is far off as a cease-fire fails to halt fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

“Merkel lost faith in Putin a long time ago, but there’s now a realization in Germany and Europe that the Ukraine conflict is turning from hot-phase crisis management into a long game,” Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Endowment’s office in Brussels, said by phone today.

Ukraine’s conflict, which the United Nations says has left more than 3,500 people dead, is forcing Merkel to take a stand as the country’s government seeks closer EU ties and accuses Putin of fomenting the pro-Russian rebellion in the east.

Russia denies involvement in the conflict.

Permanent Confrontation 

Nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the worst casualties since a Sept. 5 truce, the government said yesterday.

President Petro Poroshenko said last week that the worst of the war is over as Ukraine focuses on elections next month, securing gas supplies and preparing a bid for EU membership.

“As long as the EU tries to prop up the Kiev government, there will be permanent confrontation with Moscow,” Techau said.

Merkel, 60, grew up as the daughter a Lutheran pastor in East Germany, the state founded in the Soviet-occupied part of Germany in 1949 after the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in World War II.

Communist rule collapsed after the Berlin Wall was breached following mass protests in 1989, and East Germany ceased to exist with reunification on Oct. 3, 1990.

Finland Concern 

“Nobody had anticipated that Putin would take such a momentous decision” to “take us back to a Europe before 1989,” Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the U.S., said at a Bloomberg Government lunch in Washington yesterday.

“A lot of trust was destroyed by Putin’s policy” in Ukraine, Wittig said.

“And I think it’s a challenge to regain that trust.”

Merkel made her comments at a news conference after talks with Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, whose government has put fighter jets on alert after Russian planes repeatedly violated the northernmost euro-area country’s airspace. 

Finland has the EU’s longest border with Russia and Stubb agreed that the Ukraine conflict isn’t going to be resolved any time soon.

“We are looking at a long-term situation,” he said.

Source: Bloomberg

Ukrainian Truce Frays As Rebels Step Up Airport Attacks

DONETSK, Ukraine -- The cease-fire in Ukraine that curtailed casualties for four weeks is starting to fray as the military said pro-Russian insurgents intensified their efforts to take control of the airport in Donetsk.

A Ukrainian soldier looks on at a camp base near Debaltseve, Ukraine, on Sept. 29, 2014.

Government forces still hold the airport of the biggest city in the combat zone after repelling a one-hour separatist assault this morning, the army said on Facebook.

Ten civilians were killed and nine wounded today in Donetsk, the local council said on its website.

A shell exploded meters from a school where 70 children were in attendance, it said. 

The violence contrasts with comments last week by President Petro Poroshenko that the worst of the war is over as Ukraine focuses on elections next month, securing gas supplies and preparing a bid for European Union membership.

Russia, which denies involvement in the war, said it wants to normalize ties with the EU and the U.S. after being hit by sanctions.

“Policing a cease-fire was alway going to be difficult given the presence of so much armor and of informal forces on both sides,” Tim Ash, a London-based economist at Standard Bank Group Ltd., said today by e-mail.

While rebels continue to shell Ukrainian troops, there were no military fatalities during the past 24 hours, Andriy Lysenko told reporters today in Kiev.

Ukraine is awaiting the delivery of drones that will help monitor the truce, he said. 

Russian Soldiers 

Russian forces and military equipment are still in Ukraine and the two nations’ border remains unsecured, according to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, who said today on Twitter that Russia and the separatists should abide by the truce.

Since the cease-fire was reached in the Belarusian capital Minsk, the two sides have agreed to establish a 30 kilometer (19 miles) buffer zone between government forces and the rebels and exchange prisoners.

The conflict has killed more than 3,500 people and driven at least 615,000 from their homes, the United Nations estimates.

Nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed two days ago, the most since a Sept. 5 truce.

The fighting has hurt Russian assets.

The ruble weakened to a record against the dollar, losing 0.1 percent in Moscow as the Itar-Tass news service reported that presidential adviser Sergei Glazyev backs the idea of capital controls.

Ukraine’s hryvnia, this year’s worst-performing currency, lost 0.1 percent, as Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said his government and state-run energy company NAK Naftogaz had begun the procedure to make a $1.6 billion Eurobond payment. 

Sanctions Stay 

While EU countries delayed the creation of a free-trade area with Ukraine until 2016 at Russia’s urging, they have held fast on refusing to ease sanctions.

The government in Moscow asked the central bank to consider providing foreign-currency swaps to banks, the government said on its website.

Sanctioned companies including state-run oil producer OAO Rosneft (ROSN) and gas producer OAO Novatek have asked for aid.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said his country won’t change its position over Ukraine to win a repeal of sanctions.

Ukraine accuses its neighbor of fomenting the unrest near the two nations’ border to prevent it from joining NATO and the EU following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Vladimir Putin.

Putin had cited the need to protect Russia speakers in Crimea as justification for Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

Today, Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin said the same reasoning would prompt his country to defend its citizens in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, the Interfax news service reported.

‘Long Haul’ 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the slight easing of the conflict in recent weeks wasn’t a reason to roll back sanctions.

“I don’t see any change at the moment regarding Russia’s position,” she told reporters in Berlin two days ago.

“Sometimes in history one has to be prepared for the long haul, and not ask after four months if it still makes sense to keep up our demands.”

Merkel, speaking yesterday in Gross-Gerau, Germany, said that while she wants to keep a channel open for talks with the Kremlin, it’s impossible to go back to business as usual with Russia given the situation in Ukraine.

Source: Bloomberg

What Toppled Lenin Statues Tell Us About Ukraine’s Crisis

KHARKIV, Ukraine -- In an incident reflecting growing Ukrainian anger toward the Kremlin, anti-Russian protesters pulled down a massive Vladimir Lenin statue in Ukraine's second-largest city late Sunday.

People react after a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin was toppled by protesters during a rally organized by pro-Ukraine supporters in the center of the eastern Ukrainian town of Kharkiv.

To many Ukrainians, Lenin is a symbol of the Soviet Union and Russia's aggressive support for the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Despite the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union which resulted in the split between Russia and Ukraine, hundreds of monuments to the founder of modern Russia survived the transition.

Over the last months, however, many have been toppled.

"To many Ukrainians, Lenin represents not only the communist regime, but also radical separation from Europe and Western civilization more broadly," Steven Fish, a Russian studies professor at University of California Berkeley, told the Los Angeles Times last December after a statue had been toppled in Kiev.

Other scholars view the toppling in a more modern light.

Sasha Senderovich, assistant professor of Russian Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder who wrote a New York Times op-ed on this issue last December, considers Sunday's event not to be connected to Lenin specifically.

"At this point, after Putin's assault on Ukraine's territorial integrity, the statue has become more symbolic of Russia's continued attempt to exercise imperial dominance over Ukraine rather than solely the historical legacy of the Soviet Union," he told The Post on Monday.

Kharkiv is considered one of the most vulnerable cities in the east if the pro-Russian rebellion were to spread.

Previous attempts to pull down the statue failed because pro-Russian activists intervened, according to The Post's Michael Birnbaum.

First, protesters cut the Lenin statue's legs.

Then, they pulled the statue down.

In fact, the recent toppling of the Lenin statue is just the latest in a series of attacks on hundreds of others that have been toppled in Ukraine over the last months as tensions with Russia have grown.

Here is an alternative chronology of Ukraine's crisis, told through toppled Lenin statues.

A measurement of anger 

Tearing down the iconic Lenin monuments rapidly gained momentum when it became clear that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had lost power over his country.

On Feb. 20, Kiev witnessed its worst day of violence in 70 years, with snipers targeting and killing protesters.

On Feb. 22, Yanukovych disappeared, protesters stormed presidential buildings and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was freed from jail.

Data gathered by Ukrainian activists and visualized by The Washington Post show that more than 90 Lenin statues were toppled that day alone.

The activists uploaded pictures, dates and locations of the toppled statues on a platform called Leninopad and the individual contributions could not be independently verified.

How the 'statue war' spread

Until Feb. 21 (the day before Yanukovych disappeared), the incidents appear to have largely been limited to the surrounding areas of Kiev where the pro-Western supporters had been in an overwhelming majority.

Then, however, the number of toppled Lenin statues quickly increased and spread throughout the country.

However, there appears to be a general lack of incidents both in the east (where the Ukrainian Russian speakers are predominantly located), as well as in the west.

The latter observation is surprising because the western areas are the ones which are least supportive of Russia.

One possible explanation could be that Lenin statues in the west had been removed much earlier:

Back in June 2009, pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko had called upon his supporters to erase communist symbols from the country.

Last August 2013, Russian news agency RIA Novosti specified that at least 12 Lenin statues had been pulled down or defaced since 2009, calling the incidents a "statue war."

According to The Atlantic, an advertisement video for the Euro 2012 soccer championships in Kharkiv erased a Lenin statue from a shot -- it appears to have been the very same statue which was pulled down Sunday evening and is unlikely to be the last such incident.

In a Facebook post, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Monday:

“Lenin? Let him fall down. As long as nobody suffers under his weight. As long as this bloody Communist idol does not take more victims with it when it goes."

Source: The Washington Post