Saturday, August 01, 2015

Marines Held Up In Vienna En Route To Ukraine

VIENNA, Austria -- Nine U.S. Marines en route to Ukraine for a training exercise were held up in Vienna for questioning last week because their weapons had not been properly declared, an Austrian newspaper reported.

U.S. soldiers with 3rd Platoon, 615th Military Police Company, 709th Military Police Battalion, pull security at the multinational Exercise Rapid Trident 2015 at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center near Yavoriv, Ukraine, July 21, 2015. Nine Marines on their way to participate in a companion exercise, Saber Guardian, were held up in Vienna a couple of days earlier because they did not have clearances for their weapons.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David Westover, a EUCOM spokesperson, said the Marines were traveling by commercial air from Alaska to Ukraine to participate in the Saber Guardian exercise.

“They were stopped while traveling on NATO travel orders through Vienna,” Westover said in a statement.

The Austrian newspaper Kurier reported on its website Wednesday that the Marines were carrying weapons without the necessary clearance.

“Because there were problems with their onward flight in Schwechat (Vienna airport), they had to rebook and therefore leave the transit area,” Col. Michael Bauer, a Defense Ministry spokesman told the Kurier.

The ensuing security search of their luggage revealed M16 assault rifles and pistols, Kurier reported, which had not been declared or registered.

The weapons were seized, and the Marines were taken for questioning, Kurier reported.

Authorities contacted the U.S. Embassy.

Westover said the troops were in possession of their “assigned military equipment.”

“By unintentional oversight, the necessary clearances required for transiting Austria were not properly processed prior to their departure,” Westover said.

Although a member of the European Union, neutral Austria does not belong to NATO.

The Austrian government can allow the transit of foreign troops in certain circumstances, such as peacekeeping operations or international exercises, Kurier quoted Bauer as saying.

“The Americans, however, had not filed a request,” he said.

An attempt by the U.S. Embassy to file the request after the fact was rejected for legal reasons, Kurier reported.

Westover said in a telephone call that the Americans had to return to their home base in Alaska.

They were allowed to take their weapons, a state prosecutor’s office told the paper.

“The Austrian authorities were very helpful in resolving this issue,” Westover said.

Source: Stars & Stripes

Ukraine Faces Mass Starvation And The Exodus Of Millions, Says Bishop

KHARKIV, Ukraine -- Bishop Sobilo says his country faces its worst crisis since the Second World War.

Residents near Kramatorsk, Ukraine, queue for water after a shelling destroyed their water supply.

The Russian-backed separatist rebellion has plunged Ukraine into its worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War and “millions of refugees” could soon head for Europe to escape starvation, according to a Ukrainian bishop.

“Huge numbers are now caught between hammer and anvil; the separatists aren’t looking after them, and the Ukrainian government won’t care for them because they haven’t declared which side they’re on,” said Auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia.

“Not since World War II have we seen such poverty and destitution,” he said.

People are continually arriving at our Catholic communities asking for food, medicines, money and shelter,” he said, noting they included young widows with small children, whose husbands have stayed in the war zone or been killed.

The bishop spoke as the Catholic Caritas organisation also warned of growing starvation and desperation in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine.

Bishop Sobilo told the Catholic News Service that a lack of water currently posed the biggest problem in eastern Ukraine, where food prices were three times higher than in the rest of the country.

He added that local children would be unable to start the new school year because most schools were closed and that the Ukrainian authorities had hushed up a spiraling rate of suicides.

“Whereas family members and friends were ready to help for a month or two, most have now exhausted their money and savings and had to ask the refugees to move on,” Bishop Sobilo said.

Many elderly educated people, who previously had jobs, have been unable to face begging on the streets and have thrown themselves from windows and bridges.

Such people often have no means of survival and no one to turn to, and have ended up starving. 

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied direct Russian involvement in Ukraine, Church leaders repeatedly have accused Moscow of military intervention in the war.

A United Nations report published in June said more than 6,600 people had died and 16,000 had been wounded.

In an interview with Germany’s Cologne-based Dom Radio, Andrij Waskowycz, president of Caritas Ukraine, said 700,000 Ukrainians had now left the country, while 1.4 million more were internally displaced by the fighting and lacked basic necessities.

He said a February ceasefire agreement had failed to prevent daily skirmishes and conflicts, adding that at least 100,000 people were now without water in the separatist-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Bishop Sobilo said Church leaders had been promised access to Catholics by separatist forces, but had been barred from visiting the “occupied territories” by the Ukrainian troops controlling the makeshift borders.

He added that Western aid often failed to reach those in need and was “not always the right kind of help”.

He said it was “more effective and less wasteful” for Church donors to send money.

“This is a war of oligarchs, and any future peace will depend on the conversion of those oligarchs in Russia and Ukraine who’ve kept the conflict going with their lies,” the bishop said.

The West should get ready to accept the millions of homeless, hungry refugees who will soon head across central and western Ukraine toward Europe,” he said.

Pope Francis has urged help for refugees from Africa, and we now have parts of Africa right here.

Unless solidarity is shown with them, countless innocent people will die simply because they happened to live in an unlucky place during a conflict ignited by those with a personal interest in war and suffering.

Source: Global Research

Hollywood Stars Jared Leto, George Clooney Put On Ukraine's "White List"

KIEV, Ukraine -- The list features international culture figures who supported Ukraine in its ongoing standoff with Russia.

Jared Leto in Kiev's Independence Square in 2014.

Ukraine has compiled a "white list" of Hollywood notables for their perceived support of the country as opposed to the "black list" of individuals siding with the Kremlin in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Tim Roth, George Clooney, Jared Leto, Milla Jovovich, Vera Farmiga and Arnold Schwarzenegger, alongside directors Wim Wenders and Pedro Almodovar have been put on the list of international culture figures entitled to special treatment thanks to their support for the country in its conflict with Russia.

The list has been complied by Ukraine's culture ministry and currently features three dozen people from the U.S., Russia and other countries.

 The culture ministry's press service, which announced the list, quoted culture minister Vyacheslav Kyrylenko as saying that individuals put on the list should be entitled "to maximum support in their activities on Ukraine's territory."

The aim of the list it to express gratitude to people standing by Ukraine at a difficult time for the country.

Specifics of that support are yet to be worked out, though.

All the individuals on the list have spoken out in support of Ukraine in its standoff with Russia, which began with Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and continued as armed clashes with pro-Russian separatists progressed in East Ukraine.

Leto voiced his support for Ukraine in its 2014 best supporting actor Oscar accepting speech.

He later visited Kiev and performed there with his band.

Schwarzenegger and Clooney released video messages supporting Ukrainians.

Wenders and Almodovar has been active in an international campaign for Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, who was arrested by Russian security forces last year on terrorist charges.

Earlier this month, Ukraine announced a black list of 117 Russian artists who are to be banned from entering Ukraine, which is reportedly to be increased to 600 people.

The black list features, among others, French actor Gerard Depardieu, who was banned from entering Ukraine earlier this week.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Friday, July 31, 2015

Ukraine Tells Depardieu To Get Lost

KIEV, Ukraine -- Earlier today, the Ukrainian authorities banned French film star Gérard Depardieu from entering the country for five years.

French film star Gérard Depardieu with Belarusian Dictator Alexander Lukashenko (R)

A government spokeswoman confirmed that he’s been placed on an official blacklist of public figures deemed hostile to Ukrainian sovereignty.

The decision didn’t come as a complete surprise.

Depardieu has been drawing attention with his pro-Russian antics for some time.

Last year, during an appearance at an event in Latvia, he declared, “I love Russia and Ukraine, which is part of Russia.”

And then, of course, there’s his much-publicized friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which probably didn’t help.

A few weeks ago, at the Cannes Film Festival, he assured reporters of his continuing fondness for Putin (“I like him a lot”) and cryptically downplayed the Russian annexation of Crimea (“if Crimea had been American it would have been a different matter”).

The ban is the latest twist in a bizarre saga that began two years ago, when Depardieu proclaimed his plan to establish tax residency in the Belgian border town of Néchin as a protest against a proposed French wealth tax on high earners.

Vladimir Putin, who had already hosted the French film star on his multiple visits to Moscow, seized upon the opening to offer Depardieu citizenship in Russia (which, it should be noted, boasts a flat tax rate of 13 percent).

Depardieu thereupon embarked on a madcap odyssey across the former Soviet Union.

In Moscow he rubbed elbows with Putin and assorted Kremlin court celebrities, and even starred in a Russian sitcom.

He attended a well-lubricated birthday party for brutal Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

He recorded a soppy duet with Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator (who has since, in effect, been declared persona non grata by her own father).

He also made a trip to Baku, where he hobnobbed with local leaders and appeared in a commercial for Azeri cuisine.

Earlier this month, in what may have been the oddest encounter yet, he turned up in Minsk, where he embarked on a grass-scything photo op (see above) with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

On Sunday, Depardieu gave an interview in which he generously gave his stamp of approval to Minsk’s role as the scene of negotiations to end the war in eastern Ukraine.

(This was also a rather odd move, considering that the widely criticized Minsk II agreement, signed by Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany, was concluded there five months ago.)

Just for good measure, Depardieu also seized the opportunity to hail a recent Belarusian law aimed at penalizing the unemployed.

He referred to Lukashenko’s reinstatement of the gruesome Soviet era “tax for a parasitic lifestyle” a “sign of democratic society.”

Paradoxical as this may now seem, given his current penchant for the company of dictators, Depardieu had once embraced democratic Ukraine:

He toured the Carpathians and took part in a failed scheme to open a restaurant in Kiev.

Long before Kadyrov proffered him the gift of a free apartment in Chechnya, Depardieu even spent a pair of vacations with ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko at his country house.

(A spokesman for Yushchenko declined to comment when contacted for this piece.)

The French star once floated a plan to make a movie, set in medieval times, celebrating a Ukrainian nationalist hero.

Now he’s talking instead of a joint Franco-Russian film project set in World War II, featuring French fighter pilots who fought with the Soviets against Nazi Germany.

Those days now seem long gone.

The Kiev government’s latest move appears to mark the final break in Depardieu’s long romance with Ukraine.

It’s sad to think that the French star once courted democratic Ukraine as fervently as he now woos autocrats.

But then, consistency was never his strong suit.

Source: FP

Ukraine Pilot Savchenko Appears In Russian Court

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian helicopter pilot, accused of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, has appeared in court in Russia.

Nadia Savchenko, seen here at an earlier court hearing in Moscow, could get 25 years in prison if convicted.

A pre-trial hearing for Nadia Savchenko, in custody for more than a year, was held in the town of Donetsk, close to the Ukrainian border.

It was adjourned after the defence asked for the trial to be moved.

Two Russian journalists were killed in a mortar attack last June, which prosecutors allege she helped target.

The case has soured already strained relations between Moscow and Kiev.

Russian investigators say Ms Savchenko, a helicopter navigator, was working as a spotter in eastern Ukraine, and provided the co-ordinates for the deadly mortar attack in June 2014.

Her lawyers have previously told the BBC that she has an alibi, and had already been captured by rebels at the time the attack happened.

However, they say a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion as the court follows political orders.

If convicted, the pilot could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison in Russia.

Embassy staff from the UK, US and several other countries were not allowed to attend the pre-trial hearing.

Ms Savchenko's defence team requested that the trial be moved to Moscow, away from Rostov region, which borders Ukraine and is close to the ongoing conflict.

Her lawyers say the trial was held in remote Donetsk to minimise critical media coverage, and to make the affair as logistically difficult for the defendant as possible.

The judge has accepted the defence's right to challenge the location of the trial, and referred it to Rostov's main regional court for consideration.

A decision is expected within 10 days.

The Ukrainian government says Ms Savchenko was abducted by pro-Russian separatists and handed over to the Russian authorities.

But Russia says she crossed the border illegally, posing as a refugee, before being detained.

Source: BBC News

U.S. Blacklists Some Due To Russia/Ukraine Conflict

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Obama administration moved Thursday to update and fine-tune sanctions on Russia, pro-Russian companies and people over the conflict in Ukraine.

John E. Smith, Deputy Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Treasury Department announced it had placed the names of 26 individuals and entities on blacklists that freeze any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions.

The blacklists also bar Americans from doing business with them.

Officials said the step is intended to maintain the effectiveness of existing sanctions, not to expand the penalties in response to any escalation in the Ukraine crisis.

"Today's action underscores our resolve to maintain pressure on Russia for violating international law and fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine," said John E. Smith, the director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

"Our message is clear: we will continue to act to ensure the effectiveness of our sanctions."

Thirteen of the 26 were targeted for helping others evade previous sanctions.

Five are former Ukrainian officials accused of corruption and undermining democracy, according to Treasury.

Five others operate ports in Crimea, the region that Russia annexed from Ukraine last year.

One of those is a Crimean ferry operator.

The other two are arms sector companies that operate in Russia.

In addition, several firms owned by previously sanctioned companies were named.

These subsidiaries were already covered by the existing sanctions but Treasury said they were now being specifically identified.

Source: AP

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ukraine Names Detained Russian Soldier, Charges Him With Terrorism

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's state security service on Wednesday named a Russian army major who was detained by Ukrainian servicemen at the weekend with a cargo of military equipment in eastern Ukraine and said he had been charged with terrorism.

State security chief Vasyl Hrytsak.

State security chief Vasyl Hrytsak told reporters that Vladimir Starkov, 37, from Russia's Kirov region, had admitted immediately he was a serving soldier in the Russian armed forces after he was stopped in a truck at a checkpoint 22 km (14 miles) outside the separatist-held city of Donetsk.

Ukraine is likely to use the case to bolster its charges that Russia is continuing its involvement in the 15-month-long conflict and undermining a peace agreement worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February.

While supporting the separatists' cause, the Kremlin denies it is supplying them with arms and equipment and that its forces are engaged in the conflict in Ukraine's east.

When Ukraine captured two Russian soldiers in May, Russia said the two men had quit their special forces unit to go to Ukraine of their own volition.

In a video released by the SBU state security agency, Starkov said that after arriving for service in Russia's Rostov region he was ordered to go to Ukraine as a military adviser to the rebels.

"They (the commanders) place you before an accomplished fact that you will serve in the DNR or the LNR (rebels' Donetsk or Luhansk people republics)," Starkov said.

SBU officials say Starkov and another man who said he was a separatist fighter lost their way and driven towards Ukrainian forces manning the checkpoint.

An SBU official told Reuters that Starkov had been accused of terrorism.

A fragile ceasefire, though punctuated by occasional clashes, largely seems to be holding while the sides withdraw heavy weapons from a buffer zone.

But each side accuses the other of failing to honor the Minsk agreements.

More than 6,600 people have been killed in the conflict.

Speaking in the western city of Lviv on Wednesday, President Petro Poroshenko repeated that all Russian forces had to be withdrawn from Ukraine.

"Russian forces must get out of Ukraine's territory.

State sovereignty must be renewed in the uncontrolled part of the Ukrainian-Russian border," he said. 

Source: Google News

Russia Vetoes U.N. Resolution On Tribunal For Malaysia Airlines Crash In Ukraine

UNITED NATIONS, USA -- Russia blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution on Wednesday that would create a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner last year in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin.

The measure was aimed at enforcing accountability for the downing of Flight 17, which killed all 298 people aboard.

Many of the passengers were Dutch, and the Netherlands has been investigating the disaster.

Russian officials had signaled their strong opposition to the resolution, which was introduced by Malaysia and drafted by a collection of countries, including the Netherlands, Ukraine and Australia. 

The vote in the 15-member Council was 11 to 1.

Three countries — China, Angola and Venezuela — abstained.

“We are deeply disappointed,” said the Malaysia transport minister, Liow Tong Lai, who attended the Council session and spoke in support of the resolution before the vote.

Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Council, along with Britain, China, France and the United States, has veto power over any resolution.

Explaining the veto, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, said his country wanted a “rapid determination of guilt” for whoever was found responsible.

But he also questioned the impartiality of the tribunal envisioned in the resolution.

“Can it resist propaganda?” he said.

Ukraine’s government accused Kremlin-backed separatists of using a Russian-made missile to shoot down the plane, which was en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam on July 17, 2014.

The jetliner plunged in pieces to a bucolic part of eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.

Russia, which has suggested that Ukrainian forces may have been responsible, said the resolution had been politicized and that an investigation into the cause of the crash had not been completed.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of Australia, who also attended the Council vote, called the veto “a mockery of Russia’s commitment to accountability.”

A few weeks ago, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia forcefully rejected the idea of a tribunal in a telephone call to Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, calling it an “untimely and counterproductive initiative.”

Source: The New York Times

Putin Tries To Unsettle Ukraine With Fake Demonstrations

KIEV, Ukraine -- Western leaders pressing Ukraine to give in to Russian demands and offer the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics autonomy would be well advised to take note of the other parts of Ukraine that, according to Russian media, are also demanding self-rule.

A Russian-language Pervy Baltiysky Kanal (PBK) technician supervises the broadcast of Russia's TV content in Riga January 26, 2015. Russian TV has been exaggerating small separatist protests recently, suggesting that Ukraine is disintegrating.

On July 17, approximately 20 people in Lviv staged a blitzkrieg demonstration with banners demanding greater autonomy for Halychyna in western Ukraine.

The action lasted no more than five minutes, but was presented on Russian pro-Kremlin channels as a 300-strong demonstration blocking one of the city's central streets.

Rossiya 24's report deemed it "Kiev's new problem."

The event bears a strong similarity to a similar stunt in Odessa on March 19, most chillingly because the fake demonstrations supposedly reflect an increase in separatist sentiments that were preceded by bomb blasts.

In Odessa, the first acts of terrorism date back to April 2014, while there have been three attacks in Lviv in the past three weeks.

Most recently, two police officers were injured in two explosions outside police stations on July 14.

Russian TV has presented the bombings as linked to the conflict between the Right Sector and police in Mukacheve.

Commentators suggest that if they are linked, the Lviv bombings are more likely to have been orchestrated by the Russian FSB than Right Sector.

It is not clear that they were a direct result of the Mukacheve events, however, since the first explosion on June 25 preceded the fighting in Mukacheve.

In Lviv, a group appeared at 5:30 p.m. on July 17 with banners, "dashed out onto Horodotska St. near the Circus, ran along the road, took several photos, and like rats, dispersed in different directions so that they wouldn't be caught," Ihor Zinkevych from the civic initiative Varta 1 (Civic Watch) wrote.

Varta 1 was alerted by residents and arrived within five minutes, but by that time the participants had already fled.

The demonstration was apparently organized by two local left-wing organizations, the communist publication Halytsky Yastrub (Halychan Hawk) and Zakhyst Suspilstva (Public Defense).

Little is known about Zakhyst Suspilstva, but had written about previous attempts by Halytsky Yastrub and the husband and wife team—Dmytro Lyashchenko and Olena Boiko—associated with it, to "organize provocation with communist symbols in the city."

On the day after Victory Day, Lyashchenko walked around Lviv with a communist flag and the St. George ribbon.

The ribbon was used during the 70th anniversary events marking the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany, but for most Ukrainians it is widely associated with Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbas.

Lyashchenko was assaulted, which was clearly the aim, so that the Russian media could draw attention to an attack on a Lviv journalist for supporting war veterans.

Russia's attempts to present Lviv as a hotbed of nationalism are nothing new, but the July 17 stunt was worryingly different.

The Russian media reports mixed up a couple of details, which suggests that the information was prepared in advance of the event and the event was merely staged for a photo-op.

Halytsky Yastrub and Zakhyst Suspilstva notified the authorities of their plan to hold a picket outside the Lviv Regional Administration on July 17 at 11 a.m.

Right Sector said that it would try to stop the picket and it was present, together with journalists and the police.

However, the picket did not take place because the authorities prohibited it.

It is, of course, possible that the original source was unaware or decided to ignore the fact that the scheduled picket did not materialize, and that the Russian media simply repeated its information, inaccuracies and all.

Possible, but unlikely. has a spotted reputation and is anything but a mainstream source, yet Russian channels like Rossiya 24 and Life News reported the same story within an hour or two.

The picket as planned never took place, but a five-minute sprint for the cameras was held much later, and not outside the Lviv Regional Administration.

The banners read: "Special status of Halychyna – real autonomy for the Lviv oblast"; "Enough of feeding the thieves in Kiev!", "More self-government for Halychyna."

The participants carried Ukrainian flags and blue and yellow banners.

This was highly unusual for Halytsky Yastrub, but perfect for Russian propaganda.

The flash-mob demonstration produced three photos intended to suggest a large-scale event.

Rossiya 24 showed all three, asserting that Right Sector tried to stop the protest that ended outside the Lviv Regional Administration.

From there, the channel moved to Mukacheve, with the key theme much the same: conflict, lack of unity and demands for greater self-determination.

Russian media did not show the widely posted photos, allegedly from the same event, where participants were being paid for their separatist zeal.

Even if there had been a 300-strong demonstration in support of autonomy in western Ukraine, it would not necessarily have been a problem.

This is something that Moscow does not understand.

Modest attempts to call for greater autonomy in Russia last year resulted in criminal prosecutions, activists being placed on Russia's terrorist and extremist list and widespread media bans.

But another fake protest against a background of real explosions is disturbing.

In addition to Lviv, there is clear evidence of Russian encouragement, if not creation, of separatist movements in Odessa and Transcarpathia.

In this light, western illusions regarding an end to Moscow's demands following Ukraine's acquiescence over greater autonomy for the Donbas seem dangerously misguided.

Source: Newsweek