Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Putin’s Deceptive Pause: What Are Russia’s Next Steps In Ukraine?

WASHINGTON, DC -- A deceptive late-summer pause has settled over the Ukraine crisis. At least, in the coverage of it.

For many weeks now, the war in the Donbass has slipped off the front page.

Although leaders such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko still search for an acceptable formula to end the war, it has continued in the southeast corner of Ukraine, with casualties mounting.

Who fired first is no longer a relevant question.

The point is that the war stumbles along with no end in sight.

The twin rebel “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk have slowly frozen into a Russian stronghold, effectively detached from the rest of Ukraine.

They are always available to be manipulated as a pro-Russian weapon in the East-West battle for Ukraine’s future.

Warming up? 

Ukraine is no longer the top priority for American diplomats.

They are understandably absorbed with selling the Iran nuclear deal to a reluctant Congress.

But, if Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is to be believed, there are a number of senior officials who have also been sending signals to Russia suggesting that President Obama wants to turn a page and improve his frosty relations with President Vladimir Putin.

“We are already getting such signals from the Americans,” Lavrov said, “though for now not very clear.”

Would Russia be open to better relations?

Russia, responded the foreign minister, would “consider constructively” any such possibility.

Putin seemed more positive.

As he told American former boxing champion Roy Jones, Jr. last week:

“We have had different kinds of relations at different times, but whenever America and Russia’s higher interest demands it, we always found the strength to build relations in the best possible way.”

One possible translation:

Putin now wants to emerge from the shadows of the Ukraine crisis and restore better relations with the West.

But, Obama and his top advisers, burned once by Putin when he shocked everyone and seized Crimea in late February 2014, do not want to be burned again.

They realize that Putin—once a KGB colonel, now a modern Peter the Great (with a smidgen of Stalin)—is still capable, if he chooses, of throwing Europe and the world into a Cold War-style confrontation.

If left unchecked, that could quickly dominate not only newspaper headlines but also global calculations about war and peace.

He has that kind of clout.

Managed instability 

Though Russia is not the Soviet Union, it still remains the boss of Eastern Europe.

When it sneezes, as we have learned, Ukraine can catch a bad cold.

These days, everything in and around Ukraine seems to be in what one journalist called “managed instability.”

Putin can bring the crisis closer to a possible solution or he can widen the war.

Or, more simply, he can “freeze” it.

The key question is: What does Putin have in mind?

What are his plans, assuming that he has plans, and is not winging the crisis day by day?

One line of reasoning, comforting to an extent, is that for the moment Putin has a plate full of challenges, more than enough to keep him busy.

This makes him less inclined to shoot from the hip and more interested in an accommodation with the West.

What else explains his and Lavrov’s overtures to the United States?

Putin knows (or should) that Russia’s economy is a mess, caused in part by Western economic sanctions against Russia and by falling oil prices.

Official statistics show a 4.9 percent decline in gross domestic product in the second quarter of 2015, compared to the same quarter a year ago.

Inflation may soar to 17 percent this year.

Incomes have had to be drastically reduced, setting off mini-strikes in different parts of the country. 

With respect to Ukraine, Putin’s position is hardly ideal, but it is still manageable.

He now owns Crimea and controls two rebellious provinces in the southeast Donbass region.

He knows Ukraine faces the possibility of economic collapse, even though it has made some progress.

The more it slips toward the abyss, the better his chances, he thinks, of keeping Ukraine out of the Western orbit, which has always been one of his principal goals.

Putin has the assets to throw Ukraine into further chaos at any time.

Another line of argument, much less comforting, is that Putin has merely been waiting for the right moment to widen the war in Ukraine and perhaps elsewhere.

Rebel fighters in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, supported by Russian forces, have recently been engaged in non-stop maneuvers, perhaps preparatory to a move on the strategic port of Mariupol, still in Ukrainian hands.

If Putin decided to strike, Western analysts believe that it would be a tough fight but that ultimately the pro-Russian forces would win.

The Poroshenko regime would then be pushed to the edge of collapse. 

How far would the West go? 

But far more threatening to the West—specifically to NATO—is that Putin might launch a sophisticated hybrid attack into the Baltics, starting with Estonia, where 24 percent of the population is Russian.

Because Estonia is a member of NATO, it can and would almost certainly invoke Article V, which says that an attack on one NATO member would be regarded as an attack on all.

President Obama promised last year during a visit to the Baltics that the United States would honor Article V.

In recent weeks, apparently concerned about expanding NATO maneuvers, Russian generals have gone out of their way to deny that they have any intention of invading the Baltics.

Would Putin really go that far?

Would the United States, tired from non-stop wars in the Middle East, really roll up its sleeves and fight for Estonia?

Neither is very likely.

So, what now?

Unfortunately, so much of the answer lies in Putin’s strategy, so murky and unpredictable to outsiders and maybe to him and his advisers as well.

Source: Brookings

Canadian Soldiers Land In Ukraine For Training Mission

TORONTO, Ontario -- Less than a year after Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Russian President Vladimir Putin to “get out of Ukraine,” Canadian soldiers have landed in the troubled country.

There are 150 of them to be precise — military personnel with expertise in explosives detonation and other battlefields skills.

When Harper was at the G20 Summit in Australia last November, he told Putin: “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.”

These troops are there to train and prepare the Ukrainian army for battle.

“We have a mandate there until March 2017,” said Maj. Isabel Bresse, adding 90 troops landed this week and 60 the week before.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney announced in April that Canadian troops would be dispatched to the global hot spot.

He stressed the soldiers would be stationed far from any fighting and be charged with the task of training Ukrainian forces.

The soldiers, from 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (2 CMBG) — based at CFB Petawawa — will be stationed in the months ahead at the Ukrainian Armed Forces International Security and Peacekeeping Centre in Yavoriv, minutes from the border that divides Ukraine and Poland.

The military personnel — the most recently arrived group landed Monday — are the first boots on the ground as part of Operation UNIFIER.

Their job is to help get the Ukrainian army up to top fighting form while the Eastern European country continues its military and political struggles with Putin’s Russia.

More than 6,900 people have died in the fighting.

It’s a conflict that has been heating up this week with people, including a police officer, killed in protests outside of Ukraine’s parliament.

Harper has talked tough since the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and the shooting down last July of a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine which killed 298 innocent people.

And now that talk has turned to action.

“We’re here to pass on our knowledge to our Ukrainian partners to ensure they have the skills to survive and thrive on the battlefield,” Lt.-Col. Jason Guiney — commander of Canada’s Joint Task Force Ukraine — said in a statement sent to me by the Canadian Armed Forces.

“Our soldiers are ready for this mission and we’re looking forward to being in the field and working on the fundamentals of soldiering.”

It’s a busy time for Canada’s military.

This mission comes after 10 years of fierce fighting in Afghanistan and policing missions in the skies over Lithuania.

Toronto Sun photographer Ernest Doroszuk and I travelled to both and got a sense of the appreciation and respect regular people on the ground had for Canada’s stand and contribution.

This is the second major military operation involving Canadians during the federal election.

Canada is also helping to battle ISIS in the skies over Iraq and Syria.

It’s mainly ground work in Ukraine.

“One of the specialized training activities will consist of an explosive ordinance disposal and an improvised explosive device disposal program at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence De-mining Centre in Kamyanets-Podilsky.

Canadian engineers will be partnering with Ukrainian soldiers to enhance their existing counter improvised explosive device operations,” said a Department of National Defence fact sheet.

At a time when a politician comparing unarmed Canadian vets providing security for Harper with Nazis grabbed headlines, it’s a good time to get behind our brave men and women in uniform.

In a democracy, the politics of where our troops go and why should always be debated.

But once that decision is made, their safety and sacrifice — and our backing of them — never should be.

Source: Toronto Sun

EU Set To Roll Over Sanctions On Russian And Ukraine-Rebel Individuals And Firms

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union is set to roll over until March 15 sanctions targeted against almost 200 Russian and Ukrainian-separatist individuals and firms to maintain pressure on Moscow to fully implement the Minsk ceasefire terms by the end of the year, diplomats said.

Opponents of changes to the Ukrainian Constitution clash with police in front of Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev on Monday.

The decision is expected to be made at a meeting of senior EU officials on Wednesday and should be signed off by ministers in mid-September, the diplomats said.

The asset freeze and travel bans were due to expire Sept. 15.

The sanctions currently target 151 people, including senior Russian advisors, lawmakers and rebel Ukrainian leaders and officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top ministers weren’t affected.

One person on the list has died, the diplomats said, reducing the number of individuals to 150.

The Russians targeted include Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Kozak, who the EU said was in charge of integrating Crimea into Russia after its March 2014 annexation and Dmitry Rogozin, who publicly called for the seizing of the territory, according to the EU.

It also includes Igor Sergun, head of Russia’s main intelligence directorate, and senior Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov.

Also on the list are 37 firms and other entities, including 13 which were confiscated by Moscow during Russia’s annexation of Crimea or which benefited from that move.

There had been some discussion of extending the targeted sanctions only until the end of January.

Earlier in the year, some EU officials said there could be pressure to reduce the size of the list since the situation in eastern Ukraine had calmed somewhat.

However, a clear majority of member states is now behind the six-month extension, the diplomats said.

The expected move is the latest sign that despite significant political differences within the bloc over the conflict in Ukraine, the EU’s 28 member states remain united around the need to keep economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin in a critical few months in Ukraine.

In June, the EU agreed to extend broader economic sanctions against Russia until January 2016.

The EU, the U.S. and other western countries imposed sanctions on Russia for supporting and supplying the separatists.

Russia denies any interference.

Russia and Ukraine must complete by Dec. 31 implementation of the Feb. 12 cease-fire accord deal, signed and named after in the Belarus capital.

For Ukraine, that means agreeing to broad constitutional reforms to increase autonomy of the eastern regions of the country where the separatists have enjoyed some support.

For Russia, that means withdrawing all forces from Ukraine and returning control to Kiev of the Ukrainian side of the border between the two countries.

Moscow denies it has any soldiers in Ukraine.

In a visit to Brussels last week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged the bloc to roll over the sanctions, accusing Russia and the separatists of repeatedly violating the cease-fire.

During the latest peak in violence last month, Moscow blamed Kiev, saying Ukrainian forces were preparing a fresh offensive against the rebels.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

1 Dead, 100 Injured In Ukraine Clashes

KIEV, Ukraine -- One Ukrainian national guard member was killed by a grenade and 100 people were injured Monday as nationalists protested a parliamentary vote to grant autonomy to areas held by Russian-backed separatists.

Activists of a few radical Ukrainian parties clash with police officers in front of the parliament in Kiev on Aug. 31, 2015.

The escalation in violence took place as the parliament in Kiev approved a draft constitutional amendment proposed by President Petro Poroshenko.

His decentralization plan would give more power to the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which are held by the separatists.

In a televised address, Poroshenko called the bill “a difficult but a logical step toward peace,” and he insisted it wouldn’t give any autonomy to the rebels, the Associated Press reported.

He described the clashes outside parliament as an attack on him and pledged to prosecute “all political leaders” behind the violence.

Photographs and video showed the grenade emitting a trail of smoke.

Ten injured police officers were in serious condition.

There were no reports of serious injuries among the protesters.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for life imprisonment for the person who threw the grenade and said the protesters were worse than the separatist rebels because they are destroying the country from within “under the guise of patriotism,” the AP said.

“The cynicism of this crime lies in the fact that while the Russian federation and its bandits are trying and failing to destroy the Ukrainian state on the eastern front, the so-called pro-Ukrainian political forces are trying to open another front in the country’s midst,” he said.

The nationalist Svoboda party that led Monday's unrest blamed the government, saying it “provoked Ukrainians to protest” by presenting a bill tantamount to “capitulation to the Kremlin.”

The legislation, if approved, would allow some communities in eastern Ukraine to take ownership of state assets and natural resources.

The amendment would permit Ukraine's president to overrule local authorities to protect national sovereignty.

Critics of the plan, including the far-right Svoboda and Right Sector parties, say the bill would give too much power to the separatists waging war against Ukrainian security forces.

“This is not a road to peace and not a road to decentralization,” said former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of another party that opposes the measure.

“This is the diametrically opposite process, which will lead to the loss of new territories.”

Supporters argue that Donetsk and Luhansk will benefit from the decentralization of power, which was a condition of the Minsk agreement in February that formally ended major combat between Ukraine's military and the separatists.

Despite evidence of Russian weapons and military troops fighting alongside the self-described rebels, Russia has consistently denied any involvement.

More than 6,900 people have died in Ukraine conflict that began last year and is still active in places despite the cease-fire signed in February.

A final vote on the amendment is likely during the parliament's fall session, which starts Tuesday.

The Svoboda party holds only a handful of seats in the parliament.

Source: AFP

On The Frontlines In Ukraine, A Technological Gap

KIEV, Ukraine -- In June, Ukrainian army Lt. Sasha Bak finally got his hands on a drone. He had been fighting in eastern Ukraine since March, and it was the first time he was able to get real-time imagery of the Russian-backed separatists and their trenches a little more than a half-mile away.

Lt. Sasha Bak tours the trenches at one of his platoon’s positions in Pisky, Ukraine, on Aug 9.

The aircraft?

A small quadcopter more common in toy stores than combat zones, with a GoPro camera strapped to its underside.

The drone flew one mission before its owner, a foreign volunteer, left with it.

Bak’s shortage of drones is just one piece of the many technological shortcomings he faces.

His unit — the 7th Company of the 93rd Brigade — talks primarily on unsecure radios or field telephones left over from the Cold War that are frequently disabled when artillery rounds sever the wires that connect them.

With no secure way to transmit data to other units, important messages such as company rosters and battlefield reports are delivered by hand. 

The Russian-backed separatists in the trenches opposite Bak’s are much better equipped.

Not only do they have numerous drones of their own, but the separatists — with significant assistance from Russia — have more-sophisticated communications and an ability to jam Ukrainian radios.

They have also knocked out Ukrainian radio and television towers and have repurposed them to broadcast their own programming — a key element in a parallel propaganda war.

This disparity in communications and surveillance technology has added to an already daunting task for beleaguered Ukrainian units trying to hold their lines.

The imbalance persists despite pledges from the international community, including $220 million in aid from the United States, to train and equip Ukrainian forces.

“The Ukrainians have very bad communications and very bad command and control,” said John Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

“Russia has great advantages in drones and electronic warfare . . . and Ukraine has a limited capacity.”

The separatists fly drones constantly.

Bak said he has seen ones the size of U.S. Predators while others, he maintains, are flown overhead simply to draw Ukrainian fire and reveal their positions.

Eduard Basurin, a deputy defense minister and military spokesman for the separatists in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said he would not comment on the use of drones by his forces.

He did say, however, that the rebels are able to jam Ukrainian drones.

“We have a possibility to stop them from flying,” he said.

“What will you do when the enemy breaks into your house?”

Laura Seal, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the United States is in the process of supplying 3,000 radios with various levels of encryption to Ukrainian forces as part of the nonlethal military assistance the Pentagon started sending last year.

The United States has also sent counter- artillery radar that has helped Ukrainian troops respond more accurately to separatist shelling.

“This assistance is tailored to fill Ukraine’s capability gaps, as identified by Ukraine,” Seal said.

Bak’s 7th Company has yet to see an American radio, but the threat posed by an enemy that can disrupt and monitor communications hasn’t been lost on the men holding the line.

The troops have said that if a major offensive happened, the Russians would first destroy their ability to communicate.

The separatists’ tactics have piqued the interest of defense officials in Washington who hope they can glean intelligence about Russia’s capabilities.

“We’re learning a lot from them,” said a senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“What we’re learning from Russia’s electronic warfare sets up our approach to their techniques and doctrines.”

Yet, Russia’s warfare extends off the battlefield as well.

In an effort to control the flow of information around the front lines, Ukrainian television channels — except music and sports programming — have been blocked and replaced with Russian and separatist counterparts.

Almost immediately after hostilities began, the separatists took over a number of radio and television towers in parts of eastern Ukraine, according to Tetiana Popova, Ukraine’s deputy minister of information.

“The towers in this region have either been destroyed or captured” by the separatists, Popova said in an interview in Kiev, pointing to a cluster of concentric red circles on a map of eastern Ukraine.

“Of the ones they have captured, we currently don’t have towers tall enough or powerful enough to counter them.”

Popova is attempting to procure new towers to help push Ukrainian channels back into the east.

For now, however, the lack of Ukrainian coverage means that both civilians and troops on or near the front get their news from separatist-controlled territory.

Although the programming is mostly Western movies and Russian sitcoms, there is a diet of news and battle reports.

They are greeted with jeers and laughter from the Ukrainian troops.

“It’s propaganda,” Bak said.

“But we watch it anyway.”

Yet for Ukrainian officials, Russia’s ownership of the airwaves is no laughing matter.

“This information front is no less important than the military front,” Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, said in an interview.

“This aggression not only threatens an offensive against our troops but destroys Ukraine from the inside.”

Source: The Washington Post

The Guardian View On The Latest Ukraine Ceasefire Call: Why This Could Be The One That Works

KIEV, Ukraine -- The prospects are not good that the new international call for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine will be heeded any more rigorously than its predecessors were.

It is too soon to be confident but this time the economic and political pressures may be mounting on Putin to make agreements that will stick.

Yet in the continuing 16-month war on Europe’s fringes, some of the dynamics may perhaps be shifting in some important ways.

On Saturday the leaders of Germany, France and Russia held a three-way phone conversation in which they backed a joint announcement made by Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists last week, that a ceasefire would be reinstated on 1 September.

The weekend initiative is the latest attempt to put some life back into February’s Minsk agreement, which has all but fallen apart as the fighting has continued.

The agreement remains a fragile plant; both sides came out on Saturday with separate statements with very different emphases.

Putin laid all the blame on the Ukrainian government, while Kiev has been warning that Russia is readying for new offensives.

The Minsk agreement will also come under further international scrutiny as the end of the year nears.

This marks the deadline for the internationally recognised border to come back under Ukrainian government control.

At the moment, however, the Russians maintain an exclusive grip.

So other European states will have to decide soon whether to prolong sanctions against Russia, which arms the rebels and continues to give them backing through covert paramilitary involvement.

The Minsk agreement may have been largely ignored by both sides, and may now have very little chance of being fully implemented.

The 1 September ceasefire may go the way of the others that have failed to hold.

Yet a lot is at stake.

Some argue that the agreement has nevertheless reduced the number of deaths in eastern Ukraine, though there are victims almost every day and one report, not independently verified, suggests Russian deaths may have reached 2,000.

Putin’s recent language may nevertheless indicate that he is looking for a way out of what may have turned into something of a military and political quagmire.

Russia’s economy is suffering from low oil prices, and sanctions are hurting.

After annexing Crimea last year, Putin raised the stakes by launching a conflict in the Donbass and firing up Russian nationalist sentiment.

Yet the separatist forces are a disorderly group that have shown themselves incapable of carving out a territory that could be held sustainably.

This could explain why there is less talk these days in Moscow of creating a revived “New Russia” territory from the Donbass to the Black Sea.

Western assistance to Ukraine remains substantial.

A debt reduction programme has also been put in place.

That is not to say that Russia has given up on destabilising its neighbour, nor on trying to redraw Europe’s security architecture to its advantage.

Both must be consistently resisted, while Ukraine must be encouraged to carry out reforms at the same time.

The larger European interest remains that of getting Putin to withdraw Russian forces from eastern Ukraine and ultimately of reasserting that international boundaries are inviolable.

For this to be achieved, it won’t be enough to keep setting new ceasefire dates.

It will be essential to demonstrate both a readiness to talk to Putin and a determination to prolong, and possibly even to increase, sanctions until the pull-out of forces takes place.

Source: The Guardian

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ukraine's Forces Held Up By Red Tape

KIEV, Ukraine -- “Of course we want to listen to the radio and hear the news from Kiev,” said Bardan, a Ukrainian infantryman based in a devastated neighbourhood on the northern fringes of Donetsk. “Out here, though, we just tend to pick up stations from Russia and Novorossiya Rock FM.”

Ukrainian fighters are stuck in a bureaucratic bottleneck as commanders delay permission for soldiers to defend themselves against rebels.

He stood smoking in a gutted building in Pesky, one of the war’s deadliest stretches of the frontline in the conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels.

The scant choice of Ukrainian radio programmes may seem trivial.

But it highlights the gulf between frontline fighters and their superiors, and signals a wider breakdown in communication occurring on the restive nation’s far eastern limits.

Red tape is stifling Ukraine’s war effort, they say, as military commanders allegedly delay and even ban soldiers from responding to artillery attacks from pro-Russian rebels.

When bombarded from enemy positions, government units regularly have to seek permission for a counterstrike from superiors removed from the action.

But they complain of an inefficient chain of command and say the fight is lost in a bureaucratic bottleneck.

Heavy weapons are ready to use, but often high command must first give the green light.

“That comes too late,” one officer told The Independent on Sunday.

“Sometimes we wait an hour, even more. It’s not effective. It’s no way to win a war.”

Bardan, 26, added: “A few days ago, we were under fire from Grad missiles and 152mm shells. The enemy shoots at us but we don’t have permission to answer with our artillery. It’s a big problem. They kill our soldiers but we can only stand and watch. We’re sitting ducks.”

Ukraine is keen to publicise its compliance with February’s crumbling ceasefire deal agreed in Minsk.

The government wants its armed forces to be viewed as a responsible force that resorts to heavy weapons only in defence.

Do the soldiers accept that the peace accords are, in part, reason for the limits on the force and frequency of counterstrikes?

“Not at all,” said Bardan, echoing the response heard across the frontline among government and rebel fighters.

“Minsk is dead.”

Heavy exchanges of artillery this month around the rebel-held city of Horlovka and the small, government-held town of Starohnativka, killing civilians and soldiers alike, would support such a statement.

Oleksiy Melnyk, a foreign relations and international security expert in Kiev, points to deeper systemic issues.

“Decisions are made two to three levels higher than in the British military,” he said, with commanders sometimes even seeking permission from civilian leaders in Kiev.

Some senior Ukrainian commanders have also faced criticism for strategic failures and mass casualties, Mr Melnyk said, and try to shift responsibility to avoid possible flak.

Yesterday, France’s President Fran├žois Hollande spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin and said that all three backed a complete halt to ceasefire violations from this Tuesday, a plan that had been mooted, according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which monitors the conflict.

OSCE observers have noted an increase in ceasefire violations involving artillery.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Viktor Muzhenko, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, confirmed that troops “all along the frontline” have to seek permission from senior military commanders before responding with artillery.

But he insisted that this was because of the ceasefire deal signed in Minsk and said the procedure was “optimised as much as possible”.

“We do not keep firing back because the Ukrainian side will fulfil its promises, including those made in the Minsk agreements,” he said.

“We also want to show the civilised world that we are ready to resolve the conflict on a political level. 

“Our position allows us to disprove the cynical propaganda from Russia,” he added, with Russia having been repeatedly accused by Western nations and Ukraine of backing the rebels and having forces directly involved in the conflict.

Russia has denied this despite mounting evidence of troop numbers.

“They try to portray us as the instigators of the war and to absolve themselves of responsibility for the deaths of thousands of people,” Mr Muzhenko said.

Mr Muzhenko denied that permission necessarily had to be granted from Kiev, and said local commanders had the authority to sanction artillery attacks after notifying officials from the OSCE. 

Pesky’s destruction bears all the hallmarks of repeated blitzes from missiles, mortar rounds and artillery shells.

In the town, Vasily, a sniper, surveys no-man’s land from his barricaded lookout.

Next year marks a quarter of a century of independence from the USSR.

Where did Vasily expect his country to be then?

He looked dead ahead.

“We’ll be in exactly the same place.”

Source: The Independent UK

How The U.S. Can Help Solve The Ukraine Crisis: Treat Ukraine Like Georgia

WASHINGTON, DC -- In August 2008, when Russia’s military appeared to be preparing to move through the Roki Tunnel from Russia into Georgia’s South Ossetia, Bush administration officials told Georgia’s then president, Mikheil Saakashvili, “don’t get drawn into a trap” and “don’t confront the Russian military.”

The George W. Bush administration's approach to Georgia in 2008 could work well for the Obama administration in 2015.

They quite correctly feared that what one official termed “a ‘Guns of August’ scenario’” could lead to full-scale war and Georgia’s defeat.

Yet today, some seem to think that the United States should take the opposite approach in Ukraine or even to imply that the Obama administration should not have discouraged Kiev from resisting Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from a position of great weakness.

Few explain why Ukraine’s escalation—with or without lethal U.S. military assistance—would not spring the same trap that the Bush administration encouraged Georgia to avoid.

Even fewer describe what America would have to do to prevent Ukraine’s defeat in a wider war.

This does no favors for either the United States or Ukraine.

Perhaps most striking in Ukraine crisis is the extent to which Western leaders and politicians and pundits agree that “Putin must be stopped” while expecting someone else to do the work.

NATO’s new “front line” states in Central Europe appear eager for the United States to arm Ukraine, but reluctant to become too involved themselves (or, for that matter, to increase their defense budgets commensurately with the threat they describe).

Western European governments want the United States to take the lead, but don’t want to follow Washington into anything too costly, and the European Union is providing Ukraine with less than 1 percent of the assistance it has committed to Greece.

In fairness, Ukraine’s economy is somewhat more than half Greece’s, and Ukraine is not an EU member.

Still, Ukraine’s population is four times higher than Greece’s and many European officials describe its fate as almost existential for Europe.

No small fraction of America’s political leaders, including senior officials in the Obama administration, are ready to arm Ukraine, but few if any are willing to send U.S. troops into combat; in other words, they are fully prepared to fight Putin—to the last Ukrainian.

Or perhaps to the last dollar that the Congress would authorize for this purpose, a limit that they would likely see sooner, since recent legislative proposals call for about $60 million for offensive weapons out of $300 million in total assistance.

These political realities across NATO’s democracies raise two fundamental questions about policy toward Russia and Ukraine.

The first has to do with commitment and it has two components.

Do the “hawks” seeking to force the administration to spend $60 million—roughly equivalent to the proposed 2016 budget for Washington DC’s public libraries—and like-minded Europeans think that minimal commitments like this will do the job?

After spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fight nonstate adversaries in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military capabilities considerably inferior to Russia’s, U.S. and European assistance to Ukraine is either a fig leaf or a very small down payment.

In the former case, if $60 million is all that America as a nation is willing to spend to defend Ukraine, we would be better off admitting this to ourselves sooner rather than later.

A half-hearted policy (or, for that matter, a 5 percent–hearted policy) to confront Moscow will likely produce outcomes demonstrably worse than a settlement—better to get the most advantages possible negotiated terms than to set up ourselves and the NATO alliance for a high-profile defeat.

Conversely, if the advocates of this course see small arms deliveries as the first step in a substantially broader effort, they should be honest with the American people about their proposed objectives and the costs and benefits they foresee.

If the United States is to make confronting Russia an organizing principle of its foreign policy, it will require an extended national commitment that will be unsustainable without broad public support (and difficult to pursue without virtually nonexistent European public support).

Indeed, if advocates of this approach believe that a nuclear superpower—notwithstanding its other weaknesses—has already made an analogous national commitment to confront the United States, as many of them argue, it is difficult to understand why they have not done this already.

If Moscow has indeed made such a choice, which does not seem very likely, it would be a much graver threat than Iran or the Islamic State.

The second fundamental question about our policy toward Russia and Ukraine is a moral one.

If the United States is not willing to make a commitment to defending Ukraine sufficient to ensure success, how can we encourage Ukrainians to fight and die in a conflict with a very powerful neighbor and with no clear endpoint?

Allowing the government in Kiev and the Ukrainians resisting Moscow to think that America is behind them when we are not—or when we are pretending to ourselves that we are—is functionally equivalent to encouraging the 1956 uprising in Hungary, or the 1991-92 Shi’ite uprisings against Saddam Hussein, and then watching the devastating consequences for the courageous people who believe us.

Making a moral case to assist Ukraine without answering tough moral questions about outcomes means pursuing “the histrionics of moralism at the expense of its substance,” as George Kennan put it. 

The George W. Bush administration, which was not shy in making moral arguments about U.S. foreign policy, appeared to follow this logic in Georgia in 2008.

Why shouldn’t the Obama administration do the same in Ukraine?

Most important, being honest with ourselves, with our allies and with Ukrainians does not mean acquiescing to Russia’s conduct or giving up.

On the contrary, it is the first step in building a policy that can work in protecting U.S. national interests and strengthening European security.

Reckless rhetoric or—worse—reckless action helps no one but the Kremlin hawks looking for an excuse to escalate the fighting and a means to distract attention from their own failings.

Washington should discourage Kiev from providing either.

Source: The National Interest

UN Relief Wing Cites Major Access Challenges In Eastern Ukraine, Where Millions Need Supplies Ahead Of Winter

UNITED NATIONS, USA -- Sounding the alarm on behalf of relief agencies working to meet ongoing needs and jump-start critical preparations for winter in strife-riven eastern Ukraine, the United Nations humanitarian wing has reported that aid organizations are facing major challenges in getting access to the most vulnerable of an estimated 5 million people affected by the conflict that began in the region in April 2014.

A girl waits with her mother to get hygienic supplies after leaving their home near Donetsk airport, Ukraine, to escape shelling.

According to the latest monthly update from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) access challenges vary from security concerns, bureaucratic impediments, and logistical and legal constraints.

An estimated 2 million people living in areas along the contact line between Government forces and armed groups are the most vulnerable and the highest priority group in terms of aid operations.

“Half of these people are estimated to be living in Government-controlled areas, while the remainder live in non-Government-controlled areas. Fire exchanges and shelling in many hot-spot locations along the contact line are constantly endangering the lives of many civilians and exacerbating their suffering.”

OCHA explains that their plight has been compounded by their inability to flee to safety, particularly across the contact line (from non-Government controlled- to Government-controlled areas) due to complicated procedures on population movements in the area.

This has been further aggravated by the lack of social services, disruption of trade, lack of access to pensions and other social-benefit payments, and lack of functioning banking systems in non-Government-controlled areas.

At the same time, people living in Government-controlled areas have been similarly affected and cannot access basic services.

Most of the 2 million people have received limited or no assistance from humanitarian agencies, as aid organizations have been unable to reach these people due to insecurity and bureaucratic hurdles. 

Humanitarian agencies are also concerned about the protracted displacement of 1.4 million people in [Government-controlled-areas].

About 60 per cent of the registered IDPs [internally displaced persons] are elderly people and about 13 per cent are children, says OCHA, explaining that meeting their needs requires interventions by humanitarian and recovery/development actors in the immediate and longer term.

“The humanitarian community has repeatedly advocated to all parties to the conflict to guarantee free and unimpeded humanitarian access, including limiting bureaucratic procedures to the strict minimum,” notes OCHA, adding that under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict are responsible for facilitating access for humanitarian organizations to affected people.

Intense discussions are under way at various levels to resolve the issue and find practical solutions, focusing on the humanitarian imperative of providing assistance to the people who need it most.

OCHA also notes that positive steps have been undertaken to engage with the Government of Ukraine on facilitating access to vulnerable people, and on bringing various laws and by-laws and the temporary order on population movements and movement of humanitarian cargo and personnel in line with the laws of Ukraine and international humanitarian principles.

Yet aid agencies remain concerned, noting the critical delay of winterization efforts caused by suspension of aid convoys.

They are extremely concerned, says OCHA, that the “window of opportunity to be well prepared for the winter already closing.”

If access continues to be restricted, aid agencies will be unable to transport, store and ensure sufficient supplies of critical non-food and shelter items to help thousands of affected people.

The agencies are also concerned that due to ongoing hostilities about 1.3 million people are at risk of losing access to safe drinking water.

Finally, OCHA underscored that the 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine remains underfunded, according to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS).

By the end of August, donors disbursed and pledged about $114 million, which is equivalent to 37 per cent of the $316 million required.

This includes $104.9 million (33 per cent) disbursed and another $9.2 million pledged (3 per cent).

The shortfall is about $200 million.

Source: UN News Centre