Saturday, September 20, 2014

Provide Ukraine With The Military Aid It Needs To Deter Russia’s Aggression

WASHINGTON, DC -- For the sake of the cameras, President Obama assured Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a White House meeting Thursday that “not only do we support Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence in words, but we’ve also been supporting it in deeds.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko secured $53 million in assistance from the United States but President Barack Obama for now turned down his appeals for weapons to fight Russian-backed separatists.

If only that were true.

The reality is that the beleaguered Ukrainian leader left Washington backed by considerable rhetoric from the Obama administration but little with which he can turn back the continuing Russian aggression against his country.

In an emotional address to Congress, Mr. Poro­shenko described Ukraine as fighting for Western democratic values as well as its own survival, and he all but begged for U.S. military aid beyond the token “non-lethal” supplies the Obama administration has provided.

“One cannot win the war with blankets,” he said.

“Even more, we cannot keep the peace with a blanket.”

Mr. Obama’s answer was to offer another batch of blankets: non-lethal equipment amounting to $46 million, a rounding error in the Pentagon’s budget.

Instead of the antitank weapons and drones the Ukrainian army desperately needs, it was promised more body armor, engineering equipment and patrol boats.

That will be worthless against the thousands of regular Russian troops, backed by tanks, artillery and sophisticated antiaircraft systems, that moved into eastern Ukraine last month.

Administration officials say Mr. Obama holds back weapons for Ukraine because of his oft-stated belief that there is “no military solution” to the conflict with Russia and because he wishes to avoid an escalation.

But weak U.S. and European support has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to impose his own military solution as he has repeatedly escalated his aggression.

Thanks to advances by Russian troops, Mr. Poroshenko was forced to accept a cease-fire that locked in Russian control over a large slice of eastern Ukraine.

In the last week, Ukraine’s parliament has approved far-reaching concessions to appease Putin, including a formal grant of autonomy to the Russian-controlled regions and a one-year delay in the implementation of a free-trade agreement with the European Union.

In return, Ukraine is hoping to claw back a few attributes of sovereignty: the withdrawal of Russian troops from its territory, the sealing of the border and the release of Ukrainians taken prisoner by the Russians or their proxies.

It’s unlikely that Putin will meet those terms.

While some Russian troops have pulled back, Ukrainian and NATO officials say 1,000 or more remain.

Russian forces still control a significant stretch of the border, and both Moscow and its Ukrainian proxies have rejected Mr. Poroshenko’s concessions as inadequate.

Mr. Poroshenko appears resigned to a “frozen conflict” in eastern Ukraine.

His hope is to prevent renewed Russian aggression; that’s why he wants U.S. aid.

“The weapons will help us to prevent the next war,” he said in an appearance at the Atlantic Council.

Though Ukraine’s army cannot defeat Russia’s, the prospect of significant losses might deter Putin from another offensive.

That’s why legislation approved Thursday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee makes sense.

It would strengthen sanctions against Russia and provide Ukraine with $350 million in military aid in 2015, including the weapons it needs to counter Russian armor.

Mr. Poroshenko called the package “urgently needed” and “the most effective way to suppport Ukraine.”

Congress should swiftly approve it.

Source: The Washington Post

Poland, Ukraine And Lithuania Form Joint Military Unit

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania have agreed to set up joint military unit of several thousand soldiers.

Defence ministers from Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania formed the long-awaited military pact in Warsaw.

Defence ministers from the three countries signed the deal on Friday.

Poland's defence ministry said the brigade would be based in the eastern Polish city of Lublin but the soldiers would remain in their home countries.

Poland and Lithuania are eager to bolster defences following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula earlier this year.

Russia sent thousands of troops to the peninsula in March, eventually forcing Ukrainian soldiers to withdraw.

Shortly afterwards, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared their independence.

More than 3,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and separatists since April.

Peacekeeping role 

A spokesman for the Polish defence ministry said work to form the joint unit with Ukraine and Lithuania first began in 2007, adding that it would operate under the guidance of the UN, NATO and the EU.

The unit would participate in peacekeeping missions, the spokesman added, but no details were given on any potential role in Ukraine's conflict.

Earlier this week, soldiers from Poland and Lithuania joined about 1,300 soldiers from 15 countries - including the US and other NATO members - in military exercises in western Ukraine.

In response, Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said it must boost its forces in Crimea to counter the presence of Western troops in Ukraine.

Also on Friday, NATO defence chiefs agreed to set up regional centres in several Eastern European countries, during a meeting Lithuania's capital Vilnius.

Lithuania's chief of defence Jonas Vytautas Zukas said the "command-and-control" centres would be launched in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Romania and would each employ up to 120 military personnel.

Meanwhile, Sweden said on Friday that it had lodged a complaint with Russia's ambassador in Stockholm about two Russian fighter planes entering Swedish airspace.

Swedish officials said the jets had briefly violated Swedish airspace on Wednesday near the eastern island of Oland.

In another diplomatic row, Lithuania said it had summoned Russia's ambassador to Vilnius after a Lithuanian fishing vessel was detained by Russian authorities earlier this week.

Source: BBC News Europe

Annual Military Exercise Takes On New Meaning For Ukraine Troops

YAVORIV MILITARY RANGE, UKRAINE -- The Ukrainian troops put on camouflage paint and hide in tall grass by the side of the road.

U.S. soldiers show Ukrainian troops the proper procedures for clearing a room during Exercise Rapid Trident in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Sept. 16, 2014.

They have information that an enemy convoy will be passing by soon.

Minutes later four trucks speed down the road and screech to a halt as bombs go off and the Ukrainian troops open fire.

The enemy retreats and the Ukrainian soldiers congratulate each other on a successful mission.

But this is not the east, and this “enemy” is not a separatist force or Russian troops. 

This is western Ukraine, and the “enemy” is a platoon of American soldiers, pointing their weapons and shouting, “Pow, pow, pow,” and then smiling as one smart aleck among them adds, “You guys are all dead, now.”

These troops are among the forces of 15 nations participating in an exercise called “Rapid Trident.” 

It is an annual event, but this year the drills have special meaning.

“We are having hard times in the east now,” said Ukrainian Army Cadet Mikhail Marchenko, referring to the fighting against rebels who have declared independence in two eastern provinces, supported by Russian forces.

“During military actions there, separatists and rebel groups are attacking our forces in the same way as reflected in these actions,” Marchenko said.

“We are trying now to get this stuff better within the troops,” said Ukrainian Navy Lieutenant Yevgeny Zabrodskiy, a veteran of the Ukrainian military collapse in Crimea in February, when Russia seized the peninsula.

“We have young people here so the more experienced guys they can give them some information,” he said.

“They can train them. They can show them their mistakes so that they can work on that.”

But, he added that it is “one thing when we train them by ourselves, and another thing is to train them with the international community, who can help us, who can show us our minuses, advantages, disadvantages.”

"Rapid Trident", a reference to the Ukrainian national symbol, has brought together 1,300 troops from several NATO members, including Britain, Bulgaria, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania, as well as several other countries including Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova.

The 12-day exercise focuses on combat skills like patrolling, countering improvised explosive devices, convoy operations, urban warfare and emergency medical evacuation.

Ukraine is not a NATO member, but in a speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Thursday, President Petro Poroshenko asked for a special security status to facilitate military aid.

Ukraine is a NATO partner nation, and these exercises are taking place just 30 kilometers from the border of NATO member Poland, which announced on Thursday that it plans to create a joint military unit with Ukraine and NATO member Lithuania.

The move would provide Ukrainian military units with more regular contact with NATO forces, but is well short of the security guarantees membership would provide.

For now, Ukraine’s parliament has adopted a non-alignment policy, but officials say that could change if the security situation worsens further.

Russian criticism 

Russia has criticized this exercise, which was scheduled before the Russian-backed separatists started the hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

Russian troops are holding exercises at the same time in several areas not far from Ukraine, and the country has strengthened its military positions near the border and in occupied Crimea.

At Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council in Kiev, analyst Volodymyr Poliovyi said, “This year besides the military component of training our troops, [Rapid Trident] also has a symbolic aspect. It means support. We really appreciate this support that members of NATO are showing us.”

“These drills also demonstrate the readiness of Ukrainian forces to receive aid quickly, incorporate it, and incorporate various types of weaponry and styles of command that meet NATO standards," Poliovyi said.

“We might do some things slightly different,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Thomas Johnston after working with some Georgian troops here on how to clear a building of hostile forces.

“But if we were to go do an operation together or train together, I think that would be fairly easy because we’re familiar with working with each other now.”

Source: Voice of America

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ukraine Leader’s Plea Nets Less Than He Wanted

WASHINGTON, DC -- President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine on Thursday implored Congress to provide Ukraine’s soldiers with heavy military equipment as his country seeks to repel what he called a continuing invasion by Russian forces.

But after meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office later in the day, Mr. Poroshenko said he was satisfied with American support that falls short of his request.

Asked whether he had gotten what he wanted, Mr. Poroshenko appeared pragmatic. 

“I got everything possible,” he said.

Mr. Poroshenko, appearing for the first time before a joint session of Congress earlier in the day, pleaded for America’s help in countering what he called “one of the most cynical acts of treachery in the modern history.”

He described Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine as a stab in the back from a once-supportive neighbor.

“Over the last month, Ukrainians have shown that they have the courage to stand up,” Mr. Poroshenko said.

“We will never obey or bend to the aggressor. We are ready to fight.”

Speaking in English, he urged the United States to come to the aid of Ukrainian soldiers who are battling with Russian-backed forces in the eastern part of his country.

“They need more military equipment, both lethal and nonlethal,” he said.

“Please understand me correctly. Blankets, night-vision goggles are also important, but one cannot win the war with blankets.”

President Obama’s administration has not yet agreed to that request.

The United States has pledged to provide about $70 million in nonlethal assistance to Ukraine, much of which has not yet made its way to Ukraine, and Mr. Obama has led a coalition of European countries that have imposed economic sanctions on Russia in the hopes of bringing the conflict to an end.

On Wednesday, the White House pledged an additional $46 million in security assistance that it said would help support Ukraine’s military and its border guards.

The United States will also send an additional $7 million to international relief agencies to be spent on humanitarian needs in the eastern part of Ukraine, the Obama administration said.

In the White House meeting with Mr. Obama, Mr. Poroshenko thanked the United States for “defending democracy and freedom” and told Mr. Obama that “you are a friend.”

Mr. Obama offered words of encouragement but did not promise the lethal military aid that his counterpart wants.

“During this meeting, we reaffirmed this assistance to Ukraine, and we are providing additional assistance,” Mr. Obama said.

Speaking to reporters later, Mr. Poroshenko said he was not disappointed with the president’s decision.

“I am satisfied with the level of cooperation with the United States of America in the defense and security sector,” he said.

“I cannot say more, but I am satisfied.”

White House officials said the United States did not believe that providing heavy equipment and lethal weapons would help to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, stressed that the United States had provided a long list of equipment to the Ukrainians, including body armor, helmets, night-vision goggles, radar equipment and vehicles.

But he said Mr. Obama was not inclined to go further.

“It’s simply the judgment of the president that the best way for the situation in Ukraine to be resolved is through negotiations,” Mr. Earnest said.

In his remarks in Congress, Mr. Poroshenko offered thanks for that help, but he said it was not enough.

He said the Russian aggression in his country would threaten European nations and the rest of the world if it was not stopped.

“Hybrid proxy war, terrorism, national radical and extremist movements, the erosion of the national and international agreements, the blurring and even erasing of the national identities — all these threats now challenge Europe,” Mr. Poroshenko said.

“If they are not stopped now, they will cross European borders and spread, absolutely, throughout the world.”

In addition to requesting military support, Mr. Poroshenko called on Congress to establish a special economic fund to support investment in Ukranian companies as a way of helping to build up the country’s civil society and economy.

He acknowledged Ukraine’s history of corruption and bureaucracy — a legacy, he said, of the country’s ties to Russia — but he pledged that any assistance from the United States would not be wasted.

“I assure you that all aid received from the West will be utilized by noncorrupt institutions,” he said.

In concluding his remarks, Mr. Poroshenko used the phrase “live free or die,” a motto associated with the American Revolution.

He said that the phrase could also be applied to the Ukrainian soldiers who were fighting against Russia-backed foes on the battlefields in Eastern Europe.

“Live free must be the answer,” he declared.

“Live free must be the message Ukraine and America send to the world while standing together in this time of enormous challenge.”

Source: The New York Times

$30 Million Bounty Offered For MH17 Attackers As Ukraine Turmoil Continues

KIEV, Ukraine -- A German company is offering a $30 million bounty for the identities of the individuals responsible for downing Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine this summer.

A picture taken on July 19, 2014 shows the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 two days after it crashed in a sunflower field near the village of Rassipnoe, in rebel-held east.

Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are suspected of firing surface-to-air missiles at the civilian aircraft, which crashed July 17 while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

A preliminary report carried out by Dutch investigators said that the crash was the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that struck the Boeing plane from the outside.

Wifka, an independent German fraud investigation company, said that the money — provided by an anonymous client — will not be given away lightly.

The reward will only be delivered to someone able to give detailed information on who shot down MH17, who gave the order to shoot down the plane, and who is covering up their tracks, according to Wifka.

"After the terrible assassination or 'accident,' all political parties, at home and abroad, said they owed it to the victims, their families and the public to clarify the circumstances of the crash and present evidence for what happened," the company said in a statement.

"None of this has yet been done."

The list of requirements for the reward also includes information on whether the plane was shot by accident or out of political, economic, or military motivation.

The company is also seeking details of the circumstances that led to the incident, the weapon used, and what happened to the people involved.

"The money is securely deposited in Zurich, Switzerland," Wifka said.

"It will be paid there or in a different neutral place of the whistle-blower's choice." 

The company added that their client has also offered to give the tipster a new identity if necessary.

Concessions to Rebels 

Two months exactly from the day of the MH17 crash, Ukraine is still in turmoil.

Despite the announcement of a ceasefire 12 days ago, Ukrainian troops have been pushed back on multiple fronts in the last two weeks.

Amnesty offers from President Petro Poroshenko to those who had not committed serious crimes in the east have been largely rejected, and Ukraine's parliament approved laws Tuesday that give rebels de facto control of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a move that has infuriated many protesters and activists.

Vitaly Zhuravsky, an MP who belongs to a party described as pro-Russian, was thrown by angry crowds into a dumpster.

Ukrainian lawmakers did manage to ratify an agreement Tuesday that brings the country closer to joining the European Union.

The pact is the same one that former president Viktor Yanukovych backed out of signing last year, leading to the protests that sparked the revolution and ongoing conflict that has so far killed more than 3,000 and displaced 310,000.

"No nation has ever paid such a high price to become Europeans," Poroshenko said, referring to soldiers killed in the fighting and the early deaths of anti-government protesters.

The agreement would make Ukraine compliant with EU standards in the areas of human rights, security, and arms control.

It would also have removed trade barriers, but negotiations with Russia last week led to the postponement of the free-trade aspect of the agreement until 2016.

Poroshenko, a candy magnate-turned-politician who won 54 percent of the vote in the election following Yanukovych's removal, told an audience of political experts, journalists, and senior European officials gathered in Kiev on September 13 that there could be "no military solution to this conflict."

Despite the ceasefire, NATO officials said this week that about 1,000 Russian troops remain on Ukrainian soil.

Six people were killed by crossfire when rebels attacked Donetsk airport on Sunday.

Seeking More US Aid 

A diplomatic solution to the conflict will be undoubtedly be on Poroshenko's agenda as he arrives in Washington to address Congress and speak with President Barack Obama.

The country's parliamentary elections are due to be held October 26.

More economic and military aid from the US will also be a topic of discussion, although concerns about corruption, as well as fears about escalating the military conflict with Russia, mean that Poroshenko could leave Washington empty handed. 

Paving the way for more government accountability, Ukraine passed a law Tuesday that allows the removal of corrupt officials from their positions.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has said that Ukraine will screen roughly 1 million civil servants to root out lingering corruption from the previous regime.

The law targets individuals who worked under Yanukovych, as well as former senior members of the Communist Party and KGB.

The US and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have already pledged a total of $60 million in non-lethal aid, which includes food rations, body armor, and communications equipment, plus $17 billion in bailout money.

Ukraine's Central Bank says that the country's economy may shrink up to 10 percent this year.

Source: Vice News