Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Ukraine Is Being Told To Live With Putin

PARIS, France -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has long had trouble understanding that the Western support of his government is conditional.

Petro Poroshenko

Now the leaders of France and Germany have told him that in no uncertain terms:

The ceasefire agreement for eastern Ukraine has just been recast to put the onus on Poroshenko, rather than on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Going into Friday's negotiations with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin in Paris, Poroshenko was looking belligerent.

He had just delivered a hard-hitting speech at the United Nations, entirely devoted to Russia's depredations against his country.

His interior minister, Arsen Avakov, was boasting that the Ukrainian National Guard had "finally" received U.S. sniper rifles and anti-tank grenades.

Ukraine's Other War 

French diplomat Pierre Morel, who has been in close contact with Moscow and the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, prepared a plan for the Paris meeting of the four leaders to approve.

According to Morel's proposal, Ukraine would need to pass a special law setting out rules for the local elections in the rebel-held areas of Ukraine.

That was a cunning way to defuse a time bomb planted under the Minsk cease-fire deal reached last February.

Back then, Russia and its proxies agreed to an election under Ukrainian law by the end of the year, but they were clearly not prepared to hold it under the current legislation, which doesn't differentiate the rebel areas from all the others in Ukraine.

They were threatening to hold their own polls in mid-October, something that might cause the war to reignite.

Poroshenko, however, swept the French diplomat's suggestion aside as "Mr. Morel's personal opinion."

He was going into the meeting to demand Russia abide by the Minsk ceasefire, cancel what he called "fake elections" and return control of Ukraine's eastern border to Kiev by the end of the year.

He underestimated the determination of France and Germany to get the Ukrainian matter out of the way in the most efficient manner possible.

After five hours of talks in the Elysee Palace, the Morel plan was imposed on Ukraine in a form more beneficial to Putin.

First, Ukraine must design the special election law in consultation with Moscow and the separatists.

Then, it will have to pass it and amnesty the separatist leaders so they can run for local legislatures.

In 80 days' time, after the passage of the law, the election should be held.

Then, if international observers declare it acceptable, Ukraine is supposed to regain control of its border with Russia.

Hollande told reporters after the talks that wasn't likely to happen this year, because of the need to draft the legislation and properly prepare the election.

This is a slap in Poroshenko's face.

It's almost politically impossible for him to push a Moscow-approved election bill through Ukraine's parliament.

Poroshenko has had trouble getting the legislature even to approve a tame constitutional amendment allowing for a special status of the rebel-held regions; riots broke out outside the parliament building during the vote and police suffered casualties.

Trying to sell election rules favorable to Moscow might mean the breakup of Ukraine's ruling coalition and perhaps snap elections likely to produce a parliament less favorable to Poroshenko.

"Paris has once again confirmed that in defending Ukraine's national interests Ukrainians have no allies but themselves," commentator Pyotr Shuklinov wrote bitterly on Liga.net.

"Berlin and Paris decided to play the role of arbiters. Neither is willing to take decisive action to end the war in the center of Europe."

In addition to being granted an extension of the Minsk agreement, Putin will have the pleasure of watching Poroshenko squirm as he tries to water down the Morel plan -- or doesn't try hard enough to get the election bill approved.

Any failure in that effort would give Putin a more or less permanently frozen conflict with which to distract Ukraine's resources and destabilize Poroshenko's government.

And if the ball remains in Ukraine's court, economic sanctions against Russia may also be lifted -- Putin has made sure since last month that the war zone remains quiet.

At the same time, Poroshenko will be in trouble with Europe's leaders, who would become ever more suspicious of his intentions.

The way Merkel and Hollande see it, Poroshenko should be interested in working to reintegrate the rebel-held areas into Ukraine, which would mean contesting the election and, in case of an almost certain defeat, working with the winners.

That's the European way of doing things; trying to enlist outside support to defeat the separatists is not, especially when Europe has plenty of problems of its own.

Poroshenko can count on meaningful support only if he shows a commitment to do difficult things that would bring Ukraine closer to Western governance models:

Achieve tough political compromises and implement painful reforms.

So far, the Ukrainian president hasn't delivered on either front.

His country is still hopelessly corrupt and gripped with infighting among oligarch clans, despite the government having created no fewer than five new anti-corruption bodies.

In the absence of true deregulation and tax liberalization, economic growth remains elusive -- the International Monetary Fund has just lowered its growth forecast for Ukraine this year to a decline of 11 percent, from the 9 percent it predicted in June.

The war the Ukrainian government is losing now is against mismanagement, overregulation and graft. 

That's just what Putin wants.

His bet in the eastern Ukraine local election, if it ever takes place, won't be on the rebel field commanders but on local oligarchs who ran the region before the 2014 "revolution of dignity."

Through them, he will hope to exert both economic and political influence on Kiev.

He can afford to wait; time is running out for Poroshenko, not for him.

Source: Bloomberg

Putin Drops The Bombs And Deals The Cards In Syria And Ukraine

UNITED NATIONS, USA -- Moscow appears to have better positioned itself to exploit the tumult in Syria as well as Ukraine.

On the other hand, within the Euro-Atlantic alliance, the lack of vision and will has ushered in a policy of presumed containment in Syria and Ukraine, more or less by default.

The consequence, (or at least until Russia rushed in), has been more a vacuum that the most brutal and dangerous forces as ISIS and ever more emboldened Putin are exploiting to fill with their own agenda. 

Putin Invites Obama to Make Deals or Deal Poker? 

Putin's offer to sit across the table from Obama at the UN to many within the Euro-Atlantic alliance, including in Washington, initially might have seemed as a salvation as alternatives shrink.

After Russia's bombing though the options are even less palatable, and inaction as well as action carries even more dangerous consequences with diminishing returns for the victims of the prolonged conflict, the US and its allies.

In defining all opposition to Assad as "terrorists", the objective is to save the Regime.

As critically for Putin, the deployment of Russian forces in Syria also dynamically expands the sphere of influence along with the more permanent military presence.

By bombing "legitimate opposition" to the Assad Regime, he has offered a provocative slap to the "Coalition" fighting ISIS, particularly the US.

Washington needs an assertive response to the targeting and killing of its allies by Russia or face a seismic eclipse of US influence.

The actors on the ground are being forced to choose between the extremism of ISIS or authoritarian brutality of the Assad Regime.

Washington, NATO and regional allies have warned of the consequent strengthening of the appeal of ISIS and its extremist ideology, but this is Putin's deal of the cards: make all acquiescent if not complicit to his definitions of the conflict, unless we dare challenge him.

We need to ask whether Putin in fact, as Assad, wants to strengthen for the moment ISIS's appeal, (similarly to the strategy employed in the Caucuses previously to undermine any moderate opposition to Moscow then.)

Ukraine for Syria or a Play for All? 

Putin's hand had not been particularly strong but with bluff and sitting out the West he now projects strength.

By design, such also buttresses his nationalist policies and entrenches his hold on power at home.

The West seems tired of sanctions against Putin's policies in Ukraine, even more so than such have substantively drained Russia.

Some anticipate Putin dealing the sacrifice of Assad in exchange for absolution for past and future sins in Ukraine.

However, the game may be not an exchange but where the deal is part of the gamesmanship.

This not so much chess and movement of pawns and bishops as it is manipulation of the perception and nerve of those sitting across the table from you.

During the earlier stages of the UN Security Council, ("UNSC"), debates on Syria, when a credible resolution was within reach, I had the opportunity to observe behind-the scenes interaction between then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and still current Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, (and previously my counterpart as Russia's UN Ambassador to the UN in the 1990's.)

The more public debates around the UNSC's horseshoe table provided a hint of conflicting positions, but the behind- the-scenes jockeying was perhaps more telling.

As Secretary of State Clinton sought some form of consensus that would include Beijing and Moscow, Foreign Minster Lavrov appeared most interested in positioning his government as a counterweight to Washington.

As Clinton spoke to the UN press corps, Lavrov eagerly waited to counter.

Rather than promoting any longer-term strategic interest, Syria appeared to be a means to raise the profile of Putin's Moscow as an equal to the US in diplomatic jousting.

Putin in the past has not been a credible partner in deal making.

Rather, he sees the deal as the first part of a prolonged poker game, where by sheer longevity in a corrupted political system he views himself as seated indefinitely at the table.

Putin may have walked into the room with a relatively weak hand, but he sees time and style to be to his advantage, particularly if he can impose his narrative to define the cause of the conflict and thus the nature of the presumed peace.

Putin's Gambit or Calculated Gamble? 

Compromise should not be a bad word, even for the globe's greatest superpower.

However, before you sit down at the table, it is wise t o know what is the "game" and who are the players.

There is an old saying in poker: "when you sit down at the table, and you cannot recognize who is the designated sucker, then it is probably you."

Of course, Washington with its vast wealth of economic and military might and capacity to influence the media's narrative can afford to sit at the table for a long time without feeling the effect of losing in the game particularly if the chips constitute the future of other countries, whether Syria, Ukraine or Bosnia?

President Obama in his address to the UN (September 28, 2015) reminded of the UN as well as US values embodied in the UN Charter.

President Putin came to the UN with his own dictionary, narratives and has backed them up with bluster and now realities on the ground.

There is no indication of a will to compromise or deal but play his biggest hand so far to establish Putin's Moscow as not merely equal but the power broker more dynamic in taking and winning the gambit.

Putin sees the rule of law and diplomacy only relevant as table talk but not defining the outcome - risk is part of the play but it is a calculated gamble based on his ability to read the will and nerve of his adversary on basis of present tells and past misplays.

"Is Diplomacy in Syria Failing the Lessons of Bosnia?" 

Last month I had the opportunity to address a significant audience of students and faculty at Florida International University.

The refugee crisis overwhelming Europe has renewed interest in Syria.

On basis of the depth and breadth of interest of the participants at America's 8th largest university, Syria is more than a coincidental interest and not just focused on ISIS or refugees.

Among America's emerging youth, there is a greater sense of both the global citizen and the inter-connectivity of issues that reach beyond borders.

Digital-diplomacy is becoming the methodology, from activism to defining careers.

As most of the audience were not yet born or cognizant of events in the 1990's, Bosnia & Herzegovina ("BiH") was more a narrative than reality, similar to the Holocaust, the Cold War and the Soviet Union.

Thus, it was an opportunity to instill some currency to the events of two decades earlier and ask: "Is Diplomacy in Syria Failing the Lessons of Bosnia," and also remind how the rule of law perhaps may shape the future more than the divides which have ruled in the past.

We should be reminded that between bad and worse choices, doing nothing can be the worst, and options may only further deteriorate, as was the case in BiH and now in Syria and perhaps Ukraine:

--- Failing to find a quick solution to the crisis within Syria, the default option of containment was adopted. However, not only in terms of refugees but also brutality and ideological extremism, the conflict quickly spilled over the borders, to the region and then beyond now engulfing Europe and the Euro-Atlantic alliance.

--- Becoming a vacuum, Syria and increasingly neighbors as Iraq, became conducive to the most brutal and extreme. ISIS came about not so much as opposition to Assad as it has now become in effect a strategic rationale for his Regime's survival. Putin offers Assad as ally to the West in the fight against ISIS even though it is that Regime which in effect remains as the ultimate obstacle, as well as cause. 

--- There was a viable and more inclusive opposition to Assad at the outset of the dissent during the "Arab Spring" and early years of the armed uprising. However, gaining very limited practical support from the West and not enough to counter the Regime, the opposition has not only splintered but for mere survival many recruits were drawn to more extreme ideologues and brutal methodologies. During the BiH conflict, despite the aggression from outside and tides of ethnic cleansing/genocide, the BiH central government managed to maintain the framework and largely the substance of a historically pluralistic and tolerant BiH, (a history also defining Syria). This marginalized extremism, suffocated revanchist cycles and still provides the hope and opportunity for reintegration of country and society. Spiraling extremism was part of the scheme by Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's strongman, and his cohorts who engaged in brutal war crimes within BiH; however the international community was more involved even if marginally and such helped us maintain the lid even when at moments all appeared as savage as now in Syria.

--- The Assad Regime's brutality, from chemical weapons to rule of the skies and barrel bombs set into motion both the refugee exodus and a difficult choice for many Syrians who remain, when ISIS or Assad are the only two viable options. While the "safe areas" of Srebrenica and Zepa were betrayed, nonetheless combined with a NATO enforced no-fly-zone, not only were civilian lives saved but a greater vacuum was minimized thus countering ever more cycles of brutality and extremism.

--- Failure to refer the Assad Regime at the outset and increasingly others as ISIS to the International Criminal Court is proving the greatest failure for today and the future for peace. Not only has the rule of law been betrayed and the sense of impunity emboldened, but this has clouded the potential for peace talks. The culpable now hide under the guise of national, religious and/or ethnic champions and thus make large segments of the population feel complicit or acquiescent to their crimes.

--- The "problems from hell" are generally dropped on the doorstep of the UN, not because that is the last hope for salvation, but as such becomes the limbo and part of the narrative. By blaming the UN and in broad terms the "international community" as compared to focusing accountability on the UN's most powerful veto-wielding states, responsibility is deflected. Frequently ill-equipped and at times improperly motivated "mediators" are mandated; but in the end they fall victim to frustrations, personal ambitions or just adopt the rationalizations of those seeking to hide behind narratives of age- old ethnic and/or religious hatreds, something that ignored Syria's and BiH's history and undermined a return to normalcy and peace. Despots and war criminals are nurtured even legitimized by a rambling search for an end to a conflict. The appearance of impotence of big powers, their leaders and mediators seduces us to accept the narratives and thus resolution at any cost even if such bears the seeds for future conflict.

Accommodating Putin's Narrative? 

Peace accords built on pseudo-historical narratives of age-old ethnic hatreds or other presumed grievances assuming primacy also undermines efforts for a resolution in Ukraine as well as Syria.

The religious narrative has been more awkward to ratify in defining the Ukraine conflict as both sides are predominantly Orthodox Christian.

Nonetheless, it does not stop efforts at redefinition to rationalize expediency.

Of course, defining the "rebels" in Ukraine as "Russian speakers" also incorporates the Russia proper regulars and mercenaries crossing the border.

Paradoxically, "Russian speakers" also defines most of Ukraine's citizens loyal to the Kiev Government who speak it as their primary or secondary language.

Crimea is no more Russian than it is Tatar, Ottoman, Polish or ... Rather, Crimea has been a sovereign part of Ukraine, with a complex history of cultures intermingling and imperial ambitions clashing for centuries.

The sacrifice of Crimea needed a face saving rationale.

Putin now seeks for Ukraine and probably Syria, delineations as offered by the precedent of the Dayton Accords in BiH.

Whether ethnicity, religion or language is employed as pretext, it becomes Putin's weapon to expand his sphere of influence.

The future of all of Ukraine and Syria he holds hostage, as in Georgia or BiH or ....

Accountability for Inaction as well as Action: 

The UN Charter is founded upon several principles of an inter-twined globe, where isolationism is not only an illusion but a danger in the face of a "threat to international peace and security."

The US is frequently faulted for its interventions, implicit or direct, and the Middle East certainly is littered with false steps and/or poor policies.

Beyond the US responsibilities arising from the UN Security Council, America has a role built on past mistakes, current interests or historical ties.

Regardless, when you are perceived as the "king of the hill," the challenges will come from local despots and those seeking global imperial prerogatives, whether a resurgent Moscow or an ambitious Beijing.

What differentiates is whether the rule of law and accountability are part of the assessment of the legitimacy of an intervention, particularly if not mandated by the UN Security Council.

The UN Charter provides foundation for intervention(s) from the longstanding principle of self-defense to the more recently branded "Responsibility to Protect" or "R2P," a new international security and human rights norm evolving from failures of the international community, (the UNSC, particularly in BiH), to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Some legal principles of international law could in fact come into contradiction, and in Syria one can debate that the Regime representing a sovereign state is entitled to ask and receive from Moscow military assistance.

However, can such estoppel international humanitarian law, grave violations and R2P?

During a more extended discussion with FIU faculty and graduate students on the adoption of the Rome Statute and evolution of the ICC, Professor Mohiaddin Mesbahi of the University's Steven F. Green School of International and Public Affairs asked where has been the accountability, assessment of consequences as well as consideration of the welfare and interests of those populations most directly affected?

Undoubtedly, the interjections may in hindsight appear reckless at best.

Libya appears a mess today post-NATO intervention, but could it have been even worse, as Syria today and with no hope for the future with the Gaddafi dynasty as entrenched as the Assad? 

Undoubtedly accountability is lagging, for both action and inaction.

Syria's people are treated as pawns, chips in this "game" too often.

The ICC and the rule of law are principles which are still evolving and certainly subject to selective application.

Nonetheless, it is the best that we have to build upon.

Owning the Problem, whether by Inaction or Intervention: The primary factor not to get involved may be more political than strategic.

Once mired, the fear is that any US Administration would then be tagged as "owning the problem" and thus responsible until resolution.

Putin's Moscow has felt less pressure for such political or legal accountability, and thus restraint.

The criteria is defined by what facilitates its reassertion as global power as well as spheres of influence regionally.

Here we also could be hindered in our superficial assessment of who are Putin's allies and/or potential adversaries.

While Tehran has backed the Assad Regime, it does not share Moscow's interests more broadly.

To the contrary, along with most of its Arab neighbors, Iran has a historical suspicion of Russian expansionism and has long sought to thwart such.

President Obama drew a red line on the Assad Regime's use of chemical weapons.

However, this proved too narrow to be compatible with the safety of brutalized local populations, R2P and ultimately US interests.

Echoing Professor Mesbahi's question, accountability was defined in purely domestic political terms reflecting not even US strategic interests but debates/rhetoric of the moment.

No one could fault Syrians for thinking that they were being dealt with as coincidental to the conflict.

Some within US politics were inclined to "let them kill each other," but now clamor for more robust US military intervention as ISIS has not only emerged from the chaos as more direct threat but also as politically more expedient bad guy.

While some as US Senator John McCain have maintained a consistency in their calls for greater US involvement, others have transcended the spectrum from isolationists to hawks.

In the end though, both a viable resolution for the benefit of Syria's peoples and one that meets US strategic interests necessitate accountability - identifying leaders who have de-legitimized themselves to shape the future and thus opening the opportunity for fresh faces and political perspectives in Syria.

Putin, and not only ISIS, provide harbor for those complicit in the destruction of Syria and employ such as proxies for even greater ambitions.

The same dynamics are at play in Ukraine and to a substantial degree even infect the future of BiH today.

Rule of Law and Democracy not Bounded by Culture or History: 

Learning the lessons of action or inaction in BiH does not necessarily produce easy or even immediacy in assessing the consequences.

Resolution requires commitment as well as ongoing attention.

BiH suffers as much from expedient narratives rationalizing neglect as much as the mistakes of the recent past.

Naysayers argue that the US and its partners are not in the business of "state building."

Some argue that culturally democracy is not probable or even possible in some states.

Such rationale is not only fashioned by bigotry but ignores recent history of successful democracies evolving from a variety of circumstances many having limited or no background in such political systems.

From Germany and Japan to the development of post-Soviet democracies, all have been aided by various degrees of assistance in institutional development and inclusion.

(From Lithuania to Bulgaria, NATO inclusion also became a catalyst for EU enlargement, then encouraged by bipartisan US coalition including Senators Joe Biden, Bob Dole as well as McCain.) 

The challenge of Putin as well as ISIS requires an answer beyond avoidance and containment.

The threat is immediate but also the challenge to the rule of law and the ideology upon which free and democratic states have prospered as societies and economies over the last few decades.

Here, the failure of the US to join the ICC stands out as expedient in terms of domestic politics but undermining US strategic interests as well as values.

Differentiating the Euro-Atlantic partnership from the challenges of reinvigorated authoritarianism, whether Putin or ISIS, is about giving action to our rhetoric and stated values.

"Moderate Islamic theologians" are not alone in having to counter extremists within the ranks.

Oh yes, neither is Russia doomed to another dynasty of leaders defined by expansion and domestic repression, but Putin can no longer be afforded the free hand to deal.

Source: Huffington Post

Monday, October 05, 2015

As Russia Enters War In Syria, Conflict In Ukraine Begins To Wind Down

DONETSK, Ukraine -- The conflict in Ukraine sees less shelling each week, while hawks and rebel leaders are being told by Moscow to pipe down and toe the line.

Pro-Russia fighters, with Russia-supplied tanks, near Torez, about 50 miles from of Donetsk.

At a highly fortified separatist position near the village of Peski outside Donetsk, the pro-Russia fighters have been getting used to an unusual sound in recent weeks: silence.

Shelling and exchanges of fire have become so rare at this frontline position in eastern Ukraine that commander Alexei Novikov and his men even had time recently to kill, grill and eat Poroshenko, the pet pig they named after Ukraine’s president (Merkel the sheep survives, for now).

“Both sides are moving towards partisan warfare, with small diversionary missions behind enemy lines,” said Novikov.

“It has become boring here.”

As Russia ratchets up military action in Syria, the fighting in east Ukraine is winding down.

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany will meet in Paris on Friday for talks on Ukraine, and while a lasting political solution still seems some way off, there is confidence on all sides that the military action could finally be over, a year after the first ill-fated, and largely ignored, ceasefire agreement was signed in Minsk, Belarus.

With all sides tired of military conflict, the most likely outcome appears to be Moscow pushing the territories back to Ukraine legally, with an ensuing period of uncertain peace as both Moscow and Kiev decide how far they are ready to compromise on their goals.

“The Russian side is trying to push the Minsk agreements as far as Ukraine is willing to go,” said Vitaly Leybin, editor in chief of Russian Reporter magazine in Moscow.

He said this will probably involve a Trans-Dniester-style solution, where the regions remain de jure part of Ukraine but de facto function as independent statelets backed up by Russia.

However, he said if Ukraine agreed to a full range of concessions, the Russian side would be willing to return control of the Russia-Ukraine border to Kiev.

“If Ukraine gives the regions special status, a full amnesty, recognises the rebel forces as a ‘people’s militia’ and gives the regions the right to its own cultural policy and special economic relations with Russian regions, then we would give the Ukrainians back control of the border.”

These conditions will not be acceptable to Kiev, but there too officials have noticed a change of tone from the Russians.

“They are trying to push the territories back into Ukraine, and shift the focus from military aggression to political destabilisation inside Ukraine,” said Dmytro Kuleba of the Ukrainian foreign ministry.

“If our goal is reintegration and reconciliation we will have to look at all options,” he said, when asked whether Ukraine was ready for a real political settlement that included rebel leaders.

Russia has propped up the separatist statelets financially and militarily, and many of the commanders have been trained at bases in Russia, as the forces gradually become more professional.

Despite repeated denials, it is also clear that Russian regular forces were introduced at key intervals when the rebels faced defeat last year, and again in February this year to back up a rebel offensive.

Moscow has made it clear to Kiev that this option is always on the table should the Ukrainians attempt to win the territories back militarily.

“Russia is behind us and there is the unambiguous hint that if you continue military aggression against us, then Russia will not refrain from supporting us in absolutely every way it can, and they understand that,” said Alexander Khodakovsky, a top rebel leader, in a recent interview in Donetsk.

Meanwhile, those who disagree with the uneasy peace on all sides are being sidelined.

Andrei Purgin, one of the original ideologues of the Donetsk People’s Republic, who represented the territory at the Minsk negotiations, was sacked from his position in the leadership last month and spent four days under arrest.

In an interview in Donetsk, Purgin evaded a direct answer as to the reason behind his arrest, but said he disagreed with the ceasefire.

“To say let’s stop shooting and then decide the political questions, that is nonsense. You can’t stop shooting unless you’ve decided the political questions already,” he said.

Purgin said he believed a criminal case could be launched against him, and his movements were being tracked by the separatist authorities he led until recently.

In Moscow, too, there are rumblings that the “Novorossia project” to carve out a pro-Russian statelet in east Ukraine has been well and truly closed down.

Egor Prosvirnin, editor of the nationalist blog Sputnik and Pogrom, has been called in for questioning in recent weeks over suspicions that his website may contain “extremist material”.

The article in question, while advocating for Russia to take full control of eastern Ukraine, does not contain anything that could not have been heard regularly on Russian state television over the past year and a half, and Prosvirnin believes Russian authorities are now trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.

“The conflict is being frozen and we are too strongly in support of the Novorossia project, we’re too independent. This is a warning to us to stop what we’re doing,” he said.

Khodakovsky said while there are more hawkish elements inside the Kremlin who want to take a firmer line, for the time being they have been sidelined.

“Part of the Russian elite doesn’t want to argue with the west and is ready for very serious compromises, another part of the elite is more tough and ready for real confrontation. The middle position seems to me to be that we should get out of the situation with as few political and economic losses as possible,” said the rebel leader.

“There is no ideal solution. All the options are fragile, and whichever is taken, none of them are not ideal by definition and will involve serious compromises from all sides. And this makes more radical people on all sides unhappy.”

For most of the residents of east Ukraine, and the roughly 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced people who have fled their homes, the end of fighting will come as a huge relief.

For more than a year, locals have had to live with a war in which the main mode of military engagement has been both sides firing artillery at each other over the heads of civilians.

In the village of Spartak, not far from Donetsk train station, there was still sporadic Ukrainian shelling as recently as last week, despite the fact that rebels said they were obeying a strict order since 1 September not to fire back under any circumstances.

“My knees hurt too much to go into the basement, now I just lie on the floor in the bathroom when the bangs start,” said 80-year-old Ekaterina, who lost her daughter to shelling last year, in tears outside her apartment block in Spartak.

“You can’t do anything, you can’t sleep, I just want to sleep. I just want this all to stop.”

At the nearby separatist position, the 22-year old commander who gave his name only as White, said the Ukrainian army had stopped attacking, but that volunteer battalions based near the frontline would send mortars over “out of boredom” every few days.

He claimed his men had nothing to fire back with and were respecting the order not to fire, but he was sceptical of a lasting ceasefire.

“Half of my men are from towns under Ukrainian control. What are they supposed to do? There can’t be any real talk of peace until we have pushed the Ukrainians back. But at least people are not dying any more.”

But while few people in Donetsk, Kiev or the west think the underlying issues are even close to being solved, the fatigue with military action on all sides means there is a growing consensus that the “hot” phase of the conflict has drawn to a close for now.

“This is the end of a stage,” said Khodakovsky.

“We will be de jure inside Ukraine but will live by our own laws and leaders. Depending on how the political situation inside Ukraine and Russia develops, the next stage will be either increased stability leading to some kind of lasting settlement, or renewed conflict.”

Source: The Guardian

Sunday, October 04, 2015

US Tax Dollars And Ukraine’s Finance Minister

WASHINGTON, DC -- Though touted as the face of reform inside Ukraine’s post-coup regime, Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko enriched herself at the expense of a U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund – and USAID now says it’s missing some of the audit records detailing Jaresko’s dealings, reports Robert Parry.

Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko.

The U.S. government is missing – or withholding – audit documents about the finances and possible accounting irregularities at a $150 million U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund when it was run by Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, who has become the face of “reform” for the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev and who now oversees billions of dollars in Western financial aid.

Before taking Ukrainian citizenship and becoming Finance Minister in December 2014, Jaresko was a former U.S. diplomat who served as chief executive officer of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by Congress in the 1990s with $150 million and placed under the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help jumpstart an investment economy in Ukraine.

After Jaresko’s appointment as Finance Minister — and her resignation from WNISEF — I reviewed WNISEF’s available public records and detected a pattern of insider dealings and enrichment benefiting Jaresko and various colleagues.

That prompted me in February to file a Freedom of Information Act request for USAID’s audits of the investment fund.

Though the relevant records were identified by June, USAID dragged its feet on releasing the 34 pages to me until Aug. 28 when the agency claimed nothing was being withheld, saying “all 34 pages are releasable in their entirety.”

However, when I examined the documents, it became clear that a number of pages were missing from the financial records, including a total of three years of “expense analysis” – in three-, six- and nine-month gaps – since 2007.

Perhaps even more significant was a missing paragraph that apparently would have addressed an accounting irregularity found by KPMG auditors.

KPMG’s “Independent Auditors’ Report” for 2013 and 2014 states that “except as discussed in the third paragraph below, we conducted our audits in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in the United States of America,” accountant-speak that suggests that “the third paragraph below” would reveal some WNISEF activity that did not comply with generally accepted accounting principles (or GAAP).

But three paragraphs below was only white space and there was no next page in what USAID released.

Based on the one page that was released for 2013-14, this most recent audit also lacked the approval language used in previous audits, in which KPMG wrote: “In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements … present fairly, in all material respects, the consolidated financial position of Western NIS Enterprise Fund and subsidiaries.”

That language was not in the 2013-14 analysis, as released by USAID.

The KPMG report for 2013-14 does note that “The [audit] procedures selected depend on the auditors’ judgment, including the assessment of the risks of material misstatement of the financial statements, whether due to fraud or error. … An audit also includes evaluating the appropriateness of accounting policies used and the reasonableness of significant accounting estimates made by management, as well as evaluating the overall presentation of the financial statements.”

That page then ends, “We believe that the audit evidence we have obtained is sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for our audit opinion.”

But the opinion is not there.

After I brought these discrepancies to the attention of USAID on Aug. 31, I was told on Sept. 15 that “we are in the process of locating documents to address your concern.

We expected a response from the bureau and/or mission by Monday, September 28, 2015.”

After the Sept. 28 deadline passed, I contacted USAID again and was told on Oct. 2 that officials were “still working with the respective mission to obtain the missing documents.”

Yet, whether USAID’s failure to include the missing documents was just a bureaucratic foul-up or a willful attempt to shield Jaresko from criticism, the curious gaps add to the impression that the management of WNISEF fell short of the highest standards for efficiency and ethics.

A previous effort by Jaresko’s ex-husband Ihor Figlus to blow the whistle on what he considered improper business practices related to WNISEF was met by disinterest inside USAID, according to Figlus, and then led to Jaresko suing him in a Delaware court in 2012, using a confidentiality clause to silence Figlus and getting a court order to redact references to the abuses he was trying to expose. 

Feeding at the Taxpayer Trough 

Other public documents indicate that Jaresko and fellow WNISEF insiders enriched themselves through their association with the U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund.

For instance, though Jaresko was limited to making $150,000 a year at WNISEF under the USAID grant agreement, she managed to earn more than that amount, reporting in 2004 that she was paid $383,259 along with $67,415 in expenses, according to WNISEF’s filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

Among the audit documents that I received under FOIA, the “Expense Analysis” for 2004 shows $1,282,782 being paid out as “Exit-based incentive expense-equity incentive plan” and another $478,195 being paid for “Exit-based incentive expense-financial participation rights.”

That would suggest that Jaresko more than doubled her $150,000 salary by claiming bonuses from WNISEF’s investments (bought with U.S. taxpayers’ money) and sold during 2004.

Jaresko’s compensation for her work with WNISEF was removed from public disclosure altogether after she co-founded two related entities in 2006: Horizon Capital Associates (HCA) to manage WNISEF’s investments (and collect around $1 million a year in fees) and Emerging Europe Growth Fund (EEGF), a private entity to collaborate with WNISEF on investment deals.

Jaresko formed HCA and EEGF with two other WNISEF officers, Mark Iwashko and Lenna Koszarny.

They also started a third firm, Horizon Capital Advisors, which “serves as a sub-advisor to the Investment Manager, HCA,” according to WNISEF’s IRS filing for 2006. 

According to the FOIA-released expense analyses for 2004-06, the taxpayer-financed WNISEF spent $1,049,987 to establish EEGF as a privately owned investment fund for Jaresko and her colleagues.

USAID apparently found nothing suspicious about these tangled business relationships despite the potential conflicts of interest involving Jaresko, the other WNISEF officers and their affiliated companies.

For instance, WNISEF’s 2012 annual report devoted two pages to “related party transactions,” including the management fees to Jaresko’s Horizon Capital ($1,037,603 in 2011 and $1,023,689 in 2012) and WNISEF’s co-investments in projects with the EEGF, where Jaresko was founding partner and chief executive officer.

Jaresko’s Horizon Capital managed the investments of both WNISEF and EEGF.

From 2007 to 2011, WNISEF co-invested $4.25 million with EEGF in Kerameya LLC, a Ukrainian brick manufacturer, and WNISEF sold EEGF 15.63 percent of Moldova’s Fincombank for $5 million, the report said.

It also listed extensive exchanges of personnel and equipment between WNISEF and Horizon Capital.

But it’s difficult for an outsider to ascertain the relative merits of these insider deals — and the transactions apparently raised no red flags for USAID officials, nor during that time for KPMG auditors.


Bonuses Regarding compensation, WNISEF’s 2013 filing with the IRS noted that the fund’s officers collected millions of dollars in more bonuses for closing out some investments at a profit even as the overall fund was losing money.

According to the filing, WNISEF’s $150 million nest egg had shrunk by more than one-third to $94.5 million and likely has declined much more during the economic chaos that followed the U.S.-backed coup in February 2014.

But prior to the coup and the resulting civil war, Jaresko’s WNISEF was generously spreading money around to various insiders.

For instance, the 2013 IRS filing reported that the taxpayer-financed fund paid out as “expenses” $7.7 million under a bonus program, including $4.6 million to “current officers,” without identifying who received the money although Jaresko was one of the “current officers.”

WNISEF’s filing made the point that the “long-term equity incentive plan” was “not compensation from Government Grant funds but a separately USAID-approved incentive plan funded from investment sales proceeds” – although those proceeds presumably would have gone into the depleted WNISEF pool if they had not been paid out as bonuses.

The filing also said the bonuses were paid regardless of whether the overall fund was making money, noting that this “compensation was not contingent on revenues or net earnings, but rather on a profitable exit of a portfolio company that exceeds the baseline value set by the board of directors and approved by USAID” – with Jaresko also serving as a director on the board responsible for setting those baseline values.

Another WNISEF director was Jeffrey C. Neal, former chairman of Merrill Lynch’s global investment banking and a co-founder of Horizon Capital, further suggesting how potentially incestuous these relationships may have become.

Though compensation for Jaresko and other officers was shifted outside public view after 2006 – as their pay was moved to the affiliated entities – the 2006 IRS filing says:

“It should be noted that as long as HCA earns a management fee from WNISEF, HCA and HCAD [the two Horizon Capital entities] must ensure that a salary cap of $150,000 is adhered to for the proportion of salary attributable to WNISEF funds managed relative to aggregate funds under management.”

But that language would seem to permit compensation well above $150,000 if it could be tied to other managed funds, including EEGF, or come from the bonus incentive program.

Such compensation for Jaresko and the other top officers was not reported on later IRS forms despite a line for earnings from “related organizations.”

Apparently, Horizon Capital and EEGF were regarded as “unrelated organizations” for the purposes of reporting compensation.

The KPMG auditors also took a narrow view of compensation only confirming that no “salary” exceeded $150,000, apparently not looking at bonuses and other forms of compensation.

Neither AID officials nor Jaresko responded to specific questions about WNISEF’s possible conflicts of interest, how much money Jaresko made from her involvement with WNISEF and its connected companies, and whether she had fully complied with IRS reporting requirements. 

Gagging an Ex-Husband 

In 2012, when Jaresko’s ex-husband Figlus began talking about what he saw as improper loans that Jaresko had taken from Horizon Capital Associates to buy and expand her stake in EEGF, the privately held follow-on fund to WNISEF, Jaresko sent her lawyers to court to silence him and, according to his lawyer, bankrupt him.

The filings in Delaware’s Chancery Court are remarkable not only because Jaresko succeeded in getting the Court to gag her ex-husband through enforcement of a non-disclosure agreement but the Court agreed to redact nearly all the business details, even the confidentiality language at the center of the case.

Since Figlus had given some of his information to a Ukrainian journalist, Jaresko’s complaint also had the look of a leak investigation, tracking down Figlus’s contacts with the journalist and then using that evidence to secure the restraining order, which Figlus said not only prevented him from discussing business secrets but even talking about his more general concerns about Jaresko’s insider dealings.

The heavy redactions make it hard to fully understand Figlus’s concerns or to assess the size of Jaresko’s borrowing as she expanded her holdings in EEGF, but Figlus did assert that he saw his role as whistle-blowing about improper actions by Jaresko.

In a Oct. 31, 2012, filing, Figlus’s attorney wrote that “At all relevant times, Defendant [Figlus] acted in good faith and with justification, on matters of public interest, and particularly the inequitable conduct set forth herein where such inequitable conduct adversely affects … at least one other limited partner which is REDACTED, and specifically the inequitable conduct included, in addition to the other conduct cited herein, REDACTED.”

The defendant’s filing argued: “The Plaintiffs’ [Jaresko’s and her EEGF partners’] claims are barred, in whole or in part, by public policy, and particularly that a court in equity should not enjoin ‘whistle-blowing’ activities on matters of public interest, and particularly the inequitable conduct set forth herein.”

But the details of that conduct were all redacted.

In a defense brief dated Dec. 17, 2012, Figlus expanded on his argument that Jaresko’s attempts to have the court gag him amounted to a violation of his constitutional right of free speech:

“The obvious problem with the scope of their Motion is that Plaintiffs are asking the Court to enter an Order that prohibits Defendant Figlus from exercising his freedom of speech without even attempting to provide the Court with any Constitutional support or underpinning for such impairment of Figlus’ rights.

“Plaintiffs cannot do so, because such silencing of speech is Constitutionally impermissible, and would constitute a denial of basic principles of the Bill of Rights in both the United States and Delaware Constitutions.

There can be no question that Plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction, which constitutes a prior restraint on speech. …

“The Court cannot, consistent with the Federal and State Constitutional guarantees of free speech, enjoin speech except in the most exceptional circumstances, and certainly not when Plaintiffs are seeking to prevent speech that is not even covered by the very contractual provision upon which they are relying.

Moreover, the Court cannot prevent speech where the matter has at least some public interest REDACTED, except as limited to the very specific and exact language of the speaker’s contractual obligation.”

A Redacted Narrative 

Figlus also provided a narrative of events as he saw them as a limited partner in EEGF, saying he initially “believed everything she [Jaresko] was doing, you know, was proper.”

Later, however, Figlus “learned that Jaresko began borrowing money from HCA REDACTED, but again relied on his spouse, and did not pay attention to the actual financial transactions…

“In early 2010, after Jaresko separated from Figlus, she presented Figlus with, and requested that he execute, a ‘Security Agreement,’ pledging the couple’s partnership interest to the repayment of the loans from HCA.

This was Figlus first realization of the amount of loans that Jaresko had taken, and that the partnership interest was being funded through this means. …

By late 2011, Jaresko had borrowed approximately REDACTED from HCA to both fund the partnership interest REDACTED.

The loans were collateralized only by the EEFG partnership interest. …

“Figlus became increasingly concerned about the partnership and the loans that had been and continued to be given to the insiders to pay for their partnership interests, while excluding other limited partners.

Although Figlus was not sophisticated in these matters, he considered that it was inappropriate that HCA was giving loans to insiders to fund their partnership interests, but to no other partners. …

“He talked to an individual at U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington D.C., because the agency was effectively involved as a limited partner because of the agency’s funding and supervision over WNISEF, but the agency employee did not appear interested in pursuing the question.”

In the court proceedings, Jaresko’s lawyers mocked Figlus’s claims that he was acting as a whistle-blower, claiming that he was actually motivated by a desire “to harm his ex-wife” and had violated the terms of his non-disclosure agreement, which the lawyers convinced the court to exclude from the public record.

The plaintiffs’ brief traced Figlus’s contacts with the Ukrainian reporter whose name is also redacted:

“Figlus, having previously received an audit from the General Partner, provided it to REDACTED [the Ukrainian reporter] with full knowledge that the audit was non-public. Also on or about October 2, 2012, REDACTED [the reporter] contacted multiple Limited Partners, informed them that he possessed ‘documented proof’ of alleged impropriety by the General Partner and requested interviews concerning that alleged impropriety.”

The filing noted that on Oct. 3, 2012, the reporter told Figlus that Jaresko “called two REDACTED [his newspaper’s] editors last night crying, not me, for some reason.”

(The Ukrainian story was never published.)

After the competing filings, Jaresko’s lawyers successfully secured a restraining order against Figlus from the Delaware Chancery Court and continued to pursue the case against him though his lawyer has asserted that his client would make no further effort to expose these financial dealings and was essentially broke.

On May 14, 2014, Figlus filed a complaint with the court claiming that he was being denied distributions from his joint interest in EEGF and saying he was told that it was because the holding was pledged as security against the loans taken out by Jaresko.

But, on the same day, Jaresko’s lawyer, Richard P. Rollo, contradicted that assertion, saying information about Figlus’s distributions was being withheld because EEGF and Horizon Capital “faced significant business interruptions and difficulties given the political crisis in Ukraine.”

The filing suggested that the interlocking investments between EEGF and the U.S.-taxpayer-funded WNISEF were experiencing further trouble from the political instability and civil war sweeping across Ukraine.

A Face of Reform 

By December 2014, Jaresko had resigned from her WNISEF-related positions, taken Ukrainian citizenship and started her new job as Ukraine’s Finance Minister.

In an article about Jaresko’s appointment, John Helmer, a longtime foreign correspondent in Russia, disclosed the outlines of the court dispute with Figlus and identified the Ukrainian reporter as Mark Rachkevych of the Kyiv Post.

“It hasn’t been rare for American spouses to go into the asset management business in the former Soviet Union, and make profits underwritten by the US Government with information supplied from their US Government positions or contacts,” Helmer wrote.

“It is exceptional for them to fall out over the loot.”

When I contacted George Pazuniak, Figlus’s lawyer, about Jaresko’s aggressive enforcement of the non-disclosure agreement, he told me that “at this point, it’s very difficult for me to say very much without having a detrimental effect on my client.”

Pazuniak did say, however, that all the redactions were demanded by Jaresko’s lawyers.

I also sent detailed questions to USAID and to Jaresko via several of her associates.

Those questions included how much of the $150 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money remained, why Jaresko reported no compensation from “related organizations,” whether she received any of the $4.6 million to WNISEF’s officers in bonuses in 2013, how much money she made in total from her association with WNISEF, what AID officials did in response to Figlus’s whistle-blower complaint, and whether Jaresko’s legal campaign to silence her ex-husband was appropriate given her current position and Ukraine’s history of secretive financial dealings.

USAID press officer Annette Y. Aulton got back to me with a response that was unresponsive to my specific questions.

Rather than answering about the performance of WNISEF and Jaresko’s compensation, the response commented on the relative success of 10 “Enterprise Funds” that AID has sponsored in Eastern Europe and added:

“There is a twenty year history of oversight of WNISEF operations. Enterprise funds must undergo an annual independent financial audit, submit annual reports to USAID and the IRS, and USAID staff conduct field visits and semi-annual reviews. At the time Horizon Capital assumed management of WNISEF, USAID received disclosures from Natalie Jaresko regarding the change in management structure and at the time USAID found no impropriety during its review.”

One Jaresko associate, Tanya Bega, Horizon Capital’s investor relations manager, said she forwarded my questions to Jaresko, but Jaresko did not respond.

Despite questions about whether Jaresko improperly enriched herself at the expense of U.S. taxpayers and then used a Delaware court to prevent disclosure of possible abuses, Jaresko has been hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as the face of reform in the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime that seized power in February 2014 after a violent coup overthrew democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych.

For instance, last January, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman cited Jaresko as an exemplar of the new Ukrainian leaders who “share our values” and deserve unqualified American support.

Friedman uncritically quoted Jaresko’s speech to international financial leaders at Davos, Switzerland, in which she castigated Russian President Vladimir Putin:

“Putin fears a Ukraine that demands to live and wants to live and insists on living on European values — with a robust civil society and freedom of speech and religion [and] with a system of values the Ukrainian people have chosen and laid down their lives for.”

However, from the opaqueness of the WNISEF records and the gagging of her ex-husband, Jaresko has shown little regard for transparency or other democratic values.

Similarly, USAID seems more intent on protecting Jaresko and the image of the Kiev regime than in protecting America tax dollars and ensuring that WNISEF’s investments were dedicated to improving the lot of Ukrainian citizens.

Source: Consortiumnews

'Winter On Fire' Tracks The 93 Days Ukraine Fought For Its Identity

LOS ANGELES, USA --Streets are scattered with stones and shell casings. Winter fog mixes with the last wisps of tear gas.

Filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky flew to Kiev, Ukraine, to capture the revolution on film. The result is the documentary "Winter on Fire."

The wounded and the dead have been carried away, and those who are left hunker at the barricades.

Police advance.

Snipers take to rooftops.

Bodies fall and the Ukrainian revolution, as brutal as it is cinematic, enters a new day in the battered capital of Kiev.

Evgeny Afineevsky's "Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom" is a documentary from the front lines, a visceral portrait of a nation's battle for its identity.

The film tracks the 93 days — between November 2013 and February 2014 — when tens of thousands of protesters rallied in frigid Independence Square against gunfire, arrests and beatings to bring down President Viktor Yanukovych and upset a dangerous regional order.

With the immediacy of a news bulletin and the intimacy of a novel, "Winter on Fire," which opens theatrically and on Netflix on Oct. 9, lacks important historical nuance even as it traces protesters struggling to free their country from Russian manipulation more than two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Public outrage erupted when Yanukovych, who would eventually flee the capital in darkness, edged closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin and backed away from a popular plan to strengthen ties with the European Union.

Stirrings of revolt gathered into huge anti-government demonstrations that startled the world.

The uprising drew from across Ukrainian society: students, mothers, welders, priests, teachers and retired soldiers.

Their stories moved at a brisk pace as crosses, coffins and placards were carried through the snow.

Molotov cocktails streaked the night amid the baroque architecture of downtown Kiev.

"A friend called and said, 'You need to come down here, history is being made,'" said Afineevsky, who packed a camera and flew to Kiev from his home in Los Angeles.

"It was young people wanting their voices heard. Then it started to unfold, the police beatings.... It was so strange and so horrible."

The director, who was born in Russia, camped in Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, with the protesters and enlisted 28 volunteer cameramen.

A few of the photographers were wounded as the momentum shifted back and forth from the police to demonstrators, whose ranks were supported by religious leaders.

Demonstrators wore pots as helmets, stormed police lines and retreated to a makeshift hospital at a monastery.

"What happened on the Maidan was an amazing and important chapter in Ukraine's history," said Afineevsky, who has made a number of documentaries, plus the romantic comedy feature "Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay."

"As a filmmaker, you want to tell the story to the world, but to me, it became a tribute to the people who stood against corruption. The people are the power."

That is a narrow slice of a larger picture.

The film does not explore the political and cultural complexities of Ukraine, which won its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

An array of deep-seated story lines, including the ambitions of ultra-nationalists and a swath of eastern Ukraine that supported becoming part of Russia, would play out after the revolution when Putin's forces annexed Crimea and backed separatists against the new government in Kiev.

Variety film critic Jay Weissberg writes that "Winter on Fire" amasses an "impressive amount of video footage but is hamstrung by its rose-tinted 'the people united will never be defeated'" point of view.

The Hollywood Reporter says that the film has "undeniable power" but that it does "grow repetitive because it provides so little historical context or a larger overview of how the growing authoritarianism of Putin's Russia is affecting this part of the world."

Evocatively photographed and woven with memorable images, such as a pianist playing in the chill near the barricades, "Winter on Fire" is reminiscent of "The Square," the Academy Award-nominated documentary about the Egyptian uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

Both films sweep the viewer into the vortex of dissent and illuminate what Afineevsky calls "the patriotic coming together of a people."

The film reinforces the power of social media and today's technology to document swift, world-shaping events into collage-like productions that lie somewhere between reality television and high art.

Whether in the alleys of Cairo, the bombed souks of Syria or the broken streets of Kiev, the cruelties and virtues that collide in searing national narratives are increasingly accessible at a time when we view the world through the prism of an iPhone.

"Winter on Fire" is ingrained with the tenacity and sardonic humor of voices that are intimate with despair and political betrayal.

One protester says of the venom aimed at Yanukovych: "Can you imagine infuriating people to such despair that a banker and one of the most influential attorneys from Lviv came to Hrushevskoho Street to throw stones at police?"

By the time Yanukovych fled Kiev — more than three months after the rallies began — at least 125 people had been killed, 65 were missing and 1,890 had been injured.

An overworked doctor said of the fallen: "You close someone's eyes and you go to another."

"I met so many fascinating characters," said the director.

"It was all part of this uplifting human spirit.... It's a moral story for a younger generation. They can change their future."

One of the young protesters, Dmytro Holubnychhy, 16, crouched in an old helmet and a blue jacket at the front lines, where a man lay in the street amid scattered rocks, snow and barbed wire.

"I was just dragging a dead body," he says, the camera as close as a mirror to his face.

"I stepped in blood. You thought it would be easy … not me."

Snipers take positions.

Tin and wooden shields are raised.

Someone hands Holubnychhy a phone.

"Mom," he says, "I want to tell you something … I love you."

Source: LA Times