Monday, March 31, 2014

Ten Ways Ukraine Crisis May Change The World

KIEV, Ukraine -- As Moscow and the West dig in for a prolonged stand-off over Russia's annexation of Crimea, risking spillover to other former Soviet republics and beyond, here are 10 ways in which the Ukraine crisis could change attitudes and policy around the world.

Russian Navy vessels are anchored at a navy base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, March 28, 2014.

1) Russia diminished: Russia's role in international affairs is diminished, at least temporarily. Moscow has been de facto excluded from the Group of Eight industrialized powers.

Its bids to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency are frozen.

Western summits with Moscow are canceled until further notice.

President Vladimir Putin's attempt to use the BRICS group of emerging powers to mitigate isolation by the West faltered over Chinese and Indian unease at the Crimean precedent for disputes about Tibet and Kashmir.

A joint BRICS statement condemned sanctions but made no mention of Crimea or Ukraine.

2) NATO revived: Just when it looked to be losing relevance as its mission in Afghanistan limps to a close, the U.S.-led military alliance is back in business.

An increase in allied air patrols and war games showing the flag in Poland and the Baltic states is on the agenda, and Warsaw wants faster deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in central Europe.

Under U.S. pressure, some European countries may rethink cuts in defense spending.

Neutral Sweden and Finland, perceiving Russia anew as a potential threat, may increase security efforts and cooperate more closely with NATO.

3) Energy diversification: The energy map of Europe is being redrawn with accelerated action to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas.

EU states are set to build more liquefied natural gas terminals, upgrade pipeline networks and grids and expand a southern gas supplies through Georgia and Turkey to southern and central Europe.

The EU gets a third of its oil and gas from Russia, and 40 percent of that gas is pumped across Ukraine.

Europe may now look to tap its own shale gas reserves and expand nuclear power, despite environmental concerns. 

"I see the danger of more nuclear - which is C02-free, which is also part of the discussion, but it is the wrong path," said Gerhard Roiss, chief executive of Austria's OMV, a big importer of Russian gas into central Europe.

4) China factor: The diplomatic alliance between Russia and China, which often vote together in the U.N. Security Council, could change in one of two directions - either rapprochement through a stronger energy partnership, with new pipelines being built to pump Russian oil and gas spurned by Europe to Beijing; or a cooling if China distances itself more from Putin's behavior and sees less benefit in closer ties with an economically weakened and relatively isolated Moscow.

For now, President Xi Jinping is refusing to take sides in public.

5) U.S. leadership: Washington's global leadership role, weakened by the rise of emerging powers and by retrenchment under President Barack Obama, has been partially restored.

Despite his disengagement from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and strategic "pivot" towards Asia, events have pushed Obama back into the old-fashioned role of "Leader of the Free World" in an East-West crisis in Europe.

The crisis has swept aside European anger over U.S. spying on global communications and put a new premium on cooperation.

In Brussels last week Europeans appealed to Obama to sell them shale gas, and both sides agreed to speed talks on a transatlantic free trade and investment pact.

Yet U.S. strategists say American economic interests and the security challenges of managing a rising China mean Asia will remain the priority and Europe will have to do more for itself.

6) German leadership: Ukraine affair has cemented Berlin's leadership role in Europe.

Germany is already the dominant economic power, calling the shots in the euro zone crisis, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has become Europe's main interlocutor with Putin.

Her disenchantment with him has shaped an increasingly firm crisis response after initial hesitancy.

German willingness to reduce energy dependency on Russia will be the yardstick of how far the rest of the EU goes.

Merkel is also the relationship manager with the volatile Yulia Tymoshenko, whose presidential bid may heighten tension in Ukraine.

7) EU united: The European Union has been reunited, at least for now, by the return of a common external threat.

This may have helped EU leaders overcome some long-running disputes.

Greens European Parliament member Rebecca Harms joked that it was too early to nominate Putin for the annual Charlemagne prize for services to European unity, "but in the face of a new threat of war in Europe, EU states have indeed agreed on a joint strategy towards Russia."

Some EU diplomats say Poland may speed up slow-motion moves to join the euro, seeking sanctuary in Europe's inner core as the Baltic states have done.

Polish entry would hasten the spread of the single currency to almost all EU countries, including Denmark, though probably not Sweden or Britain.

8) Contest for Central Asia: both Putin and the West are wooing central Asian autocrats in energy-rich Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, drawing a discreet veil over their human rights records.

If Russia weakens economically, they will want at least a foot in the Western camp. 

9) U.S.-Russian cooperation: some cooperation on global security issues will continue because Moscow has an interest in keeping it on track to avoid greater isolation.

But tensions are possible over Syria, Iran, Afghanistan or North Korea, and Moscow has levers it could activate such as contracts to supply S300 air defense missiles to Damascus or Tehran.

10) Putin's future: Russia's leader is near the peak of his popularity, riding a wave of nationalist pride over Crimea.

However, instability may grow if he comes under pressure from magnates angry at losing value on their businesses, forfeiting foreign investment in Russia and facing travel restrictions and asset freezes in the West.

Most are 150 percent loyal for now, but things may look different in six months' time.

Source: Google News

Ukraine Crisis: Talks Between US, Russia Fail To Break Deadlock

PARIS, France -- Four hours of talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart failed to break a tense East-West deadlock over how to proceed on the Ukraine crisis, though the two men agreed the situation requires a diplomatic solution.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Paris as the sun sets on Saturday, March 29, 2014.

The talks came hours after a leading Ukrainian military analyst told Fox News there are now about 50,000 Russian troops within several hours of the two nations' border, but there has been a "general decrease in tensions" since Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama on Friday. 

Sitting face-to-face but not seeing eye-to-eye on any of the most critical issues, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov advanced far different proposals on how to calm tensions and de-escalate the situation, particularly as Russia continues to mass troops along its border with the former Soviet republic.

As he called for Moscow to begin an immediate pullback of the troops, Kerry also ruled out discussion of Russia's demand for Ukraine to become a loose federation until-and-unless Ukrainians are at the table.

"The Russian troop buildup is creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine," Kerry told reporters at the home of the U.S. ambassador to France after the meeting, which was held at the Russian ambassador's residence and included a working dinner.

"It certainly does not create the climate that we need for dialogue."

The U.S. believes the massing of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers, ostensibly for military exercises, along the border is at once an attempt to intimidate Ukraine's new leaders after Russia's annexation of the strategic Crimean peninsula and to use a bargaining chip with the United States and the European Union, which have condemned Crimea's absorption into Russia and imposed sanctions on senior Russian officials.

Kerry noted that even if the troops remain on Russian soil and do not enter Ukraine, they create a negative atmosphere.

"The question is not one of right or legality," he said.

"The question is one of strategic appropriateness and whether it's smart at this moment of time to have troops massed on the border."

Of the 50,000 troops, about 10,000 are located directly at the border, but Ukrainian military analyst Dmitry Tymchuk told Fox News on Sunday he has seen some "pull-back and regrouping" of these soldiers, lessening the immediate chances of a full-scale Russian invasion.

Russia says the troops near the border are there for military exercises and that they have no plans to invade, but U.S. and European officials say the numbers and locations of the troops suggest something more than exercises.

And, despite the Russian assurances, U.S., European and Ukrainian officials are deeply concerned about the buildup, which they fear could be a prelude to an invasion or intimidation to compel Kiev to accept Moscow's demands.

U.S. officials said Kerry proposed a number of ideas on troop withdrawals from the border and that Lavrov, while making no promises, told him he would present the proposals to the Kremlin.

At a separate news conference at the Russian ambassador's house, Lavrov did not address the troop issue.

Instead, he made the case for Moscow's idea of Ukraine as a federalized nation with its various regions enjoying major autonomy from the government in Kiev.

Russia says it is particularly concerned about the treatment of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers who live in southern and eastern Ukraine.

Lavrov said that Ukraine can't function as a "unified state" and should be a loose federation of regions that are each allowed to choose their own economic, financial, social, linguistic and religious models.

He said every time Ukraine has elected a new president, the country has adopted a new constitution, proving that "the model of a unified state doesn't work."

Ukrainian officials are wary of decentralizing power, fearing that pro-Russia regions would hamper its Western aspirations and potentially split the country apart.

However, they are exploring political reforms that could grant more authority to local governments.

The U.S. has been coy about their position on a federation.

Washington has encouraged ongoing political and constitutional reform efforts that the government in Kiev is now working on but U.S. officials insist that any changes to Ukraine's governing structure must be acceptable to Ukrainians.

Kerry said the federation idea had not been discussed in any serious way during his meeting with Lavrov "because it would have been inappropriate to do so without Ukrainian input."

"It is not up to us to make any decision or agreement regarding federalization," he said.

"It is up to Ukrainians."

"We will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table," Kerry said, adding that the bottom line is:

"No decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine."

Lavrov denied that Moscow wants to "split Ukraine."

"Federation does not mean, as some in Kiev fear, an attempt to split Ukraine," he said.

"To the contrary, federation ... answers the interests of all regions of Ukraine." 

Lavrov said he and Kerry did agree to work with the Ukrainian government to improve rights for Russian-speaking Ukrainians and disarm "irregular forces and provocateurs."

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that U.S. officials have been divided over whether Putin's call was indicative of a genuine desire to ease tensions between East and West or a pretext for further military action in Eastern Europe.

White House officials described the call as "frank and direct" and said Obama had urged Putin to offer a written response to a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis that the U.S. has presented.

Obama also urged Moscow to scale back its troop build-up on the border with Ukraine, which has prompted concerns in Kiev and Washington about a possible Russian invasion in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin, on the other hand, said Putin had drawn Obama's attention to a "rampage of extremists" in Ukraine and suggested "possible steps by the international community to help stabilize the situation" in Ukraine.

Kerry has repeatedly met with Lavrov over the past month in attempts to halt Russia's annexation of Crimea.

However, those talks have proven fruitless, and U.S. officials tell the Journal that Putin is likely to demand that the U.S. accept Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula earlier this month as the minimum necessary for any cooperation between the two nations.

In previous meetings, Mr. Kerry has outlined to Mr. Lavrov a common approach to resolving the Ukraine crisis, U.S. officials told the Journal.

This included joint initiatives to stabilize Kiev's economy, promote the decentralization of the country's political system and demobilize pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian paramilitaries that have blossomed across the country in recent months.

Source: FOX News

Rep. Rogers: Troop Movement, 'Covert Operation' Suggests Putin Not Finished In Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- Russian President Vladimir Putin is showing telltale signs that he intends to extend his control over Ukraine and perhaps elsewhere in Eastern Europe, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers said Sunday.

An anti-war rallier with a sign depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Independence Square, in Kiev, Ukraine.

Beyond assembling military armor and tens of thousands of troops along the Russia-Ukraine border, Putin is moving troops in northern Georgia and planting intelligence officers in Ukraine, the Michigan Republican told “Fox News Sunday.”

He said Russian troops in the northern region of Georgia, known as South Ossetia, are on the move, perhaps to go into Armenia or toward the Baltic Sea.

“There’s no way I’d take this as any other way than [Putin] is working for a land bridge,” Rogers said.

He said the Russian president also is engaged in a more “covert operation” by sending intelligence officers and special forces into eastern Ukraine to try to convince citizens to allow Russia to annex their country, like Putin did with Ukraine’s Crimea region earlier this month.

Russian officials have argued they are only trying to protect their interests in Ukraine amid months of political turmoil that resulted in the ouster of that country’s Moscow-backed president several weeks ago.

They have also said the troop buildup along the Ukraine border is part of routine military exercises.

However, Rogers says the real concern is the kind of buildup, which includes heavy armor as well as light and heavy infantry.

Rogers says he has no way of knowing Putin’s exact intentions and is basing his analysis on how he has acted in the past.

Besides annexing Crimea, Putin sent troop into Ossetia in 2008 to take control of the region.

Source: FOX News

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Donetsk Fearful Of Russian Military Might On Ukraine’s Border

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Some people are making sure their cars stay gassed up, in case their families need to flee advancing tanks.

Ukrainian internal soldiers take part in a training at a military base in Donetsk on March 29.

Others are stockpiling food so they can dig in if there is an invasion.

A few talk about learning to shoot.

Nearly everyone is worried.

Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers are massed along the Ukrainian border, U.S. officials report, with large contingents gathered near the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.

Russian officials say the troops are conducting routine exercises.

On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow has no intention of using them against Ukraine.

But ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula after a hastily arranged referendum March 16, few here know what to believe.

This is a Russian-speaking region that has long been well disposed toward its neighbor.

Some small but vocal groups, fearing that they will get short shrift from Kiev, have demonstrated against the Ukrainian government.

There have been demands for a referendum on joining Russia.

But no one is asking for war.

“I worry about it all the time,” said Anatoly Akimochkin, first vice chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine.

“Any kind of intervention will mean war, and the border is not far away.

Some are ready to take up arms and defend their state.

And there are some who would welcome Russian troops.”

Russian television channels are widely watched here, he said, and they have assaulted Ukrainians with propaganda, describing Kiev as being in the hands of fascists on their way to kill eastern Ukrainians.

People are being brainwashed, he said, which accounted for the pro-Russian demonstrations, although lately those have been diminishing.

Perhaps 500 people gathered Saturday around the statue of Vladimir Lenin in the city of Donetsk, waving a few Russian flags in the bitter-cold wind, shouting for protection of the Russian language and denouncing Kiev as an illegitimate government.

A small contingent of policemen stood by, trying to keep warm.

Few people were on the streets.

“I am really afraid Russia will invade us,” said Aleksey Ryabchyn, a 30-year-old husband and father and a second lieutenant in the army reserve, as he chatted in a cafe.

“Putin doesn’t follow logic — no one expected him to annex Crimea. I don’t think the U.S. will fight for us. We are on our own.”

Ryabchyn, the son of a Russian mother and a Ukrainian father, came of age after the fall of the Soviet Union and has always regarded Russia and Ukraine as separate but close, like the United States and Canada.

Now some of his friends are keeping their gas tanks filled, fearing they’ll have to drive their families to safety in western Ukraine at any moment.

Others talk about partisan warfare.

“These are the most critical days of our independence,” Yevhen Marchuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister, said in Kiev.

The Russian soldiers will have to invade soon, he said, or return to their barracks. 

“It’s impossible for an army to stay there for long,” he said.

“There are all the signs that a military attack could happen. It doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.”

Kateryna Zhemchuzhnykova, a 25-year-old journalist, tries to keep her mind on her work to avoid thinking about what could happen.

She lives with her parents, who are filling the larder with food to see them through a possible invasion.

The Donetsk governor, billionaire businessman Serhiy Taruta, has used his own money to have a trench dug, more than 12 feet wide and eight feet deep, along the coal-mining region’s 90-mile border with Russia in an effort to ward off invasion. 

Taruta was appointed to the office by the new government in Kiev, which took over after President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country Feb. 22 following months of protests in favor of good government and closer ties with Europe rather than Russia. 

He was not especially cheered by the news that Putin had called President Obama on Friday to suggest that a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis was possible.

There have been a lot of phone calls, Taruta said, that have resulted in nothing.

“It’s important to understand that America needs not only to hold negotiations but to provide guarantees to Ukraine of territorial integrity,” he said.

“We have the impression the West is more interested in the economic situation than in democracy. The Ukrainian people feel betrayed.”

He was referring to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which the United States persuaded Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons in return for a guarantee of protection from Britain, the United States and, ironically, Russia.

In business, Taruta said, when you sign an agreement, you follow through. 

“Everyone’s afraid,” said Oleksiy Matsuka, who writes for an independent online newspaper, “especially businessmen, those who have something to lose.

If Russia took over, there would be a partisan war. Everyone would suffer.” 

Pro-Russians are not calling for an invasion.

Kirill Cherkashin, a sociologist, said the differences between Ukraine’s east and west are so deep that the east would be better off going its own way and joining Russia.

There’s a danger, he said, that if the west subjugates the east, a partisan war could erupt, but that should be avoided.

“The best way out is a peaceful option,” Cherkashin said, “like in Czechoslovakia.” 

Source: The Washington Post

Russia Claims No Need For Further Ukraine Incursion

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia said on Saturday it had no intention of invading eastern Ukraine following its annexation of Crimea, while the Black Sea peninsula's Muslim Tatars demanded autonomy.

Russia's Grand Mufti Ravil Gainutdin (C) greets a delegate as they attend the Kurultai, the assembly of Crimea Tatars, in Bakhchisaray.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on Sunday in Paris, the State Department said, as both sides moved to ease tensions in the worst East-West stand-off since the Cold War.

In a pivotal political development, Ukraine's presidential election effectively became a two-horse race when boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko pulled out and threw his weight behind confectionary oligarch Petro Poroshenko.

This sets up a May 25 contest between the man known as the "Chocolate King" and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Speaking on Russian television, Mr Lavrov reinforced a message from President Vladimir Putin that Russia would settle - at least for now - for control over Crimea despite massing thousands of troops near Ukraine's eastern border.

"We have absolutely no intention of - or interest in - crossing Ukraine's borders," Mr Lavrov said.

Mr Putin called US President Barack Obama on Friday to discuss a US diplomatic proposal, with the West alarmed at the threat to Ukraine's eastern flank from what US officials say may be more than 40,000 Russian troops.

But Mr Lavrov said Russia is ready to protect the rights of Russian speakers, referring to what Moscow sees as threats to the lives of compatriots in eastern Ukraine since Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich was deposed as president in February.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with Germany's Focus magazine published on Saturday, said the alliance is "extremely worried".

"We view it as a concrete threat to Ukraine and see the potential for further interventions," he said.

"I fear that it is not yet enough for him [Putin]. I am worried that we are not dealing with rational thinking as much as with emotions, the yearning to rebuild Russia's old sphere of influence in its immediate neighbourhood."


In the Tatars' historic capital of Bakhchisaray, the assembly representing the 300,000-strong indigenous Muslim minority voted in favour of seeking "ethnic and territorial autonomy" in Crimea.

They make up less than 15 per cent of Crimea's population of 2 million and have been overwhelmingly opposed to Russia's annexation of the territory.

Crimean Tatars' assembly leader Refat Chubarov told more than 200 delegates:

"In the life of every nation there comes a time when it must make decisions that will determine its future. I ask you to approve ... the start of political and legal procedures aimed at creating ethnic and territorial autonomy of the Crimean Tatars of their historic territory of Crimea."

The assembly backed his proposal.

Critical of Russia's annexation of Crimea, the Tatars boycotted the March 16 vote to split from Ukraine and become part of Russia.

Moscow has tried to pressure them to drop their opposition.

However, their proposal to seek autonomy signals they would be ready to negotiate their status with Russia.

The West imposed sanctions on Russia, including visa bans on some of Mr Putin's inner circle, after Moscow annexed Crimea this month following a referendum on union of the Russian-majority region with the Russian Federation that the West called illegal.

The West has threatened tougher sanctions targeting Russia's stuttering economy if Moscow sends more troops to Ukraine.

Mr Lavrov called for "deep constitutional reform" in Ukraine, a sprawling country of 46 million people divided between those who see their future in closer ties with Europe and mainly Russian speakers in the east who look to former Soviet master Russia.

"Frankly speaking, we don't see any other way for the steady development of the Ukrainian state apart from as a federation," he said.

Each region would have jurisdiction over its economy, finances, culture, language, education and "external economic and cultural connections with neighbouring countries or regions," he said.

"Given the proportion of native Russians [in Ukraine], we propose this and we are sure there is no other way."

Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry spoke by phone on Saturday, following up on the Putin-Obama call on Friday.

The White House said Mr Obama told Mr Putin that Russia must pull back its troops and not move deeper into the former Soviet republic.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin suggested "examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilise the situation".

Ukraine remains deeply divided over protests that led to Mr Yanukovich's overthrow.

Many eastern Russian-speaking regions are sceptical about the policies of the new pro-Western government in Kiev.

Mr Yanukovich called on Friday for each of the country's regions to hold a referendum on their status within Ukraine, instead of the presidential election planned for May 25.

Mr Poroshenko was an influential supporter of the "Maidan" popular uprising that toppled Mr Yanukovich in February, three months after he spurned a deal on closer ties with the European Union and plunged the country into turmoil.

Mr Poroshenko confirmed his candidacy late on Friday.

Several opinions polls already had him in the lead even before he said he would run to succeed Mr Yanukovich.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Ukraine’s Hopes Riding On A Chocolatier

KIEV, Ukraine -- After a leading contender dropped out of Ukraine’s presidential race on Saturday, the hopes of many Ukrainians and their Western supporters are now riding on a man known as the Willy Wonka of Ukraine, the billionaire owner of a chocolate candy company.

Vitali Klitschko (L), threw his support behind businessman Petro Poroshenko (R), as the leading pro-Europe candidate in the upcoming Ukraine elections.

Petro Olekseyevich Poroshenko, 48, was the highest-profile Ukrainian industrialist to support the street protests that ousted President Viktor F. Yanukovych last month, and has for several weeks led in polls for the May 25 presidential election.

Known as a centrist who had previously worked for both pro-Western and pro-Russian governments, he became a strong advocate of integration with Europe after Russia banned imports of his chocolate.

On Saturday, the candidate who had been running second in polls, the former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, withdrew from the race, throwing his support behind Mr. Poroshenko and solidifying his lead.

The shuffle leaves Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and prisoner under the ousted government, as the remaining credible competitor to Mr. Poroshenko.

She had been in third place according to a survey by four Ukrainian polling agencies last week.

The former pro-government party, whose association with Mr. Yanukovych makes it a long shot, nominated Mikhail Dobkin, an oligarch with close ties to the former president, on Saturday.

Mr. Poroshenko, also known as “the chocolate king” for his ownership of Roshen, the Ukrainian chocolate manufacturer, won notice during the antigovernment protests last month for climbing onto a backhoe to prevent an angry demonstrator from driving it into police lines.

Until then, the man with the beefy face and mop of salt and pepper hair was hardly known for drama.

In a country where politicians tend to be flamboyant and boisterous, Mr. Poroshenko carefully weighs his words and speaks in measured, sometimes monotonous technicalities.

In fact, political analysts say, his staid manner may be part of his appeal in a country leery of further dramatic change.

Mr. Poroshenko might have remained merely a chocolatier with a modest political career if not for Russian actions that started last summer as part of an effort to apply economic pressure on pro-European businessmen to discourage the country from signing a trade deal with the European Union.

Russia banned his chocolate, ostensibly on the grounds that it posed health risks beyond the usual ones associated with candy, costing him millions in lost sales.

Mr. Poroshenko reacted angrily.

Rather than buckle, he financially supported the pro-European Union opposition, and won wide support for it.

In an interview in his office in Kiev, he highlighted the economic skills he said he brings from businesses that, aside from sweets, also include media, shipping, agriculture and automobiles, and explained the limits of possible compromise with Russia.

“I have experience in how to build up a new investment climate,” he said.

“I know how to build zero tolerance to corruption. I know how to build a court system. I know how to create a positive, absolutely new page of Ukrainian history.” 

For him to win, he will need to persuade Ukrainians to overlook their wariness of someone who has made a career of combining business with government.

A member of Parliament, he is also a former chairman of the national security council and a former minister of foreign affairs and of the economy.

He began his political career in 1998 as a legislator loyal to the ruling pro-Russian government, before throwing his support in 2001 behind the opposition politician Viktor Yushchenko, who would rise to power and win the presidency three years later in the pro-democracy Orange Revolution.

Though that government became mired in scandal, Mr. Poroshenko remained one of the most prominent and powerful opposition voices in the country.

Like other tycoons throughout post-Soviet countries, Ukraine’s capitalized on the flawed privatization of publicly held assets to amass enormous fortunes.

Mr. Poroshenko parlayed early profits from consumer goods trading to buy Ukraine’s rundown candy factories for a pittance in the 1990s, and later moved into government positions.

“He bought his way in; that’s the way it works in Ukraine,” said Ivan Lozowy, the director of a policy research group in Kiev, adding that no real evidence of malfeasance had ever come out.

Mr. Poroshenko’s reputation as a moderate who has tried to straddle the political divide between the Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russian-speaking east and as an economic modernizer has clearly intrigued Western governments, who have wagered vast sums of money and much national prestige on the proposition that Ukraine’s teetering domestic politics can be stabilized, with a goal of thwarting a threatened Russian invasion and a new war in Europe.

Mr. Poroshenko, whose daughter-in-law is Russian, met last week with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, and his leading position in the race reportedly gave the International Monetary Fund confidence to agree to release an $18 billion aid package.

A leading position for a centrist could also elevate the chances of a negotiated resolution with Russia.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia are to meet in Paris on Sunday to try to forge a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Yet even as Mr. Poroshenko’s political ambitions became clear, Russian authorities stepped up their economic pressure against his businesses, just this month raiding and shutting two Roshen chocolate factories in the Russian city of Lipetsk worth $200 million.

The problem in finding a resolution with Russia, Mr. Poroshenko said, is that while the Kremlin’s military action in Crimea caused Russians to rally around the flag, it also did the same for Ukrainians, erasing any good will toward Russia.

The chances of any candidate who openly endorses Russian proposals winning the election are vanishingly small.

Mr. Poroshenko, for all his moderate leanings, flatly rejected Russia’s proposal for the federalization of Ukraine as allowing “somebody in the Russian government trying to tell us what type of governmental system we should have.”

He cited polls showing Ukrainians who viewed Russia positively dropping to 20 percent from 92 percent after the Russian Army invaded Crimea this month.

Rather than agreeing to rewrite its Constitution, Mr. Poroshenko said, the Ukrainian government’s response to Russian troops massing on the eastern border should be “if the aggression continues against the rest of the country, the Ukrainian Army will open fire.”

Still, he has held up his experience running chocolate factories in Russia, along with his job as foreign minister, as proof he can work with the Russians.

In fact, before the Russian ban, his company had bet big on the Russian market, introducing a line of Russian Classic candy bars that revived Soviet brands like the Seagull bar, featuring a Social-Realist style beach scene on the wrapper.

Source: The New York Times

Kerry And Lavrov To Meet Over Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet Sunday evening in Paris to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, according to the State Department.

Ukraine's Vitali Klitschko says he won't run for president but hopes to be the mayor of Kiev.

Kerry and Lavrov are expected to discuss efforts to diffuse tensions surrounding the situation in Ukraine and the buildup of Russian troops along Russia's border with Ukraine.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the scheduled meeting.

Meanwhile, boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko on Saturday pulled out of the race for Ukraine's president, saying he wants to become mayor of Kiev.

His announcement came as Russia reiterated it had no intention of sending troops into Ukraine -- responding to Western warnings over a military buildup on the border following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

"We have absolutely no intention or interest to cross the border of Ukraine," Lavrov said in an interview Saturday with Russian state television.

Kiev and Western officials have voiced alarm about Russia's reported military buildup on Ukraine's eastern border.

Russia may have 40,000 troops near its border with eastern Ukraine and another 25,000 at locations inland who are on alert and prepared to go in, two U.S. officials told CNN's Barbara Starr.

The officials said that this estimate was largely based on satellite imagery and that a firm number is difficult to assess.

A spokesman for Ukraine's Council of National Security and Defense, Yarema Dukh, told CNN the government estimates 88,000 Russian troops are at the border.

Russia has said its troops are carrying out snap military exercises in the region.

Putin-Obama phone call 

On Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin called U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss the tenuous situation in Ukraine -- the latest exchange between two leaders who have been at loggerheads over the crisis and what should happen next.

According to the White House, Putin called to talk about an American proposal "for a diplomatic resolution," and the two presidents agreed their respective top diplomats "would meet to discuss next steps."

The back-and-forth also gave Obama the opportunity to express, as he's done repeatedly in recent weeks, his opposition to what he described as Russia's takeover of Crimea, which just a few weeks ago was part of Ukraine.

Klitschko pulls out of presidential race 

Klitschko, one of the most familiar faces of the opposition during the anti-government protests that ousted pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych last month, pulled out of the race for president and threw his weight instead behind a billionaire businessman.

He also told members of his UDAR party that Ukraine should aim to join the European Union fully.

"We need to have a joint democratic nominee. It has to be a candidate with the highest chances of winning. Today, I believe such a candidate is Petro Poroshenko," he told a party convention in Kiev, referring to the billionaire businessman, also a former foreign minister.

"Our goal is full membership of Ukraine in the EU."

Klitschko said that he would run for mayor of the capital.

"All reforms start in Kiev," he said.

Klitschko's withdrawal from the presidential race would set up a battle between Poroshenko and Ukraine's former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, in the May 25 elections.

After more than two years in prison, Tymoshenko was released in February following the ouster of her rival Yanukovych.

Source: CNN

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Crimean Refugees In Lviv

LVIV, Ukraine -- After annexing Crimea, Russia has given residents of the peninsula one month to opt out of Russian citizenship.

Thousands of them, predominantly Ukrainian speakers and Crimean Tatars, who make up about 12% of the local population, are leaving.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the prime minister of Ukraine, has said that the rest of Ukraine can accommodate 23,000 Crimeans and the government has set up a hotline for locals hoping to leave the peninsula.

Many of those leaving Crimea are seeking refuge in the west of Ukraine.

Over 2,000 have already contacted the regional authorities in Lviv, a town in western Ukraine, about temporary residence.

They arrive by car or on the daily train from Simferopol, which takes about 24 hours.

Some have gone further afield.

Last week, a group of 32 people from Yevpatoria, on the western coast of Crimea, crossed the Ukrainian border with Poland and applied for asylum.

Locals in Lviv have helped the Crimean arrivals offering accommodation and other support.

An activist from the nationalist Svoboda party donated food and some of her great-grandchildren’s toys.

One young couple is putting up a family of six Crimean Tatars in their living room; another man offered to host ten families in his tourist chalets in the nearby Carpathian mountains.

Kerim, a 50-year old Crimean Tatar from Simferopol, did not wait until the referendum.

He, his wife and two grown-up sons left their home and prized collection of 150 doves, crossing Ukraine in their Zhihuli car.

He had never been to Lviv before.

“I had heard that the people here are good,” he said, in Russian, when we met at a youth hostel in central Lviv where the family has been staying, free of charge, since they arrived ten days ago.

“We don’t want to be Russians, we want to be Ukrainians,” he said, sitting in a room of brightly coloured bunk-beds.

He and his wife had moved to Crimea in 1992 from Uzbekistan, where their parents had been sent during Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944.

They worked in construction and got on well with the local Russians.

Then the Russian soldiers took over last month.

“Now Russians are squabbling over how they will divide up the houses of their Tatar neighbours,” said Kerim’s 21-year-old son.

“Even those who are still there.”

The family has located a mosque in Lviv where their elder son can marry his fiancée.

They are keen to move on from the hostel and are considering buying a plot of land outside Lviv or joining a relative in the Khmelnytskyi region in central Ukraine.

During our conversation, over a generous spread of coffee, halva and sandwiches, Kerim received several calls from friends who had left Crimea too or those who were deciding whether to stay or go.

Stepping outside onto the street lined with elegant Habsburg-era buildings, Kerim said that he believes he will return to Crimea one day.

The Russian troops tried to provoke the Tatars into violence, but they gritted their teeth and kept calm.

“We will fight when the time comes,” he added, lighting a cigarette in the warm Lviv dusk.

Source: The Economist

Ukraine Prepares For War

KIEV, Ukraine -- When Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu stated that the Russian troops along Ukraine's borders were only conducting "training exercises" and have no "intention to cross Ukraine's borders or to engage in any aggressive actions," Ukrainians rolled their eyes.

Ukrainian tanks are transported from their base in Perevalne, Crimea, on Wednesday, March 26. After Russian troops seized most of Ukraine's bases in Crimea, interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered the withdrawal of armed forces from the Black Sea peninsula, citing Russian threats to the lives of military staff and their families.

And when President Vladimir Putin told Ukrainians "Don't believe those who terrify you with Russia, who shout that other regions will follow Crimea. We do not want Ukraine's division. ... We want Ukraine to be a strong, sovereign, and self-sufficient state," Ukrainians shrugged.

The problem is, even if Putin and Shoigu were being sincere, Moscow has lost all credibility among most Ukrainians and the international community.

After three weeks of aggressive Russian behavior and the possibility of existential annihilation, Ukrainians, like Israelis, prefer to think in terms of worst-case scenarios.

After all, they blithely assumed Russia would never attack -- and then Russia seized Crimea.

They never imagined that Russian officials would treat their country as an object of abject scorn.

They never suspected that thousands of Russians would chant anti-Ukrainian war slogans in the streets of Moscow.

In each instance, Ukrainians' working assumption of a friendly Russia proved dead wrong.

They also never imagined that the Yanukovych regime had so thoroughly permitted Ukraine's defensive capacity to deteriorate, by sacrificing Ukrainian security on the altar of the Yanukovych family's untrammeled accumulation of power and embezzlement of state funds.

A political scientist at Kiev's elite Mohyla University has stated that he is not "not optimistic about Ukraine maintaining the integrity of even its mainland territorial borders" until the end of March and has evacuated his family from the capital.

A friend in Lviv tells me that "an invasion and war are unavoidable."

An American businessman in Kiev writes: "I believe we are closer to World War III than we have ever been."

In many parts of the country, Ukrainians have taken to preparing little suitcases with all the necessities -- just in case they have to flee at a moment's notice.

Ukrainians' jitters are perfectly understandable.

Ukrainian officials say that 80,000 Russian troops and heavy armor are amassed on Ukraine's borders.

Putin claims to have the right to intervene anywhere in Ukraine if and when he deems that Russian citizens are being threatened.

He and myriad Russian policymakers routinely insist that Ukrainians are really Russians and that Ukraine is an artificial entity.

Thus far, Moscow refuses to recognize the democratic government in Kiev and claims that it is no longer bound by the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.

Because of Russia's occupation of Crimea and Putin's militarist rhetoric, many Ukrainians are certain that war is inevitable.

Prime Minister Arsenii Yatseniuk warned Moscow on March 20 that Ukraine's response to a Russian invasion would be vigorous.

Kiev has already begun improving its defensive capabilities.

On March 17, the Ukrainian Parliament allocated 6.9 billion hryvnia -- about $684 million -- to defense.

In the last few weeks, Ukrainian armed forces, tanks and other defensive weapons have been deployed along the country's border with Russia.

The number of border guards along Ukraine's southeastern borders has also increased.

Kherson province is planning to build a 20-kilometer long ditch along its border with Crimea.

A National Guard has been formed, and its ranks are to consist of 20,000 troops.

The Ukrainian Security Service appears also to have become more active in Ukraine's vulnerable southeastern provinces.

No less important, the population is determined to resist and sales of guns have far outstripped supply.

Thinking in more long-term categories, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Volodymyr Ohryzko has even suggested that Ukraine exit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and initiate the "process of uranium enrichment."

American provision of non-lethal military equipment and advisers would also go a long way to improving Ukraine's deterrent capacity.

Kiev's defensive efforts may or may not be enough to stop a possible Russian attack, but they would certainly make it far more difficult, risky, and bloody -- which may be enough to deter Moscow.

Alternatively, these efforts may just induce Russia to seek less frontal modes of undermining Ukraine.

After all, any potential Russian assault on mainland Ukraine would rest on three pillars: an invasion by the army, the agitation by pro-Putin "fifth columns" within Ukraine, and the diversionary activities of Russian secret agents and special forces tasked with sowing panic, sabotaging transportation and communications, and attacking military bases and arms depots.

Although Ukraine appears to have the capacity to neutralize internal threats, a concerted long-term Russian effort at stoking instability could lay the groundwork for a later invasion or, at the very least, divert Kiev's attention from the pressing cause of economic and political reform.

While Ukraine's security may or may not be enhanced by most of these measures, the irony is that Russia's definitely will not be -- at least in the medium to long term.

Putin's seizure of Crimea may have provided him with the opportunity to beat his chest before adoring Russian crowds, but it will eventually undermine Russian security.

Ukraine is and will remain too weak to be a threat.

And on its own, no country in Russia's "near abroad" can pose a threat.

Even taken together, the non-Russians will be weaker than Russia.

But Putin's land grab will make all of them inclined to regard Russia as a potentially land-grabbing foe and to promote their own security independently of Russia and outside of any Russian-led blocs or unions.

Expect the Central Asians and Azerbaijanis to turn increasingly to China and Turkey, and the Georgians, Moldovans, Ukrainians, and even the Belarusians to head for the West.

Also expect the Russian Federation's non-Russian autonomous republics and regions to press for greater autonomy from Moscow.

If Putin could just put aside his hypernationalist neo-imperialism and think straight about what's good for Russia, he'd try to nip the problem in the bud.

A sober Russia would then withdraw all the forces that are engaged in "exercises" along Ukraine's borders and agree to a significant force reduction in Crimea.

A sober Russia would also explicitly state that it recognizes the Budapest Memorandum and the current Ukrainian government.

That last point is essential.

As long as the Kremlin insists that the Kiev government is illegitimate, it will always be able to claim that its behavior toward Ukraine's Russian minority is also illegitimate and, hence, liable to correction by means of Russian intervention.

Seen in this light, annexing Crimea has to be one of Putin's worst strategic blunders.

Had the province become "independent," there would still have been a theoretical possibility of finding some accommodation with Kiev.

After annexation, any dialogue with the Ukrainian government -- and, thus, any resolution of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict -- becomes significantly more difficult.

It's perfectly possible that Putin wants the conflict to remain unresolved, on the assumption that it will undermine Ukraine.

The problem is that an unresolved conflict will also undermine Russia.

As Ukraine and Russia's other non-Russian neighbors are compelled by Moscow's aggression to enhance their security, Russia may soon face a nightmare of its own creation -- non-Russian encirclement.

When Russians wake up to the reality after the euphoria of Crimea's annexation wears off, Putin may very well discover that his own security and stability as President are in danger.

Source: CNN

If Putin Invades Ukraine Again, It Will Be To Stop The Presidential Election

MOSCOW, Russia -- Reports continue to flow in of a large, combat-ready Russian force building up near Ukraine’s eastern border. That suggests Russian president Vladimir Putin is at least giving himself the option of a new invasion.

Ready, Mr. President.

The question is what would prompt one. Although Putin’s movements in Ukraine crisis have seemed unpredictable, one potential trigger is to stop Ukraine’s May 25 presidential elections and the consolidation of what he views as an antagonistic, pro-Western government on Russia’s border.

A little over a month after Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted and Russia invaded Crimea, Russia’s foreign ministry today denied that there is a threatening Russian force on the border; just a training exercise, it insisted.

But among the troubling signs that are that Russia has sent field hospitals as well as tens of thousands of troops, some of whom are taking steps to conceal their positions.

They include motorized units, suggesting the capacity for a blitzkrieg.

A US official yesterday said the Russian troops do not appear to be carrying out any exercises.

In an afternoon note to clients today, Eurasia Group’s Alex Brideau put the chance of an invasion at 40%.

With Crimea dependent on Ukraine for its lights and heat, Putin’s objective may be to establish a land route directly from Russia to make sure its newest territory isn’t cut off.

Analysts think he may therefore have in mind seizing the majority-Russian-speaking Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk.

The way Russia rationalizes its actions in Ukraine is that ethnic Russians and Russian interests have been and may still be in danger from Ukrainian nationalists.

That the West dismisses this as a pretext is irrelevant.

Reasons keep showing up for Putin to act.

This week, for instance, a YouTube recording (in Russian) surfaced in which Ukrainian political leader Yulia Tymoshenko apparently threatens Putin personally.

In the tapped phone conversation, Tymoshenko expresses the wish that she could “grab a machine gun and shoot that motherfucker in the head.”

The Tymoshenko remark—apparently intercepted by a spy agency, probably Russia’s—was recorded two days after a March 16 Crimean referendum validated the region’s shift to Russian control.

In a phone call with a national security adviser, Tymoshenko says, “It’s about time we grab our guns and go kill those damn Russians together with their leader.”

Tymoshenko asserts that parts of the call were doctored, but she did not disavow these passages.

At Foreign Policy, Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer cites the May election as an inflection point that Putin may wish to disrupt.

Tymoshenko, who was prime minister before being jailed by Yanukovych, this week announced that she would run for president in May.

The next six weeks are a prime period for an invasion, Felgenhauer writes.

“The Kremlin may find it hard to resist the temptation to attack Ukraine and ‘liberate’ the south and east while Russia is ready, the Ukrainian military weak, and the regime in Kiev unstable,” Felgenhauer says.

But in a blog post, New York University professor Mark Galeotti says time is actually running out for Putin.

The best time for an invasion would have been last week.

“Every week that goes by is a week for the Ukrainians to prepare both militarily and politically,” Galeotti told Quartz in an email exchange.

Still, with the invasion of Crimea, Putin demonstrated his capacity to surprise.

He could demonstrate it again, even if Ukrainian troops stand in the way.

Source: Quartz

Vladimir Putin Calls Obama About Ukraine Crisis

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- President Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin for an hour Friday in an effort to resolve the crisis over Ukraine, the first direct conversation between the two leaders after nearly two weeks of tension.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman ibn Abdulaziz al Saud greets President Obama at King Abdullah’s desert camp in Rawdat Khuraim, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis want the U.S. to provide more arms to rebels in Syria.

Putin initiated the call, White House officials said.

It came after a televised interview in which Obama called for Russia to pull its troops back from the Ukrainian border.

In the phone conversation, Obama asked Putin to "put a concrete response in writing" to a proposal the United States has made to resolve the crisis, which involved Russia's incursion into the Crimean region of Ukraine.

The two agreed to a meeting between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the proposal further.

The call came as Obama was in Saudi Arabia for a meeting with King Abdullah, where he grappled with another difficult issue: the Saudi desire to have the U.S. provide more arms to rebels fighting the government of Syria.

An administration official said Obama was considering allowing the supply of shoulder-held antiaircraft missiles, along with other options.

The missiles would be a potent weapon for the opposition, but the U.S. has resisted providing them, in part out of fear that they could be diverted to terrorist groups that might try to use them against civilian airliners.

That is still of concern to the president, another official said.

Obama advisors had described the visit to the desert kingdom as a way for him to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to its longtime ally in the Middle East, but the phone conversation with Putin quickly overshadowed the meeting.

Thus did Obama wrap up a week of foreign travel characterized from start to finish by its herky-jerky agenda.

The focus veered widely from talks about Ukraine with Europeans to discussions about Syria, Iran and Egypt on an overnight trip to Saudi Arabia, where Obama met Abdullah at his desert encampment north of Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

In his interview with CBS News, which was broadcast Friday, Obama drew attention to the Russian troops massed near Ukraine's borders.

"It may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that they've got additional plans," he said.

"In either case, what we need right now to resolve and de-escalate the situation would be for Russia to move back those troops and to begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government, as well as the international community."

An administration official described the conversation between Obama and Putin as "frank and direct," the preferred diplomatic code for contentious and tense.

In the Kremlin's description of the call, Putin complained to Obama about the "continuing rampage of extremists" in Ukraine who, he said, are intimidating pro-Russian elements "with impunity."

He also complained that the Transnistria region of Moldova, which is seeking annexation to Russia, is suffering under a Ukrainian "blockade."

Russia wants a "fair and comprehensive" settlement for Transnistria, a tiny slip of territory in eastern Moldova next to Ukraine, and wants to explore steps to "stabilize the situation" in Ukraine, Putin told Obama, according to the Kremlin.

Samuel Charap, a Russia specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, said the Russian description of the phone conversation suggested there was little reason to hope for a breakthrough.

"They had different agendas; they were really speaking different languages," he said. 

Charap said Putin's comment about Transnistria was "ominous" because Russia might use such complaints as the basis for further military action in Ukraine.

And he noted that Russia would like to negotiate over Ukraine's future with U.S. officials, but does not recognize the interim Ukrainian government.

In the White House account, Obama emphasized to his Russian counterpart that the U.S. continues to support a diplomatic path that includes close consultation with the new Ukrainian leaders.

U.S. officials declined to describe the proposal that Kerry and Lavrov will discuss, but said the two diplomats had been working to reach an agreement to de-escalate the situation.

However, they said it could include international monitors, a Russian troop pull-back and direct Russia-Ukraine negotiations.

Obama arrived in Riyadh intent on focusing on soothing Saudi concern about various issues.

Syria and Iran dominated the meeting, a senior administration official said.

By day's end, though, the Saudi king had gotten the glimmer of a promise that Obama would weigh backing off his objection to arming Syrian rebels with man-operated portable air defense systems — "manpads," in military jargon.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Friday, March 28, 2014

US Intel: More Indications Than Ever Russia Could Invade Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- New U.S. intelligence assessments say there are more indications than ever that Russia could invade eastern Ukraine, as congressional lawmakers reacted with alarm to Vladimir Putin's rapidly expanding military buildup along the border.

"The thinking in the U.S. government is that the likelihood of a major Russian incursion into Ukraine has increased," a senior U.S. official told Fox News.

The new thinking is based mostly off analysis of public information, such as heightened rhetoric from Putin and his claims that Russian-speaking people in Ukraine face "brutality."

He is building a public case for more military action, according to senior U.S. officials.

Also significant is the large buildup of Russian forces along the border with Ukraine. 

U.S. Defense officials say the numbers of troops far exceeds the amount needed for a training exercise.

And the fact that there is no real evidence any large-scale exercises have occurred, and that none of the troops have returned to their bases, is also concerning to U.S. observers.

 Some have estimated the troop strength to be at about 30,000 -- Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, though, claimed Thursday that the number could be as high as 80,000.

It is believed that an additional 50,000 troops may have flooded the region in the last few days.

These indications are contributing to a growing sense of alarm in Washington.

"I can't tell you how awful this is," said one congressional source who spoke to Fox News on the condition of anonymity.

In Rome as part of an overseas tour, President Obama stressed the need for the U.S. to support Ukraine.

The Senate, shortly after noon, approved the first major Ukraine aid bill -- one which also includes sanctions against Russia.

The House approved a different version, but each would provide $1 billion to Ukraine, and lawmakers are trying to iron out the differences before the end of the day.

The massive troop buildup along the border is reminiscent of Russia's military movements prior to the conflicts in Chechnya and Georgia, one official said.

A Defense official said if Russia were to invade the mainland, Ukraine would attempt to defend itself and this would be "far from a bloodless event as we saw in Crimea."

However, Ukraine would be outmatched, this official said.

The latest assessment offers a consensus view of intelligence agencies and the U.S. military.

The assessment also takes into account that Putin likely has the desire to create a land bridge into Crimea.

Putin may also believe that if he is to pay a price with the international community in the form of sanctions, he is better off getting everything out of this incursion that he wants, one senior U.S. official told Fox News.

Amid the warnings, the commander of NATO forces in Europe briefed lawmakers Thursday on the threat posed by Russian forces.

Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, gave a classified briefing Thursday morning to members of the House Armed Services Committee.

He plans to give several briefings, including on the Senate side.

"We're all concerned about what Russia is doing on the border of Ukraine," Breedlove said after the first briefing.

"The size of the forces have a message that are not congruous with respecting the borders."

After the briefing, one committee aide said:

"Nothing that happened in the briefing calmed the sense of alarm expressed by members yesterday."

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday strongly urged President Obama to take a firmer stance against Russia.

The letter, by eight congressmen, comes after U.S. and European security agencies estimated that Russia has deployed military and militia units totaling more than 30,000 people along its border with eastern Ukraine, Reuters reported.

The letter's authors said they are "gravely concerned" about the reported troop buildup, and urged the Obama administration to work with NATO allies to share intelligence with the Ukrainian government so they can prepare for any further incursions by Russia.

"There is deep apprehension that Moscow may invade eastern and southern Ukraine, pressing west to Transdniestria, and also seek land grabs in the Baltics," they wrote. 

In a statement accompanying the letter's release, committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said Russia's "war on Ukraine has already started."

"It is time to stop speculating about possibility, and start dealing with reality," McKeon said.

"Continued inaction by the President in the face of Mr. Putin's invasion will make further Russian aggression more -- not less -- likely.

Any show of resolve from the White House will have my full support."

Over the weekend, Breedlove raised the possibility that Moscow could move to expand its territory by annexing Transdniestria, a breakaway state whose 1990 claim of independence from the former Soviet republic of Moldova has gone unrecognized by the rest of the world.

"It's remarkable concern," one source said Wednesday.

"There are senior people here are more concerned than I have ever seen them."

A third source said that information received on Capitol Hill Wednesday "reflects a deteriorating situation which prompted very serious concern."

Source: FOX News

Ukraine Finds New Hero In Commander Of Air Force Base Who Stood Up To Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- After Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia, a man in a black raincoat turned up at the gate of the Belbek Air Base to demand that Ukrainian forces holed up inside surrender to Russia.

In this Tuesday, March 4, 2014 file photo, Air Force Col. Yuliy Mamchur, commander of the Ukrainian Belbek Air Base, leads his men to the base outside Sevastopol, Ukraine. The day after Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia, a man in a black raincoat turned up at the gate of the Belbek Air Base to demand that the Ukrainian forces holed up inside surrender to Russia. The Ukrainian commander of the base came out proudly wearing his visor cap decorated with gold wings - and refused. Having withstood five days of sustained intimidation and pressure to defect from his captors, Mamchur now awaits a hero’s welcome in the capital, Kiev.

The Ukrainian commander of the base came out wearing his cap decorated with gold wings — and refused.

The Russian visitor persisted:

"From yesterday, you are located on the territory of a foreign state. So I'm giving you your chance to keep your honor as an officer."

"As an officer with honor, I tell you I will stay," retorted Air Force Col. Yuliy Mamchur.

That act of defiance against the overwhelming force of Russian troops that had put Belbek under siege created a new Ukrainian national hero.

Today, Mamchur is hailed as an officer who stood up to the Russian juggernaut, remained true to his oath as a soldier and held out with his beleaguered unit in Crimea for as long as he could.

After Mamchur refused to cave, Russian forces overran Belbek with irresistible force and numbers.

Mamchur stood calmly with his men. He led them in singing the Ukrainian national anthem, which begins with the lyrics "Ukraine's glory and freedom are not yet dead." 

Russian forces then arrested Mamchur and took him away for questioning.

He withstood five days of sustained intimidation and pressure to defect from his captors — and he was released on Wednesday after that pressure proved futile.

"They tried to get me to renounce my military oath to Ukraine and switch to the Russian army," Mamchur said in a televised interview shortly after his release.

"Then they applied psychological pressure, they didn't let me sleep, banging with their rifle-butts on the door."

 Mamchur is now heading to a hero's welcome in the capital, Kiev.

As a pilot and instructor on the MiG-29, a fourth-generation jet fighter that can fly at over twice the speed of sound, Mamchur was a clearly a "top gun" among Ukrainian Air Force aviators, said Thomas Newdick, a Western air power analyst.

At Belbek, Mamchur would have had in important role in preparing cadets and young flyers for combat duty, Newdick said.

For Mamchur, the saga of resistance began in early March when troops under orders from Moscow swarmed into Crimea.

Ukraine's inexperienced government dithered over a response, uncertain over whether to order Ukrainian forces to evacuate Belbek in the wine country north of Sevastopol.

So Mamchur stuck to his ground whenever the Russians came calling to tell him to leave.

"If there is an order, I will leave. If there is no order, I will stay," he told the man in the raincoat who demanded last week that Belbek stand down.

During the ordeal, the colonel gave reporters and TV crews the run of the base grounds still in Ukrainian hands, and held impromptu news conferences in front of brigade headquarters.

Any hungry journalists were welcome to join his men for borscht and kasha in the mess hall, the colonel said.

Displaying a sense of cool under pressure as the inevitable storming of his base neared, Mamchur oversaw an impromptu wedding between two lieutenants — medic Halina Volosyanchik and communications officer Ivan Benera.

As the couple were handed a gift and bouquet of flowers, Mamchur said:

"You will always remember this, the whole world is here watching."

Hours later, armed pro-Russia forces smashed into and took control of the base.

The colonel's arrest provoked helpless outrage in Kiev.

But any fear that Mamchur would defect to the other side proved unfounded.

On Wednesday afternoon, acting Crimean Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchinov announced that officers detained by Russian troops were being released.

Mamchur was given the time to gather his belongings from home, bid farewell to his wife, and leave the peninsula.

Like all military spouses left behind by retreating troops, Larissa Mamchur will be reunited with her husband once new accommodation is found for them.

If Mamchur was fazed by his ordeal, he showed no sign of it.

"I feel good. I am in a fighting mood," he told reporters during his TV appearance.

"What will I do now? First I will build up my strength and then I will make a decision. Glory to Ukraine!"

Source: FOX News

Former Prime Minister Announces Candidacy For President Of Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, said Thursday that she would run for president in elections to be held in May.

Yulia Tymoshenko

The announcement made it clear that after two and a half years in prison she intends to play an active role as Ukraine struggles with political upheaval, a severe financial crisis and menacing moves by Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula a week ago, has massed troops along the eastern border and poses an enormous threat to this country’s gas supply.

Ms. Tymoshenko announced her political intentions on a day of fast-moving diplomatic and economic developments in the Ukraine crisis, the focal point of escalating tensions between Russia and the West.

The International Monetary Fund announced an agreement to provide Ukraine with up to $18 billion in urgently needed loans; the House and Senate in Washington approved a $1 billion aid package and new sanctions against Russians and Ukrainians deemed responsible for the Crimea annexation; and the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject that annexation, a symbolic step that Western nations called a rebuke to Russia that showed its isolation.

And in a possible sign of further internal turmoil, hundreds of members of Right Sector, the extreme nationalist group that played an important role in the convulsions that culminated in a change of government last month, gathered outside Parliament in Kiev on Thursday night, demanding the resignation of the interim interior minister. 

They were angry over the killing by police officers earlier in the week of a far-right activist, Oleksandr Muzychko, whom the Interior Ministry had described as a violent member of an armed criminal group.

The crowd later dispersed but promised to return Friday.

Ms. Tymoshenko, a charismatic but also potentially polarizing figure, ran unsuccessfully for president in 2010 against her archrival, Viktor F. Yanukovych, who was toppled in the February upheaval and fled to Russia. 

She is now the best-known candidate in a field that includes Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire known as the chocolate king; Vitali V. Klitschko, a former boxing champion who is a leader in Parliament; and Sergey Tigipko, a veteran lawmaker and former vice prime minister under Mr. Yanukovych who announced his candidacy on Thursday as well, calling himself an independent.

Ms. Tymoshenko was jailed on charges that were criticized by the West as politically motivated and as stemming from her rivalry with Mr. Yanukovych.

She was freed from a prison hospital just hours after Mr. Yanukovych departed the presidential residence last month, and she immediately went to Independence Square, the gathering point for demonstrators in Kiev, where she received a mixed reception. 

Although Ms. Tymoshenko has long harbored ambitions to be president, and despite her candidacy’s being widely expected, she had seemed to waver a bit in recent weeks.

While the demonstrators in Kiev were thrilled about Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster, many have expressed suspicions of anyone with longstanding ties to Ukrainian politics, which has a history of corruption and mismanagement.

Ms. Tymoshenko, 53, held a news conference to announce her ambitions at the headquarters of her political party, Fatherland, in Kiev.

“I plan to run for the position of president of Ukraine,” Ms. Tymoshenko said.

She also said that she considered President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who moved to annex the Crimean Peninsula in the aftermath of Mr. Yanukovych’s departure and has deployed at least 20,000 Russian troops along the Russia-Ukraine border, to be “enemy No. 1 of Ukraine.”

She emphasized her experience, arguing that she was more qualified than any rival.

Sitting with crutches on either side of her, the legacy of chronic back problems aggravated by her incarceration, she said Ukrainian lawmakers “can’t imagine what I, as a politician, have experienced for myself in prison.”

Ms. Tymoshenko, who is known for her trademark blond braid, generated new controversy this week after she was heard in a recorded telephone conversation using expletives and a derogatory term for Russians, and saying that Russia should be destroyed for its invasion and annexation of Crimea.

“I am hoping that I will use all of my connections and will get the whole world to rise up so that not even scorched earth would be left of Russia,” Ms. Tymoshenko said in the call, posted on YouTube.

Similar calls, believed to have been recorded by Russian intelligence services, have been posted on YouTube, including one between an American assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, and the American ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey R. Pyatt.

Ms. Tymoshenko, writing on Twitter, suggested that some of the conversation had been altered but appeared to confirm the general contents, and apologized for using expletives.

Since Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster, which the Kremlin has denounced as a coup supported by the West, the Fatherland party has held a strong grip on the new provisional government.

Both the acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, and the acting prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, are leading members of Fatherland.

The party voted at a conference last year to nominate Ms. Tymoshenko as its candidate for president should she be able to run.

The I.M.F. loan agreement, announced in Kiev, will hinge on the country’s steps to let the value of its currency float downward, to cut corruption and red tape, and, crucially, to reduce huge state subsidies for the consumption of natural gas.

The energy subsidies alone represent roughly 8 percent of Ukraine’s gross domestic product, and Russia has said that it intends to raise the price of natural gas to Ukraine on April 1.

Ukraine is largely dependent on Russian supplies and already owes the Russian energy company Gazprom more than $1 billion.

The deal, subject to the approval of the monetary fund’s board next month, is intended to get the new government through looming debt obligations when its hard-currency accounts have been sharply diminished by the months of unrest. 

The two-year loan package, the fund said in a statement, is expected to unlock more loans, including from the United States and the European Union, which should bring the total over two years to $27 billion.

The loans will be more spread out and less onerous than the $15 billion Russia had promised Mr. Yanukovych before he fled the country.

Mr. Yatsenyuk told Parliament on Thursday that the country was “on the brink of economic and financial bankruptcy” and required urgent steps in conjunction with the monetary fund.

He announced legislation to prevent “financial disaster,” including provisions that would freeze the minimum wage and raise taxes on the largest businesses.

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, praised the I.M.F. announcement, saying it was “a powerful sign of support from the international community for the Ukrainian government.”

Source: The New York Times

Thursday, March 27, 2014

IMF Throws Ukraine Financial Lifeline, Russian Economy To Slump

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine won a $27-billion international financial lifeline on Thursday, rushed through in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea, as Moscow's economy minister spoke of the cost of military action in its former Soviet neighbor.

A Russian soldier (L) guides a Ukrainian tank, which is to be loaded onto a train, in northern Crimea March 27, 2014.

The International Monetary Fund announced agreement on a $14-18 billion standby credit for Kiev in return for tough economic reforms that will unlock further aid from the European Union, the United States and other lenders over two years.

The IMF deal, to be approved by the global agency's board next month, was a political boost for the pro-Western government that replaced ousted Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich last month, prompting Moscow to seize the Black Sea peninsula.

"The financial support from the broader international community that the program will unlock amounts to $27 billion over the next two years," an IMF statement said. 

The Ukraine crisis has triggered the most serious East-West confrontation since the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago, deepening the slump in Ukraine's battered economy, centered on coal and steel production, gas transit and grain exports. 

Without IMF-mandated austerity measures, the economy could contract by up to 10 percent this year, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told parliament, explaining why his government had bowed to the Fund's conditions.

"Ukraine is on the edge of economic and financial bankruptcy," he said.

Kiev opened the way for the IMF deal by announcing on Wednesday a radical 50-percent hike in the price of domestic gas from May 1 and promising to phase out remaining energy subsidies by 2016, an unpopular step Yanukovich had refused to take.

It also accepted a flexible exchange rate that is fuelling inflation, set to hit 12-14 percent this year, according to Yatseniuk, and a central bank monetary policy based on inflation targeting.

The prime minister, who took on the job a month ago saying his government was on a "kamikaze" mission to take painful decisions, said the price of Russian gas on which the nation depends may rise 79 percent - a recipe for popular discontent.

The IMF statement said a key element of the program would focus on cleaning up Ukraine's opaque energy giant Naftogaz, which imports gas from Russia's Gazprom.

Naftogaz's chief executive was arrested last week in a corruption probe.

"The program will focus on improving the transparency of Naftogaz's accounts and restructuring of the company to reduce its costs and raise efficiency," it said. 


The international rescue for Ukraine was in sharp contrast to Western measures to isolate Russia diplomatically and charge it an economic price for the annexation of Crimea, home to Moscow's Black Sea fleet and a majority of ethnic Russians. 

Targeted U.S. and EU visa bans and asset freezes against senior Russian and Crimean officials, with the threat of tougher economic sanctions to come if President Vladimir Putin goes any further, have accelerated capital flight.

Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said on Thursday capital outflow could be around $100 billion this year, and would slow economic growth to about 0.6 percent.

"If we assume in the first quarter capital outflow was $60 billion ... then (it) will reach around $100 billion for the whole year," Ulyukayev told an investment conference.

"Under this scenario, we estimate that economic growth will slow down to 0.6 percent."

The Economy Ministry forecast in January that GDP growth this year would be about 2.5 percent.

The World Bank gave a gloomier forecast for the Russian economy, saying that in a high-risk scenario of persistent tension over Ukraine, Moscow's economy could shrink by up to 1.8 percent, even without Western trade sanctions.

Ukraine's dollar bonds jumped on news of the IMF bailout while Russian stocks were down about 1.5 percent on economic pessimism there.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in the main policy speech of his European tour, warned Russia on Wednesday that it faced growing isolation, incremental sanctions and more severe economic consequences unless it changed course.

In a statement after Ukraine's IMF deal, the White House said:

"This represents a powerful sign of support from the international community for the Ukrainian government.

"The IMF program will be a central component of a package of assistance to support Ukraine as it implements reforms and conducts free and fair elections that will allow all the Ukrainian people to determine the future of their country."

Russian leaders have already said that Ukraine's discount from Gazprom will come to an end next week.

Yatseniuk said he expected Moscow to charge Kiev as much as $480 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas from April 1 instead of the current $268.50.

That could exacerbate the country's economic woes and cause political instability in the run-up to a May 25 presidential election.

The European Union signed a political association agreement with Ukraine last week but is holding off from signing a far-reaching trade and economic cooperation pact until a new elected government is in place.

Source: Yahoo News

Crimea Besieged By Ukraine Control Of Power, Water

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea -- Within days of Crimea being swallowed up by Russia, the lights began flickering out.

Crimea's water resources

Officials in the peninsula accused Ukraine of halving electricity supplies in order to bully Crimea, which voted earlier this month in a referendum to secede and join Russia.

"Cutting supplies is an attempt by Kiev to blackmail Russia through Crimea," Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov wrote on his Twitter account.

Aksyonov's combative reaction reflects a sobering reality for Crimea: the strategic peninsula's overwhelming reliance on electricity and water supplies from mainland Ukraine.

The Kiev government, which has been unable to prevent the Russian annexation, still wields a weapon it can use to bargain with its aggressive neighbor.

Crimea currently gets about 80 percent of its electricity and a similar share of its water needs from Ukraine.

But Ukraine also needs to be careful not to hit Crimeans too hard over electricity and water.

It cannot afford to be seen hurting ordinary people as it argues that the region remains part of its territory.

Analysts say that Ukraine will likely be able to charge higher prices for power and water supplies to Crimea, but won't get any leverage on political and security issues. 

Ukrainian authorities have described power cutoffs to Crimea this week as simply the result of technical maintenance and insist they would do nothing to harm residents.

Russian officials have rushed to the rescue with hundreds of diesel generators and started drafting plans to connect the region's electrical grid to mainland Russia, which is separated from Crimea by the Kerch Strait.

They said a possible water shortage could be offset by more efficient use of existing resources.

Those reassurances have provided little comfort to Filipp Savchenko, the 29-year-old owner of a refrigeration and logistics business in Simferopol, the Crimean capital.

Savchenko said Tuesday that the power had been out for two nights at his warehouse, where he stores about $9,000 of produce daily for his clients.

"With the help of the generators we have, we were able to survive," Savchenko said.

"But if they turn (the electricity) off in the future or for longer, we won't be able to cope. We'll lose our produce and business owners will have legal issues with us." 

Regardless of the intention behind the recent blackouts, they have underscored Crimea's dependency on mainland Ukraine.

They also highlight its lack of a real contingency plan if Kiev does decide to pull the plug.

Russia's long-term projects could eventually snap Crimea's reliance on Ukraine for good, but that could take years.

Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said this week that a quick solution for the power problem could be to use a transmission cable to hook up the peninsula to Russia's power grid across the Kerch Strait, which is 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) wide at its narrowest point.

Russia has dispatched diesel generators, including some big units used as a back-up during the recent Sochi Winter Games.

Russian Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said Tuesday that his agency had already delivered 1,400 diesel generators to Crimea.

For the longer term, the Crimean regional government has pushed the idea of building two power plants on the peninsula.

Ambitious infrastructure projects in Russia are typically blighted by major overspend and corruption.

Irrigation has long been a headache for Crimea, and could become so again, should Ukraine choose to apply pressure by closing off the Soviet-built canals fed by the Dnipro River, a major waterway that streams through the heart of the country.

The canal system that feeds Crimea was built only after the peninsula was transferred in 1954 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to his native Ukraine.

Deputy Crimean premier Rustam Temirgaliyev has grimly acknowledged that the peninsula has not to date found any alternative to water supplies from the Dnipro.

But Dmitry Kirillov, the head of water resources department at Russia's Natural Resources Ministry, said that Crimea's potential water problem isn't that threatening.

He argued that the agricultural sector accounts for the bulk of the region's water consumption, and a possible water shortage can be overcome simply by stopping the cultivation of some crops, such as rice, and focusing on traditional winemaking. 

Adversity for the peninsula may prove an opportunity for Ukraine, which is already signaling its intent to withdraw some of the state subsidies for essential resources that have kept prices relatively low.

Sergei Sobolev, head of the parliamentary faction of the Fatherland party, whose leading members now dominate the government, has argued that special tariffs should be established for power and water supplies to Crimea.

The need to raise funds for Ukraine's cash-strapped treasury will prove particularly acute against the backdrop of reported Russian plans to increase the price of natural gas to $405 per thousand cubic meters.

Late last year, Russia agreed to help prop up the teetering government of now-ousted President Viktor Yanukovych by selling Ukraine gas at $268.50 per thousand cubic meters, but it has recently announced a decision to scrap the discount.

"We have no intention of subsidizing citizens of the Russian Federation: the occupiers that have now deployed their armed contingents on temporarily occupied territory," Sobolev was cited as telling parliament this week by the UNIAN news agency.

Sobolev said that prices for gas and electricity in Crimea are priced four times below market cost and that water is provided at one-seventh of its real value.

Vladimir Omelchenko, an energy analyst at the respected Kiev-based Razumkov Center think tank, said Ukrainian companies will now charge prices that would bring a profit.

He said it would be unrealistic to expect that Ukraine could win security guarantees from Moscow or persuade it to return the Ukrainian military equipment seized in Crimea.

Alexander Konovalov, the head of the Institute of Strategic Assessment and Analysis, an independent think-tank, said that Ukraine could potentially profit on its current monopoly on providing power and water supplier to Crimea.

But he added that Moscow's refusal to engage in a dialogue with Ukraine's new government was hampering any meaningful dialogue.

"To start bargaining, you have to sit down for talks," Konovalov said.

"And Russia has said the (Ukrainian) government is illegitimate."

Either way, many of the Crimeans who have supported the Russian annexation remain confident Russia will come to the rescue if matters get any more serious. 

"We've lived through this before, I'll just go and buy some candles," said Olga Dusheyeva, an 81-year-old former math teacher.

"I'm not scared, I know that Russia will always help us."

Source: AP