Friday, October 31, 2014

Ukraine’s Election - Good Voters, Not Such Good Guys

KIEV, Ukraine -- To all appearances, Ukraine’s parliamentary election on October 26th was a triumph.

The poll results were promising, but the future for Ukraine is dauntingly difficult.

Reformists mostly won and voters rebuked the far right and far left. 

Western allies heaped praise on the pro-European, pro-democratic results.

Yet Ukraine remains troubled and deeply divided.

In an upset, the People’s Front party of Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the prime minister, narrowly beat President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc by 22.2% to 21.8%.

This means that Ukraine will keep two power centres, as Mr Yatsenyuk seems sure to stay in office.

Mr Poroshenko had hoped to win a majority and install a loyalist instead.

Now the People’s Front and the Poroshenko Bloc must form a coalition, probably with the third-placed Samopomich (Self-Help) party, led by the mayor of Lviv.

The six parties that reached a 5% threshold will fill half of the 450-seat parliament (Rada) from their party lists.

The rest will come from districts where deputies are elected directly and only later join party factions.

The vote reflected the western regions’ power in the new Ukraine.

Turnout was highest in the west, and relatively low overall at 52% (down from 60% in May’s presidential election).

In Lviv 70% of voters showed up, against only 40% in Odessa.

In Ukrainian-controlled areas of the Donbas turnout was just 32%.

Neither Crimea nor the separatist-held eastern regions voted (their 27 seats in the Rada will stay empty).

The Opposition Bloc, a revamped version of Viktor Yanukovych’s reviled Party of Regions, got into the Rada, after finishing fourth, with 9%.

The party won much of the south-east—Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia and even Dnipropetrovsk.

Joining them in parliament will be some 60-70 directly elected deputies aligned with the old regime.

Their presence will incense first-time politicians drawn from the Maidan movement who fought hard to oust Yanukovych.

It will also upset Ukraine’s volunteer battalions, including commanders of three powerful anti-rebel paramilitary groups who were elected.

Co-operation with the Opposition Bloc, which includes Yanukovych’s former chief of staff, Sergei Levochkin, will be unpalatable.

But Hannes Schreiber, of the EU delegation in Kiev, argues it will be “decisive to have the former ruling side in the dialogue”.

Failure to do so would increase feelings of exclusion in Russian-leaning regions, where Kremlin agents continue to sow dissent.

Ukrainian security services say they detained pro-Russian “diversion groups” in Kharkiv, Odessa, Zaporizhia, Mariupol and Kiev before the vote.

Even more destructive would be infighting within the coalition.

Whereas the parties’ broad pro-European aims are aligned, their business interests and personal ambitions are not.

Horse-trading for jobs and squabbling over reforms has already begun.

Mr Poroshenko and Mr Yatsenyuk have both put forward their own proposals.

Mr Yatsenyuk, who takes a hawkish attitude to Russia, has declared himself the election’s winner and put “restoration of sovereignty and territorial integrity” at the top of his cabinet’s priorities.

Mr Poroshenko, who has more allies among directly elected deputies, will not easily relinquish the reins.

He seems determined to direct reforms from the presidential administration, where his aides have spent months preparing draft laws, with a focus on deregulation, judicial reform and decentralisation.

After the 2004 Orange revolution, conflicts between the president and the prime minister plagued the government, which squandered the chance of broad change to the system.

Mr Poroshenko and Mr Yatsenyuk must learn from those mistakes.

“Delay with reforms is fatal for us,” Mr Poroshenko himself said.

At stake is the survival not just of the new government, but of Ukraine itself.

The economy, teetering on the verge of collapse, depends on foreign aid that is linked to reforms.

This week the EU promised more help.

But reforms are likely only to increase the pain for people ravaged by war and facing a gas-starved winter.

Ukraine has to contend with its rebels and with Vladimir Putin.

The separatist republics in Donetsk and Luhansk will hold elections on November 2nd, a vote that Kiev condemns but Moscow will recognise.

Ukrainian soldiers, two-thirds of whom did not vote because they could not leave their positions, still die on the front.

On their way to the polls during a freezing election day in Kiev, voters expressed only tepid hopes.

“The people won’t tolerate the politicians’ games any longer,” said Svetlana Ischenko, 68, in the foyer of Lesya Ukrainka Gymnasium.

“If we don’t change now, either Ukraine will fall to pieces or Putin will take us over.”

Unfortunately, she may be right.

Source: The Economist

Ukraine Conflict: The 'Cyborg' Defenders Of Donetsk Airport

DONESTK, Ukraine -- Mention a cyborg to a Ukrainian these days and they probably won't think of "cybernetic organisms", or man-machines of science fiction.

After months of fighting rebels, the soldiers at Donetsk airport are viewed by Ukrainians as superhuman.

Instead, the word now conjures up images of rugged, heavily armed men holed up inside what remains of Donetsk Airport in war-torn eastern Ukraine.

The airport has become a symbol of Ukraine's fight against separatists, and the "cyborgs" are Ukrainians who have held on to it despite persistent rebel attack.

The nickname was first used online and has since become a media staple in Ukraine.

It stuck, because to some the Donetsk airport defenders' exploits have appeared superhuman.

The separatists have been trying to capture the airport since May, allegedly with backing from the Russian military.

Even though a ceasefire was declared in early September, the airport remains a scene of fierce fighting almost every day.

It is located on the northern edge of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine's biggest city and a key rebel stronghold, which separatists use as a springboard for their attacks. 

And against this backdrop of violence, the pro-Russian rebels are to hold elections on 2 November, in this region and in rebel-held areas of neighbouring Luhansk, in defiance of Ukraine, but with the support of the government in Moscow.

The airport is sandwiched between the Ukrainian and separatist-controlled zones, which means that surrounding it and cutting off supplies completely is difficult.

Built only a couple of years ago, ahead of the Euro 2012 football championships co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland, the airport is estimated to have cost around $860m (£537m; €685m).

But now the glittering showcase has been reduced to a heap of twisted metal, and its runway is littered with burnt-out tanks and shattered airliners.

Rebels are very close to the main terminal building and have even entered some of its floors.

The Ukrainians, however, are holding out on others.

So far, this has been enough to keep the separatists at bay.

It is not clear how many people on either side have died in the fighting for the airport; retrieving the bodies is so dangerous that some are reportedly left to lie among the debris.

So why are both sides so determined for control over the airport? 

Clearly it would allow munitions, hardware and manpower to be airlifted into the conflict zone.

But, given its current sorry state, it is going to be a while before the airport is able to handle flights.

For now, its significance is as symbolic as it is practical.

In addition to deliveries from the army, the airport's embattled defenders receive many of their supplies from Ukraine's volunteer movement.

President Petro Poroshenko himself donated some night-vision goggles.

But behind the media image of the cyborgs, there is a grim reality to the soldiers' lives.

Some of the Ukrainian fighters inside the ruins of the airport have taken to social media to describe what it is like being there.

"It's cold. It's dark. It's dangerous all the time. All this affects how you think. You get used to shots being fired pretty quickly," writes Maxim Muzyka.

"You get used to everything," he adds.

Just like civilians outside the conflict zone, the soldiers take selfies and post videos of what is going on around them.

"Not everyone likes the name," says Vasily Holoveshchenko who paints a sobering picture of life at odds with the superhuman image they have been given.

"We are humans. Almost every one of us is married with children. Our thoughts are human too - we want this to be over soon."

Source: BBC News Europe

Russian Gas Set To Flow To Ukraine Again After New Supply Deal Agreed

KIEV, Ukraine -- EU steps in as guarantor for Kiev in three-way agreement, with sanctions against Russia in place as Ukraine conflict continues.

The natural gas taps are set to be turned on once more in Ukraine, with a three-way agreement meaning energy supplies will come in time for winter.

Ukraine, Russia and the European Union signed a deal on Thursday on the resumption of Russian natural gas supplies to Ukraine for winter after several months of delay during the conflict in Ukraine.

European commission president José Manuel Barroso, who witnessed the three-way signing ceremony in Brussels as he prepares to leave office on Friday, said:

“There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter.”

Talks had been broken off in the early hours as Moscow sought more guarantees from the EU that it would help Ukraine pay for its natural gas.

They resumed on Thursday evening before reaching a deal.

EU officials said both Russia and Ukraine had bargained hard for commitments from the western bloc, with Moscow looking for EU cash to help Ukraine pay off debts to Gazprom, and the Kiev authorities anxious to get a deal that they could present to domestic voters as not overpaying for vital Russian supplies.

Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in Kiev that the EU had agreed to serve as guarantor for Kiev in holding Russia to an agreement, notably on the price Ukraine would pay.

Some critics of Russia question whether its motivation is financial or whether prolonging the wrangling with ex-Soviet Ukraine and its western allies suits Moscow’s diplomatic agenda.

Ukraine is in discussions with existing creditors, the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

The gas cut-off has had little impact for months.

But pressure is mounting for a deal as temperatures start to drop below freezing.

European energy commissioner Günther Oettinger, who has been mediating, also leaves office on Friday, making way for a new European commission.

“We can say to the citizens of Europe that we can guarantee security of supply over the winter,” he said of what he called the $4.6 billion deal to supply Russian natural gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger said the $4.6 billion deal should extend to the spring and that it was “perhaps first glimmer of a relaxation in the relations between neighbours.”

EU member states west of Ukraine would also, he said, have stable supplies, passing through Ukrainian pipelines, while Russia would gain the benefit of payment for its energy.

The two sides came close to an agreement in September, but last week differences were wide.

Weekend elections returned a pro-western parliament in Kiev, potentially stoking tensions with Moscow, although Russia’s EU envoy, Vladimir Chizhov, said on Thursday the mood could be more relaxed now the vote had taken place.

Ukraine’s Naftogaz company has set aside $3.1 billion in a special escrow account to pay the debt.

Kiev says it is working to raise more money from all possible sources of financing, including the EU.

The commission is considering Ukraine’s request, made last week, for a further loan of €2 billion ($2.5 billion).

Russia provides around a third of the European Union’s natural gas, roughly half of which is pumped via Ukraine.

Ukraine in turn relies on Russia for around 50% of its own natural gas.

However, despite having storage, Ukraine has a winter shortfall of around 3 billion to 4 billion cubic metres, depending on the weather. 

For Russia, the natural-gas sector contributes approximately a fifth of the national budget.

Sanctions on Russia, which EU officials decided to leave unchanged on Tuesday while the conflict in Ukraine continues, are sapping an already weak economy.

Source: The Guardian

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Russians Re-Write History To Slur Ukraine Over War

MOSCOW, Russia -- Vladimir Putin has turned the idea of fascism into a political tool, and now Russian historians are adapting to the Kremlin line.

Russian soldiers stand in formation as they swear an oath at the World War Two museum on Poklonnaya Gora in Victory Park, Moscow.

The trio of German historians, as well as a handful of their colleagues from Eastern Europe, flew into Moscow last week for what they thought would be a conference on the history of Nazi war crimes.

It was the fifth in a series of international summits held every other year since 2006, first in Berlin and Cologne, then in Slovakia and Belarus, to keep alive the memory of the towns and villages destroyed during World War II.

But the German co-chairman of the conference, Sven Borsche, began to feel that something was amiss in Moscow as soon as he met his Russian hosts.

“All they wanted to talk about was the conflict in Ukraine,” he says. 

Even without the simultaneous translations provided for the foreign guests, they would have gotten the political message.

The photographs shown by several of the Russian speakers put the atrocities of the Nazi SS right alongside pictures from the current war in eastern Ukraine.

There is not much difference, the Russian historians suggested, between the actions of the Ukrainian military in its war against separatist rebels and the atrocities that Hitler’s forces committed during World War II.

“Right now, fascism is again raising its head,” declared Yaroslav Trifankov, a senior researcher at the state historical museum in the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine.

“Right now,” he said from the podium, “our brother Slavs in Ukraine have been so thoroughly duped and brainwashed by their puppet government, which answers only to the U.S. State Department, that they truly have come to see themselves as a superior race.”

This rhetoric—calling it an argument would overstate its relation to facts—has recently come into vogue among Russian historians.

Under their interpretation of history, the struggle that began with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 continues for Russia today, in a direct line through the generations, with the conflict in Ukraine.

That is the connection President Vladimir Putin first presented to the Russian people in March, when he sent his troops to invade and annex the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

The Russian-speaking residents of that peninsula, he said in a speech on the day of the annexation, need Russia’s protection from Ukraine’s new leaders, whom he referred to as “neo-Nazis and anti-Semites.”

Ukraine’s ensuing war to prevent Russia from seizing any more of its territory has likewise been branded a fascist campaign against ethnic Russians.

Practically every arm of the Russian state, from the education system to the national police, has since taken up this message.

The state media have consistently painted Ukrainian authorities as “fascists” in the service of the U.S. government.

In late September, Russia’s main investigative body even opened a criminal probe accusing Ukraine’s leaders of committing “genocide” against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

But the more recent involvement of the nation’s historians has marked a worrying turn in this endeavor.

It suggests a willingness to reinterpret even the most sacred chapters of Russian history, as the venue for last week’s conference seemed to suggest.

With the exception of the Kremlin’s gilded halls and, perhaps, the nearby tombs of Soviet leaders on Red Square, few places in the Russian capital inspire such awed respect among the locals as the Central Museum to the Great Patriotic War.

Its curved colonnade stands on a hill near the center of the city called Poklonnaya Gora, which in rough translation means, “the hill where one bows in respect.”

In the center of its inner sanctuary, the white-domed Hall of Glory, an enormous statue of a Soviet soldier stands with a sword at his feet; its sheath bears this inscription:

“He who comes to us wielding a sword shall die by the sword.”

The vast rotunda, done up in marble and gold, would be something like the Temple Mount if Russian patriotism were a religion, while the official history of World War II that the museum embodies would be at least a portion of its scripture.

By various official estimates, between 20 million and 30 million Soviet citizens died during the war against German fascists – more deaths than any single nation suffered in World War II – and the history of Soviet valor in that war still lies at the core of Russia’s sense of identity.

But it has, like any dogma, proven malleable in the mouths of its contemporary preachers.

“Nazism is again coming to us from Europe,” says Mikhail Myagkov, one of Russia’s leading historians of the Second World War and a professor of history at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where most of Russia’s top diplomats are educated.

“The bacilli of Nazism have not been destroyed. Unfortunately, they have infected, among other countries, our brotherly nation of Ukraine,” he told a press briefing on the eve of the conference at the museum on Poklonnaya Gora.

The following day, in one of its auditoriums, Russian historians took the stage one after the other to draw an explicit link between the Hitler’s Reich and today’s Ukraine.

None of them mentioned Russia’s military support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine or the encouragement they got from Russia in rising up against the government in Kiev this spring.

Nor did the speakers dwell on the fact that the far right is hardly the driving force of Ukrainian politics.

The country’s new President Petro Poroshenko is a liberal Westernizer with no links to Ukrainian nationalist parties, and the supposed popularity of those parties in Ukraine was exposed this week as a Russian fabrication; in the parliamentary elections held on Oct. 26, they failed to win a single seat in the legislature.

But from the speeches presented at the conference in Moscow, one would assume that Poroshenko and his allies are all just resurrected Nazis in disguise.

As these speeches were translated for the foreign delegates, including guests from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, their faces turned gradually from confusion to disgust.

Joerg Morre, the director of Berlin’s Karlhorst Museum, which focuses on the history of the eastern front in World War II, began to fidget in his seat.

“I mean, to show the photographs of the Second World War and then switch in the next slide to what’s happening in Ukraine,” Morre told me during a break in the conference, “No way is that right. Now way!”

Borsche, the co-chairman, agreed with him: “It’s polemical!” he said. 

As the conference drew to a close, the two of them decided to voice their objections.

Morre, springing from his seat, took hold of the microphone and told the hall that he did not agree with the final declaration of the conference, which had been written by its Russian organizers.

Specifically, he took issue with the clause that declared, “Our generation is facing the task to deter [the] revival of Fascism and Nazism,” a thinly veiled reference to Ukraine, the German delegates felt.

“It has become clear that we have different views on what fascism means today,” Morre told the hall in nearly perfect Russian.

“Your point of view is not mine. So I call for this part of the resolution to be removed,” he added.

“I do not want to sign it, and I am not the only one.”

After some noisy debate, the delegates agreed to put the matter to a vote.

Practically all of the foreign participants raised their hands in favor of deleting the reference to a “revival” of European fascism.

All of the Russian participants, including a large group of high school students who had been herded into the auditorium about 15 minutes earlier, had the clear majority in voting to leave the text of the declaration unchanged.

So the hosts of the conference won out—a small but telling victory for the cause of Russian revisionism.

Outside the hall, Borsche seemed at a loss for words as he waited in the coat-check line.

He had served as one of the initiators of the conference and its co-chairman, flying in from Germany for the occasion to discuss a shared history of suffering during World War II.

But he says he had no idea that his Russian colleagues would use it as a chance to promote their political agenda against Ukraine.

“That’s not correct,” he told me.

If there is some lesson to be learned from the experience, it’s a familiar one, he said:

“The more people are convinced of their own opinion, the more they become estranged from other opinions. That’s a real difficult problem.”

And as Russia sets out to redefine what Nazism means, it is a problem that Western historians will somehow have to face.

Source: TIME

The Slow-Motion Dismemberment Of Ukraine Continues

KIEV, Ukraine -- Pro-Western parties swept Ukraine’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, which isn’t a great surprise given that not that many people in the more pro-Russian eastern part of the country voted.

People hold Russian flags, flags of nationalist movements and flags of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk' and 'People's Republic of Luhansk' in eastern Ukraine as they take part in a rally in support of the self-proclaimed 'People's Republics', in Moscow on October 18, 2014.

Turnout was low in areas of Eastern Ukraine that are under Kiev’s control and didn’t happen at all in the self-declared independent republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Those places are holding their own elections this Sunday, with Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov saying on Tuesday, “We will of course recognize the results.”

The announcement was condemned by the government in Kiev, as well as the EU and UN, who accused Moscow of undermining the terms of a peace deal it supported in September.

This is a bit of a change of tack for the Russian government, which has previously stopped short of recognizing the “republics” as independent.

For instance, after separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk held secession referendums in May, the foreign ministry didn’t respond to requests for Russia to absorb the regions as they had with Crimea earlier this year.

The Putin government’s on-again, off-again relationship with the separatists makes some sense if the end goal is not actually to create new states in Eastern Ukraine or to absorb new territory into Russia, but to keep the pro-Western government in Kiev permanently destabilized and unable to control large portions of its territory.

Under the Minsk Protocol, the agreement hammed out by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the separatists, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe last month, Kiev agreed to cede power to the regions so long as they stayed part of Ukraine.

Separate unrecognized parliamentary elections certainly seem to undermine that goal, as does continued shelling.

With voters in Eastern Ukraine either cut out of the process entirely or ambivalent about it, the polls did indeed give “strong and irreversible backing to Ukraine's path to Europe," as President Petro Proshenko put it.

But the country’s de facto dismemberment also seems to be accelerating.

Source: Slate

EU, U.N. Condemn Ukraine Rebels' Election Plans

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union and United Nations condemned plans to hold elections in rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine on Sunday, with the EU explicitly denouncing Moscow's support for the separatists' plans.

A pro-Russian separatist guards his position near the Kholodnaya Balka mine in Makiivka, outside Donetsk, October 29, 2014.

In separate statements on Wednesday, two days after Russia said it would recognize the rebel ballots, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the EU's foreign affairs service said the voting would undermine last month's outline peace deal struck in Minsk between Kiev and Moscow.

While Ban's spokesman did not directly criticize Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the EU statement hit out at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for his comments on Monday in support of the separatists' plans.

"We deplore Minister Lavrov's remarks about Russia's forthcoming recognition of the elections," the spokesman of the European External Action Service said, just as EU officials were trying to broker a deal in Brussels between Moscow and Kiev to ensure Russian gas supplies to Ukraine over the coming winter.

The EU echoed a call from the United States following Sunday's parliamentary election in Ukraine for Russia to help ensure people in Donetsk and Luhansk could vote in local ballots being organized nationwide by the Kiev authorities on Dec. 7.

Saying the Minsk accord called for local elections in those regions to be held in accordance with Ukrainian law, it added:

"The holding of 'presidential' and 'parliamentary' elections, called by the self-appointed authorities, would run counter to the letter and spirit of the Minsk Protocol and disrupt progress towards finding a sustainable political solution."

Ban's spokesman said the votes would be held in defiance of the national parliamentary victory of pro-Western parties. 

"The Secretary-General deplores the planned holding by armed rebel groups in eastern Ukraine of their own 'elections' on Nov. 2, in breach of the constitution and national law," he said.

"These 'elections' will seriously undermine the Minsk Protocol," he added.

"The Secretary-General urges all to uphold these agreements and work toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict."

The dispute over the rebel vote has intensified the geo-political tussle between Russia and the West over the future of Ukraine, going back to the overthrow by protesters of the country's Moscow-backed president in February.

Moscow supports the rebels, but it denies Ukrainian and Western accusations that its troops have taken part in fighting against government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,700 people.

Source: Google News

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why Is Europe Turning Its Back On Ukraine?

MINSK, Belarus -- Amid growing justification for Russian aggression and a trend towards engaging with post-Soviet dictators, the EU is missing the fact that Moscow is a threat to Europe as whole, writes Belarusian opposition leader Andrei Sannikov.

Andrei Sannikov ran for election against Lukashenko in 2010. He was sentenced in 2011 to five years in prison for organising mass disturbances, but eventually pardoned in 2012.

Ukraine’s chances of survival are weak today and gloomy in the future.

The reason for this is the position of the major player in the war in Ukraine.

This player is not Russia – the country that unleashed the war in Ukraine.

This player is the west or, to be more precise, Europe.

The largest and most successful association of democratic countries in the world, the European Union, is showing more and more reluctance to help Ukraine to survive.

The number of political groups that are inclined to support Russia’s president Vladimir Putin is growing, both in the ruling parties of the European countries and in the opposition; from Hungary’s Victor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party to the far-right opposition parties that are performing spectacularly well in national elections, such as Marie Le Pen and her Front National of France. Sympathy and support also comes from Hungary’s Jobbik radical nationalists, the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang in Belgium, Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn, Austria’s Freedom Party, and Italy’s Lega Nord, just to name a few.

Moreover, the number of European politicians and intellectuals who justify Russian aggression is growing and expanding.

They start with a “safe” subject – Crimea, which is almost forgotten not only by Europe but by Ukraine itself – and keep on suggesting that the federalisation (read disintegration) of Ukraine will be a good solution.

They write open letters individually and in groups to support Putin’s aggression, following the examples from the Dutch professor Cees Hamelink (who apologised to Putin for the media’s lies about Ukraine) or 300 plus German intellectuals.

Among them are heavyweight figures, not only notorious ones like Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor who is on Gazprom’s payroll, but also Helmut Schmidt, another former chancellor, and Günter Verheugen, a former European Union commissioner.

More European analysts and journalists keep suggesting that Ukraine is a perpetual mess and it will serve no good to pump money into it until it delivers on good governance.

Besides, there is a misplaced ideology that sees Eurosceptics go for anything that is against the European Union and leaves them inclined to support Putin’s policy on Ukraine and oppose sanctions against Russia.

Europe wants trade with Russia and is quite happy to accept Russian money in its capitals without questioning its origin, and so many leaders echo the voices of pro-Kremlin politicians, think tanks, newspapers, and intellectuals as a result.

Money talks.

Russian domination 

It looks as if Europe is about to declare its favourite postulate: “Russia is by far more important for us than any other former Soviet country.”

That was always the case before the war in Ukraine broke out.

Europe does not want to be disturbed.

It doesn’t want to see the dangers to itself beyond Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It wants to go back to “business as usual” with Russia as soon as possible.

The war is a nuisance.

Dead bodies of Ukrainian patriots are a nuisance.

Europe cannot understand that this is a war on Europe, not on Ukraine, and that Putin, if not convincingly defeated, will go ahead with his expansionism and revisionism.

The ground is laid for that: Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russian minorities in Baltic states, the Kaliningrad exclave, and now Donbass and Luhansk are more than enough of a major Kremlin offensive in Europe.

Ukrainians stood up against such a scenario between November 2013 and February 2014.

They fought against Russian domination.

They fought not for the EU Association Agreement but for their dignity, for the same values that Europe is built upon.

They won only to become an object of aggression, and have received very little help from outside to cope with this aggression and save the country.

Europe was very slow to recognise this threat and even slower to respond.

And today still there is a lack of understanding that the threat is much larger than Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It has to be addressed as a threat to Europe.

Yes, Ukraine is a mess: politically, economically, financially.

Most probably it will remain a mess for many years, but it doesn’t undermine the need to help.

Moreover this need is becoming more urgent.

There has to be a long term strategy in Europe to help itself, which means to help Ukraine.

Sanctions against Russia are the least Europe can do in this regard in the short term.

European businesses and dissenting voices on sanctions should recognise or be persuaded to recognise that their political and business future depends on solidarity with the Ukrainian people in this difficult time.

Putin is more efficient in his decisions to continue aggression than the EU is in its decision to protect values.

Putin is ready to sacrifice at the expense of the Russian people, while European businesses are not ready to risk profits for the sake of future prosperity in Europe.

Lethal mistakes 

Even if Europe eventually overcomes its slowness in decision-making and its shyness in rebuffing the aggressor, its long-term strategy on its own future is not even within the range of vision.

Moreover, it is making serious if not lethal mistakes that will lead to more insecurity to say the least.

While condemning Russia’s aggressive policies and discussing sanctions to oppose such policies, Europe is returning to its futile policies which appease dictators in Russia’s neighbourhood.

All of a sudden Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, only yesterday a European pariah, is regarded not even as a lesser evil but as a legitimate mediator and independent player on the side of Ukraine.

He is becoming a star of European media who line up to interview him, including Euronews and France 24.

Europe abruptly agreed that Lukashenko is eligible to provide good offices for talks on Ukraine, which turned out to be treacherous offices helping Putin to leap forward on the issue of recognition of terrorists in eastern Ukraine.

Under the disguise of the “peace” talks in Minsk, the EU’s high representative met Lukashenko, shamefully ignoring the EU policy banning high-level contacts with Belarus until all political prisoners are released.

Who cares about political prisoners and continued repressions in Belarus when half of Europe is courting Lukashenko to buy its salmon, milk, apples, seafood, cheese and sausages to sneak past Russia’s embargo on western food?

“Parmigiano-Belarussiano” is a new brand in Moscow today.

The EU ban on high-level contacts disappeared, leaving the repressions intact and political prisoners in jail, one of whom was a presidential candidate in the last election, Nikolai Statkevich.

It doesn’t matter that Lukashenko voted against Ukrainian territorial integrity in the UN and that Russia does what it wants militarily on the territory of Belarus.

It doesn’t matter that, in an interview with Euronews, he suggested sending troops to Ukraine under the disguise of peacekeepers, thus violating the Belarusian Constitution — a transparent attempt to help Putin to legitimise military presence in Ukraine since there is no such thing as Belarus peacekeepers.

Nobody cares since he helps Europe’s food industry and that is more than enough to forget about his record of atrocities and start opening doors for him in Europe.

Lukashenko is more than happy and reacts predictably with more repression against civil society and independent media.

‘Dictators international’ 

Lukashenko is not alone.

There is Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, who has intensified repressions, harassment, beatings and arrests of opposition politicians, civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists.

There are about 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, including prominent human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus.

And this is happening when Azerbaijan chairs the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe.

Aliyev is known to spend a lot of money to buy lobbying for his regime in the west.

There is even a term for this – “caviar diplomacy”.

His investment pays back.

There is a feeble condemnation of his brutality against dissenters and at the same time he was invited to the Nato summit in September and offered to take part in reconstructing Afghanistan together with western partners.

Ukraine and Europe are in danger as long as this ‘dictators international’ exists.

Europe makes an epic blunder by allowing itself to regard dictators in the post-Soviet area as lesser evils who can be used to thwart Putin’s aggression.

Putin’s goal, maybe the main goal, is to preserve and defend “dictators international” by all means in order to attack western values and the west itself.

He is ready to wait and pause and thoroughly prepare the attack with the help of the Lukashenkos.

It is quite hypocritical for Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, neighbours of Belarus, to raise alarm and to rightfully demand presence of NATO troops on their territory to defend them against potential Russia’s aggression, and at the same time reverse the policy of sanctions and start appeasement of the closest military ally of Putin and the founding father of “dictators international” in the post-Soviet area.

It is alarming to hear the new European leadership declaring the necessity to step up critical engagement with Belarus.

It is well known that by this the EU means less criticism and more engagement with the dictator.

Any engagement with one dictator with the hope to deal with other ones will lead to more instability, more repression and more war in Europe.

Source: The Guardian

Surprises As Ukraine’s Political Map Changes

KIEV, Ukraine -- The big surprise of these elections in Ukraine has been the sudden rise into third place nationally of a local party run by a local leader.

Click on image for a larger view.

Samopomich, roughly meaning “ Self-help” is the creation of the Mayor of Lviv, Andrei Sadovy.

Now in his second term in the western city, he is breaking out of his regional powerbase and entering parliament.

With over 13% he could enter government.

“People want to see free and independent people in power, self-made people, who are not connected to oligarchs. You saw that in our list we don’t have any ex-ministers or members of parliament who, by their actions or by the absence of any actions, took the country into a complicated situation,” said Sadovy.

Sadovy is in Kiev for the results and the talks that will follow.

The capital is peaceful and the exit polls calmed nerves when it became clear there was no way back for the parties of the past.

Those who died here for freedom and are remembered with candles at the Maidan would approve.

“I would like to see things change, we need to see changes. We now hope that at least there won’t be as many people from the Party of Regions in parliament,” said one man.

“I would like to see fewer people from the Party of Regions, and no Communists at all there, and I’d like the parliament to be better, much better than the previous one,” agreed a woman.

“New people – a new page in Ukraine’s life,” said one young man.

“We hope it’s gonna be a positive page,” said his female companion. 

Another surprise was for those who believed claims fascists were in power in Kiev.

The far-right polled under 10 percent, with one radical group, the Right Sector, failing to enter parliament.

Source: euronews

Ukraine Fighters, Surrounded At Wrecked Airport, Refuse To Give Up

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Only three floors remain in the blackened skeleton of the seven-story, glass-walled airport terminal, opened with a burst of national pride two years ago for the Euro 2012 soccer championship.

A Ukrainian soldier patrols inside the Donetsk airport. It has been the scene of fierce fighting between government troops and pro-Russia separatists since May.

Ukrainian commandos control two of them: the ground and second floors. The pro-Russia separatists they're fighting have infiltrated the third floor despite entrances barricaded with debris and booby traps.

The separatists have also found a way into the basement, with its system of narrow passageways leading beyond the airport grounds. 

They are enemies sharing the same building, playing a claustrophobic game of cat and mouse in shadowy rooms and burned-out boarding jetways.

The grenade hit a wall and exploded.

Shrapnel and debris flew everywhere.

Without thinking, a commando nicknamed Batman threw a hand grenade toward the balcony.

But it exploded short of its target and sent more shrapnel showering over his comrades.

The shouting had barely subsided when a commander announced that government Grad missiles were on the way to hit enemy positions surrounding the terminal.

"You know how they do it!" the commander shouted.

"They'll certainly miss. So run for cover."

A few seconds later, the building shook from the explosion right outside, and for a moment it seemed that the structure would finally collapse.

But it withstood the blast, and no one was hurt in any of the attacks. 

Just after midnight on a recent night, a separatist fighter suddenly appeared on a balcony of the third floor and shot a Mukha grenade down at the onetime departure lounge where the Ukrainian troops were trying to sleep on cold concrete floors.

After five months of fighting, the battle between government forces and pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine has reached what may be its last stand in this shattered commercial airport that once held families waiting for holiday flights.

It has little strategic value, but it has become a symbol of the struggle over Ukraine's future.

"Today for us the future of our country depends on whether we will be able to hold on to this airport or not," said Alexei Varitsky, 20, a former construction worker who recently joined the Ukrainian militia that's helping to defend the airport.

"That is why I am here."

The name once shone in white above the gleaming new terminal: Donetsk Sergey Prokofiev International Airport, named after the 20th century composer who was born in the region.

At the opening ceremony in May 2012, then-President Viktor Yanukovich paid tribute to its modern accouterments, as if it were proof of Ukraine's growing international status.

"At the beginning of the 1930s, the constructors of this airport had no idea what a high-technology site it would grow into," he said.

Today, the pro-Russia Yanukovich is no longer president.

He was ousted this year in a revolution that led to Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula and armed revolts in eastern Ukraine, also reportedly sponsored by the Kremlin. 

On the airport's English-language website, a bulletin reads: "Notice for passengers: Donetsk airport has been temporarily suspended. An up-to-date information regarding the status of flights is available on the official website Online Timetable."

Would-be passengers clicking on "All Flights Today" are met with a blank space.

The airport's runway is littered with the carcasses of tanks and armored personnel carriers.

In the new terminal, every pane of glass has shattered; every door, wall and ceiling has been pierced with bullets and shrapnel.

The separatist forces surrounding the airport shell it with mortar and artillery fire day and night; at least once a day, infantry forces move in for an attack.

The defenders said that in the previous two weeks, 12 soldiers were killed and scores were wounded at the airport.

Some government forces say they're digging in to prevent Russians from using the runways to land transport planes loaded with armaments.

Some say they need to defend the airport as a sign of resolve against Russian aggression.

"I volunteered to come here because if I hadn't, some soldier might not have been replaced and that would have prolonged his misery or could have even killed him," said Sergei Halan, 20, a journalism student from Cherkasy.

"I just did it to save a comrade I may not know, as he will do for someone else, or even for me."

Halan's estranged father is a colonel in the Russian army.

When they last spoke on the phone, Halan said, his father asked him, "'Don't you know you will be killing your brothers?'

To which I said, 'I didn't invite these brothers to come to my homeland with arms.'"

They are hunters and prey at the same time.

Because of their perseverance and ability to survive despite being surrounded, the government forces' enemies call them cyborgs.

Some of the terminal's defenders call themselves terminators.

"The whole scene very much reminds me of a computer shooting game, with the exception that you don't kill goblins so easily and that you don't have an extra life or two," said Varitsky, the former construction worker, a wiry man in a U.S.-style uniform and NATO-like helmet.

"I'm kind of OK with what we do here, although I could never for the life of me imagine before that I can kill other people."

In April, when the army told him it didn't have time to train him, Varitsky joined the nationalist Right Sector organization.

He went through a rushed training session, was issued a Kalashnikov and a week ago arrived at the airport with a ragtag group of 15 Right Sector men who are supporting an army unit consisting mostly of airborne troops who volunteered for the high-risk mission.

Every newcomer is told that the airport is not a besieged fortress — not because it is not besieged, but because it is not a fortress, "as holes in the walls account for more space than the rest of the structure," said Maj. Valery Rud, who is in charge of mining and de-mining the building.

"There is not a single place where bullets or shrapnel cannot reach you at any given time of the day. The terminals we are holding on to are weaker than the Three Little Pigs' houses, and it is a miracle that they are still standing."

The defenders are armed with an assortment of Soviet-era small arms, mostly Kalashnikov machine and submachine guns, and are dressed in all kinds of uniforms, helmets and jackets supplied by volunteers or issued by the army.

During the day, generators feed small laptops and charge telephones.

At night, radios and flashlights are switched off, and it's forbidden to use even cigarette lighters lest it draw sniper fire.

At night the temperatures inside fall below zero and constant, merciless drafts chase coughing and sneezing soldiers.

A paramedic sits in front of a small hill of medicines looking for the right cold drug for the suffering men.

"Well, why don't you unfasten your helmet strap?" he told the coughing young soldier in front of him.

"If a sniper sends a bullet into your helmet, [the strap] will break your neck and you won't need any medicines anymore, sonny."

The soldier undid the strap.

The Ukrainian troops may lack proper training, but at times they display courageous initiative.

As troops were getting ready to unload an armored convoy bringing drinking water and ammunition — an operation that always draws intense fire from the separatists — two soldiers decided it was time to send "the tank man" home.

The tank man had died in a fierce battle a week earlier outside the terminal.

Although they had retrieved the bodies of his two comrades, they hadn't been able to reach him.

It bothered them that he was still there.

Risking their lives in the crossfire that ensued when the transport convoy arrived, the two young men ran out onto the tarmac and retrieved the charred remains.

"We had to do it for this tank man," said one of the men, who identified himself only as Slavik, after he had reached the relative safety of the terminal.

"The guy was a hero. He deserves to be identified and buried properly."

One morning, gunfire rattled inside the terminal.

Bullets whizzed by, hitting walls and the floor around the defenders.

It was coming from a disabled jetway.

A moment later, it was over.

A commander nicknamed Rakhman stood outside the terminal near the jetway.

He looked at the smoking gun in his hand.

"I loaded a whole clip into him," he said.

"Instead of falling down, he shot back at me and was gone as if he is a cyborg and not me."

"We need to do something to smoke them out of there," one soldier said. But how?

"The best we could do is blow up what's left of the airport," another said.

"Blow up the f--king runway - and go home."

Source: Los Angeles Times

Ukraine Crisis: Russia Must Not Back Separatist Vote - US

DONETSK, Ukraine -- US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Russia that it will break international agreements if it recognises an election planned by separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The Donetsk and Luhansk rebels have declared independence from Kiev.

The self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk plan to elect regional leaders and parliaments on Sunday.

Moscow has already said it intends to recognise the result of the ballot.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko argues that the polls threaten the peace process with Kiev.

Ukrainian troops have been battling the pro-Russian rebels in the east.

At least 3,700 people have been killed in the fighting, and many more have fled to other parts of Ukraine or to Russia.

A shaky truce took effect on 5 September, but there have been many violations and the situation remains volatile.

At a news conference in the Canadian city of Ottawa, Mr Kerry said the Ukrainian people had made a bold and clear choice for democracy when they voted in a parliamentary election last Sunday.

Turning to the planned rebel-run polls in the east, he said: "This would be a clear violation of the commitments made by both Russia and the separatists that it backs in the Minsk agreements.

"The United States along with the rest of international community will not recognise so called separatist elections unless they happen within the framework of the special status law passed by Ukraine's parliament and signed by President Poroshenko."

In last Sunday's Kiev-run polls, voting did not take place in rebel-held eastern districts, or in Crimea, which Russia annexed in March. 

Following the polls, the pro-Western parties of President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk are expected to form a coalition government.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions "will be important to legitimise the authorities there".

"We expect the elections will go ahead as agreed, and we will of course recognise the results," he said.

Russian role In 2008 Russia also backed pro-Russian separatists in Georgia and later recognised the breakaway regions as independent. 

Under the truce deal the Ukrainian authorities pledged not to prosecute the leaders of the eastern rebellion - yet many Ukrainian politicians want prosecutions, denouncing the rebels as "terrorists".

The deal also called for a withdrawal of "illegal militant groups" from Ukraine, but the rebels remain heavily armed and it is not clear how many Russian "volunteer" soldiers are still there helping them. 

Moscow says any Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine are freelance "volunteers", although Ukraine and Western governments said Russia had earlier sent in regular army units.

Source: BBC News Europe

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ukraine Voters Demand Pro-Western Reforms

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's voters delivered a mandate for a pro-Western government. The question is whether the victorious political leaders can deliver the economic and anti-corruption changes they promised.

Ukrainians read newspapers at a metro station, in Kiev, Ukraine, on Oct. 27. With more than one-third of the votes counted, two allied pro-European parties in Ukraine that ran on a platform to enact tough reforms, took a joint lead Monday in a parliamentary election.

"You now have a Rada (parliament) that reflects the mood of the country," Steven Pifer a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said Monday, a day after national elections.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko had called for the elections, saying the 2012 parliament he inherited after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was out of touch with voters and an impediment to passing anti-corruption legislation and other measures that would bring Ukraine in line with Western European standards.

With just over half the ballots counted, Poroshenko's party won 21.6% of the vote, the party of his prime minister received 21.5% and a reformist party came in third with 11%.

The pro-Russian opposition party, which included Yanukovych loyalists, received just under 10% of the vote.

The Communist Party failed to garner the minimum 5% of votes required for a seat in parliament, the first time it missed that threshold since Ukraine became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

Among its first domestic tasks, Ukraine needs to implement economic reforms to satisfy the International Monetary Fund, which Ukraine hopes will provide additional financial aid.

The new government also is under pressure to pass anti-corruption reforms.

Protesters who triggered the ouster of Yanukovych when he tried to block Ukraine from moving closer to Western Europe last winter plan to press their demands for an end to rampant corruption.

Many are returning to the capital, Kiev, after fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

Pifer said changes also are needed in the monopoly-plagued energy sector, which is in "a dire situation now because there's a big question about whether they can get gas through the winter." 

"People are prepared to let them get past the election, but there appears there will be disillusionment with President Poroshenko if in the next few months people don't see more movement on laws against corruption," Pifer said.

And if the parliament does not support reforms, Ukraine's future request for Western aid "will fall on deaf ears," he said.

The country has made so little progress along the path to reform since February's revolution that analyst Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace questions whether the obstacle is parliament or "an entrenched problem with corruption."

"Even if you do get a decent amount of legislation through the Rada in the next session, it doesn't deal with the fact that (government) institutions are broken," Weiss said.

Voter turnout was 52%, according to Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission.

The European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations reported Monday that the election was conducted in "a transparent and efficient manner," despite some irregularities during the campaign that the group said had no impact on election results.

Rebels in the east had called for a boycott of the election and said they would hold their own vote a week later.

Although a cease-fire has been in effect since Sept. 5, fighting continues and the death toll has now surpassed 3,700.

Ukraine's decision to turn away from Russia, its largest trade partner and source for gas it needs for industry and heat, has caused its economy to shrink, gas prices to rise, and its banks to falter.

After the election, Poroshenko hailed voters who "irreversibly supported Ukraine's course toward Europe" and his plan to seek a peaceful political solution to the unrest in eastern Ukraine.

Source: USA Today

The Great Wall Of Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- The project may sound fanciful, but Ukraine’s politicians, and the European Union, seem quite serious about walling off the Russians.

Pushed against the wall by Russia’s naked aggression, a wounded nation now wants to seal itself off completely from its jingoistic neighbor.

Behind the electoral gambit played out at the polls on Sunday, meant to draw a philosophical and political line against the neo-imperialism of Russian President Vladimir Putin, there’s also a construction project.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko announced plans in early September to build an extensive wall—called, well, “The Wall”—on the country’s border with Russia that, theoretically at least, would keep Moscow out and secessionists in.

The defenses would include an actual steel wall, in addition to watchtowers, trenches for soldiers, and a barbed no-man’s land running contiguous to the countries’ massive shared border.

These miles-long fortifications will include 4,000 army dugouts, tank detachments, and sophisticated surveillance equipment to detect troop movements across the frontier. 

Although the thousand-mile-long project (1,200 miles to be exact) seems improbable in scope and almost as Quixotic as the Maginot Line, the government already has earmarked funds for the project, and work has begun on the border near the northern city of Kharkiv, away from the conflict zone. 

During a high-profile visit to the wall site on October 15, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that the project demonstrates that Ukraine and Russia are “not one nation, as Putin says, and the Kremlin thinks,” an rattled off a list of reasons it is supposed to make sense: stopping illegal immigration, stopping subversive, stopping smuggling, stopping the movement of weapons, stopping the movement of radioactive materials and, last but certainly not least, opening the door wider o the European Union by slamming the door in Russia’s face.

“No one will provide us the visa-free regime with the E.U. if there is no border,” he said.

Yatsenyuk claimed that the E.U. already has set aside $20 million for the wall construction, and suggested it is important for eventual NATO membership as well.

Never mind that Ukraine is on the brink of default, and that the estimated cost of the wall would be €100 million ($127 million) , more than 10 times Ukraine’s current defense budget.

Or, that the rebels—and Russia for that matter—would potentially attack those building the wall, and fire at its defenses.

That also didn’t stop Kiev’s Mayor Vladimir Klitschko from asking for German help and expertise in building the wall while in Berlin earlier this month.

His unusual request raised eyebrows in Germany, where dark memories of the Berlin Wall linger on. 

The hubristic wall project is the brainchild of Igor Kolomoisky, the feisty governor of Dnipropetrovsk, famous for having called Putin a “mad dwarf.”

The owner of Privatbank, the nation’s largest, he also offered to put €10 million ($12.7 million) of his own monies towards the wall’s construction.

He has also spun the wall to the nation as a massive “public works” project that would provide employment to those displaced by the war.

Not surprisingly, a construction company in his region has already submitted a tender to build the project.

Although the whimsical wall project seems outlandish to most outsiders, it began to gain mainstream acceptance in late August as Russian forces made forays into Ukrainian territory to help the rebels.

With its eastern borders under siege from Russia, Ukrainians feel cornered and insecure.

The idea of a strong, German-built wall to keep the Russian bear at bay is appealing in its brutal simplicity.

The president rightly compares it to Finland’s Mannerheim line of fortifications against the Soviet Union.

Though many have scoffed at the idea, the wall project gained momentum going into Sunday parliamentary elections, and tensions with Russia remain high. Ukrainian social media have embraced the wall project, and the prime minister’s recent visit to the construction site was widely applauded.

Some mainstream politicians, notably ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have spoken out against the wall, but most have come out in favor.

“Instead of building a wall, Ukraine should be mending fences with Russia,” quipped a commentator on Russia Today, the Kremlin’s English-language TV network.

RT also reported that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has advised Kiev against building a wall with Russia.

Gorbachev is unlikely to deter the Ukrainians.

In practical terms, it won’t be easy extending the wall to the border with the rebel territories’ borders with Russia.

They’re likely to sabotage the project from the start, and it might even goad them into further aggression.

But as anti-Russian rhetoric reaches a boiling point in the rest of the country, it looks like the grand plan for a great wall is going to be part of the national discourse for quite some time to come.

Source: The Daily Beast

Russia Backs Separatist Vote In Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia has announced it will recognise separatist polls in Ukraine next weekend, fuelling tensions with the country’s newly elected pro-western leaders as they negotiate on forming a coalition government.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is backing separatist polls in eastern Ukraine.

The rebel elections on Sunday should go ahead as agreed, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said.

“We will of course recognise the results,” he told the Izvestia daily on Tuesday.

Moscow rejects accusations in Kiev and western capitals that it is behind the armed uprising in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, which has left 3,700 people dead since April.

However, the decision to lend legitimacy to the rebels’ vote was one of the most overt acts of support so far for the two unrecognised “people’s republics” insurgents are carving out in eastern Ukraine. 

Senior Ukrainian foreign ministry official Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow was violating the peace deal it had sponsored in Minsk in September, ushering in an uneasy truce.

“Russia’s intentions directly contradict the Minsk accord, undermine the agreed process on deescalation and peaceful resolution, and continue to weaken trust in it [Russia] as a reliable international partner,” Kuleba said, calling the separatists terrorists.

The row followed an increase in ceasefire violations, including artillery exchanges, in the wake of last Sunday’s parliamentary elections, where pro-western president Petro Poroshenko’s allies won a convincing victory.

Artillery explosions and small arms fire could be heard into the early hours of Tuesday, an AFP correspondent in rebel-controlled Donetsk said.

The situation in Ukraine was to be discussed later on Tuesday in Brussels, where EU states were reviewing sanctions imposed on Russia.

The EU sanctions, coupled with similar measures by the US, are meant to pressure Russia over its backing for the rebels and its annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea province of Crimea in March.

The sanctions have bitten deeply into the faltering Russian economy and spurred the kind of east-west tensions last seen during the cold war.

Kiev and its western backers consider the six-month uprising and the seizure of Crimea an attempt by Russian president Vladimir Putin to prevent Ukraine from re-orientating itself toward the west. 

Moscow, which has a large naval base on the strategic Crimean peninsula, says it only wants to help Russian speakers – a majority in Crimea and the east – who feel threatened by Ukrainian nationalism.
With almost 85% of ballots counted from Sunday’s parliamentary poll, the shape of Poroshenko’s future ruling alliance was becoming clearer.

His Petro Poroshenko bloc remained a hair’s breadth behind prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s people’s front, with about 22% of the vote each.

The third-placed Self-Reliance party, likewise nationalist and pro-western, could join in a three-way coalition.

Yatsenyuk is expected to remain as prime minister.

One of Poroshenko’s main policies is to make peace with the separatists, granting them autonomy, though not independence.

That task looked harder than ever with the rebel elections approaching and their boycott of last Sunday’s elections to the national parliament.

Source: AFP

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ukraine Leader Wins Pro-West Mandate But Wary Of Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Pro-Western parties will dominate Ukraine's parliament after an election handed President Petro Poroshenko a mandate to end a separatist conflict and steer the country further out of Russia's orbit into Europe's mainstream.

A local resident places her ballot into a mobile ballot box during a parliamentary election, at her home in Horodyshche near Chernihiv, October 26, 2014.

Poroshenko planned to start coalition talks on Monday after exit polls and partial results showed most of the groups that were holding up democratic and legal reforms demanded by the European Union had been swept out of parliament on Sunday.

He still faces huge problems: Russia is resisting moves by Kiev to one day join the European Union, a ceasefire is barely holding in the east where government forces have been fighting pro-Russian separatists, and the economy is in dire straits.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin can still influence events, not least as the main backer of the rebels in the east and through Moscow's role as natural gas supplier to Ukraine and the EU.

But with his own bloc and a party led by his ally, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, running neck and neck on more than 21 percent support after more than a quarter of votes on party lists were counted, Poroshenko is assured of dominating parliament.

"The majority of voters were in favour of the political forces that support the president's peace plan and seek a political solution to the situation in the Donbass," Poroshenko said soon after polls closed, referring to the region where fighting has been heaviest in the industrialised east. 

Final results from voting on party lists and single-seat constituencies will not be known for days.

But with a third like-minded party, Selfhelp, on 11 percent with 38 percent of votes counted, Poroshenko can forge a strong coalition government.

The 49-year-old confectionery magnate is likely to continue working in close tandem with Yatseniuk, with the latter possibly staying on as prime minister to handle sensitive talks with the West on aid for the war-shattered economy.

A hawk in dealings with Russia, Yatseniuk is liked in the West for his commitment to deep reforms and astute stewardship of the economy which has been wrecked by the separatist conflict in the eastern regions.

The Kiev government says it is hoping for modest economic growth next year after a 6 percent decline in 2014, but the World Bank expects the economy to continue shrinking.

In line with measures agreed with the IMF, Yatseniuk's government has cut budget expenditure and let the Ukrainian hryvnia float.

The currency has lost about 40 percent of its value against the dollar since the start of the year.

Timothy Ash, emerging market analyst at Standard Bank, described the result as a "big vote for the Western reform agenda".

Yatseniuk was well placed to remain prime minister, though his success would be "negatively received by Russia", Ash wrote in a research note.

"This is a big victory for pro-Ukrainian and statehood (anti-Putin) parties, which will be in the vast majority in the new parliament. A big vote for Ukrainian independence." 


Poroshenko and his allies are trying to restore normalcy to the sprawling country of 46 million after turmoil and violence that began a year ago with street demonstrations against Poroshenko's pro-Russian predecessor Viktor Yanukovich.

Yanukovich was overthrown in February in what Russia called a "fascist coup".

Moscow responded by swiftly seizing and annexing Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and backing separatist rebellions in eastern regions.

More than 3,700 people have died in fighting in the east, including nearly 300 passengers on a Malaysian airliner shot out of the sky over pro-Russian rebel-held territory.

Moscow has also cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in a dispute over the price and unpaid bills, causing alarm in the EU which gets a third of its gas needs from Russia, half of it via Ukraine.

Heavy shelling on the outskirts of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in the east on Monday served as a reminder of the fragility of a ceasefire agreed there on Sept. 5, though there was no word of any casualties. 

Some allies of Yanukovich will remain in parliament: the latest figures put the Opposition Bloc of ex-Fuel Minister Yuriy Boiko on 9.76 percent, easily enough to put the party into parliament.

But other traditional allies of Russia, such as the communists, flopped.

The make-up of the future pro-Europe assembly seemed likely to spell future tensions with Moscow.

It will be the first time the communists have been out of parliament since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. 

After months of beating back the separatists, Ukraine's troops faced sharp reversals in August, which Kiev and its Western backers say was caused by Moscow sending armoured columns with hundreds of troops to aid the rebels.

Moscow denies intervening directly on the ground.

Since then, Poroshenko has said he will resolve the conflict in the east only by political negotiations.

NATO says Russia is still supporting the rebels in the east with soldiers and equipment.

In an early reaction to the vote, Russia's foreign ministry said the election offered a chance for peace in its east but that a high number of "nationalists" in the chamber could undermine the process, RIA news agency reported.

Voting did not take place in areas held by the rebels or in Crimea.

Separatists entrenched in the big eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk said they were ignoring the Ukrainian election and still planned to go ahead with a rival vote on Nov. 2 to further their calls for independence.

Source Google News

Pro-West Parties Win Ukraine Landslide As Shells Fly In East

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's pro-Western and moderately nationalist parties were on course Monday to score a crushing election win that boosted President Petro Poroshenko's bid to lead his country closer to Europe and end a pro-Russian revolt.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko casts a ballot during a parliamentary election at a polling station in Kiev, October 26, 2014. Ukrainians voted on Sunday in an election that is likely to install a pro-Western parliament and strengthen President Petro Poroshenko's mandate to end separatist conflict in the east, but may fuel tension with Russia.

Results with 40 percent of precincts reporting had Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's People's Front and the president's Petro Poroshenko Bloc neck and neck with about 22 percent of votes each.

The parties were likely to form a ruling coalition, with Yatsenyuk keeping his premier's post.

Russia welcomed the outcome as backing for "a peaceful resolution" of the separatist war.

But in a fiery reminder of the hurdles Poroshenko faces, an election-period lull in the rebel east ended early Monday in a barrage of artillery fire.

Dozens of Grad multiple rockets fired by pro-Russian insurgents could be heard blasting from the city of Donetsk in the direction of a nearby Ukrainian military base, AFP correspondents said.

More shelling was reported near the government-held Black Sea city of Mariupol.

Kiev and its Western backers see the six-month uprising, and the earlier annexation by Russian troops of Crimea, as an attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cripple Ukraine.

But Moscow says it's simply coming to the aid of Russian speakers who feel threatened by Ukraine's lurch toward the West.

In response, the United States and European Union have imposed damaging economic sanctions on Moscow, fuelling the kind of East-West tensions last seen in the Cold War.

Sunday's election was meant to finalise a revolution that began in February, when huge street protests ousted Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych after he abruptly rejected a landmark EU pact. 

Communists and other Yanukovych allies were routed Sunday, although a party made up of his former associates did clear the hurdle to earn a small share of seats in the legislature through proportional representation.

Radicals that rejected Poroshenko's peace deal with the insurgents did poorly.

So did corruption-tainted politicians who had steered Ukraine through two decades of stuttering reforms.

However, the revolutionaries now face giant challenges: restoring relations with Russia, ending the insurgency, eradicating corruption, tackling massive debt, and resolving a near permanent crisis over Russian gas supplies.

"Poroshenko and his government will have a difficult time resolving the task of moving into Europe," Yuriy Romanenko, at the Stratagema think-tank, told AFP.

"The war will also go on for a long time. The standoff there could continue for several years."

In its first reaction, Moscow gave a guarded thumbs up to the new Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk era.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoriy Karasin said the result showed "that parties which support a peaceful resolution of the internal Ukrainian crisis received a majority."

He also said that "the election, in spite of a rather harsh and dirty campaign, is valid."

Western governments welcomed the vote, with France saying that the results "confirmed the people's fundamental choice".

Peace talks and fighting

Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna told Ukraine that it "had guarantees of support from the European Union and the United States.
Everybody wants to help Ukraine in its economic reforms."

However, he also urged Ukraine "to resolve its relations with Russia". 

Poroshenko says there can be no military victory against the separatists and that he is ready to negotiate autonomy, though not independence, for pro-Russian regions.

A Moscow-backed truce agreement signed by Kiev and the separatists on September 5 calmed the worst fighting, despite frequent violations, especially around the disputed Donetsk airport.

But after so much bloodshed it remains unclear whether either side is ready for tough compromise, with some analysts expecting the fighting to intensify now that the parliamentary election is over. 

Despite the rise of relatively moderate parties, radical nationalists, including large formations of volunteer fighters, remain an important force in Ukraine.

On Sunday, voters living in Crimea and the separatist areas of the east -- about five million people in all -- were excluded from the election.

Twenty-seven seats in the 450-seat parliament will remain empty. 

That, plus the separatists' plan to hold their own leadership polls next Sunday, risked adding another layer of formality to what already appears to be the de facto break up of Ukraine.

Source: AFP

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ukraine War Hero Fights Election From Russian Psychiatric Ward

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's first female combat helicopter pilot is running for parliament despite being held in a secure psychiatric unit in Russia.

A woman passes an election poster with a portrait of Nadia Savchenko, in Kiev, Ukraine.

A Russian psychiatric ward is an unlikely base for a career in Ukrainian politics.

Yet a female army helicopter pilot is contesting Sunday's parliamentary election in Ukraine from a secure unit over the border in Russia.

Despite her enforced absence from her country, Nadia Savchenko dominates the election billboards of the Fatherland party.

Once, these posters would have displayed the golden braids of Yulia Tymoshenko, the party's leader and one of Ukraine's most recognisable figures.

The fact that Miss Savchenko now appears in her stead demonstrates the change wrought on Ukrainian politics by a tumultuous year of war and revolution.

Established figures from the old order are being challenged by a new generation emerging from the turmoil of 2014.

Miss Savchenko, 33, was captured in June while fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east.

She was taken to Russia and imprisoned on what she says are fabricated charges of war crimes, before being transferred to a psychiatric unit.

The case has made her a national hero in Ukraine, with President Petro Poroshenko joining the calls for her release.

It has also made Miss Savchenko a sought after candidate in Sunday's election.

"We received a lot of offers from a lot of parties," said her sister, Vera, who lives in Kiev and is also running for parliament.

"So, via the lawyers, we spoke to her and agreed we would go with the one she trusted most. She chose Tymoshenko because she likes her, she used to vote for her."

If Miss Savchenko is elected, supporters hope that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, will be more likely to release her.

Miss Savchenko is among dozens of insurgent candidates running against the old order.

The most prominent include Mustafa Nayem and Serhiy Leshchenko, two investigative journalists who specialised in exposing corruption before agreeing to run for Mr Poroshenko's parliamentary party.

Yuli Mamchur, the air force colonel who marched unarmed against the Russian soldiers who took over his Crimean airbase in March, is also a candidate with the new pro-European party formed by Mr Poroshenko, which is expected to dominate the new parliament with perhaps 40 per cent of the vote.

Others hoping for a seat include paramilitary leaders like Andrei Belitsky, the commander of the far-right Azov battalion.

In all, up to a quarter of the seats could go to new candidates with little political experience, challenging the old patronage systems that have dominated Ukrainian politics since the country's independence in 1991.

Both Savchenko sisters were in Independence Square in Kiev at the climax of the revolution, with Nadia in the thick of the action.

She was a career soldier who made history by becoming Ukraine's first female combat helicopter pilot.

She served in the Iraq war and her military experience was valuable during the bloody days of the revolution.

A similar sense of duty later took her to eastern Ukraine.

Frustrated at not being deployed with the regular armed forces against pro-Russian rebels, Senior Lieutenant Savchenko took leave from her squadron and travelled east, where she served with the Aidar battalion, one of several volunteer militias.

On June 17, Miss Savchenko was cut off and surrounded during a chaotic battle.

She was captured by separatist fighters loyal to the self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic".

Three weeks later, she appeared in Russia, where prosecutors said she would be charged as accessory to murder for allegedly directing a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists.

Miss Savchenko's defence team say that witness testimony and mobile phone location data show that she was too far away to have directed this mortar fire and, in any event, that she was captured up to 90 minutes before the journalists were killed.

But that will make little difference in court, said Ilya Novikov, her Russian defence lawyer.

"The only way she will be released is by personal decision of Vladimir Putin. And given that, we think her participation in the elections can only help."

Mr Poroshenko is understood to have raised her case with Putin during the negotiations that led to a ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine on September 5.

But Ukrainian officials say the Russians rebuffed a request for Miss Savchenko to be included in a prisoner exchange, saying that she had become too valuable for Putin to release.

Her sister suspects that Mr Poroshenko has not done his utmost to secure Miss Savchenko's freedom.

"It suits the president – it suits the political establishment – to have a martyr," said Vera Savchenko.

That mistrust exposes the simmering tensions running through postrevolutionary Ukraine.

Many who helped to bring down the old government feel that the reforms they stood for have stalled.

Mr Poroshenko backed the revolution and won the presidency by a landslide in May.

But he is also a political insider and billionaire businessman.

Many feel that he represents the interests of the very establishment they were trying to overthrow.

Some are deeply disillusioned, pointing to his failure to end the war in the east and purge officials guilty of wrongdoing under the previous regime.

Last month frustrations boiled over when members of Right Sector, a nationalist group, began to publicly humiliate supposedly corrupt officials by throwing them in trash bins.

In a country awash with guns, the dangers of another revolution are obvious.

Some point to the rise of Oleh Lyashko, a maverick politician who has used the crisis in eastern Ukraine to build a potent political brand out of vigilante justice.

A political irrelevance just a year ago, his right-wing Radical Party is now vying with Fatherland for second place in the vote.

But the level of resentment is difficult to gauge.

Mr Leshchenko and Mr Nayem, the crusading journalists turned politicians, both play down the nightmare scenario, in which disgruntled soldiers and volunteer battalion fighters turn their guns on Mr Poroshenko's government.

They fiercely reject accusations that anyone running in today's election for an established party has sold out.

Nadia Savchenko, meanwhile, is unlikely to be released soon.

In Kiev, her sister fears that Ukraine's new MPs may lose their battle against the old order.

"They will destroy us if they can. By 'they' I mean the political establishment, and by 'us' I mean young Ukrainians, our generation who see a way of living differently, of bringing the country back to Europe, of simply creating conditions to live in," she said.

"The revolution hasn't changed anything. The war hasn't changed anything. Now we have elections. What's next? That's a rhetorical question."

Source: The Telegraph

In Eastern Ukraine, Parliamentary Election Deepens Divide

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Standing at the village polling station where she will oversee Ukraine's parliamentary election on Sunday, Irina Sobko points across a field of wilted sunflowers to a town controlled by Russian-backed rebels where she says there won't be any voting.

A staff member of a local community center, converted to a polling station, adjusts a number on a ballot box in the village of Novotroits'ke, south of pro-Russian rebels' stronghold of Donetsk, October 23, 2014.

"We're Ukraine's last polling station, the front line, so to speak," said Sobko, 53, who is on the election committee at one of three polling stations in the pro-Kiev village of Novotroitske in eastern Ukraine. 

"We want to be part of Europe, and I so hope the vote will be one small step closer," she said, speaking over the clear plastic ballot boxes decorated with blue and yellow tridents, one of Ukraine's national symbols, laid out for Sunday's voters.

The vote will be the first parliamentary election in Ukraine since street protests ousted former Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich and replaced him with a pro-European government, plunging ties between Russia and the West to Cold War-era lows.

The poll seems set to reinforce President Petro Poroshenko's position in Kiev, but it will likely deepen the divide that exists in eastern Ukraine between places like Novotroitske, controlled by Ukrainian forces, and its closest neighbor Dokuchayevsk, now in the hands of pro-Russian rebels.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, a hawk in Kiev's leadership, warned the country's security council this week that Russia, whom he and the West accuse of aiding the separatists with weapons and soldiers, may try to disrupt the election.

Separatists are looking to hold their own elections on Nov. 3 that will select a prime minister of the self-declared republic and a lawmaking body as the separatists aim to create the trappings of a functioning government.

Only about 30 km (18 miles) from the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, towns like Novotroitske and Dokuchayevsk, both of which straddle the front line, are surrounded by checkpoints manned either by Ukrainian troops or separatist fighters.

When night falls the two sides exchange artillery or rifle fire, despite a loosely observed Sept. 5 ceasefire agreement.

Violence has prevented some farmers from harvesting their wheat and sunflower crops, which have shriveled in the sun.

Yelena Viktorovna, who works at the voter registration office in rebel-held Dokuchayevsk, says residents of the town are too preoccupied with violence to care that they cannot vote on Sunday.

"No one talks about the Ukrainian elections, no one cares about them. For me personally, it would be nice for me to have some work to do, but most people just want the war to end," Yelena, 39, said over telephone, giving only her patronymic second name.

Poroshenko's bloc is expected to perform the strongest out of all the competing parties.

With Russian influence in the parliament virtually extinguished, he is expected to pull together a coalition from other pro-European parties including Yatseniuk's People's Front or even the Radical Party of populist Oleh Lyashko.

Poroshenko hopes the support will provide him with a mandate to press ahead with his peace plan for the east.


While sporadic violence has complicated efforts to hold elections in places like Novotroitske, almost constant shelling has made the very possibility of elections uncertain in a number of towns and villages, even those fully in Ukrainian hands.

Ukraine's central election committee is unsure itself where the election will be held.

Of Donetsk's 21 voting districts, nine are under Ukrainian control and eight are under rebel control.

Who controls the remaining four and whether there is a chance of holding the vote there is still unclear.

"Donetsk province is really the fly in the ointment as far as these elections go. There are districts where even the central election committee doesn't know what's going on," said Serhiy Tkachenko, chairman of the Donetsk branch of a nationwide non-governmental election monitoring group.

Those places include places that are partially controlled by Ukrainian troops and partially by rebels: Horlivka, Yenakiyevo, Dzerzhinsk and Avidiyivka, which serves as a bulwark for Ukrainian troops north of Donetsk.

For Valery Lubinets, who manages his son's campaign as a member of President Poroshenko's bloc in the town of Volnovakha, which lies a few kilometers south of Novotroitske, promises for additional security on election day offer some comfort.

Election committees have been promised military and police protection in case of attacks from rebels.

"Chances are the elections will be quiet but we've been forced to protect ourselves. Police, military will be on guard because everyone knows there is a chance an attack will disrupt elections," Lubinets said at his campaign headquarters.

"Tensions have risen, the cases of intimidation, cases of sabotage, the town's election council has already been intimidated with calls telling them not to carry out their work," he said.

For others however the election offers the first chance of a choice not dominated by former president Yanukovich's Party of Regions whose local and regional officials ruled party politics for years in industrial eastern Ukraine.

"I'm so happy to be rid of them and have a different choice for once," said Sobko.

While promises of ending corruption which has plagued Ukraine for decades may or may not be fulfilled, the pro-European leaning of most parties will make it easier for the next government to push forward on European-style reforms.


The rebels themselves say that Ukraine is free to hold whatever elections it chooses and that they will do nothing to prevent the poll from taking place.

The head of the rebels' election committee Roman Lyagin said, however, that no Ukrainian elections would take place on the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic.

"We have no diplomatic ties with Ukraine. We are in a state of war with them at the moment so having their voting booths on our soil is impossible," he said in a luxurious office building in central Donetsk which has become the election committee's headquarters.

"We have our own task which is to hold an election for the prime minister and people's council and to make those elections as legitimate as possible," he said, wearing a pinstripe suit with suspenders.

In Donetsk billboards advertising the rebels' Nov. 3 election and rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko's own candidacy are among the few signs up around the city.

The rebels' Internet outlets advertise Zakharchenko's trips to meet doctors and pensioners ahead of the election which pits the former electrician turned rebel fighter against two other less well known separatists from other rebel factions.

For some in the rebels' Donetsk People's Republic, the inability to participate in the Ukrainian election is a bitter pill to swallow. 

Vladimir Silimonchuk, 48, who works as a mining engineer near the rebel held city of Makiyivka, said he has worked at every election for the last ten years either on the election committee or as an observer. 

"It's offensive to not be able to vote and to have to abide the thought of rebel elections. They've been in control for six months and we have nothing, no economy, no lives, just more of their rebel flags," he said looking up at the rebel standard flying over a statue of Soviet Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin in a central Donetsk Square.

Source: Google News