Sunday, November 30, 2014

Russia’s New Aid Convoy To Rebels Riles Ukraine As Crisis Mounts

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Russia is sending a convoy of more than 100 vehicles with what it says is humanitarian assistance to rebel-held territory in Ukraine, drawing accusations from the authorities in Kiev that it’s aiding separatists.

A military convoy of about 30 trucks without license plates coming from the east moves on the road on November 29, 2014 in Chartcizsk.

The dispatch marks the eighth such mission since August by Russia, which says it’s acting to mitigate the humanitarian suffering caused by the unrest.

Ukraine has called the convoys an invasion and blamed Russia for the toll on civilians.

The repeated sight of trucks covered with white tarpaulins crossing from Russia underscores Ukraine’s loss of control over parts of the border amid its bloodiest conflict since the Second World War.

Ukraine has expressed concern that the Russian relief missions are a guise for funneling weapons and reinforcements to insurgents.

The humanitarian crisis is worsening as the government in Kiev moved to cut off funding and services to the two breakaway regions, according to the United Nations.

“An escalation of military activities has aggravated the security situation in the region, and led to increased uncertainty and fear among the population,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on its website.

“Winter temperatures, already below zero, threaten the health and wellbeing of vulnerable displaced people.”

The UN estimates that more than a million people are internally displaced or fled to neighboring countries as a result of the strife, with 5.2 million still living in areas engulfed by the conflict. 

Fragile Truce 

A cease-fire negotiated on Sept. 5 in Minsk, Belarus, has failed to take hold.

Ukraine and its allies blame Russia for stoking the months-long conflict that’s killed more than 4,300 people and left more than 10,000 wounded.

The government in Moscow denies involvement.

To keep up pressure on the pro-Russian separatists, the European Union yesterday extended asset freezes and travel bans to a further 13 persons and five entities it said were involved in actions against Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The people include officials in the breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk and those linked to organizing Nov. 2 local elections denounced as illegitimate by Ukraine and its allies.

Fighting in the conflict zone left one civilian dead yesterday after rebels shelled areas around the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine’s Ministry said yesterday.

Militants also attacked government troops, prompting them to return fire, it said.

One soldier was killed and 11 hurt, according to Volodymyr Polevyi, a military spokesman in Kiev.

Russian Convoy 

The self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic said it’s awaiting the arrival of Russia’s relief mission today, which is ferrying food and construction materials, according to a statement.

The cargo consists of more than 1,200 metric tons of materials, RIA Novosti reported, citing an official at Russia’s Emergencies Ministry. 

Russia notified the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry about the planned delivery, separatist authorities said.

“The humanitarian situation remains very tense,” the Donetsk republic said yesterday on its website.

“It may especially intensify if Ukraine blocks borders along a buffer line and closes access to all goods from its side.”

Ukraine’s military spokesman, Polevyi, countered yesterday by saying that rebels continue to refuse humanitarian help from Kiev.

Ukraine estimates that Russia has sent some 950 KamAZ trucks as part of its humanitarian convoys since August and suspects many of them were half-empty or carried weapons, according to Polevyi.

While most aid doesn’t reach the civilian population, infighting is breaking out among rebels for control over humanitarian flows, he said.

“Ukraine continues to base its policy toward eastern Ukraine on the Minsk agreements,” Polevyi said.

“The problem is that the Minsk agreements are being adhered to unilaterally by Ukraine, while rebels and Russian mercenaries ignore them.”

Source: Bloomberg

Rough Justice: Ukraine Rebels Lay Down Law In Breakaway State

DONETSK, Ukraine -- A Russian citizen who favours the death penalty, Eduard Yakubovsky, is trying to become the new face of justice in rebel-held east Ukraine.

Russian Eduard Yakubovsky

Appointed president of the "Supreme Court" in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in late September, the burly ex-investigator from Moscow says he's busy vetting judges as he attempts to set up a legal system in this state that Kiev and the West consider illegal. 

Dressed in military fatigues, Yakubovsky, 55, is a far cry from the typical image of a staid magistrate in a gown and suit.

"Believe me, at a time like this, these are the most suitable clothes for the job," he says in an interview at Donetsk city court.

"We haven't yet come up with a dress code for the judges that we'll swear in."

The justice system collapsed in Ukraine's eastern rebel zones after the pro-Russian uprising began in April, with the rule of the gun quickly replacing the rule of law.

Arbitrary and brutal punishments have been meted out by armed commanders with no oversight or accountability.

The United Nations in July accused rebels of conducting a "reign of fear and terror" that has seen people abducted, tortured and even executed.

Since then, online videos and rumours have swirled of popular tribunals handing down death sentences at mob hearings.

Now, as the Kremlin-backed separatists tighten their grip over their territory, they are looking to give themselves the trappings of a legitimate state and greater control over the population.

Yakubovsky, who has a Russian passport but says he has lived in Ukraine for 30 years, claims he is currently sifting through the CVs of judges and lawyers who once worked in the Ukrainian system but now want to sign up to administer rebel law. "

At the moment we're going through all their documents before appointing any judges," he says.

"We have to check the background of each candidate."

It is not just about hiring judges -- the criminal code is also a work-in-progress.

Despite being in a fight to the death with Kiev, Yakubovsky says the rebels have accepted Ukrainian law as the basis for their system "when it doesn't contradict with the our texts".

They have already introduced new laws -- most notably the re-introduction of the death penalty, which was officially banned in Ukraine in 2000.

"We have the death penalty and it will be applied," Yakubovsky says.

"For crimes against life, like aggravated murder, some military crimes and crimes against humanity."

- Law and order - 

Until the new legal system gets up and running, it is down to local commanders to dole out whatever justice they see fit.

"If it is a combatant from our side who has committed an offence then the head of military police decides on the punishment," a rebel tasked with security on Donetsk's streets told AFP.

"If it is a civilian then it is the commander of the group that arrests them that takes the decision," he said, refusing to give his name. 

Particularly in their sights are drug takers and dealers who they claim are still operating on their turf.

A man was recently arrested for taking methamphetamine and jailed for 15 days and forced to clean out all the prison cells, the rebel says. 

Another individual accused of manufacturing and selling "large amounts" of narcotics has been in jail for three and a half months awaiting trial.

Yakubovsky admits that innocents might have got caught up in the rebel dragnet.

The problem is he doesn't know exactly how many there are and when they will ever come to trial.

"It's true that there could be some innocent people among them," he says.

"We'll see when they go to trial. If that is the case, they'll be set free." 

Source: AFP

Russia Calls For End To Sanctions As EU Targets Ukraine Separatists

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Russia urged the European Union on Saturday to lift sanctions against Moscow and promised to waive its food embargo, but a top EU official rejected such a move as the bloc imposed fresh measures on Ukrainian rebels.

Russian President Vladmir Putin (L) speaks with Finance Minister Anton Siluanov during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow.

The European Union and the United States imposed economic sanctions on Russia in late July, targeting the Russian energy, banking and defense sectors to punish Moscow's support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, the West's toughest steps yet.

In retaliation, Moscow has banned most Western food imports, worth $9 billion a year.

"We don't expect anything from our European partners. The only thing we expect is for them to leave the meaningless sanctions spiral and move onto the path of lifting the sanctions and dropping the blacklists," Russia's deputy foreign minister, Alexei Meshkov, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

"This, in turn, would allow us to drop our lists."

The gesture from Moscow came as the European Union imposed sanctions on 13 Ukrainians accused of organizing rogue elections in eastern Ukraine on Nov. 2, hitting the separatists and their organizations with asset freezes and travel bans.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the new president of the European Commission, said Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March left Europe with two options: go to war against Russia or impose economic sanctions.

"If you don't want a war the only possibility is sanctions ... You have to take sanctions that produce an effect," Juncker told RTL radio in Luxembourg, his home country.

"One has to maintain those sanctions as long as, on the ground, we do not see Russian gestures aimed at pacifying the region," he said, referring to Ukraine.

Earlier this week, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said lower oil prices and Western financial sanctions will cost Russia around $130 billion-$140 billion a year, equivalent to around 7 percent of its economy.

Meshkov put the losses from sanctions for the EU at $50 billion next year, adding that trade turnover in some products between Russia and Europe had declined by double digit percentages.

A Reuters report this month showed that European exports to Russia fell almost 20 percent in August compared to July because of the sanctions.


Juncker said he did not see the point of constantly threatening more sanctions but warned that more measures could come if Moscow did not take steps to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

EU officials are concerned that a September ceasefire in Ukraine is not being upheld and say that the vote by rebels in eastern Ukraine was encouraged by Russia to undermine Kiev's sovereignty.

Rebels argued the Nov. 2 vote was the next step after local referendums in May calling for independence from Ukraine.

The United States and European Union denounced the vote as "illegal and illegitimate", but Russia has said it would recognize the result, deepening a crisis that began with the popular overthrow of Ukraine's Moscow-backed president in February and Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

In its official journal, the European Union said Sergey Kozyakov, who was election commission chief in the Luhansk region "has actively supported actions and policies which undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine".

Others on the sanctions list are election organizers and separatist ministers in Luhansk and in the eastern region of Donetsk.

They are accused of the same wrongdoing as Kozyakov.

Source: Google News

Saturday, November 29, 2014

In Ukraine, It Is Time To Call A War A War

KIEV, Ukraine -- US President Barrack Obama dare not utter the word ‘invasion’ and asks his advisers why Ukraine is so important.

Russian troops in Ukraine.

Russia denies it has troops in eastern Ukraine while Ukraine itself describes its own military actions there as an “anti-terrorist operation”.

In reality, Europe is witnessing a war that is producing casualties for the Russian army on a scale not seen since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

It is time to recognise it as such.

Russian NGO activist Elena Vasilieva described this week how she set up a Facebook page Cargo 200 from Ukraine to Russia – a reference to the Soviet/Russian euphemism for transport of dead soldiers.

Based on information from families across Russia she calculates that 4,000 Russian soldiers have been killed so far in Ukraine.

Vasilieva’s estimates have been backed by other Russian NGOs such as the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers and Inform Napalm.

Vasilieva herself launched the Forgotten Regiment NGO in 2007 to collect information on Russian veterans of Soviet and post-Soviet conflicts.

In only five months of fighting, Russia has lost the same number of soldiers as the US did in more than 12 years in Iraq and about a third of the Soviet losses in Afghanistan during a nine-year occupation.

Such very high casualty rates reflect a full-blown war between Ukraine and Russia rather than a small-scale insurgency or terrorist campaign.

The UK lost 600 troops and police in Ulster over three decades during the Irish troubles.

The ferocity of the Ukraine-Russian war has continued since the September 4 Minsk Accords that produced a tentative ceasefire.

Hundreds of combatants and civilians have continued to die.

In mid-November, a Russian missile battalion was destroyed by Ukrainian forces who claimed 150 Russian dead, including General Sergei Andreychenko, the highest-ranking reported casualty of the war.

Russia’s losses from this battle are greater than the Ukrainian losses at Illovaysk in late August that forced Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, to the negotiating table.

Chuck Hagel’s resignation as US defence secretary over weak US policy towards Russia is a portend of what to expect from a Republican-controlled Congress that – as in the 1980s over Afghanistan – supports hitting back at Russia by providing arms to US allies on the ground.

Ukrainian envoys to the US are seeking weapons such as FGM-148 Javelin portable anti-tank missiles to use against Russian armour that has been building up during the ceasefire in the Donbas enclave.

Senator John McCain increasingly resembles Congressman Charlie Wilson in the 1980s, who organised a massive crease in US covert assistance to the Afghan mujahideen.

Vasilieva lives in exile in Ukraine because it has become dangerous to collect and publicise data on Russian casualties in an invasion that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, denies is taking place.

Lev Shlosberg, a Russian lawyer, was beaten after attending funerals of 76th Airborne Regiment soldiers in Pskov who had been killed in battle in eastern Ukraine.

Shlosberg had been interviewed by one of Russia’s last remaining independent television channels, Dozhd, whose journalists were also attacked.

Although Russia’s denials of its invasion of eastern Ukraine increasingly resemble Soviet deception over its invasion of Afghanistan, there are two caveats.

First, under Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader in the latter stages of the war in Afghanistan, there was greater media freedom than in Putin’s Russia.

Second, Putin cannot close off all channels and information about Russian casualties is available on the internet.

Ukraine publishes the freest Russian-language media in the world and these publications are available online, at least to those who have internet access.

Putin is hamstrung in achieving his objectives in eastern and southern Ukraine given the resolve of Ukrainian patriots to defend their territory, and rising opposition to the war in Russia.

In September, 50,000 Russians marched in Moscow for peace in Ukraine.

Russia’s respected independent Levada Centre issued a survey that found as many as 65 to 70 per cent of Russians oppose sending Russian troops to Ukraine.

In the USSR and in today’s Russia, soldiers have caused themselves horrific injuries to avoid being sent to Afghanistan and the Donbas.

Vasilieva recalled being told how one soldier thought up a way of breaking his own leg, and how another burned himself with ammonia. 

It is time to recognise the Donbas conflict, which has caused thousands of casualties, widespread destruction and over a million refugees, as Europe’s first inter-state war since 1945.

Source: ft

Ukraine Militias Warn Of Anti-Kiev Coup

KIEV, Ukraine -- The burly man with the close-cropped silver hair and his two companions ask not to be identified too closely when they talk to me in some dowdy offices near an ancient monastery overlooking the Dnieper River.

The men behind Ukraine’s nationalist militias are looking to replace the fumbling government in Kiev one way or another.

They want to be described as “patriotic businessmen,” they say, and one of them, whom we’ll call Alexander, is a very, very rich patriotic businessman.

They have been funding Ukrainian self-defense militias formed in response to what they see as the ineffectiveness of the Ukraine Armed Forces in the face of pro-Moscow separatists and Russian troops in the country’s southeast.

And they suggest something worse than incompetence is at work there.

The word “betrayal” often plays on their lips.

They predict the government of President Petro Poroshenko may not last another three months.

“That’s optimistic,” says Alexander.

Alexander and his friends point to continued military hardware exports—sometimes transferred via Moscow-ally Belarus—sent from some of Ukraine’s 134 state-owned defense enterprises to Russia, which has long been the Ukraine arms industry’s biggest customer. 

The trade flouts a March 2014 prohibition on all exports of weaponry and military equipment to Moscow.

Poroshenko reinforced that ban in June with a presidential decree, but Alexander and other businessmen contacted by The Daily Beast say enterprises are still disobeying the order.

Some are doing so because there’s money to be made and recession is hitting this key sector; others because executives and workers in the defense plants, mostly located in the east and the south of Ukraine, are sympathetic to Russia.

Earlier this month, nationalist businessmen alerted Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the imminent shipment of key components for military radar systems mounted on Russian Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft guns.

Yatsenyuk blocked the shipment from Kiev’s Arsenal arms factory. 

The state-owned Motor Sich engine factory in Zaporizhia, a southeastern city on the Dnieper River 140 miles from the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, has been the most flagrant exporter.

Company executives make no bones about Sich’s exports to Russia of military helicopter engines.

Victor Chuyko, the president of the Association of Aviation Engine-Builders, claims the sales are legal on the grounds that “Poroshenko’s decree bans only deliveries directly to the Russian defense ministry.” 

Last week, Sich executives signed a preliminary agreement that would see the company manufacturing in Belarus gas turbine engines for Russia’s Cruise missiles.

“The economic interests of some are at odds with the country’s interest,” says Alexander, smiling cynically.

The “patriotic businessmen” ascribe the failures in the war effort to a mixture of lack of political will, sabotage, and inept Soviet-style bureaucracy.

“Bill Gates could give Ukraine a billion dollars and the results would not be seen on the front lines and the volunteer militiamen would get nothing,” says Alexander in a booming voice, spreading his arms wide.

His two colleagues nod assent.

“You have to understand the bureaucracy still has the mentality of the Soviet past,” says another we’ll call Yuri.

“Bureaucrats can do nothing and avoid getting into trouble, or they can court risks by doing something.”

Winter clothing for the 15,000 or so volunteers in 37 pro-unity militias is uppermost on the minds of their patrons—the temperatures here are turning sub-zero now and the first snow of winter flecked Ukraine’s capital this week.

Down in the southeast, militiamen and many Ukrainian regulars are still in lightweight camouflage—the best off are the separatists and the Russian “volunteers” backing them up who sport new insulated winter outfits.

Ukraine’s national security spokesman, Colonel Andriy Lysenko, later told me when I brought up the issue of the patchy winter clothing distribution, “as far as I know the Ministry of Defense has dispatched warm clothing, although not everyone has received theirs yet.”

On the militiamen, he says there are no plans to help them with equipment.

“They provide their own assistance and we are grateful to them for this.”

Gratitude isn’t what volunteers in the so-called territorial defense battalions want from Kiev.

They want more determination from authorities, a greater sense of direction, and they need more equipment.

And their suspicions make them see betrayal at every turn, even when incompetence may be the cause of a particular problem.

They are suspicious, for instance, that American non-lethal aid is being sold to the separatists, after spotting separatist fighters with U.S.-supplied Meal Ready-to-Eat rations, although these could easily have been looted.

Alexander and his colleagues are looking to battalion commanders who have been elected to the new parliament to start forming a voting bloc to force through change.

They are talking about setting up a parallel defense ministry in the form of an NGO to provide greater command-and-control structure to the militias.

But in the end there is no substitute for government when it comes to war fighting.

“Poroshenko said in the summer that he needed a new parliament and government to get things moving,” says Alexander.

“Well we have a new parliament and there are no excuses left,” he says darkly.

Source: The Daily Beast

Stalin, Father Of Ukraine?

KIEV, Ukraine -- Eight years ago, on Nov. 28, 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament officially designated the famine of 1931-33, which killed 5 to 7 million Ukrainians, during Stalin’s rule, a genocide.

Joseph Stalin, the 'butcher' of Ukraine.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, accompanied by other officials and by his wife, laid a jar of seeds of grain near the Dnieper River in Kiev to mark the anniversary.

Stalin’s rule is rightly associated with two of the most horrific episodes in Ukraine’s history: the famine and the 1937-38 mass executions of Ukrainian intellectuals and political figures, both of which took place across the Soviet Union.

Both tragedies have been invoked regularly in the months since Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, seized Crimea and sent forces into eastern Ukraine.

But there is an underappreciated aspect to this tangled history: Stalin’s rule saw the formation of a land with strong Ukrainian national consciousness.

Yes, he was a murderous tyrant, but he was also an architect of today’s Ukraine.

Ukraine emerged out of czarist Russia as a separate country as a result of World War I, the revolutions of 1917, German military occupation and the efforts of Ukrainian nationalists.

Against the wishes of other early Soviet officials, who wanted to suppress nationalism, Stalin strongly advocated recognizing — and using — it.

“Clearly, the Ukrainian nation exists and the development of its culture is a duty of Communists,” Stalin told the 10th Party Congress in March 1921.

“One cannot go against history.”

Stalin knew from his Georgian homeland that national sentiment was too strong to suppress.

He also knew that the Communists could use it to win loyalty and achieve economic modernization.

Ukraine had remained effectively independent even after being reconquered by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921 and rechristened the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine.

Through late 1921, Soviet Ukraine signed a plethora of state-to-state treaties — with newly independent Poland, Austria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia — and maintained diplomatic missions abroad.

Ukraine had a diplomatic office in Moscow, too.

At the 10th Party Congress, Stalin argued for an integrated Soviet state.

But the form of that integrated state would carry fateful consequences.

In 1922, Stalin proposed folding Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Caucasus into Soviet Russia (formally known as the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) while allowing them to retain substantial autonomy, a proposal that initially elicited Lenin’s support.

But Lenin soon changed his mind, and demanded a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, in which Ukraine and Russia would hold ostensibly equal status.

Lenin’s counterproposal was based not on a commitment to self-rule but, like Stalin, on tactics.

He argued that as other countries underwent socialist revolutions — a Soviet Germany, a Soviet Hungary, a Soviet Finland — they, too, could join the new Soviet Union.

Stalin was not so naïve.

“These peoples would scarcely agree to enter straight into a federative bond with Soviet Russia” on the Ukrainian model, he told Lenin.

Lenin scorned Stalin’s realism, insisting that “we need a centralized world economy, run from a single organ.”

Stalin bowed to Lenin’s authority, and loyally and skillfully implemented the Bolshevik leader’s vision to form the Soviet Union in late 1922.

Lenin’s vision amounted to an overconfident bet on world revolution.

Stalin also believed in world revolution, but his proposal — annexation into Russia — would have been a hedge on that bet.

In 1991, of course, the Soviet Union dissolved.

Ukraine, having avoided absorption into Russia thanks to Lenin, became independent.

But the new nation encompassed as much land as it did thanks to Stalin.

When it was first formed, Soviet Ukraine had no natural border in the east with Soviet Russia.

The demarcation disappointed all sides — and it is the site of today’s separatist rebellion.

In the west, as a result of his 1939 pact with Hitler, Stalin seized eastern Poland and joined it to Ukraine.

The city today known as Lviv was then a largely Polish- and Yiddish-speaking community, surrounded by a Ukrainian-speaking countryside.

Under Stalin and his successors the city would become predominantly Ukrainian-speaking — and the center of western Ukrainian nationalism.

With the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, Stalin annexed Transcarpathia, formerly part of Czechoslovakia, and now the southwest corner of Ukraine.

Finally, Crimea, at the time a predominantly ethnic Russian territory, was transferred to Ukraine from Russia in a decision taken under Stalin but implemented only after he had died, in 1954, on the 300th anniversary of the Cossack request for imperial Russia’s protection against the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth.

Except for Crimea, today’s nationalist Ukraine is a bequeathal of Stalin.

It’s true that he executed countless officials of Ukrainian (and every other) ethnicity.

But as the Soviet state expanded, he promoted still more Ukrainians to take their places.

Even when he belatedly made study of Russian language a requirement in all Soviet schools, he did not discontinue instruction in national vernacular languages.

Of course, in helping to enlarge and consolidate Soviet Ukraine, Stalin never imagined that the Soviet Union would someday disappear.

And so Putin faces a formidable obstacle.

He is said by diplomats to have told President George W. Bush, at a NATO summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, in 2008 that “Ukraine is not even a state.”

And in claiming territory from Ukraine, Putin has cited Catherine the Great’s Black Sea conquests and creation of “New Russia” in the late 18th century.

But Putin cannot escape more recent history.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea has rendered Ukraine even more ethnically Ukrainian, and helped elect Ukraine’s first ever pro-European parliamentary majority.

One does not have to take sides over the human tragedy unfolding in eastern Ukraine to grasp that, whether Putin does or does not have clear strategic goals, he cannot wipe out the fruits of the Soviet period.

Putin cannot simply swallow Ukraine — it is no longer “New Russia.”

And unlike Stalin — indeed, because of Stalin, and because of his regime’s own behavior — Putin cannot entice Ukraine back into a new “Eurasian” union with Russia either.

Ukrainians have little affection for Stalin’s dictatorship, but their struggle for statehood owes much to his legacy — a legacy that, for different reasons, neither they nor Putin like to think about.

Source: The New York Times

Friday, November 28, 2014

New Ukraine Parliament Called To Fight Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president set out a strongly reformist agenda during the inaugural session of parliament Thursday, calling for the immediate overhaul of a justice system he said was corrupted from the top down.

Newly elected Ukrainian parliament deputies swear their oath during the inauguration cermeony in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014. Ukraine Parliament has opened for its first session since an election last month that ushered in a spate of pro-Western parties.

Petro Poroshenko said a successful reform program would enable Ukraine to consider applying for European Union membership within five years.

Combatting corruption and re-orienting Ukraine toward Europe, and away from Russia, have been dominant themes of national politics since former President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February after months of protest.

Since a vote last month that ushered in a raft of pro-Western parties, Yanukovych's Party of Regions is no longer represented in parliament, although some of his erstwhile allies were elected within the Opposition Bloc.

Poroshenko said the justice system's shortcomings posed a national security risk.

"It is quite clear that the primary reason for the low standard of life of the majority of Ukrainians is the totally corrupted government apparatus," he said.

A preliminary governing coalition was formed last week, uniting five parties intent on guiding Ukraine toward integration with Europe and potentially NATO.

Poroshenko said Ukraine should shed prohibitions forbidding it from joining military blocs such as NATO.

"The non-aligned status voted for in 2010 has not been able and will not be able to guarantee the security and territorial unity of our country," he said.

The new parliament draws together a colorful variety of political figures, including crusading anti-corruption campaigners, commanders of paramilitary units fighting Russian-backed separatists in the east, and remnants of Yanukovych's entourage.

One deputy, Nadezhda Savchenko, is awaiting trial in a Russian prison after she was captured by Russian-backed militia during fighting in eastern Ukraine in June.

Russian investigators accuse Savchenko, a Ukrainian air force officer, of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists.

A photo of a parliamentary oath signed by Savchenko flashed on a screen in parliament during the inauguration.

The largest forces in parliament are Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's Popular Front, Poroshenko's party and Samopomich, a new pro-European party based in western Ukraine.

Those groups, along with the Fatherland party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the Radical Party, make up the coalition.

Poroshenko said in his speech to parliament that the coalition would strive to maintain the unity of Ukraine, which has been severely tested by Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and ongoing fighting against separatists.

"One hundred percent are for a unified state, for a unified country," Poroshenko said.

"There will be no federalization."

That was a veiled rebuke of European Union Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who suggested this week that decentralizing power in Ukraine could allow for dialogue with Russian-backed separatists.

Source: AP

Eight Months After Russia Annexed Crimea From Ukraine, A Complicated Transition

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea — Eight months into the Russian annexation of the Black Sea resort region of Crimea, traces of Ukraine’s 60-year rule here are rapidly being wiped away.

Alexandr Burtsev, a pro-Russian, and the head of a children’s art school in Sevastopol looks at one of his students' painting of the pro-Russian support meeting in Sevastopol.

Now Ukrainians themselves worry that they are next.

The Ukrainian language has vanished from school curriculums, Russia’s two-headed eagle has been bolted onto government buildings, and Russian laws are slowly taking hold.

And as the peninsula Russifies, Ukrainians and other minority groups are finding that an area once renowned for its easygoing cosmopolitanism is now stifling.

Some are fleeing their native home.

Many complain that they have been written off both by the world and by Ukraine itself, which is focused on the bloody conflict in its southeast.

The turmoil is a harsh consequence of the first major land grab in Europe since World War II — and it comes despite Kremlin assurances that life would be better in Crimea for Russians and Ukrainians alike.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has quickly become a haven for Ukrainian-speakers in Crimea, who can gather on Sunday mornings to gossip and to send up prayers in sanctuaries whose authorities sit in Kiev, not Moscow.

But Archbishop Kliment, the leader of the church here, fears for his future.

“I get up worried and I go to bed worried,” he said, speaking in the converted school building in Simferopol that houses the church headquarters on this peninsula of 2.4 million.

“They are closing down Ukrainian schools, Ukrainian newspapers. It’s all closed, and the Ukrainian church is the only thing left.”

One poll taken when Crimea was still part of Ukraine found that about 12 percent of Crimean residents, or 280,000 people, identified as Ukrainian Orthodox.

Since the Russian takeover, the church leader says, pressure has forced him to close almost a third of his congregations.

Several of his priests have fled.

Archbishop Kliment finds himself a world away from the heady days he spent in Kiev in February, when he announced onstage to a crowd of battle-scarred protesters that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which broke away from Russian Orthodoxy after the fall of the Soviet Union, had withdrawn its support for then-President Viktor Yanukovych.

That provoked cheers from the crowd.

Within days, Yanukovych was toppled — and Russia was moving in on Crimea.

Russian President Vladi­mir Putin said he was acting to defend the rights of ethnic Russians, although the risks they purportedly faced appeared to be almost exclusively voiced within broadcasts by state-run Russian media.

President Obama called the Russian annexation “illegitimate.”

Many ethnic Russians were excited to join a richer nation that promised them a higher standard of living.

In a March referendum, 97.6 percent were said to have voted to join Russia.

Critics questioned the validity of the results, and opponents largely boycotted the voting.

Now they say that an entire constellation of life is swiftly fading away.

Some say they have no future in Crimea at all.

Darya Karpenko emptied her Simferopol apartment and sold her Nissan this month, setting out last week with her 2-year-old daughter to join her husband in the Polish city of Krakow.

Even though she is ethnically Russian, she said there is no future for her family in the city where she was born.

“I feel almost like I’m jumping on the last train car that’s leaving,” Karpenko said, shortly before she left for Poland.

“We never planned our lives to leave. We bought a very nice apartment, we renovated it. We filled it with expensive furniture. We lost everything here. My husband works in IT. There were 50 small companies in the city, and they’re all closed now.”

Before the Russian annexation, Karpenko ran a popular blog and was a business consultant in Ukraine.

Since the takeover, she said, she posts cautiously on her Facebook page, worrying constantly about Russian security services.

“I’m expecting security services to come for me any time there is a spirited conversation” in the comments section of her Facebook profile, she said.

“Because security services do visit people. It’s not an old wives’ tale.”

Some of her friends were questioned when they criticized the annexation, she said.

At least 25 of her friends and acquaintances have left, she said, leaving no one to talk to who sympathizes with her position in her final days in Crimea.

“People are leaving every day,” she said.

“These are very intelligent people, the middle class, very well educated.”

Many Crimean residents, even those supportive of the Russian takeover, have found themselves stuck in a strange hinterland between nations.

Ukrainian cellphone networks have pulled out, and suddenly friends and family in Ukraine are an expensive international phone call away.

Businesses must follow new laws.

Crimea’s new Moscow-backed authorities shut down the branches of several Ukrainian banks, and the others departed, leaving many people’s life savings in limbo.

Ukrainian authorities have been reluctant to unlock money for new Russian banks that they say are part of an illegal occupation.

Tourism, once a mainstay of the economy, has lagged as international tourists stayed away this year.

And agriculture suffered when Ukraine cut back the amount of water it sends to Crimea via a canal.

Life could become even more complicated in the coming months.

Russia will require that residents have Russian passports to qualify for health care, which will force some of the last holdouts either to give up their Ukrainian passports or to leave the peninsula.

Ukraine, meanwhile, is imposing restrictions on the amount of cash that Crimean residents can carry across the border.

But many Crimeans are happy to be part of Russia, even if the initial euphoria has dissipated.

Some welcome once again being part of a Russian nation to which they always felt connected.

Others hold out hope for new economic opportunities.

Many say that if it weren’t for Russia’s intervention, they would have had the same bloody experience as eastern Ukraine — although that conflict was sparked by pro-Russian separatists seizing local government buildings, not by the central government in Kiev.

“We felt we had been in internal immigration. I am a Russian person,” said Alexander Burtsev, the director of a children’s art school in Sevastopol, the port city that is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

“Our lives have become better,” he said.

“Financially better and morally better, especially morally.”

Local authorities have promised him a new building for his art school, whose students learn painting and sculpture on rickety Soviet-era wooden stools.

Those who complain about the transition period, Burtsev said, are simply being impatient.

“Times aren’t easy, because we’re switching from Ukraine to Russian legislation. But it’s a temporary problem,” he said.

Authorities say they will smooth out the bumps that have accompanied the peninsula’s switch to Russian rule.

They say that there is room for minorities to live in Crimea so long as they live within Russian laws.

“Ukraine has been an angry stepmother for Crimea,” Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, the top Russian official in Crimea, said in written replies to questions.

“To make Crimea self-sufficient is our strategic aim. We plan to reach this goal in five years,” and Moscow has pledged $15.5 billion to help do so, he said.

As for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, he said that no other churches recognize it.

Its future appears to rest on whether it is allowed to register in Russia, an unclear prospect.

Archbishop Kliment says he will fight as long as he can.

“Until the last Ukrainian leaves Crimea, we need to be here with them,” he said.

Source: The Washington Post

Despite Cease-Fire, Ukraine Conflict Grinds On, With Deaths Mounting

PISKY, Ukraine -- Since a cease-fire was declared in eastern Ukraine on Sept. 5, nearly 1,000 soldiers and civilians have died in a grinding conflict with rebel separatists that is being waged largely out of sight.

Members of a Ukrainian militia walk past a house riddled with shrapnel.

That is almost a quarter of the 4,317 killed since April and an average of 13 a day, the United Nation estimates.

Over the same three-month period, the Ukrainian military says it has recorded 3,412 rebel cease-fire violations, while separatist fighters regularly accuse Ukrainian forces of shelling the region’s biggest city, Donetsk, killing civilians.

And Russia has continued to build up the rebel forces, sending in troops, military vehicles and heavy weapons, including what Ukraine says was a convoy of 85 vehicles this week carrying heavy armor, fighters and ammunition.

All this has made for a nervous few months for the Ukrainian soldiers in the village of Pisky, who endure almost constant shelling, sniper fire and raiding parties from the rebel separatists only a mile away on the front lines of a confrontation that carries the potential, at almost any moment, of exploding into a hot new theater in a revived Cold War. 

The front zigzags through a glum tableau of abandoned houses, muddy fields and trash-strewn streets, where all but a few retired people have long since fled.

The two sides are only about a mile apart, so close that they can see each other’s positions through a high-powered periscope.

On a recent visit to the Ukrainian side, gunfire broke out near the abandoned house where a soldier calling himself Simferopol and his mates in the all-volunteer Dnipro-1 pro-Ukrainian militia were stationed.

As bullets whistled over a nearby fence, walkie-talkies started crackling.

“Who’s shooting?”

“Look to your 3 o’clock.”

“I don’t see anything.”

Eventually, they gave up, as they often do, unable to ascertain the origin of the shooting.

Another Ukrainian unit reported later that it was test-firing a gun, though it was unclear whether this was the same incident.

All the same, after some time, the Ukrainians decided to send off a return volley of mortars, shot in the direction of Donetsk.

“If you cannot see clearly what is happening, you shoot, to ease your soul,” said Simferopol, who took his nickname from his hometown on the Crimean Peninsula, which he left after Russia annexed the territory in March.

He was unsure of the purpose of this firing, or where the next bullets might come from.

“I’m not really a professional,” he said.

“I used to sell Tupperware.”

Simferopol and Ukrainian paramilitary and regular army soldiers deployed in the village say they are fighting defensively, noting that, despite their efforts, rebel lines have been creeping forward.

And yet, the Ukrainian forces regularly fire mortars and artillery toward the separatist lines.

“They shoot at us to remind us they are still there,” Simferopol said of cease-fire violations that run into the dozens of incidents daily.

“And then we shoot at them, to remind them we are still here.”

The two sides may seem dug in, but the rebels have advanced several hundred yards since the cease-fire declaration.

In an interview, Zhora, a commander in the Vostok battalion, a pro-Russian, separatist militia, said he had success in “expanding the lines,” and this was necessary to better defend the flanks of a position that the rebels held before the cease-fire, but was vulnerable for jutting into the Ukrainian zone.

The position had been under attack.

“We moved ahead,” he said, in an interview at his headquarters, where dozens of empty, green wooden boxes for artillery shells were stacked in a parking lot.

“We had no left or right flank. What we did was smooth out the line.” 

Pro-Russian soldiers deny receiving aid from Russia, and yet a proliferation of ammunition, howitzers, new uniforms and high-caliber sniper rifles on their side tells a different story.

However enfeebled and impoverished the Ukrainian Army, rebel fighters who were on the ropes in the summer before a Russian incursion could hardly be pushing an entrenched regular army equipped with artillery and tanks without state sponsorship.

Both Simferopol and Zhora say they are fighting to win back their home territory from the other side, but the similarities end there.

A Russian flag adorns Zhora’s headquarters in a warehouse, while graffiti saying “This Is Ukraine” is scrawled on the abandoned house that is Simferopol’s temporary home.

As the pro-Russian line is flush with the city of Donetsk, stray shots by the Ukrainian artillery regularly land in outlying districts of the city.

In Pisky, rebel shelling is a menace to the Ukrainian soldiers but few civilians, since most have left the village.

The only residents to be found were a retired couple, Ivan and Lyubov Siderov, who live in their root cellar in the buffer zone between the two armies and stayed on because “we have a cow, we have a reason to stay.”

They trade milk for bread with the soldiers, and emerge from the cellar only to do chores, and in this way hope to survive until one or the other side wins.

One of the Ukrainian paramilitary soldiers, who uses the nickname Zloy, or Angry, said he was motivated by what he saw as a Russian attempt to oppress Ukrainians, and not for the first time.

“Russia oppresses us and not only for six months in this war, but for centuries, from the time of Peter the Great,” he said.

“There were Cossacks who went to Moscow and kneeled and bowed, and there were those who did not. I’m one of those types.”

With the Russian buildup on the other side, nerves are fraying, particularly in light of a catastrophic defeat for Ukrainian volunteers in the town of Ilovaisk last summer.

There, as here, volunteers fueled by heady patriotism headed for the thickest part of the fight, ahead of the Ukrainian Army.

But a Russian advance then pushed the Ukrainian regulars off a road protecting the retreat, and at least a hundred paramilitary soldiers were killed and hundreds more captured.

“What can we do, a soldier just lives through the day,” said Grigory V. Matiash, a 22-year-old from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, who volunteered after participating in last winter’s protest in Independence Square.

Such fatalism is understandable in a surreal war zone where boredom is relieved only by deadly attacks, and the sound of .50-caliber sniper fire — first the snap of an incoming bullet, then a boom a moment later — has become background noise.

The separatists and the Ukrainians alike send artillery controllers to spot the flashes of outgoing artillery, and correct answering fire.

While in a sense defensive, as the spotters are intended to silence the other side’s guns, their activities only escalate the small-arms firing, as each side tries to shoot the other’s observers, using infrared scopes. 

Also, the Ukrainians sometimes shoot randomly in the direction of their enemy’s lines, something they call “prophylactic fire,” to keep heads down.

After the sun goes down, Pisky becomes an even scarier place, as the buffer zone of abandoned houses becomes a no-man’s land of constant skirmishes between nighttime patrols sent out by both sides.

“Our guys die, and their families suffer,” said one of the Ukrainian fighters, a former Pentecostal preacher who uses the nickname Padre.

“There are widows and orphans. And our government doesn’t want to declare war. We are at war with Russia. Nobody wants to say it, but this is a real war.”

Source: The New York Times

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tech Sector Leading Ukraine's Pro-European Revival

KIEV, Ukraine -- It has been a year since President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign Ukraine's EU Association Agreement, unleashing the Maidan Square street protests in Kiev that led to his ousting.

Staff at MacPaw, a Kiev-based Apple app developer, hope the new government's pro-EU stance pays dividends quickly.

His replacement, President Petro Poroshenko, signed the agreement in June.

Amongst other things, it calls for a free trade area in the next decade, steps towards visa-free travel, and Ukraine to adopt EU regulations and standards.

So what does all this mean for Ukraine's vibrant tech sector?

'Gave their blood' 

Dmytro Kostyk, owner of Interactive Restaurant Technology, says fewer trade tariffs will help Ukrainian hardware companies importing and re-exporting components.

Software companies, on the other hand, will see less of an impact. 

"The biggest problem for any high-tech start-up in Ukraine is intellectual property," he says.

Ukraine's legal system does not provide enough protection, he argues, so many companies register in Delaware or Nevada in the US, as well as in their home country, to put their patents under the protection of Western laws.

If Ukraine were to adopt more EU legal standards, tech firms would benefit, says Mr Kostyk.

Viktoriya Tihipko, managing director of investment company TA Venture, agrees, arguing that harmonising Ukrainian and European law could also help tackle corruption and make life easier and safer for tech entrepreneurs.

"[Ukrainians] gave their blood for the agreement," says Eveline Buchatskiy, managing partner of start-up incubator EastLabs.

"They saw the EU as an external auditor that would save them from themselves."

The agreement could speed up improvements to the country's IT infrastructure, she believes, because it commits both sides to building an "information society".

Improving the speed and availability of broadband internet and rolling out 3G mobile connectivity would be of significant benefit to the country.

Ukraine is a "sleeping IT tiger", she says, that could benefit from the successful e-government reforms enjoyed by other post-Soviet nations, such as Estonia and Georgia.

Free movement 

The agreement's impact "is more psychological", says Andrey Kolodyuk, one of the founders of the Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (UVCA) formed by tech investors in August.

But in his view, tech entrepreneurs would benefit greatly from visa-free travel.

"They travel a lot, and every time they go to different countries, to take a visa, it takes a lot of time, money and process," he says.

The founders of the UVCA envisage the association becoming the "front door" for foreign investors interested in backing Ukrainian ventures.

June also saw the start of a new tech angel network, UAngel, led by veteran technology investor Jaanika Merilo.

"Amid the political tumult, there is a paradoxical revival of the Ukrainian high-tech sector," says Adrien Henni, chief editor of Ukraine Digital News.

Investors would appear to be hammering at Ukraine's door.

Sir Richard Branson is one, through his involvement with the Brain Basket Foundation, a body aiming to train 100,000 new IT professionals in Ukraine by 2020.

'No-one is afraid' 

Despite the political turbulence in Kiev and war with Russian-supporting separatists in the East, new investment in tech companies continues to pour in.

"It's very important because we've got new fresh capital, new fresh people coming into this sector," says Mr Kolodyuk.

European investors and trade officials have not been deterred from visiting Ukraine's west - Mr Kolodyuk sees two or three European delegations each week.

"No-one is afraid, people are coming here - they understand nothing [bad] is happening in Kiev," he says.

He points to Israel as an example of a country where civil unrest and war have not prevented a flourishing tech sector.

But other tech companies hope the benefits of the EU Association Agreement will be felt quickly.

"I do hope that Ukraine is regarded as a priority partner from the European perspective," says Oleksandr Kosovan, head of MacPaw, a Kiev-based Apple app software development company.

"The price Ukraine has paid - and is still paying - for it is drastically high."

Russian invasion 

One surprise is that Russian investment in Ukraine has not dried up despite rising tensions between the two countries.

Russian investors have been significantly involved in four of Ukraine's five largest start-up investment deals this year, says Yevgen Sysoyev, managing partner of AVentures Capital.

These include April's $3.25m (£2.1m) investment in data storage and virtualisation developer, StarWind Software.

Other Ukrainian start-ups receiving significant Russian roubles this year include bus-ticket software developer Gillbus, web-to-print developer Keen Systems, and Settle, a service for paying bills in cafes.

Domestically, Ukraine's oligarchs, who lost control of some of their enterprises this year and had property destroyed, have been investing in mature IT projects but avoiding start-ups as too risky.


It is the scale of corruption in Ukraine, not civil conflict in the East, that deters foreign investment, argues Dmitry Shimkiv, Microsoft Ukraine's general manager.

An active participant in the Maidan revolution, Mr Shimkiv was appointed deputy head of the presidential administration in July, with particular responsibility for administrative and economic reforms.

In August, he released a list of 14 priority areas for reform in the tech sector.

These included: simplifying obtaining permits and licences, opening a catalogue of applications for registering intellectual property rights, and permitting Ukrainian nationals to open companies and bank accounts abroad without a licence from the National Bank of Ukraine. 

The parliamentary elections at the end of October also returned for the first time five new members from tech sector backgrounds, who will press for reform from within the legislature.

Brain drain 

Victor Halasyuk, chief executive of Bionic Hill innovation park, warns that Ukraine continues to suffer its own brain drain, given that there are about 900,000 unfilled IT vacancies across Europe.

Without more subsidies or tax breaks for research and development, Ukraine risks becoming a "world university", says Mr Halasyuk. 

Reforms are necessary if this recent investor and start-up activity is to translate into growth, he believes.

But UVCA's Mr Kolodyuk is optimistic.

"Not only because of Shimkiv and people in parliament," he says, "but [because] there is understanding on a government level that, with new deals closing every two or three days, IT could be what changes Ukraine's perception abroad in terms of investment."

As Maidan turns one, Ukraine's future now lies with Europe - with the tech sector leading the way in attracting new investment from within the EU.

But with Transparency International listing the country as the most corrupt in Europe in the last Corruption Perceptions Index, the obstacles to reform remain substantial.

Source: BBC News Business

The West Should Encourage Ukraine’s EU Hopes

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko intends to prepare his country for European Union (EU) and NATO membership within six years.

If the West keeps frowning snobbishly as Ukraine stumbles and sometimes backslides, Putin will ultimately have his way.

Some of his fellow East Europeans who are already members of both organisations will actively encourage that ambition, while leaders of NATO and EU will do their best to rain on Poroshenko’s parade.

I think the East European attitude has rather more merit.

At first glance, six years is an awfully short time for Ukraine to prepare for membership in the European clubs for nation states.

Economically, the country is a wreck — lacking international reserves, almost devoid of globally competitive businesses, poor in exportable natural resources and still run by corrupt, bungling politicians.

For months, Ukraine’s fiercest advocates have been calling for radical deregulation, to little effect.

Last week, Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who has long rooted for a European Ukraine, thus described the recent coalition agreement of Ukraine’s pro-EU parties that together have a majority in the new parliament:

The draft coalition agreement even reminded me of reading Leonid Brezhnev’s speech at the 26th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1981.

This is not a reform programme, but an old-style bureaucratic Soviet document for the preservation of the old system.

Such a conservative document will never bring reform.

There is no declaration of will or strategy.ation of the old system.

Militarily, Ukraine is a mess, too.

In June, Poroshenko vowed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine within a week.

In August, the Ukrainian army and ragtag volunteer battalions were trounced by a small contingent of Russian airborne troops, forcing Kiev to accept a humiliating and shaky ceasefire with the pro-Russia rebels.

The EU needs Ukraine as much as it needs another Greece, and NATO might as well admit Georgia, with a similar history of fighting Russia.

And Poroshenko’s insistence that he has a six-year plan to meet EU and NATO membership requirements sounds improbable.

Yet, miracles happen, and Ukraine certainly is due for one after missing every chance in 23 years of independence.

The leaders of some post-Soviet countries, having already won membership, clearly feel it would be wrong to dampen Poroshenko’s enthusiasm to give it a try.

If he does not, Ukraine will remain stuck in limbo between Europe and Russia.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite’s response, expressed at a joint press conference with Poroshenko, was encouraging:

“You need to work, you have to do a lot of homework, it’s not an easy process. Why should you? Because any country that makes the effort and carries out reforms will meet the criteria to be a NATO member.” 

Grybauskaite, however, is an outlier within the EU.

She recently called Russia a “terrorist state”, to which Moscow replied with an undeclared customs blockade of Lithuania.

Core EU and Nato members are wary of such radical confrontation, which is why they do not particularly want Ukraine to lay a miracle on their doorstep and force them to cope with it.

“I see partnerly relations between Ukraine and NATO, but no membership,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently told Der Spiegel.

He added: “It makes little sense today to speculate on Ukrainian membership in the EU in the distant future.”

What, however, if Grybauskaite and those who agree with her in Poland, Latvia and Estonia are right?

Sally Painter, a veteran US foreign policy consultant, argued in a recent article that the West should not be too strict when dealing with aspiring alliance members from the Russian sphere of influence.

So what if reforms under the likes of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych or former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili were incomplete?

The West should have valued their intentions and welcomed their countries to its exclusive clubs:

When it comes to needed reforms, western leaders have too often insisted on the perfect to the detriment of the good, weakening the leaders they should support in the process.

To prevent the further unravelling of pro-Europe forces, policy makers must support the progress that has already been made — and the local leaders who are driving it.

While I think accepting demagoguery in place of true economic and political reforms would be transparently hypocritical and unfair to countries that have made a genuine effort to tear themselves from their Communist past, Painter has a point.

If the West keeps telling Ukraine that its efforts are futile, if it keeps frowning snobbishly as Ukraine stumbles and sometimes backslides, Russian President Vladimir Putin will ultimately have his way, and see the country forget its European aspirations.

In a way, that is what happened to Russia in the 1990s.

Who knows, it might have had more will to reform itself — as Germany did after Second World War — had the West provided a version of the Marshall Plan instead of looking on with wary scepticism.

Perhaps that error can be rectified with Ukraine, turning it into an example for Russians who now see no alternative to Putin.

It would be a risky strategy, but the only morally acceptable one if western leaders truly reject Putin appeasement, as they say they do.

Adopting this strategy will mean studying and correcting Poroshenko’s accession plans, as well as providing plentiful but strictly-controlled aid for the transition.

It would also mean publicly voicing support for Ukraine’s aspirations rather than pouring cold water on them.

Source: The Washington Post

Canada Sends Parkas, Boots To Ukraine As U.S. Weighs Request For Weapons

OTTAWA, Canada -- Canada will send the Ukrainian army more than $22 million worth of cold-weather gear, including jackets and boots, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said Wednesday.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson details the gear Canada is supplying to Ukraine.

The donations come from surplus military stocks.

The green clothing dates from the late 1990s, said a Defence official, who also indicated that white camouflage winter smocks will not be among the donated items being loaded on a C-17 transport for a flight Thursday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs will follow up with an additional $5 million in non-lethal aid early in the new year, including a field hospital, tactical radios, night vision goggles and bomb-disposal equipment, Nicholson said.

That portion of the donation will be purchased directly from commercial suppliers and shipped by sea.

Nicholson would not say whether the Harper government supports providing heavy military equipment, including tanks and armoured vehicles, to replace Ukrainian material destroyed in fighting Russian-backed separatists.

Ukraine’s embattled government is only asking Canada for non-lethal aid, he said.

There was also no mention at Wednesday’s announcement about possible next steps in Harper government’s reassurance measures for jittery allies in eastern Europe.

Four CF-18 jet fighters, taking part in NATO air policing missions over the Baltic, are set to return home at the end of December and a senior military planner recently told the Commons defence committee that proposals for possible continued involvement in the alliance’s reassurance mission are on Nicholson’s desk.

The Obama administration and the Pentagon have so far ruled out sending arms, despite pleas from both sides of Congress and a long shopping list from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s government.

Last week, the U.S. deputy national security adviser told a Senate committee that the administration should review that position in light of the renewed appearance of Russian armoured vehicles in eastern Ukraine.

Anthony Blinken, who has been nominated to be deputy secretary of state, said at his confirmation hearing that the recent moves are a clear violation of the fragile ceasefire brokered between Poroshenko’s government and separatists in September.

Vadym Prystaiko, the outgoing Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, says his country has been receiving much needed non-lethal protective military gear, such as helmets and body armour and he’s hopeful allies will step up with “lethal” equipment.

The latest shipment of supplies out of Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont. follows a donation of protective military gear that the Harper government sent over on a C-130J transport in August.

Canada has loudly opposed Russian intervention in Ukraine and Prystaiko praised Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his tough words to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 meeting in Australia. 

Harper told Putin he’d shake his hand but said the Russians had to get out of Ukraine.

The encounter made international headlines.

In 2008, Canada was an outspoken supporter of Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, a proposal that was ultimately turned down by the alliance at the time.

Had Kiev been a member, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support of eastern rebels could have triggered NATO’s self-defence clause. 

Poroshenko hasn’t given up on joining NATO and recently said he would hold a referendum on joining the alliance in several years’ time, something Russia said would increase regional tensions.

“This discussion is going,” said Prystaiko, who noted that NATO foreign ministers will discuss the issue next week.

“We’re trying to reform our military to bring it to the standards of NATO. Then we can seriously talk about coming into NATO as a full member. But that is a matter for the future, hopefully not too distant.” 

Source: Global News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ukraine Conflict: Child Soldiers Join The Fight

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Child soldiers appear to be playing a part on both sides of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

A soldier aged 15 poses for Russian TV on top of a tank captured from the Ukrainians.

A boy as young as 15 has been shown training pro-Russian separatist recruits in how to handle weapons, while Ukrainian media have told the story of a 17-year-old volunteer sapper.

It is a development that particularly worries the UN children's agency, Unicef, which is investigating "anecdotal evidence that children have been recruited and may be directly involved in the fighting".

The fighting, which erupted in April, has claimed more than 4,300 lives and left some 10,000 people wounded.

"Armed groups should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities people under the age of 18 years," says the agency's Ukraine representative Giovanna Barbers.

Early in November, Russian state TV carried a report about two "underage soldiers" serving alongside separatists in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

Both are called Andrey and are members of one of the most widely-known rebel units, the Vostok battalion.

As is common among fighters in Ukraine, they have their own noms de guerre - Royce and Stark.

Royce leads a supply squad, while Stark is in charge of a munitions depot, official Rossiya 1 TV said.

"Stark leaves his Kalashnikov behind only when he is on leave," it added.

The battalion's commanders were like fathers to the boys now, the report said.

"We need more guys like them and we won't be afraid of enemies. They are the future generation," said one Vostok commander. 

Battlefield training 

Russian TV did not specify the boys' exact age, but in an earlier interview broadcast on Finnish YLE television this year Royce said he was 15.

He was shown flanked by two young men wearing balaclavas, one of whom claimed to be 17.

Royce told YLE that he taught recruits how to handle weapons and move about on the battlefield.

"I keep my eye on my trainees as if they were children," he said.

A fighter with another prominent rebel unit, led by a Russian nicknamed Motorola, said he was serving alongside children as young as 16, according to Ukrainian daily Segodnya.

The unnamed rebel told the paper that children were normally sent to training camps and were kept back from frontline combat.

Under a UN definition, a child soldier is "any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity", such as fighters, cooks, porters or spies.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the recruitment of soldiers under the age of 15.

"Portrayed as heroes" 

Ukrainian media were outraged by the upbeat tone of the Russian reports.

"Children who were recruited by militants and are now ready to kill Ukrainians in Donetsk region are portrayed as heroes by Russian TV," said popular TV channel One Plus One.

But other Ukrainian TV channels have featured a pro-Kiev child soldier, without questioning whether it was right for him to be involved in the conflict.

Their reports told the story of a 17-year old who had spent two months in the conflict zone.

For a week, he was a sapper at Savur Mohyla, the scene of extremely heavy fighting, one report said.

Eventually, he was wounded and taken to hospital in central Ukraine.

Speaking from hospital, he told 5 Kanal that he had lied about his age to enlist in a volunteer battalion.

But his commander seemed to be aware of how young he was.

"He always tried to be right at the front, he had to be kept back. It's not a person's age that matters here, but how prepared they are to fight for their country," he told Ukrayina TV, his face concealed by a balaclava.

Some, however, are sceptical about reports of the involvement of child soldiers in the conflict.

One Donetsk resident who claimed to live next to a separatist base told the Segodnya daily that he had never seen children there.

"The militants like claiming that children fight for them because it makes them look cool," he said.

Human cost of conflict in east Ukraine 

  • 4,317 deaths since April
  • 957 of them since the 5 September ceasefire 
  • 9,921 people wounded 
  • 466,829 internally displaced persons within Ukraine 
  • 454,339 refugees living abroad 
  • 387,355 of them in Russia 

Ukraine's year of chaotic events School is compulsory in Ukraine until the age of 17.

Despite the hostilities, the education system in most rebel-held areas is still functioning and almost all children of the school age attend classes.

Even Royce is reported to be doing his studies "remotely".

However, in some cases, separatists have even taken to visiting schools to hold what they term "patriotic education lessons".

There have also been reports in pro-Kiev media that children as young as 14 have been encouraged by the separatists to spy on Ukrainian troops.

The direct involvement of children in the conflict is by no means widespread.

But the chaos of war has meant that some have found themselves taking an active role alongside adults, and sometimes with their encouragement.

Source: BBC News Europe

Germany Vows To Keep Russia Sanctions For Ukraine Impasse

KIEV, Ukraine -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said sanctions against Russia will stay as long as the government in Moscow does little to resolve the conflict in Ukraine.

“We have worked out an intense plan for the next six years, so that the country meets the criteria to join the EU and to join NATO,” Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said in Kiev today.

“We’re working on a diplomatic resolution to this crisis,” Merkel said today in Berlin.

“As long as Russia contributes very little or nothing to overcome this crisis, we need economic sanctions. They’re unavoidable, although I know they impact the German and the European economies.”

The stance underscores the growing resolve among Ukraine’s allies as violence between separatists and government troops sidelines diplomatic efforts to reach a negotiated outcome.

France today ruled out delivery of a warship to Russia.

More than 4,300 people have been killed during the almost eight-month conflict in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and much of the local infrastructure has been laid to waste in rebel-held areas of Ukraine.

The U.S., NATO and the European Union accuse President Vladimir Putin of fueling the crisis by aiding the separatists, a charge Russia denies.

Ukraine says Russian troops and vehicles continue to cross the border. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia to pull back its forces from eastern Ukraine and respect a wobbly truce, which has been breached repeatedly since it was signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, more than two months ago.

He also said that the alliance would stick by a 2008 decision to let Ukraine join if it eventually meets the criteria and decides to do so, even if membership isn’t being discussed now. 

Respect Sovereignty 

“We are calling on Russia to stop violating international law and to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told lawmakers from NATO countries in The Hague yesterday.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the former Soviet republic will decide in a referendum at the end of the decade whether to seek North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership once it completes necessary policy changes.

Admission to the military alliance requires agreement by all member states, currently 28.

Ukraine’s government said Sept. 26 that it seeks NATO membership in the “short term.”

Putin has criticized the U.S. and EU countries for encroaching into former communist Europe, saying they have violated agreements signed at the end of the Cold War and pose a threat to his country’s national security.

The decision on its future ties with NATO is for Ukraine alone to make, the foreign ministers of Lithuania and the Czech Republic said at a briefing in Prague.

Mistral Delivery 

The situation in Ukraine means the terms for delivery of the first of two Mistral warships to Russia “have not been met,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on France Inter radio today.

President Francois Hollande has said the Sept. 5 cease-fire agreement between Ukraine and the separatists must be enforced before France can transfer the helicopter carriers.

Russia’s presence in eastern Ukraine is “unacceptable,” while there are also “serious problems” with statements from Ukraine’s government that it wants to join NATO, Fabius said.

One soldier was killed and five wounded in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko told reporters in Kiev today.

No clashes were reported on the Ukraine-Russia border, he said, though Russian troops are moving across the border into and out of rebel areas and continuing drone reconnaissance of the conflict zone. 

Ukraine ‘Extremely Tense’ 

Two people died and eight were injured when a shell hit a bus in Donetsk today, the city council said on its website.

Three died and eight were wounded in attacks yesterday and the situation in the city is “extremely tense” after a night of heavy shelling, it said.

Pro-Russian insurgents attacked 17 locations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions overnight using mortars, multiple rocket launch systems and shells, the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council said in a statement.

Government forces fired artillery rounds to protect their positions and civilians, and troops near the key port city of Mariupol have “all means to repel the aggressor,” it said.

Russia will send 100 trucks with more than 1,000 tons of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine on Nov. 28, its eighth convoy to the region, RIA Novosti reported today, citing Deputy Emergencies Minister Vladimir Stepanov.

Ukraine has expressed concern that the Russian relief missions may be a guise for funneling weapons to insurgents.

The shipments weren’t inspected by the Red Cross or Ukrainian customs officials before entering the country from Russia.

Source: Bloomberg

Canadian Surgeons Reconstruct People Wounded In Ukraine's Revolution

KIEV, Ukraine -- Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn hauls two large black cases onto a luggage cart at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

A team of 25 Canadian surgeons, nurses and doctors volunteered for a 10-day mission to Ukraine to help mend the wounded from nearly a year of revolution and war.

He unzips one of them to reveal an assortment of medical devices and surgeon's tools.

"Saws, drills, power equipment, surgical foam, titanium mesh," he says.

"All the devices we need to put facial bones and fractured hands back together again."

Antonyshyn, a plastic surgeon and head of the craniofacial program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, and a team of 24 other surgeons, nurses and doctors volunteered for a 10-day mission this month to Ukraine.

There, they helped mend the wounded from nearly a year of revolution and violent conflict.

Casualties, one as young as 16, were still wearing the scars of the fight to overthrow former president Viktor Yanukovich and then the war with pro-Russian separatists in the east.

"Can't wait," says Antonyshyn, the son of Ukranian immigrants to Canada.

The mission, which cost about $150,000, was financed by the Canada Ukraine Foundation, working with Operation Rainbow, a medical humanitarian group.

Dolly Khanna has no ties to Ukraine.

She's a pre-op nurse from Vancouver and has volunteered before on humanitarian missions.

But she's never been close to war.

At Vancouver's airport, she struggled to keep her emotions in check. 

"If we can, we should help," she says, barely holding back tears.

"I have teenagers here getting excited about prom and their pictures and there, there are teenage boys who have limbs blown off. It's not fair."

The Ukrainian patients have already had operations to keep them alive.

Now they need another level of surgery to redress a deformity or improve their hand and arm function.

A year of revolution and conflict in Ukraine has overwhelmed medical resources.

Kiev's Military Hospital is one of the best facilities, strained with a revolving door of trauma cases that need high skilled reconstructive surgery.

Nazar Derzhylo was 16 when he snuck out of his parents' house to go to Kiev's Independence Square to help with the student revolution.

He was assisting in a makeshift medical centre when a friend opened what he thought was medical supplies.

It was explosives.

Nazar was blown unconsious.

Nazar's father Ivan says it was the most terrible night of his life. "I got a call from police.

They said: 'Your son's a terrorist, he's lost his hands and arms, he's not going to survive.' "

He did survive, and he didn't lose his limbs.

He did lose an eye.

The Canadian team reconstructed his eye socket to prepare it for a prosthetic eye.

Then they worked on his eyelid to better match his other eye and to give a teenager a better appearance.

"This boy is one of the main things that made me personally want to come to Ukraine," says Antonyshyn.

For every Canadian medical professional, there was a Ukranian counterpart sharing knowledge and expertise.

With the war in eastern Ukraine ongoing, doctors expect they'll need more skills like these.

The team assessed 60 cases and performed 37 operations in 10 days.

The operating rooms bristled with a swarm of doctors.

Nurses and staff sometimes moved between one patient and another in the same room.

The results are impressive: seven skull reconstructions, repairing jaws, lips, noses and eyelids, along with restoring hand and arm functions. 

Dr. Tara Stewart, a plastic surgeon from Toronto, performed a midface reconstruction on 24-year-old Roman Betash, who was shot in the face by a sniper.

"He had a lot of scars and shrapnel still in his face," she says.

"He basically fractured his entire midface."

Betash touched her at a level more deeply than a regular patient-physician relationship.

"It was my first case, very complicated, but I got to see the results immediately. The next day when I saw him, he gave me a big hug, he was so thankful.

He said: 'Thank you, thank you so much, you guys really helped me.' 

"I'm very thankful we live in such a great country, where we're not subjected to what they had to go through."

For the medical team, the last day in Kiev was moving.

They made a final check on their patients in recovery, leaving follow-up instructions.

The patients then gave them a large Ukraine flag they had signed and said their goodbyes.

Finally the team shed their surgical gowns and gloves and hopped aboard a bus for a tour of Kiev's now-famous revolutionary landmarks, where many of their patients were wounded.

Operating nurse Stephen Makuch of Victoria stopped in Independence Square to reflect on the past 10 days.

"When we did our last case, we cleaned up our supplies, we came back to the theatres, I walked down the hall it was dark and quiet," he says, his voice catching.

"It was mission accomplished, I guess. We had done our bit."

The team that left Canada to help mend a country had themselves been transformed.

They came home with a sense this is not the end but a beginning of more Canada-Ukraine missions.

Source: CBC News

Ukraine Reports New Arrivals Of Russian Supplies For Eastern Rebels

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine leveled fresh charges on Tuesday that Russia was sending support to pro-Russian separatists in the east, saying that five columns of heavy equipment were seen crossing onto Ukrainian territory on Monday.

A woman touches a portrait of her husband in Kiev, on a banner with portraits of Ukrainian servicemen killed in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, November 25, 2014.

The latest accusations come amid a standstill in diplomatic efforts to end the six-month conflict in the east in which the United Nations says more than 4,300 people have been killed.

Separately, the Kiev military said one soldier was killed and five others injured in the past 24 hours as a fragile ceasefire declared on Sept. 5 continued to come under pressure.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said a foreign ministry spokesman.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia on Monday.

"Up to six of these were heavy armored transporters. The rest were vehicles and buses carrying fighters and ammunition," he said.

Despite what Kiev's pro-Western leaders and Western government say is incontrovertible proof, Russia denies sending in troops to support separatist rebels trying to hive off parts of Ukraine's industrialized east and eventually join Russia.

Asked about reports of Russian humanitarian aid convoys entering Ukraine without authorization, he said:

"A significant amount of the goods which are being supplied ... is fuel, ammunition and other military help."

Perebyinis repeated an earlier charge that on Nov. 20, for the first time since a peace deal had been signed by Russia, Ukraine and the separatists, Ukraine had been subjected to artillery fire from the Russian Federation near the village of Kamyshine near the rebel-controlled border town of Luhansk.

Describing the fire as "outright aggression" against Ukraine's territorial integrity, he called on Russia to pull out its troops and equipment from Ukrainian territory.

Source: Google News

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ukraine To Hold NATO Vote When Membership Criteria Are Met

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will hold a referendum on joining NATO once it has met certain criteria for membership, President Petro Poroshenko has said.

Lithuania's president (L) is the latest leader to offer military assistance to Petro Poroshenko.

At a joint news conference with Lithuania's president, Mr Poroshenko said he had "worked out the criteria", but gave no further details.

Last week, a Kremlin official called for "a 100% guarantee" that Ukraine would not think about joining NATO.

Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian separatists for most of the year. 

Mr Poroshenko did not say what the criteria for Ukraine's membership were.

NATO itself says: "There is no fixed or rigid list of criteria for inviting new member states to join the alliance."

However, countries are only admitted to NATO if it believes they will "contribute to security and stability in the North Atlantic area". 

Analysts say Ukraine, destabilised by the fighting, is therefore unlikely to be seen as viable by NATO.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov has accused NATO of breaking a historic promise by gradually approaching Russia's borders.

He told the BBC that the alliance was attempting to break the "balance of power".

Three countries from the former Soviet bloc joined NATO in 1999, followed by several more in 2004, including Lithuania and the other Baltic states.

Meanwhile President Putin has signed a deal with the leader of Abkhazia, Raul Hadzhimba, which will reportedly see Russia invest $260m (£166m; 209m euros) in Georgia's breakaway region by the end of 2017.

The strategic partnership agreement will also create joint Russian and Abkhazian military forces, according to the Associated Press.

It comes days after tens of thousands of people took part in a rally organised by Georgia's main opposition party, the United National Movement, against the deal.

Abkhazia declared independence in 1999 following a separatist war.

In 2008, Russia formally recognised the province's autonomy.

Lethal equipment? 

On Monday, Lithuania joined other NATO members in offering military assistance to Ukraine.

It is not clear whether the aid President Dalia Grybauskaite has offered will include lethal equipment.

Fighting has continued in east Ukraine despite both sides signing a cease-fire agreement on 5 September.

In the eight weeks since the Minsk agreement was signed, almost 1,000 people have been killed, the UN human rights office says.

Three Ukrainian soldiers have been added to this toll in the past 24 hours, while reports have come in of heavy shelling in Donetsk.

Since the conflict began in April, more than 4,300 people have died and almost one million have been displaced, the UN has said.

Source: BBC News Europe

Ukraine Leader, Under Pressure From West, Pledges New Government Soon

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will take the first steps this week towards forming a new government, President Petro Poroshenko said on Monday, seeking to assuage concern among his Western allies that the delay is holding up reform and imperiling Western assistance.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (R) and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walk into a hall before a news conference in Kiev, November 21, 2014.

The U.S. and other Western governments are criticizing Kiev's tardiness in putting together a government following October elections - with suspicions that the delay is due to rivalry between Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk over control of key portfolios. 

"We hope that the process (of forming a government) will begin this week," Poroshenko said at a news conference with visiting Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, apparently referring to the first session of the new parliament on Thursday.

Separately, Poroshenko also announced that Lithuania would provide Ukraine with some military aid to help Kiev in its fight against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

"We have agreed on supplies of concrete elements of concrete armaments for the Ukrainian armed forces. This is real help," Poroshenko said standing alongside Grybauskaite.

It was not clear, however, if Lithuania was following fellow NATO member the United States in providing non-lethal military equipment or whether it was supplying weaponry - something NATO countries have so far been reluctant to do in case arming a non-member prompts a conflict with Russia.

Ukraine has pressed NATO countries to provide weapons to help it defend itself against attacks by well armed Russian-backed separatists who, before a ceasefire came into effect, inflicted heavy losses on government forces in their fight to hive off parts of Ukraine's east. 

Despite the ceasefire, three more Ukrainian soldiers were killed overnight into Monday, the Kiev military said.

Kiev says more than 150 government troops have died since the truce came into force on Sept 5.

The United Nations says more than 4,300 people have been killed overall in the conflict.

Asked whether Ukraine would seek to join NATO, Poroshenko held out the prospect of a referendum in several years' time, but said attempts to join now would cause "more harm than good".

Before the confrontation with Russia, Ukrainians showed little interest in joining NATO, and the country's constitution specifies a "non-bloc", unaligned status.

But since Russia's annexation of Crimea in March and Moscow's open backing for the pro-Russian rebellions, popular support for joining the Alliance has shot up.

Last week, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden became the latest Western politician to express concern at Kiev's slowness in forming a new government team, without which new International Monetary Fund credits and other Western assistance cannot be released.

"Form a new government as quickly as possible. It should be done in days not weeks," Biden said in Kiev.

He said a new government was vitally needed to form stronger democratic institutions, enhance integration with Europe and fight "the cancer of corruption".

Poroshenko, elected in May after "Euromaidan" street protests overthrew Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich, did not volunteer any explanation for the delay in forming a government which may now emerge early next week.

But commentators say Poroshenko wants his candidate in the sensitive post of interior minister - though filling this post falls within the prerogative of the Prime Minister rather than that of the President. 

With the country at war, this would give Poroshenko, rather than Yatseniuk, control over a post which directs the National Guard and volunteer battalions fighting alongside government forces against the separatists.

Yatseniuk, however, is said to be insisting that he keep the right to appoint the post, and keep his man Arsen Avakov in situ.

Yatseniuk has steadily taken on the role of a hawk in Poroshenko's administration with strongly-worded attacks on Russia and Russia's Vladimir Putin.

This contrasts with the smoother, more pragmatic style of Poroshenko who is insisting that there can be no military solution to the conflict and stresses the validity of the Sept. 5 peace deal even though both sides accuse the other of violating it.

Poroshenko, a confectionery tycoon who was elected by a landslide last May, was on the receiving end of public anger for the first time last Friday when he was heckled by a crowd of aggrieved relatives as he paid his respects to the 100 or so people killed in the "Euromaidan" upheaval.

They complained he had not fulfilled a pledge to make their dead kinsmen national heroes - something which brings financial benefits to the families.

Poroshenko stepped away and later returned to announce that he would fulfill his promise after all.

Source: Google News