Saturday, January 31, 2015

State Department: 'Russian Military Has A Significant Presence In Ukraine'

WASHINGTON, DC -- Ever since March 2014 when President Obama referred to Russian aggression against Ukraine as an "invasion," administration officials have avoided that word in conjunction with the ongoing conflict.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew with Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalia Jaresko.

In fact, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt's declared on April 29, 2014, that "Russian troops crossing Ukraine's borders would be a major escalation, and would draw an inevitable, sharp reaction from the United States," implying that, President Obama's March remarks notwithstanding, no Russian troops had "invaded."

Even as recently as this week, Ambassador Samantha Power at the United Nations charged Russia with training, supplying, aiding, and arming separatists in Ukraine, but stopped short of saying that Russian troops were engaged across the border in Ukraine.

And Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, in Kiev for a meeting with Ukrainian finance minister Jaresko referred to the "ongoing military offensive... being carried out by Russia-backed separatists," but made no mention of Russian forces.

However, when asked to comment on remarks by a U.S. Army general that suggested Russian special operations forces are playing an active role in the conflict, a State Department spokesperson replied:

We cannot confirm specific numbers, but the Russian military has a significant presence in Ukraine.

In late December, Russia transferred more than one hundred additional pieces of Russian military equipment and material to pro-Russia separatists.

The latest transfer complements the previous transfer of hundreds of pieces of Russian military equipment provided to pro-Russia separatists since the September 5 Minsk ceasefire agreement, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery pieces, and other military vehicles.

There are several sites near the Ukraine border, which serve as staging points before transporting Russian military equipment to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

Russian combat forces remain deployed near the Ukraine border, and Russian military forces still operate in eastern Ukraine, where they play a coordinating role and provide ongoing tactical support to pro-Russia separatists.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has been more vocal about Russian military activity in eastern Ukraine beyond simply supplying and training separatists.

In remarks Tuesday at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict Symposium, Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel suggested that Russian special operations forces are active in the conflict:

[A] resurgent Russia is now employing coercive techniques against its neighbor using [special operations] forces, other clandestine capabilities, information operations, other cyber operations and groupings of ethnic proxies and surrogates to drive wedges into our key allies in East Europe.

General Votel seemed to distinguish between the activities of Russian forces and "groupings of ethnic proxies and surrogates," presumably the separatist forces in Ukraine that have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of that country since early 2014.

When asked for comment, a DOD spokesperson said, "The general referred to the use of Special Operations Forces and Information Operations.

In the US military, Special Operations Forces is an umbrella term for all special operations units to include units that conduct Military Information Support Operations or MISO. MISO, also referred to as Psychological Operations, is a subset of Information Operations‎ and has nothing to do forces on the ground."

A second DOD spokesperson's comments mirrored those of the State Department, and also called on Russia to fulfill the Minsk agreement by "withdrawing all troops and weapons from eastern Ukraine": 

[W]e've been saying out of the DoD for quite a while now [that] we cannot confirm specific numbers, but the Russian military has a significant presence in Ukraine.

We call on Russia to de-escalate this conflict by fulfilling the commitments they signed up to in Minsk, including by withdrawing all troops and weapons from eastern Ukraine, establishing effective international monitoring of the international border and returning control of Ukraine’s side of that border to the government in Kiev, freeing all hostages, and working towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

President Obama himself addressed the Ukrainian situation with Chancellor Merkel of Germany in a phone call on Tuesday, but the readout of the call made no mention of Russian forces in Ukraine.

Rather, the president and Chancellor Merkel decried "Russia’s materiel support for the separatists and its failure to fulfill its commitment under the Minsk Agreement."

Source: The Weekly Standard

Lining Up To Receive Aid In Ukraine, Crowd Is Devastated By A Mortar Attack

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Seven people were killed and at least three wounded in a pair of mortar attacks on the city’s west side Friday, including one that hit a crowd of people waiting in line to receive humanitarian aid as fighting raged outside of town.

A series of explosions on Friday hit a parking lot in Donetsk where several hundred people had lined up for humanitarian aid meant for children and the elderly.

The carnage ended nearly a day and a half of relative calm in the region controlled by pro-Russian separatists, where fighting between the rebels and the Ukrainian military has spiked sharply since a shaky cease-fire broke down this month.

Officials of the Donetsk People’s Republic were quick to attribute the attacks to Ukrainian “saboteurs” who they said had infiltrated the city.

“Once again we have the baseness and the meanness of the Ukrainian sabotage groups,” they said in a statement.

A woman wounded in a rocket attack was treated in a hospital in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Monday.

The body of her mother, who was killed in the attack, lay on a gurney nearby.

Ukraine’s government, meanwhile, blamed provocateurs trying to derail the peace process for the attack.

“The Ukrainian Army didn’t conduct any hostilities near the city of Donetsk today and had nothing to do with the fire on the humanitarian aid point,” said Vladimir Polevoy, deputy chief of the Information and Analysis Center of Ukraine’s Safety and Defense Council.

Sounds of heavy shelling and rocket fire emanated from the ruined airport, the site of almost continuous hostilities despite a cease-fire that was declared on Sept. 5.

Fighting was also reported around the town of Debaltseve, a railroad hub where a contingent of Ukrainian soldiers is surrounded on three sides by rebel troops.

The first mortar strike in Donetsk landed shortly before 1 p.m. along Matrosova Street in a neighborhood of middle-class apartment blocks and small industrial facilities a few miles west of the city center. 

Lyudmila Inozemtseva, 55, said she had just gone into the bathroom to comb her hair when she heard three or four loud blasts.

A few minutes later, there was another series of explosions a short distance away, she said.

The initial strikes hit a trolley bus just outside Ms. Inozemtseva’s building and went into a neighboring apartment.

Maria, 36, who declined to give her last name, said she had been drinking tea in the kitchen with her 3-year-old child when she heard a loud explosion.

“There was all of a sudden a lot of smoke and dust,” she said, “and I was only half-conscious when I grabbed my child and went to another apartment where I thought it would be safer.”

When she returned, she saw that the shell had gone through the window into her living room and a piece of shrapnel was embedded in the kitchen door.

The body of an elderly man lay on the sidewalk just outside her apartment, while another man was sprawled beside a trolley bus stop down the block.

The temperature hovered just above freezing so the blood pooled in ice crevices along the debris-covered sidewalk and turned the slush to pink.

The second series of explosions hit about a half-mile away, in a parking lot shared by a neighborhood cultural center and the Hotel Europe.

Several hundred people had been lined up there, or waiting in parked cars, to pick up humanitarian aid for children and the elderly.

One woman who had been waiting near the head of the relief line, who would give only her first name, Lyudmila, said she had heard a series of explosions a short distance away followed quickly by an enormous blast very near her in the parking lot.

Armed guards monitoring the crowd rushed her and several other people inside the hotel, she said. 

“I had come to pick up aid for my 82-year-old mother, who cannot get out of her apartment,” she said.

“But I will never come again, not after this.”

The body of one man lay slumped inside his blue sedan while four others lay beneath blankets in the glass-and-debris covered lot.

Three other vehicles were twisted and shattered by the explosions. 

Rimma Fil, coordinator of the humanitarian center for the Rinat Akhmetov charity fund, which had been distributing the aid, said the group was closing its distribution locations for the day, but hoped to reopen them as early as Saturday morning.

The crowd at the attack site was so large, she said, because other centers for dispersing aid near the airport and in other dangerous neighborhoods had been closed in recent days, forcing people from several parts of the city to come there for aid.

“We are not military people, we do not know what is going on,” Ms. Fil said.

“We are just trying to organize humanitarian aid to people who are suffering.”

The sounds of a few more explosive bursts could be heard later in the afternoon in the same Kuybyshevsky district, but there were no further reports of casualties.

Source: The New York Times

Ukraine General Says Russia Knew Rebel Offensive Was Coming

SOLEDAR, Ukraine -- Gen. Oleksandr Rozmaznin was taken aback when his Russian counterpart, assigned to help oversee the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, announced on Jan. 20 that he would no longer show up at their joint office.

Ukrainian Gen. Oleksandr Rozmaznin is responsible for implementing the tattered ceasefire agreement in east Ukraine with his Russian counterparts and separatist militants.

There was too great a security threat, Gen. Alexander Vyaznikov said, pointing to Grad rockets that had fallen nearby the day before, the latest in months of attacks.

“I said, ‘Well, I’m there. So if you know something I don’t know, maybe you can let me in on it,’” Gen. Rozmaznin said, recounting their exchanges.

The Russian replied that he wanted to temporarily relocate because “there is a distinct threat to the life and health of my staff,” adding, “I invite you to follow my example.”

Soon enough, Russia-backed separatists launched a broad campaign to surround and seize the Ukrainian-held frontline city of Debaltseve, where the two were based.

The Russian delegation’s pullout began to compute.

“They know the plans without a doubt,” Gen. Rozmaznin said. 

Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to a request to interview Gen. Vyaznikov or to a list of emailed questions.

All sides had selected Debaltseve in September as the headquarters for a “joint center for coordination and control,” comprising Ukrainian and Russian officers and representatives from the two self-declared rebel republics.

All were assigned to implement and monitor the cease-fire.

But the small city—a strategic railway hub for the region—has turned into the hottest battlefield in the conflict, the focal point of a surge in violence this past week that has rendered the nominal cease-fire more lifeless than ever.

Though the rebels have since trumpeted their offensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the new fighting on Kiev, describing Ukrainian forces as “a foreign NATO legion, which is of course not pursuing Ukraine’s national interests.”

In the latest round of attacks, seven civilians were killed Friday by artillery fire in Debaltseve in their homes, regional police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said on Facebook.

Another seven civilians were killed in nearby rebel-held Donetsk, after shells landed near a bus stop and a humanitarian-aid distribution center.

Five members of the Ukrainian military were killed in the same 24-hour period, a spokesman said.

Dozens were wounded on both sides.

Diplomats are scrambling to revive a new round of cease-fire talks over the weekend in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, hoping to bring a respite from the renewal of full-scale fighting.

Refusing to give up on the agreement, Gen. Rozmaznin says he hasn’t broken contact with his Russian counterpart and is trying to remain diplomatic.

Meanwhile he says the rebels won’t succeed in their new offensive. 

“With or without artillery, they won’t take Debaltseve,” the general said in an interview on Wednesday.

“Because I’m telling you, we won’t let them do it. We won’t give it up.”

But the threat has grown by the day.

On Friday, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko appeared on Russian state television amid burning buildings and artillery fire to claim his forces had taken the town of Vuhlehirsk, 6 miles down the road. 

“Today, we tightened the ring around Debaltseve,” Zakharchenko said.

The transport hub, situated between the two largest rebel-held cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, is seen as vital to rebel efforts to restart their battered economy.

Ukrainian military spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko denied that rebel forces had control of Vuhlehirsk and said a battle was underway.

Authorities scrambled to evacuate thousands of remaining Debaltseve residents by bus.

Gen. Rozmaznin said that at first, implementation of at least part of the September cease-fire rules seemed plausible.

Ukrainian authorities provided accommodation and food for the Russian military’s working group representatives in Soledar, a Ukrainian salt-mining town, and work facilities in Debaltseve, about an hour’s drive away. 

“It was written into the protocol that us two—the general from Russia and the general from Ukraine—would travel in the same car,” Gen. Rozmaznin said.

So for weeks, every workday morning they would sit together for the commute to Debaltseve along with a security detail, despite the veritable state of war between their countries.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has the job of monitoring the activities of the implementation group, said the Russian representative voiced safety concerns after at least 30 Grad rockets hit Debaltseve on Jan. 19, killing three civilians and wounding 12.

The OSCE said the Russian delegation later handed an official letter to the Ukrainian team announcing its evacuation to Soledar.

The OSCE conducted a crater analysis at the attack site and determined the missiles came from the direction of rebel-held territory to the west.

These days, Gen. Rozmaznin takes the car and goes to Debaltseve on his own.

He says Gen. Vyaznikov stays behind in Soledar and gets around on foot.

The security detail has split up so both generals remain guarded at all times.

“The Russians’ main task was to influence ‘those territories’ so they behaved themselves adequately,” Gen. Rozmaznin said.

“But unfortunately…those comrades stopped behaving themselves adequately and started to intensify their efforts.”

He said the rebels regrouped, rearmed and decided to show Ukrainian forces their new strength.

At the core of the cease-fire working group are units of Russian and Ukrainian officers operating on both sides of the frontline, seeking to keep tabs on violations and open lines of communication.

Gen. Rozmaznin held up a chart of recent violations.

He said there were 34 on Jan. 1.

One day this week he said there were 126.

The amount of destruction in the area would suggest even more.

He said the bulk were from the rebel side, but the Ukrainians were also on the chart.

For the 60-year-old general, the fight in east Ukraine is personal.

Though he spent much of his life moving around the Soviet Union with the Red Army, he grew up in the Luhansk region, a center of the separatist revolt.

His wife comes from Donetsk, the neighboring region and the rebels’ other stronghold.

Gen. Rozmaznin led Ukrainian troops last summer in an attempt to secure the border there with Russia—a critical part of the cease-fire agreement that remains unfulfilled.

He said coming under fire in a place where he used to run around as a boy was a “kind of moral trauma.”

“It wasn’t so much disappointment as pain and anger that weighed on me,” he said.

If the West were to supply arms to the Ukrainian military, he said, that could level the playing field, potentially creating an equilibrium that would force Russia to negotiate.

“If we had precision antitank weapons, for example, then it would mean their tanks would be destroyed in such quantities that it would probably bring them to their senses,” he said.

Western governments have consistently ruled out providing lethal military aid to Ukraine, which is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to avoid provoking a bigger confrontation with Russia.

They have accused Russia of providing troops and materiel, charges Moscow has denied.

Like many top Ukrainian officials, Gen. Rosmaznin presents the conflict as a sort of civilizational battle.

“Europe should understand that Ukraine stands on frontier defending democracy and European values,” he said.

“That is where we stand. That is what we’re defending. If we surrender, I have no doubt that the Baltics will be next.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Friday, January 30, 2015

War In Ukraine: Ceasefire No More

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Renewed heavy fighting suggests that Russia has abandoned any pretence of sticking to the Minsk peace deal.

Amid the rubble of eastern Ukraine lie traces of life before the war: a pair of broken sunglasses, a stuffed pink unicorn, a roll of undeveloped film.

In Dokuchaievsk, south of Donetsk, where a rocket recently ripped into an apartment block, a lonely dog, Virma, sits by the rubble, paws shaking.

Virma’s owner, like the other 5,100 people killed in Ukraine since last April, will not be back.

Despite hopes that the conflict was edging towards resolution, Ukraine’s war has entered its deadliest period since a nominal ceasefire halted a Russian-led advance in September.

Dokuchaievsk is just one of many small towns and cities caught up in the latest violence.

The ceasefire unravelled when rebel forces renewed their siege of Donetsk airport.

President Petro Poroshenko threatened to “hit the rebels in the teeth”; the rebels’ leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, promised to attack Kiev’s troops until he reached “the borders of the former Donetsk region.”

But mostly both sides hit civilians, fighting at a distance with heavy artillery.

In the nine days to January 21st, at least 262 people were killed in eastern Ukraine, an average of 29 a day.

A rocket strike on a bus killed 12 civilians in Ukrainian-controlled Volnovakha on January 13th; nine days later another 13 were killed in Donetsk.

On January 24th a barrage of Grad rockets fired from rebel-held territory into Mariupol, a port, killed another 30.

As media attention shifted south to Mariupol, separatist forces pushed north.

Their main target was Debaltseve, which sits between the rebel capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk, and is already surrounded on three sides.

Under heavy shelling, residents have begun fleeing.

Several thousand Ukrainian troops, along with stores of equipment, reportedly remain entrenched.

Government soldiers at the base insist they can hold the line, despite taking heavy casualties.

Rebels say they have nearly closed the Ukrainians’ only exit route and are trapping them in a “cauldron”.

It could boil over any day.

Beyond Debaltseve, rebel troops also hope to capture Avdeyevka, near Donetsk, and Schastye, north of Luhansk.

Their movements are driven by both military and economic imperatives.

Straightening out the front line will improve defensive positions, and allow forces from Luhansk and Donetsk to join up.

Avdeyevka has a coke-making plant essential to Ukraine’s steel industry; Schastye has a power station used to power Luhansk; Debaltseve has rail links crucial to the coal trade.

Along with the airport, all three places would facilitate the long-term survival of the separatists’ pseudo-state.

Violence has also spilled beyond the Donbas, with saboteurs staging attacks elsewhere in Ukraine.

Separatists “will rise up” in other cities, declares one senior Donetsk rebel.

Ukraine and its Western allies say that Russia is, once again, actively directing the offensive.

NATO intelligence claims that advanced military equipment has been pouring across the border.

Kiev accuses Russia of having 9,000 troops in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow continues baldly to deny its involvement, despite evidence that includes the graves of its own soldiers.

Those who return alive sometimes let details slip.

One man from Russia’s far east who fought as a volunteer at Donetsk airport admitted to local media that the Russian army is present in Donetsk, fighting under the guise of rebels: “They’re just not visible, they work quietly and carefully.”

After their devastating losses last August, Ukraine’s leaders understood that they could not contend with the regular Russian army.

The Minsk peace accords in September were born of that realisation.

Even after the attack on Mariupol, Mr Poroshenko remains publicly committed to a diplomatic solution that seems ever more illusory.

Patience and calm is the message at home.

But many no longer believe that diplomacy can work.

As Sergei Pashinsky, head of the Ukrainian parliament’s national security committee, says, “the hope that the conflict in eastern Ukraine was stabilising, that it could be regulated not with the force of weapons, but with the force of truth and law, has been dispelled.” 

Abroad, Mr Poroshenko warns of a continental war, evoking the spectre of Nazism while visiting Auschwitz to rally support against Putin.

Yet he has resisted calls officially to acknowledge that Ukraine is at war.

Some officials fear that putting the country on a war footing would spook Ukraine’s Western creditors, especially the IMF, which recently promised a new loan package.

Others note that martial law would bring restrictions on political and media freedoms.

Instead, Ukraine’s parliament has voted to label Russia as “an aggressor country”.

Ukrainian officials are calling for new sanctions.

A “deeply concerned” Barack Obama has promised to consider all measures “short of military confrontation”.

He could even begin supplying defensive weapons under a power recently given to him by Congress.

But sending weapons Ukraine would also fuel Putin’s feverish talk of Russia being at war with NATO’s foreign legions.

Source: The Economist Europe

Fighting Surge In Eastern Ukraine Creates New Wave Of Refugees

POPASNA, Ukraine -- Alexei Rozposienko begged his mother to flee as a surge in fighting between Ukrainian forces holding this city and the Russia-backed rebels nearby exploded night after night.

Residents of Popasna gather plastic film this week to cover blown-out windows amid artillery blasts.

“I said, ‘Mom, I can’t stay in this house. My life is more valuable than this,’” the 25-year-old welding student said.

“I started to ask more forcefully. I said, ‘Sooner or later it will hit our building.’”

But it wasn’t until his mother timidly approached the window this week and saw sparks flying from rocket-fire below, like some kind of deadly fireworks display, that she finally relented.

They caught one of the last buses out of town, joining a new wave of displaced people in eastern Ukraine amid a resurgence of fighting that effectively put an end to a cease-fire that had been shaky for months. 

Thousands of people who thought the worst had passed have suddenly found themselves catapulted back into the crossfire and scrambling for safety in the dead of winter.

Ukraine this week announced plans for evacuations, evoking memories of a mass exodus in both directions during the heaviest fighting last summer.

But the government’s resources so far are limited to a trickle of buses across a broad area, and few residents seem to know the details.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities in the Donetsk region said they had evacuated 346 people, including 161 children.

The mayor of Popasna, Yuri Onishchenko, estimates there are about 5,000 to 6,000 people left in the city, which he says had more than 20,000 before the fighting began almost 10 months ago.

Most who wanted to leave have already done so, he said.

The city has gone back and forth—from Ukrainian soil to de facto rebel republic and back to Ukraine.

Despite sporadic violence, there was hope a September peace plan would eventually take hold. 

This past week, however, the Russia-backed militants launched an offensive to encircle nearby Debaltseve, a Ukrainian-held railway hub that juts peninsula-like into rebel territory.

Attacks on places like Popasna have become part of that effort.

At least four residents have died in the past week—all civilians killed by artillery fire.

One middle-aged man was hit at a bus stop, the others killed in their own homes.

“We’ve never had anything like this before,” Mr. Onishchenko said.

“Maybe one or two days (of fighting). But a week? No.”

Under the government evacuation plans, residents are supposed to call a hotline and submit an application.

Rather than wait, most leave on their own, but many elderly and low-income residents don’t have the wherewithal to go anywhere.

Those in Ukrainian-held towns who want to stay with relatives on rebel turf now need a pass from Ukrainian authorities to cross the front, which can take 10 days to acquire or be denied.

The U.N. has described the new travel restrictions as “worrying, especially in light of the escalating hostilities.”

Where Ukrainian authorities are absent, some volunteers have stepped in.

Evgeny Kaplin, a 25-year-old youth-group leader from Kharkiv, has been driving into some of the most dangerous areas to rescue some of the thousands of civilians he says are left in areas such as Debaltseve. 

“We were yelling already a week ago that people should be evacuated from there,” he said.

With just five to seven volunteers going on evacuation missions, his small group can only take so many.

In Popasna, residents braved a lull in fighting Wednesday to slip across the ice-encrusted sidewalks in search of food and water.

Some lined up at city hall for heavy plastic film to cover their windows. 

Like many remaining residents, Alexander Hushevsky, a 59-year-old metalworker, had no heat, no electricity and no running water at home.

The previous night had tested his nerves: Artillery shells hailed down around his apartment and exploded a few dozen yards from his door.

It was the worst night he could remember since the conflict began.

“I consider myself a brave person,” Mr. Hushevsky said.

“But this is scary.”

One elderly woman had brought her handicapped brother to city hall in search of a way to get out.

She said she didn’t have the money to hire a car, and regional buses had stopped working, leaving her desperate.

The mayor promised an evacuation bus in the coming days.

Wearing just a sweater, he was sliding across the ice, loading bottled water into a car, as he ran around making deliveries to people hiding in frigid basements.

Mr. Rozposienko, his mother, two sisters, a niece and a nephew fled to the nearby city of Soledar, where authorities put them up in an empty wing of a hospital.

They are six to a room.

“It’s ideal,” Mr. Rozposienko said, thankful for any place with electricity and away from day-and-night explosions.

“It’s great,” his young nephew piped in.

“You can actually sleep.”

Popasna’s mayor, who supports the government in Kiev, admits to being scared that the rebels will retake the city.

He reckons more than half the city supports the separatists, though he says opinions are changing as homes come under fire day after day from rebel positions.

“How should you feel when your own are fighting against your own?” retired policeman Alexander Yefimtsev said, explaining that he had friends fighting on both sides.

The 55-year-old said his children had left Popasna for safer areas, but he refused.

“Where should I go? Why should I create problems for other people?” Mr. Yefimtsev said.

“Whatever happens will happen. Wherever (the artillery shell) falls, it falls.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Ukraine Needs America’s Help

WASHINGTON, DC -- The new year has brought more misery to Ukraine. Separatist fighters, supported by Russian troops, have launched attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Ukrainian servicemen sit atop an armored personnel carrier (APC) as they patrol Orekhovo village in Luhansk region January 28, 2015.

Diplomatic efforts have made no progress toward a settlement — or even toward firming up a cease-fire that has all but collapsed.

The West, including the United States, needs to get serious about assisting Ukraine if it does not wish to see the situation deteriorate further.

That means committing real money now to aid Ukraine’s defense. 

Following the intervention by regular Russian army units in eastern Ukraine in August, a cease-fire was hammered out in Minsk on Sept. 5.

Observance of the cease-fire terms has been piecemeal at best, with regular shelling across the line of contact.

After a December lull, fighting picked up again this month.

The leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic recently said he will take all of Donetsk.

The next day, separatists, augmented by Russian troops, rocketed the city of Mariupol, killing some 30 civilians.

Moscow has done nothing to promote a peaceful settlement.

It did not withdraw its weapons, nor did it secure the Ukraine-Russia border, as it agreed to do in Minsk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny that his forces fight in Ukraine — even as Russian television shows soldiers in action wearing Russian insignia.

By all appearances, the Kremlin seeks to keep the conflict simmering to pressure and destabilize the Ukrainian government.

For the West, this issue goes beyond Ukraine.

Russia has torn up the rule book that maintained peace, stability and security in Europe for almost 70 years, and it has now used force to change borders.

If the West does not push back, it could face challenges, even armed challenges, from Russia elsewhere that will require far more costly responses.

To date, the United States and European Union have responded to Russia’s aggression with economic sanctions.

These have inflicted serious damage on the Russian economy but have not yet achieved their political goal: turning Moscow toward a genuine negotiated settlement.

The United States has also provided military assistance to Kiev.

But it amounts thus far to only $120 million and has been limited to nonlethal aid.

Washington needs to do more to get Russia to change course.

That means giving the Ukrainian military sufficient means to make further aggression so costly that Putin and the Russian army are deterred from escalating the fight.

Eight former U.S. national security practitioners — the two of us, plus former U.S. representative to NATO Ivo Daalder, former undersecretary of defense Michèle Flournoy, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, former deputy undersecretary of defense Jan Lodal, former NATO European commander James Stavridis and former U.S. European Command deputy commander Charles Wald — have come together to issue the following recommendations for immediate action.

They will be released Monday in a report called “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do.”

First, the White House and Congress must commit serious money to Ukraine’s defense: $1 billion in military assistance this fiscal year, followed by an additional $1 billion each in fiscal year 2016 and 2017.

Congress should not only authorize assistance, as it did in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act last year, but also appropriate funds.

Second, the U.S. government should alter its policy and begin providing lethal assistance to Ukraine.

To be sure, most of the above funds would go to nonlethal assistance.

For example, the Ukrainian army desperately needs counter-battery radars to pinpoint the source of enemy rocket and artillery fire, which cause about 70 percent of Ukrainian casualties.

But the Ukrainians also need some defensive arms, particularly light anti-armor weapons.

The antitank missiles in the Ukrainian inventory are more than 20 years old, and a large proportion of them do not work.

U.S. anti-armor weapons could fill a crucial gap.

Third, the U.S. government should approach other NATO member states about assisting Ukraine, particularly those countries that operate former Soviet equipment and weapons systems compatible with Ukraine’s hardware.

If the United States moves to provide lethal assistance, we believe that some other NATO countries will do so as well.

Time is urgent.

Spring arrives in three months in eastern Ukraine, and fighting could then achieve new intensity.

We should help the Ukrainians deter that.

Source: The Washington Post

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ukraine Clamps Down On Travel To And From Rebel Areas

DONETSK, Ukraine -- For Larisa Horlova, a cashier, making the trip from rebel-held territory to Ukraine proper had been a routine matter, despite the shells that sometimes pounded into fields near the road as she drove.

Waiting in Velikaya Novoselka, Ukraine, to apply for permits to cross the front line.

She did it every week or so to get money from her Ukrainian bank account, since A.T.M.s are no longer functioning in Donetsk.

But on Wednesday, when she made the often perilous dash over pavement slicked by melting snow to a Ukrainian border outpost, she found not safety but an order to turn around and drive back.

“They say I should live on the Ukrainian side, but I cannot travel back and forth,” Ms. Horlova said, standing on the shoulder of the road, amid a crowd of other bewildered residents.

Indeed, with a new offensive in full swing, the Ukrainian authorities are now doing all they can to halt cross-border movement, deploying the full force of a Byzantine bureaucracy on the more than three million people living in rebel-held areas.

After the Ukrainian government put in place new border restrictions in recent days — requiring a special pass that can be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain — a policy of isolating and frustrating rebel-held regions has taken a major and maddening turn.

Ostensibly, the measures are needed to cut down on smuggling and to keep “terrorists” and smugglers from entering Ukraine from the conflict zone.

But it is widely acknowledged that Ukraine’s policy of isolating rebel-held zones aims to thrust onto Russia, the separatists’ sponsor but a country now mired in its own economic woes, the burden of subsidizing the east, calling Russia’s bluff on seeking ownership of this rust-belt region with hopes of hastening a settlement.

Already, the government had cut off pensions for all those living inside the rebel-held zone, stopped paying public service salaries and sharply increased the inspection of shipments coming in and out of the area — to the point that humanitarian groups have complained that it was affecting crucial relief shipments.

Since there is no banking system in the rebel areas, it is an all-cash economy.

But with no functioning A.T.M.s, there is no source of cash, even for those who have money in Ukrainian banks.

Until last week, people with access to transportation could venture into areas under Ukrainian control, where banks are still operating.

Some were even able to apply for their pensions outside the rebel-held zone and collect their monthly stipends.

But with the new Ukrainian regulations, that is much more difficult.

Now, Donetsk residents must cross the dangerous area between the rebel and Ukrainian checkpoints and hand deliver paperwork to a shipping container at the Ukrainian checkpoint — then wait 10 days for a reply from officials behind the line.

Residents on the Ukrainian side who want to get into rebel areas must apply at one of a handful of remote police stations and then wait 10 days.

Until a decision is reached, applicants will not be allowed through Ukrainian checkpoints, said Roman Turhovets, head of the press center for Ukraine’s antiterrorism operations.

If applicants try to circumvent the official checkpoints, by using secondary roads, they will be treated as potentially hostile targets, he said.

Meanwhile, people hoping to exit — or enter — the war zone without the permit were being turned around.

Ukrainian soldiers let through only a trickle of traffic.

Queues of semi-trucks, passenger buses and cars snaked out along the road from the Kurakhovo checkpoint for hundreds of yards, parked on the shoulder beside the wintry stubble of fallow sunflower fields.

The road passes twitchy gunmen at a Ukrainian checkpoint where a car exploded on Monday, killing the driver and at least one soldier, in what a Ukrainian television station, Hromadske TV, reported might have been a rare if not unique instance of a suicide attack in the conflict.

Those dropping off their documents had to weave past a crater, scorched automotive parts, and shoes and bloody clothing on the road.

On Wednesday, rebels and the Ukrainian Army were fighting in the outlying Donetsk district of Marinka adjacent to the main road out of the city, and shells were exploding so near the road that car windows rattled.

At the checkpoint itself — an exposed and dangerous place to linger — an angry crowd of Donetsk residents gathered around one sandbagged position, complaining that they had already driven the dangerous section of road, did not want to return along it and could not wait for 10 days for the permit.

A soldier said he could make no exceptions.

As a result of all of this, traffic between the parts of Ukraine controlled by rebels and those controlled by Kiev has dropped by almost 90 percent since the new passes went into effect, according to the Donetsk regional administration’s Department of the Development of Basic Industries.

At the police station in Velikaya Novoselka, a small village on the Ukrainian side of the line, hundreds of people were lined up in the bitter cold last week to apply for the new passes.

Those who made their way through a crowded courtyard and up the steps into the station were able to file the papers they needed.

But that allowed them only to line up at yet another building nearby, where one by one they were called inside to finish the application process.

In a tiny room on the station’s second floor, a group of police officials and office workers sat surrounded by tall piles of handwritten applications, desperate pleas for help. 

One man — Anton, a 28-year-old owner of a small trucking business whose parents live in Donetsk and who declined to give his last name for fear of jeopardizing his application — said that even after navigating this bureaucratic labyrinth, he had been told that he did not have sufficient reason to receive a pass.

He said the woman taking applications told him: “Do you think you are the only one here like this? Every day many people come here, they cry and beg me that they need the pass. But I refuse all of them!” 

Source: The New York Times

Disturbing Videos Raise War-Crimes Concerns In Ukraine

DONETSK, Ukraine -- A spate of videos uploaded to YouTube claim to show victories by Russian-backed separatists during intensified fighting in eastern Ukraine.

They may also provide graphic evidence of war crimes.

One recent video shows seven Ukrainian soldiers lined up against a wall after falling to separatists in the eastern city of Krasnyy Partizan.

Lying next to the seven captives are two men who appear to lie mortally wounded and another two who are dead.

Later in the video, another dead soldier is shown lying a few meters away.

The footage is being viewed by some as circumstantial evidence that the four fallen soldiers were executed in front of the wall after surrendering.

A summary of the allegations made on the Ukraine@war blog points to single bullet holes in the wall, precisely where the heads of the fallen captives would have been; fresh blood on the ground; and a bullet wound through the face of one of the dead.

Interpreter Magazine casts doubt on the claims, pointing out that there have been ongoing battles and that the holes in the building are not necessarily fresh.

Also, only one of the men shown appears to have a head wound (something one might expect in the case of a summary execution). 

Medical aid is not given to the wounded soldiers, who, although barely able to speak, are interrogated by the cameraman.

In a second video, at least one of the wounded has died.

The captives are not threatened with execution but scolded for coming to eastern Ukraine to "kill our children."

In a third video, the dead captives are piled up along the side of the road as a correspondent for Russian state TV interviews a commander of the pro-Russian Vostok battalion who goes by the nom de guerre Dushman.

He tells the reporter that, although his men offered the Ukrainians the chance to surrender, they refused.

The reporter -- who sees Western media on the scene and asks Dushman whether they are covering events "fairly" -- labels them as members of the ultranationalist Right Sector group, without providing evidence.

On January 23, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, announced that his men would no longer be taking prisoners.

The statement has been taken by some as an implied threat.

In a separate incident, a video shows well-known separatist commander Givi physically abusing and tormenting captives who were apparently taken during the recent siege at the Donetsk airport. 

Givi, who at one point brandishes a sword, throws the captives from a truck and onto the ground.

Taking apparent pleasure in asking if they recognize him (they do), he uses a knife to cut the felt chevrons off their jackets and stuffs them into their mouths.

Living captives are blindfolded and forced back onto a truck before being driven to downtown Donetsk, where several women are seen beating and throwing eggs at them.

Reporters for Russian TV are visible throughout the video.

Oleksandra Matviychuk, head of the Kiev-based Center for Civil Liberties, calls what appears in the videos "flagrant violations of the Geneva Conventions" and says she is preparing the groundwork for prosecution.

"We are downloading, describing, and archiving every video. And, in parallel, we are actively working to convince our members to ratify the Rome Statute and become a member of the International Criminal Court," she told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on January 27.

Social psychologist Viktor Pushkar described the videos as an "attempt to scare Ukrainian soldiers and sow panic in Ukrainians." 

However, he said, "in this case, I think the videos will have the opposite effect: If you do this to ours, we're going to have to answer with equal measure."

Source: Radio Free Europe

Putin Eyes Benefits As Rebels Gain In Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Boxed into a corner by a financial crisis and the West's refusal to drop sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has come out fighting.

Putin - the aggressor

After a relative lull in the conflict in east Ukraine since a ceasefire deal was reached last September, separatists have launched a new offensive.

Kiev says the rebels are supported by 9,000 Russian soldiers.

Moscow has denied sending in troops and weapons, blamed the renewed violence on Kiev and regretted the deaths of civilians, but done nothing to distance itself from the rebel cause.

Whether or not the separatists are acting on Moscow's orders, battlefield setbacks for Ukrainian government forces may be seen by Putin as offering hope of negotiating from a position of strength over the conflict.

The former KGB officer may think he has no choice - showing any sign of weakness could be politically disastrous for him in Russia. 

"Putin has nowhere to retreat to. For Putin, a retreat or a step back would mean a drop in his ratings and a rise in public discontent," said Olesya Yakhno, an independent political commentator in Kiev.

"The main thing for Putin is that discontent does not grow among his supporters. His supporters demand new territorial gains and any step back would be seen by them as a defeat."

Far from being cowed by Russia's economic crisis, aggravated by the sanctions and a fall in the oil price, Putin has been as defiant as ever against the West as it became clear it had no plans to ease the economic pressure.

Allies say such a stance will help Putin remain popular despite predictions that public discontent will grow as prices rise during the financial crisis.

"When a Russian feels foreign pressure, he will never give up his leader," First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos last week, promising Russians would "eat less food, use less electricity".

Officials sent similar signals of defiance by dismissing a decision by S&P ratings agency to cut Russia's sovereign debt rating to "junk" status, with Putin's spokesman describing such moves as "politically motivated".


Putin has other aims in Ukraine, though it is not clear how far he will go to achieve his goal of ensuring Russia can maintain influence in the former Soviet republic or block Kiev's efforts to join the European mainstream.

Putin insists Ukraine must not join NATO.

Another key demand is that the two eastern regions that have rebelled against the rule of Kiev's pro-Western leaders - Donetsk and Luhansk - must have broad autonomy, though he is widely seen as settling for their independence rather than demanding they join Russia.

Although Russia denies being a party to the conflict, rebel gains could weaken Kiev's leaders and force them to compromise.

"The main reason for the increase in military activities in Ukraine is Putin's wish to force the West and Ukraine to the negotiating table with Russia and the fighters," said Taras Berezovets, owner of Berta Communications, a strategic consulting company in Ukraine.

Many Ukrainians see a pattern being repeated.

After weeks of setbacks, the separatists appeared to be on the verge of defeat last August but unexpectedly turned the tide of the conflict - thanks to what Kiev said was an influx of Russian troops.

Moscow denied sending in soldiers and equipment but Kiev was forced into compromises to prevent further losses, and agreed the ceasefire deal the next month which reduced but did not end the fighting that has now killed more than 5,100 people.

This time, Berezovets said, Putin might try to push for Crimea's legal separation from Russia following its annexation last March, and may look for a way to secure a deal that leads to the lifting of Western sanctions.

The new hostilities are seen by some observers as part of a plan by Putin to create a "frozen" - or unresolved - conflict that festers for years, making Ukraine harder to govern and slowing or blocking its integration into Europe's mainstream.

The renewal of fighting could also serve a purpose for Putin in deepening Ukraine's own economic problems, forcing Kiev to increase military spending and pushing it closer to bankruptcy, perhaps encouraging it to compromise.

A bolder goal, which analysts do not rule out, would be to help the rebels capture more territory and create a land corridor between Crimea and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics (DNR and LNR).

Although the rebels deny responsibility for a rocket attack which Kiev said killed 30 civilians on Saturday in Mariupol, the port city on the Sea of Azov is in a strategically important location as a gateway to the south.

Mark Galeotti, a specialist on Russia at New York University, wrote on Twitter that if Mariupol fell to the rebels it would be "a real game changer", denting Kiev's credibility and making the DNR more viable as a "pseudo state".

Source: Google News

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Residents Of Crucial Ukraine Export Hub Defiant As Russia Threat Looms

MARIUPOL, Ukraine -- In this city under siege, where many argue the fate of Ukraine rests, citizens are defiant.

Saturday's rocket strikes at Mariupol, Ukraine destroyed a market and killed 30 people.

“Vladimir Putin, if you can hear me, you’re a dead man,” said Mariupol resident Vladimir Ivanovich, calling out Russia’s president, who is accused of sending thousands of troops into Ukraine to help separatists who have set up breakaway republics in eastern provinces. 

“The Kremlin is not interested in peace talks,” Mr. Ivanovich said.

“How can we talk with these killers? Now they are trying to blackmail us with these deaths.”

Mr. Ivanovich was referring to the 30 people killed Saturday by rocket strikes in Mariupol, a Ukrainian-held city that stands between the Russian border and Crimea — the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow last year.

The rockets also injured about 100 people in markets, homes and schools in the city.

The attack on Mariupol signaled the end of the cease-fire agreement between Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels in September and highlighted the strategic importance of the Azov Sea port city in Kiev’s resistance to Moscow’s aggression.

On Saturday, Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the pro-Russia separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, announced that his troops would launch an offensive into Ukrainian territory.

A day earlier, he and other rebels pulled out of peace talks with Western leaders.

Analysts say Russia could be seeking to take Mariupol to gain an overland route to Crimea or to threaten the city to force Ukrainian leaders in Kiev to accept a truce beneficial to Moscow’s interests.

A steel-producing center of about 500,000 people, Mariupol is a crucial export hub that plays a key role in Ukraine’s economy. 

Maximilian Hess, Europe and former Soviet Union analyst at the London-based risk analysis group AKE, said the city is the linchpin to controlling eastern Ukraine.

“For Ukraine, it is the seat of their capital in exile for Donetsk province — the Ukrainian administration is located there,” said Mr. Hess.

“It is very important for the pro-Russian or Russian-backed forces for the same reason. “Capturing Mariupol would not only help them in securing their southern flank for the regions that they already control, but Mariupol is the last significant settlement on that coast within Donetsk province.”

In recent months, Ukraine had bolstered Mariupol’s defenses.

Now the city is girding for a potential assault as machine gun and artillery fire sporadically break out on its outskirts and pro-Russia separatists push Ukrainian government forces west in other parts of the country.

“Military units are being strengthened around Mariupol,” said Dmitro Choli, a spokesman for Ukrainian forces.

“The Ukrainian army has sufficient sea and land forces in order to repel an enemy attack.”

Mariupol Police Chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said he has full confidence in his officers.

“The Mariupol police are at full readiness in order to deal with any continuous separatist threat,” Chief Abroskin said.

“The police are guarding damaged residential and commercial property that belongs to the people of the city.

There is the constant threat of a follow-up strike in the residential area.”

Like other Mariupol residents, the police chief also expressed disgust over the rocket attack.

“Why are we not calling this a terrorist act?” he said.

“What would you call an act when the civilian population is being killed?”

Russian authorities said Ukrainian troops accidentally fired the rockets.

That incensed Mariupol residents like Mr. Ivanovich even more.

The Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe conducted a crater analysis and concluded that the rockets came from rebel-held territory.

The separatists have denied the claims.

“How dare you think that it’s the Ukrainian army,” said Mr. Ivanovich, bristling at the suggestion that government troops killed Ukrainian citizens.

“There would be no Mariupol without them.”

But he and his neighbors might be putting too much stock in their defenses.

“I was in Mariupol myself in December for a few days, and from my personal experiences there, I don’t believe that a real sustained Russian attack could be resisted in the long run,” said Mr. Hess, the analyst.

“While there are significant Ukrainian checkpoints outside the city and significant fortifications within the city, much of the patrolling is still done by the steel workers from the two steel factories.”

Meanwhile, in the city’s hospital, surgeon Ilya Sayenko was treating those wounded in Saturday’s rocket attack.

The hospitals are bracing for more. 

“The traumas are all shrapnel-related,” Dr. Sayenko said.

“There was a serious case of a woman with severe lower-limb injuries. Unfortunately, we had to amputate both her legs.”

Anna Vasilievna, a hospital administrator, said she was proud of how local residents turned out in droves to donate blood for the injured and for those who might suffer in the future.

The city is prepared for more fighting if necessary, she said.

“At the moment, we’ve informed the residents that we have a sufficient amount of blood reserves to supply the city,” Ms. Vasilievna said.

“We’ve had a large number of first-time donors. On average, we have 40 donors a day. Today, we’ve already had 80.”

Source: The Washington Times

Heavy Fighting Drains Ukraine Government’s Options And Finances

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian troops beat back fresh attacks by pro-Russia militants on a crucial rail hub Tuesday, part of recent heavy fighting that is sapping the Ukrainian administration of options and finances as it works to fend off a wider Russian-supported onslaught.

President Petro Poroshenko attends Auschwitz ceremonies Tuesday.

U.S. and European leaders threatened new sanctions in the wake of a rebel rocket attack that killed dozens of Ukrainian civilians over the weekend, but Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared ready to shrug off any new measures.

On Tuesday, he continued to blame Kiev for the fighting and for “gunning down civilians in cold blood.”

The Kremlin denies giving support to pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine or sending Russian troops, which Kiev said on Tuesday numbered as many as 15,000.

Kiev and Western officials say a fresh infusion of Russian armor in the past two weeks has been feeding the latest offensive against Ukrainian troops, who last week fell back from a long-contested airport outside the eastern city of Donetsk and are now in danger of encirclement at a rail hub in the provincial city of Debaltseve.

Ukraine’s army has mostly held its own along other sectors of a long north-south front but is constrained from mounting a serious counteroffensive that Ukrainian and Western officials fear could trigger an even larger Russian military response.

President Petro Poroshenko’s government, meanwhile, will run out of money without fresh multibillion-dollar injections from the International Monetary Fund and other official Western sources.

Western donors are prodding Mr. Poroshenko to show his creditworthiness by more aggressively rooting out government corruption—an arduous task, Ukrainian officials say, as the country fights a war.

If Mr. Poroshenko agrees to a new cease-fire and a pullback of his forces, he would effectively give up rebel-held territory, undermining political support in Kiev, where parliament voted Tuesday to declare Russia an aggressor and the separatist governments terrorist organizations.

But continuing to stand up to Russia without significant military support from the West could lead to further losses of both territory and men, deepening Ukraine’s financial woes.

Ukraine’s economy contracted 7.5% in 2014, and central bank reserves shrank to $7.5 billion in December, the lowest in more than a decade.

Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, hit fresh lows on Tuesday after losing half of its value against the dollar last year.

“He’s between a rock and a hard place, between a deal with Putin and increasingly radicalized Ukrainian public opinion that is not prone to compromise,” said Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

Western officials had hoped Moscow would be forced to back down through a combination of sanctions and financial pain after the plunge in the price for crude oil, Russia’s main export.

But Putin has been unwilling to order militants to return control of the Ukraine-Russia border to Kiev, a crucial point of the September deal. 

Indeed, Putin ramped up his rhetoric this week, blaming Kiev for the upsurge in violence and calling Ukraine an instrument being used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to contain Russia.

Amid a deepening chill with the West, Putin didn’t attend a ceremony in Poland at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, which was liberated by the Soviet army on Jan. 27, 1945.

In the run-up to the ceremony in Poland, Warsaw’s foreign minister angered the Kremlin by saying that Ukrainian soldiers, rather than the Soviet army, liberated the camp.

At a ceremony Tuesday at a Jewish museum in Moscow, Putin decried what he called attempts to rewrite history, and drew parallels between World War II and events in Ukraine, where the Kremlin says Kiev is brutalizing an ethnic Russian minority.

“We all know how dangerous and destructive are double standards, indifference to and disregard to another man’s fate, as is the case with the current tragedy in Ukraine,” Putin said.

For now, Kiev says its forces don’t face a massive defeat like in August, and that a rocket attack on the coastal city of Mariupol appears to have been a feint.

Government forces and rebels are concentrated around Debaltseve, an important rail junction between the two rebel capitals, with the militants pushing to surround it while pounding it with rockets and artillery.

The encirclement of the town is likely a precursor to an assault that could come in the next week, Ukrainian officials say.

Still, Putin also is constrained from more significant intervention by the threat of tougher Western sanctions and unpredictable reaction from the Russian public if the number of Russian deaths in Ukraine increased.

A Ukrainian security spokesman said nine Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 30 wounded in the past 24 hours, but officials also noted some successes.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said its forces had destroyed four rebel tanks, nine armored vehicles, more than a dozen rocket systems and six airplanes that rebels apparently had been trying to bring into service.

With no offensive possible, Ukrainian units have for now settled into a strategy of punishing the rebels with artillery strikes as they advance.

After Russia gave sophisticated antiaircraft weaponry to separatists last summer, officials say that Ukraine’s air force has been unable to operate in the conflict zone even for reconnaissance and spotting targets for artillery.

Ukraine’s requests for lethal aid—especially antitank weaponry—have been turned down by the U.S., but its artillery has been improved lately by U.S.-supplied equipment that detect the source of incoming rounds from rebel territory.

The U.S. also has begun providing armored trucks to Ukrainian troops and last week announced it would send military advisers to Ukraine for the first time since the war in eastern Ukraine began.

In a visit to Ukraine last week the head of the U.S. Army in Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, said the advisers will be based far from the fighting at a base near the western provincial city of Lviv, where they will train four companies of Ukrainian national guard.

Previously, the U.S. has limited its advisers to first aid.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Ukraine Labels Russia ‘Aggressor State’

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday approved a statement labeling Russia as an "aggressor state," while European Union leaders threatened to widen sanctions against it for continuing to back separatists in eastern Ukraine amid escalating violence in the region.

Deputies applaud after Ukraine’s parliament approves a statement defining Russia as an ‘aggressor state,' in Kiev, Jan. 27, 2015.

The actions come in the wake of Saturday's shelling of the government-held port city of Mariupol, which killed 30 civilians and wounded around 100, and continued combat with pro-Russian rebels. 

Ukrainian lawmakers also voted Tuesday to designate the Russia-based separatists' so-called "people's republics" in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions as "terrorist organizations."

The designations of both Russia and the republics could introduce new consequences on the international stage.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karsin said the vote to label Russia an "aggressor state" was "absolutely irresponsible" and "thoughtless," and aimed at blocking movement toward "a much-needed compromise in Ukraine."

To continue its nearly yearlong fight against the uprising in the east, Ukraine's parliament also called for additional nonlethal military aid and tougher sanctions against Russia.

All 28 EU leaders, in a rare joint statement, on Tuesday noted their grave concerns about the worsening security and humanitarian conditions in eastern Ukraine and condemned "the indiscriminate shelling" of Mariupol.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the rockets that hit the city were fired from rebel-controlled territory.

In their statement, the leaders also said they noted "evidence of continued and growing support given to the separatists by Russia, which underlines Russia’s responsibility," and called on the bloc's foreign ministers to consider further sanctions against Moscow.

EU finance ministers, meeting in Brussels, on Tuesday approved a loan of 1.8 billion euros ($2.02 billion) to help Ukraine avoid bankruptcy.

While the finance ministers probably will ask the EU's executive commission to draft new sanctions, EU leaders would make the final decision over implementation at their February 12 summit.

9 soldiers killed 

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian military spokesman on Tuesday said nine soldiers have been killed and 29 others wounded in ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine since Monday, as the United Nations' political chief expressed his concerns the escalating conflict has violated humanitarian law.

Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov on Tuesday said the fighting was the most intense near the strategic town of Debaltseve, northeast of rebel-held Donetsk.

'Tragedy in southeastern Ukraine' 

On Tuesday, Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, participated in commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, site of the Nazi death camp.

The Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted Poroshenko as saying in an address marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day that "the memory of the innocents killed because of their national, ethnic, racial, cultural or religious background demonstrates the international community's determination not to allow awful crimes caused by xenophobia, racism and totalitarian ideologies to happen ever again." 

Also Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the Ukraine conflict during a speech at a Jewish museum in Moscow marking the Auschwitz camp's liberation by Soviet troops. 

"Dangerous and destructive double standards, indifference and lack of concern for the fate of others" are on display in "the current tragedy in southeastern Ukraine," the Russian president said, adding that civilians there are being "shot in cold blood."

Putin also accused followers of World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leader of Stepan Bandera of having taken part in the extermination of Jews in Ukraine during the Holocaust.

On Monday, Putin told students in St. Petersburg that Ukraine's army had become a "foreign NATO legion" working to achieve "the containment of Russia."

He said the goal "absolutely does not coincide with the national interests of the Ukrainian people."

The Russian leader also accused Ukrainian authorities of refusing to seek a "peaceful solution" to the conflict.

Source: Voice of America

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Save New Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- A new Ukraine was born a year ago in the pro-European protests that helped to drive President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power.

And today, the spirit that inspired hundreds of thousands to gather in the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, is stronger than ever, even as it is under direct military assault from Russian forces supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

New Ukraine seeks to become the opposite of the old Ukraine, which was demoralized and riddled with corruption.

The transformation has been a rare experiment in participatory democracy; a noble adventure of a people who have rallied to open their nation to modernity, democracy and Europe.

And this is just the beginning.

This experiment is remarkable for finding expression not only in defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity from the separatists, but also in constructive work.

Maidan’s supporters have moved from opposition to nation building. 

Many of those in government and Parliament are volunteers who have given up well-paying jobs to serve their country.

Natalie Jaresko, a former investment banker, now works for a few hundred dollars a month as the new finance minister.

Volunteers are helping Ukraine’s one million internally displaced people as well as working as advisers to ministers and in local government.

New Ukraine, however, faces a potent challenge from the old Ukraine.

The old Ukraine is solidly entrenched in a state bureaucracy that has worked hand in hand with a business oligarchy.

And the reformers are also up against the manifest hostility of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, who wants at all costs to destabilize Ukraine.

One drawback is that new Ukraine is a well-kept secret, not just from the rest of the world but also from the Ukrainian public.

Radical reforms have been hatched but not yet implemented.

It is instructive to compare Ukraine today with Georgia in 2004.

When he became president that year, Mikheil Saakashvili immediately replaced the hated traffic police and removed the roadblocks used to extort bribes from drivers.

The public recognized straight away that things had changed for the better.

Unfortunately, Ukraine has not yet found a similar demonstration project.

Kiev’s police force is to be restructured, but if you need a driver’s license, you must still pay the same bribe as before.

Mr. Saakashvili was a revolutionary leader who first stamped out corruption but eventually turned it into a state monopoly.

By contrast, Ukraine is a participatory democracy that does not rely on a single leader but on checks and balances.

Democracies move slowly, but that may prove an advantage in the long run.

The big question is, will there be a long run?

Although Russia is in a deepening financial crisis, Putin appears to have decided that he can destroy new Ukraine before it can fully establish itself and before an economic downturn destroys his own popularity.

The Russian president is stepping up the military and financial pressure on Ukraine.

Over the weekend, the city of Mariupol came under attack from forces that NATO said were backed by Russian troops, undermining the pretense that the separatists are acting on their own.

Ukraine will defend itself militarily, but it urgently needs financial assistance.

The immediate need is for $15 billion.

But to ensure Ukraine’s survival and encourage private investment, Western powers need to make a political commitment to provide additional sums, depending on the extent of the Russian assault and the success of Ukraine’s reforms.

The reformers, who want to avoid the leakages that were characteristic of the old Ukraine, have expressed their wish to be held accountable for all expenditures.

They are passing extensive legislation but also want the International Monetary Fund to go on exercising oversight.

Unfortunately, just as democracies are slow to move, an association of democracies like the European Union is even slower.

Putin is exploiting this.

It is not only the future of Ukraine that’s at stake, but that of the European Union itself.

The loss of Ukraine would be an enormous blow; it would empower a Russian alternative to the European Union based on the rule of force rather than the rule of law.

But if Europe delivered the financial assistance that Ukraine needs, Putin would eventually be forced to abandon his aggression.

At the moment, he can argue that Russia’s economic troubles are caused by Western hostility, and the Russian public finds his argument convincing.

If, however, Europe is generous with its financial assistance, a stable and prosperous Ukraine will provide an example that makes clear that the blame for Russia’s financial troubles lies with Putin.

The Russian public might then force him to emulate new Ukraine.

Europe’s reward would be a new Russia that has turned from a potent strategic threat into a potential strategic partner.

Those are the stakes.

Source: The New York Times

Russia’s New Offensive In Ukraine Should Prompt Stern Sanctions From The West

KIEV, Ukraine -- A missile strike against the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Saturday should have awakened Western leaders to the seriousness of Russia’s latest aggression in Ukraine.

A girl wrapped in the Ukrainian flag stands next to a woman holding a placard that reads "Stop Russian aggression" in Independence Square in Kiev, on January 25, 2015.

Some 30 civilians were killed and scores wounded in the attack, which came not long after the chief of the Russian puppet government in occupied Donetsk announced a plan to capture Mariupol as well as other territory.

International monitors subsequently confirmed that the missiles were fired from ground held by Russian forces.

The Obama administration and European Union leaders have been slow to react to Vladi­mir Putin’s new gambit, which came just as the union was debating proposals to reengage with Moscow and President Obama was touting what he portrayed in his State of the Union address as a successful response to Putin.

Contrary to their wishful thinking, the Russian ruler has been neither deterred by the impending economic crash caused by Western sanctions and declining oil prices nor attracted by the prospect of a reconciliation with the West.

His aim appears to be to expand the slice of Ukraine under his control in order to impose terms on the fragile democratic government, rather than implement the peace plan he agreed to in September.

To that end he has dispatched thousands more troops and hundreds of military vehicles across the border since the beginning of the year.

The Mariupol strike did, at least, get Western leaders talking about an offensive they had mostly ignored for a week.

Speaking Sunday during his visit to New Delhi, Mr. Obama said the “aggression” had been conducted with “Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops,” and he promised to “look at all additional options that are available to us” to “ratchet up the pressure on Russia.”

The European Union scheduled an emergency meeting of foreign ministers for Thursday.

The crucial question is whether the West will now have the fortitude to respond to Putin with tangible measures of deterrence, rather than mere rhetoric.

It won’t be easy: A number of European governments, including France, have been agitating to ease sanctions, while the White House insists it will act only in concert with Europe.

The president of Latvia, which currently holds the rotating E.U. presidency, was quoted as saying Monday that the union could limit itself to imposing more sanctions on Russian individuals.

That will not be enough.

At a minimum the European Union and United States should agree by Thursday to prepare deeper sanctions against the Russian economy and financial system and to set a deadline for making a decision on them.

Steps should be considered against sectors that have been exempt until now, such as mining.

Meanwhile, Western governments should expand and accelerate aid to the Ukrainian government, which is nearly bankrupt, while helping it reach an accord on reforms with the International Monetary Fund.

In addition, Mr. Obama should finally give serious consideration to providing Ukraine with the defensive weapons it has been pleading for — an “option” that has strong bipartisan support in Congress.

The point is not to defeat the Russian army but to deter Putin.

Russians are already suffering economic privation because of his adventurism; adding the prospect of heavier casualties could alter his calculus — or his political standing.

Source: The Washington Post

Ukraine To Ask Hague To Investigate 'Crimes Against Humanity'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Kiev will ask the Hague tribunal to investigate alleged "crimes against humanity" in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced Monday.

Relatives of Alexander Demyanenko, a victim of Saturday’s shelling, stand near a grave during funerals in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Monday. 

There has been a surge in fighting between Ukraine government forces and pro-Russian separatists in recent days.

On Saturday, at least 30 civilians were killed in shelling in the southeastern city of Mariupol, while eight people died when a transit stop in the city of Donetsk was shelled Thursday.

Both sides blamed the other for the deaths.

Speaking after a meeting with the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Poroshenko said "the actions of Russian-backed terrorists and regular Russian troops" had caused Ukrainians to suffer.

"We are going to file a suit to the Hague tribunal, which must investigate into these crimes against humanity," Poroshenko said.

"It is a test for humanity and moral dignity. Because turning a blind eye to such horrible and shameful crimes means indulging terrorists and aggressors and violating high European values for which Ukrainians are suffering and dying."

On Sunday, Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council authorized the government to initiate the Hague action, it said in a statement.

It said it would ask for the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic to be designated terrorist organizations.

The International Criminal Court at the Hague is a permanent body established by 120 nations to investigate "the most serious crimes of concern to the international community."

Earlier Monday, Moscow stepped up its war of words over Ukraine, warning Western countries not to give Kiev the impression it had their automatic support regardless of its actions.

At a press conference in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blamed Kiev for the renewed fighting and civilian deaths and questioned the West's lack of condemnation.

Lavrov said Moscow -- which accuses Ukrainian forces of responsibility -- had not heard a single statement from the West criticizing Kiev.

"We hope our Western partners won't stay away, and European countries, primarily France and Germany who are taking part in so called Normandy format, and mainly the U.S. won't do anything to create an illusion for Kiev's government that its actions lead to automatic support in the West."

Lavrov said there was no other path to resolve Ukraine than direct dialogue between Ukraine's conflicting sides.

U.S. response 

Fighting between Ukraine government forces and pro-Russian separatists broke out last spring, slowing for a short-lived ceasefire agreed to in Minsk, Belarus, in September.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of sending troops and equipment over the border to help the separatists, allegations that Russia denies. 

The United States and European Union have imposed financial sanctions against Russian interests.

The U.S. State Department on Sunday said Secretary of State John Kerry and Lavrov had spoken by phone about the shelling of civilians.

"The secretary reiterated our condemnation of the separatists' grad missile attack on civilians in Mariupol yesterday 25 kilometers beyond the Minsk line, and other separatist attacks in blatant violation of the agreement.

"The secretary reiterated the need for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire, a withdrawal of heavy weapons, and closing the border. He also underscored U.S. readiness to participate in serious settlement efforts, making clear that de-escalation is in everyone's interests, that Russia will be judged by its actions, and that the costs to Russia will only increase if attacks continue," a representative said.

The White House says Vice President Biden also spoke with Ukrainian President Poroshenko on Saturday.

They "expressed grave concern over Russia's blatant disregard for its commitments under the September Minsk agreement and unilateral escalation of the conflict," the White House said.

The two leaders vowed to "ensure that the costs continue to rise on Russia for its aggressive actions against Ukraine."

'NATO legion' 

"Those who give such criminal orders bear responsibility for this. People doing that should know that there is no other way of resolving such conflicts than peace negotiations and political measures," he said.

On Monday, the state-run Itar-Tass news agency reported Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying a "NATO legion" was working in Ukraine with the aim of containing Russia.

"In essence, this is already not an army, but a foreign legion, in this case NATO's foreign legion that certainly does not pursue the goal of defending Ukraine's national interests," Itar-Tass quoted Putin as saying.

But following a special session of NATO's Ukraine commission in Brussels, Belgium, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told journalists that Putin's allegations were "nonsense."

Stoltenberg said there was no NATO legion and "the only foreign forces in Ukraine are Russian."

The conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out last spring after Russia annexed Ukraine's southeastern Crimea region and as pro-Russia separatists claimed control of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

The ceasefire from Minsk crumbled long ago.

From mid-April to January 21, the conflict killed at least 5,086 people and injured at least 10,948 others, according to the United Nations.

"We fear that the real figure may be considerably higher," the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said about the death toll in a report released Friday.

Source: CNN

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rebels Press Ukraine Offensive, Obama Promises Steps Against Russian-Backed 'Aggression'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Pro-Moscow rebels, backed by what NATO says is the open participation of Russian troops, pressed on with their offensive on Sunday after restarting the war in eastern Ukraine with the first all-out assault since a truce five months ago.

Pro-Russian separatists stand next to a military truck in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Washington was considering all options short of military action to isolate Russia.

The European Union called an emergency meeting of foreign ministers of its 28 member states.

"We are deeply concerned about the latest break in the ceasefire and the aggression that these separatists -- with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops -- are conducting," Obama told a news conference during a visit to India.

"I will look at all additional options that are available to us short of military confrontation and try to address this issue. And we will be in close consultation with our international partners, particularly European partners."

NATO accuses Moscow of sending troops to fight on behalf of rebels in territory the Kremlin has dubbed "New Russia" in a war that has killed more than 5,100 people.

In some of the strongest language ever from Brussels, Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who now presides over EU summits as European Council president, denounced "appeasement" of Moscow, a word with unmistakable World War Two connotations.

"Once again, appeasement encourages the aggressor to greater acts of violence. Time to step up our policy based on cold facts, not illusions," Tusk said on Twitter.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine had mainly died down since a September ceasefire, but in recent days the war has returned in full force, with the rebels announcing the effective end of the truce and an offensive to expand territory under their control.

On Saturday rebels attacked Mariupol, a strategic Black Sea port of 500,000 people and the biggest city still in government hands in the two rebel-dominated eastern provinces.

Kiev said 30 civilians were killed in shelling.

Rebels launched new attacks on Sunday against government positions elsewhere along the front line that winds through the two restive provinces, the Kiev army said.

"Rebels are attacking the positions of anti-terrorist operation troops extremely intensively, using artillery, mortars, grenade launchers, tanks," military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing.

He said four Ukrainian servicemen had been killed and 17 injured in the past 24 hours and that rebel attacks on the town of Debaltseve, northeast of separatist-held Donetsk, had been particularly fierce. 

"Because of constant shelling in the past few days, there are dead and injured among local residents. Around 60 homes have been destroyed or damaged," he said without giving a figure for the number of casualties.

Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said on Saturday the separatists planned to encircle Debaltseve, which has a population of around 26,000.


After months in which European politicians had been debating whether it was time to start rolling back sanctions, the talk now is of how to tighten them.

"If the Russian government cannot prove that it is making verifiable progress towards a de-escalation of the situation, we'll have to talk about more severe sanctions unfortunately," said German politician Karl-Georg Wellmann, a foreign policy specialist for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Merkel called the attack on Mariupol "a clear and totally unjustifiable violation of the ceasefire" in telephone calls with the presidents of Ukraine and Russia on Sunday, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, and asked Russia's Vladimir Putin to prevent further escalation.

The rebels say government forces have been hitting cities with artillery, killing civilians and forcing them to advance to push Kiev's troops further from population centers.

Moscow blames the West for failing to force the Kiev government to talk to the rebels.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke on Sunday to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.

He told both the escalation in violence was a result of Kiev refusing a proposal laid out in a letter from Putin to Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko to withdraw heavy weapons away from the demarcation line.

Lavrov blamed the escalation of violence in east Ukraine on what he called "constant shelling of populated areas by Ukrainian army".

He called on Kerry to press Kiev to renounce "betting on the military scenario."

Mogherini called an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers for Thursday to discuss Ukraine and the Mariupol assault.

Russia says it has not sent troops into Ukraine, and any Russians there are volunteers.

NATO says this is nonsense.

"Russian troops in eastern Ukraine are supporting these offensive operations with command and control systems, air defense systems with advanced surface-to-air missiles, unmanned aerial systems (drones), advanced multiple rocket launcher systems and electronic warfare systems," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

"I strongly urge Russia to stop its military, political and financial support for the separatists, stop destabilizing Ukraine and respect its international commitments," he said.

Last week Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Russia had 9,000 troops stationed in his country.

Source: Google News

Ukraine: Phone Calls Prove Rebels Attacked City, Killed 30

KIEV, Ukraine -- Intercepted radio and telephone conversations prove that Russian-backed separatists were responsible for firing the rockets that pounded Ukraine's southeastern city of Mariupol and killed at least 30 people, President Petro Poroshenko said Sunday during an emergency meeting of his Security Council.

A pro-Russian rebel holds a Ukrainian flag found in a check-point captured by pro-Russian rebels, at the town of Krasniy Partizan, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015.

U.S. President Obama also put the blame on Moscow, warning that the United States would work with European partners to "ratchet up the pressure on Russia."

Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko initially announced that his forces had begun an offensive on the government-controlled city of Mariupol.

But after the extent of civilian casualties became known, he backtracked and blamed Ukrainian forces for Saturday's carnage.

The rocket attack came a day after the rebels rejected a peace deal and announced they were going on a multi-pronged offensive against the Kiev government in Kiev in a bid to seize more territory.

The rebel stance has upended European attempts to mediate an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine that has cost at least 5,100 lives since April, according to United Nations estimates.

In Mariupol on Sunday, emergency workers disposed of rocket fragments at the scene of the attack.

Police said two unexploded rockets were found in a bank and an apartment building.

U.N. refugee agency workers handed out blankets to people left homeless or without heat because of the shelling, which hit schools, homes and shops.

"The city is in shock," Mariupol resident Yelena Khorshenko said by telephone.

"The streets are empty, and people are boarding up their windows and preparing for the worst." 

Mariupol lies between Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea.

Heavy fighting in the region in the fall raised fears that the Russian-backed separatists would try to capture the city to forge a land link between the two. 

A peace deal signed in September envisaged a cease-fire and a pullout of heavy weapons from a division line in eastern Ukraine, but both sides have repeatedly violated the pact.

The United States was "deeply concerned about the latest break in the cease-fire and the aggression that these separatists with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops are conducting," Obama said during a visit to New Delhi.

"And we will continue to take the approach that we've taken in the past, which is to ratchet up the pressure on Russia and I will look at all additional options that are available to us short of military confrontation and try to address this issue."

Obama said the U.S. would work "in close consultation with our international partners, and particularly European partners, to ensure that they stay in lock-step with us on this issue."

Source: AP