Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why Ukraine’s Mini Sex Scandal Is A Sign Of Progress

KIEV, Ukraine -- Andrei Miroshnik is having a bad week. Last Thursday, when he was still a member of the Ukrainian parliament, a sharp-eyed photographer caught him in the act of texting during a parliamentary session.

That alone probably wouldn’t have amounted to much of a scandal in a national legislature known in the past for its fistfights.

In this case, though, it was the content of Miroshnik’s messages that proved eye-opening.

In one, he discusses booking a $27,000 family vacation to the Maldives — and mentions lying to someone he calls “the boss” about the cost of the trip.

In another, he flirts with a woman named Olya:

“Instead of thinking about the country,” he writes, “I’m thinking about my beloved, who is solving global issues with an ear of corn.”

The precise meaning of the cryptic remark may never be known, but it certainly sounds, shall we say, intimate.

And as Ukraine’s pugnacious press has delighted in pointing out, Miroshnik’s wife’s name is Inna.

Just one day later — after what was presumably a spirited discussion among his fellow Samopomich party delegates — Miroshnik tendered his resignation, apologizing if any of his voters found his behavior “unworthy” and saying he wants to be a “free man.”

He may just get his wish — according to another cheeky Ukrainian news site, poor Inna has filed for divorce.

So is this latest episode just another depressing reminder that — despite years of agonizing reform — Ukrainian politics remains a bit of a farce?

In fact, though, it’s entirely possible to make the argument that this particular scandal represents a real sign of democratic progress.

Precisely because of its former role as a rubber stamp for the ruling party, the parliament under Ukraine’s kleptocratic former president was filled with all manner of regime stooges (and relatives), oligarchs, and crooks.

Needless to say, none of these unsavory characters ever dreamed of resigning from their cushy sinecures for any reason less than revolution — much less for being caught sending salacious text messages.

Miroshnik’s resignation, on the other hand, came just a day after his public embarrassment, fueled by social media outrage and gleeful retelling of the story across dozens of web sites.

Part of the difference lies in the nature of Samopomich, the political party Miroshnik used to represent.

This party — a genuinely new phenomenon in national Ukrainian politics — originated in the progressive western city of Lviv as a grassroots civic movement.

The movement swelled as its founder and patron, Andriy Sadovyi, cemented his popularity with a successful and ongoing tenure as Lviv’s mayor.

After Sadoviy was first elected in 2006, the Samopomich movement continued to work closely with his administration, both to provide support and to keep him accountable to the grassroots.

The movement became an official political party in 2012 and entered the national parliament after the 2014 elections with a strong third-place showing.

Samopomich prides itself on its youth, its pro-western credentials, and its freshness.

Of its 33 legislators, not a single one had ever been in parliament before.

It’s perhaps for this reason that the party’s legislators see Miroshnik’s ruin as embarrassing, but also as a sign of its vitality.

Because of its origins as a civic movement closely aligned with the administration of a small city, Samopomich delegates are used to being watched at every turn by their own supporters.

When the scandal was publicized, they knew they had to act right away.

“We have no chance to survive in such a situation,” said Ostap Protsyk, a Samopomich activist and advisor to mayor Sadoviy.

“Other parties can ignore it, you know? ‘Who cares about some text messages?’ We can’t afford something like that. We have to be very, very cautious.”

Lev Pidlisetskyy, one of Samopomich’s legislators, agrees:

“In other parties, and in former times, you could steal millions. Billions! And they didn’t care. And in this example, you had a fault and you resign.”

Such comments may sound self-serving coming from members of a political party trying to spin an embarrassing situation — but it’s actually true that Miroshnik’s resignation marked the first time in modern Ukrainian history when a lawmaker resigned for such a relatively minor misstep.

And the comments on the party’s Facebook announcement of the resignation are overwhelmingly positive.

“I voted for your party,” writes one, “and I haven’t regretted it for a day! Don’t give up, guys!”

Another writes: “This is a precedent, gentlemen. This situation is quite unpleasant, and arouses NO respect for the individual in question, but his reaction is worthy of respect. This is how people act in democratic countries.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t overplay it.

Ultimately this is just a story about one disgraced former legislator, one presumably cancelled Maldives vacation, and one boisterous news cycle.

But if Ukraine’s lawmakers are finally beginning to learn that there are consequences for misbehavior, surely that’s something worth celebrating.

Source: FP

International Rescue Committee Forced Out Of East Ukraine

DONETSK, Ukraine -- The offices of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in eastern Ukraine have been closed down by pro-Russian rebels who accused it of spying.

The IRC says it has been responding to an alarming rise in humanitarian needs in eastern Ukraine.

Staff working for the aid organisation were briefly detained as their office in the rebel held city of Donetsk was raided and searched by masked gunmen.

Several employees were then put on a coach to the capital Kiev.

The IRC - led by former British Foreign Minister David Miliband - has not so far commented on the expulsions.

The BBC's Tom Burridge reports from eastern Ukraine says that the gunmen apparently worked for the state security ministry of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).

'Evading taxes' 

Russia's Interfax news agency cited a DPR security ministry spokesman accusing the IRC of concealing "eavesdropping equipment" in their Donetsk office.

The spokesman claimed that "foreigners regularly travelled to Ukraine, but not in order to accompany [the IRC on] humanitarian missions".

"Foreign employees established contact with officials in DPR ministries and agencies, showing interest in obtaining information about the situation in the republic," he said.

He also accused the agency of "hiring DPR citizens for work without signing agreements with them, evading the payment of taxes into the DPR budget".

IRC says its mission is to help people whose lives have been shattered by conflict and disaster, and says its humanitarian work in eastern Ukraine includes the provision of women's hygiene and safety equipment.

Heavily armed rebels have been fighting government forces for a year in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The West says Russia has armed the rebels and sent in regular soldiers - an accusation echoed by independent experts.

Moscow insists that any Russians on the rebel side are volunteers.

Separately, Russia has criticised French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for their decision to boycott a World War Two victory parade on 9 May in Moscow because of their misgivings over Russia's actions in Ukraine.

"I think it's an ill-considered decision that contradicts the interests of both France and Germany," Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying on Wednesday. 

Source: BBC News

Putin Needs Neither War Nor Peace In Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia's toxicity for investors is suddenly so 2014. Western money is returning to Moscow's equity and bond markets, and private Russian companies are again able to borrow, albeit at a premium to Western peers.

The main cause for this reversal of fortunes is the cease-fire in Ukraine, even though it isn't really holding militarily or moving forward politically.

That's a paradox that may shed light on how events in eastern Ukraine will develop.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that "investors have taken Russia out of the penalty box."

According to the global fund tracker EPFR, the influx of cash into mutual and exchange-traded funds targeting Russian securities so far this year has almost wiped out last year's outflow.

Indeed, the rebound in the Russian stock and bond markets since December's panic over a free-falling ruble has been spectacular:

This can be explained in economic terms.

The ruble is the best-performing major currency so far this year, having gained 14 percent against the U.S. dollar.

That's mainly because the oil price, all-important for Russia's fiscal health, has stabilized at a higher level than doomsday prophets predicted -- above $60 a barrel of Brent crude.

And Russian economic data, while hardly encouraging, don't indicate an impending collapse.

So why not give Russia a chance, especially since it promises higher yields than most other big markets?

International lenders led by Societe Generale, ING and Natixis have just provided $530 million to Uralkali, Russia's world leader in potash production, at 3.3 percentage points above the Libor benchmark rate.

European companies with similar credit ratings pay less than half that premium now.

This reasoning, however, works only because the fighting in Ukraine slowed after the signing of the Minsk cease-fire in February.

A continuing all-out war would have made the risk of further international sanctions on Russia unbearable for most investors.

The Western sanctions against Russia didn't inflict much economic damage, because when they rendered big Russian state companies unable to borrow in Western markets, the government stepped in to help them.

Yet, for some time last year, the sanctions did succeed in scaring investors away.

That was a mainly psychological effect, which is now wearing off thanks to the truce.

The cease-fire in eastern Ukraine probably won't be implemented fully.

Although the large-scale warfare has stopped and some heavy weaponry has been pulled back from the lines of separation, there's still localized fighting.

Moreover, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, empowered to monitor truce observance, still have limited access to areas held by pro-Russian separatists.

A more stable peace could have been expected this long after the deal was signed, if the pro-Russian side were truly interested in ending hostilities.

Ukraine, at the same time, has been unwilling to grant more autonomy to rebel-held regions, as prescribed by the Minsk deal, until local elections are held there in accordance with Ukrainian law.

That's a dead end:

There won't be any elections until the rebel commanders -- and their masters in Moscow -- are satisfied with their new powers.

In this situation, even the U.S. is only talking about maintaining, rather than expanding sanctions, because Americans know that without another major Russian offensive to react against they'd have a hard time convincing Europe to go along.

It makes sense for Russian President Vladimir Putin to find this kind of equilibrium, allowing his country's investment rebound to gain momentum, while keeping Ukraine on the hook.

That implies a frozen conflict scenario, in which there is no war and no deal, a situation that could be maintained more or less indefinitely -- as Transnistria, the unrecognized state in limbo between Ukraine and Moldova since the early 1990s, shows.

For Putin, the advantage is clear:

Keeping the conflict unresolved may hinder Ukraine's integration with Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

This kind of stasis is less acceptable for Ukraine, for the same reasons, but the government is Kiev is stuck.

It can't make a military move to reclaim its territory, because it can't risk another defeat.

President Petro Poroshenko will probably end up tacitly agreeing to freeze the conflict for now, because Ukraine also stands to benefit from the psychological effect that a relative peace would have on investment.

And right now, Ukraine needs market confidence much more than it needs rebel-held Donetsk.

Source: Bloomberg

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ukraine Separatists Rewrite History Of 1930s Famine

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Yevdokiya was still a young girl, her nephew recalled, when the neighbors invited her over for a social occasion of some sort.

Igor V. Kostenok, the education minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, said that the intention of the new curriculum was to highlight the region’s long ties with Russia and weed out Ukrainian nationalist ideas.

This was during the great famine of 1933, he said, and her family became alarmed when she failed to return.

She never did come home, said the nephew, Aleksandr S. Khodakovsky, now a senior official in the Russian-backed separatist government of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

To their horror, her parents discovered that she had been cannibalized by the desperate neighbors, not an uncommon occurrence in a famine that killed 3.3 million people, by most estimates.

Traditionally, Ukrainian historians have characterized the famine as a genocide, the direct result of Stalin’s forced collectivization and the Soviet government’s requisitioning of grain for export abroad, leaving Ukraine short — and its borders sealed shut.

Since Ukraine gained independence, that is what its students have been taught.

But that is not what students in southeastern Ukraine are learning this year.

Instead, under orders from the newly installed separatist governments, they are getting the sanitized Russian version, in which the famine was an unavoidable tragedy that befell the entire Soviet Union. 

Even Mr. Khodakovsky, whose aunt’s remains were later found in a well, has trouble accepting that line in its entirety.

“It was terrible,” he said of the famine, and not at all unavoidable.

Rather, he said, it was the result of Stalinist policies, particularly the sale of grain to finance industrialization.

Ukraine’s 20th-century history is steeped in blood.

After the famine, the country took the brunt of Stalinist-era repression and the violence of the eastern front in World War II, when upward of five million Ukrainian civilians died.

In the current civil war, aside from the control of territory, nothing has been so fought over as this history.

Natalia S. Skrichenko, a history teacher, has been watching that process unfold all around her.

Soon after the separatists took over, Ms. Skrichenko and other history teachers in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine were told to throw their existing Ukrainian history texts into the trash.

For months, teachers improvised until the separatist Ministry of Education came out this year with new mimeographed guidelines, called “Materials for the Questions of History Teaching,” for use in the second semester this year — literally rewriting history midway through the school year.

“History doesn’t change,” Ms. Skrichenko said philosophically about the new curriculum for students in rebel-held portions of Ukraine.

“People just look at the facts with a new mentality. We don’t really know what happened in the past. It’s gone. All we can know is what we see through the prism of our own time.”

At School No. 14 in Donetsk where she teaches, students are being taught jarringly different lessons about some of their country’s darkest and most contentious periods in the 20th century.

They include not just the famine, but dealings with the Nazis, the Stalinist repression and relations with Russia.

She said she encourages her students who started 20th-century history under the old program, only to change tack now, to think of the shift as a teachable moment, illustrating how history is written.

And history is hardly academic these days in Donetsk.

Russia and the groups it has supported in eastern Ukraine have justified their uprising, which has led to the deaths of more than 6,100 people and the displacement of about 1.5 million, by calling the revolution that ousted the former President Viktor F. Yanukovych a neo-fascist coup.

As evidence, they cite the Ukrainian nationalists’ reverence for Stepan Bandera, an independence leader whom Russia has labeled — unfairly, in the eyes of many historians and certainly to western Ukrainians — a Nazi collaborator who shares blame for the murder of Russians, Poles and Jews during World War II.

This month, Ukraine’s Parliament passed laws allowing the official commemoration of individuals and organizations that fought for independence, including Mr. Bandera and his Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and outlawing the display of both Soviet and Nazi symbols in Ukraine.

On the Ukrainian side, those opposed to any Russian influence, including that of the separatist governments in the east, cite the famine of 1933 to support their argument that Russia forever lost the moral right to rule their country.

Several students interviewed outside School No. 14, soaking up the early spring sunshine on a recent afternoon after classes, seemed unruffled by their shifting history.

A main problem is the excessive note taking, as there are no textbooks, complained Polina Zyagina, who is in ninth grade.

“There’s no sense in studying the history of Ukraine any longer,” she said.

“We’re not in Ukraine. I cannot talk any more. I have to go home.”

Igor V. Kostenok, the rebel minister of education who prepared the guidelines, said in an interview that the intention of the new curriculum, called “Fatherland History,” was to highlight the Donetsk region’s long ties with Russia and weed out the Ukrainian nationalist ideas including the use of the word “genocide” to describe the famine.

“It’s an idea about socialization, about creating a culture, a culture for the Slavic world, for the Russian world,” he said in an interview.

The students will not be taught a Ukrainian identity, he said.

Despite his horrific family history during the famine, Mr. Khodakovsky, the separatist leader, said that the Ukrainian insistence on calling the famine genocide “was intended to tear up the roots of what united Russia and Ukraine” and that it needed to be stopped.

In the new guideline, the curriculum for World War II spells out in regard to Mr. Bandera that “respecting collaborators is seen as unacceptable the world over, including in France.”

The unit on the 1930s for 10th-grade students, for example, is called “Donbass in the Period of Modernization,” referring to the name of the coal basin that is the heart of rebel territory today.

It details dozens of topics teachers should touch upon from the 1930s.

One is cheerily titled, “the accomplishments of the coal and metal industries” in the interwar period, when a Stalinist project of forced industrialization was backed by a terrorist campaign.

Another makes sure teachers bring up the “final liquidation of adult illiteracy” under Stalin in Ukraine.

It helpfully mentions they might discuss with students the successes of “science and technology in the first five-year plan,” which ended in 1932. 

A mere two study topics out of a total of 52 for the 10th-grade unit on the 1930s make any mention of “the tragedy of famine of 1932-1933.”

That seems short shrift for a searing, blood-chilling depopulation of the countryside that sent crowds of stick-figure-thin peasants into the cities to beg and die by the thousands in the spring of 1933.

Mr. Khodakovsky’s family on his mother’s side dealt with the cannibalization of Yevdokiya and other hardships by remaining secretly religious through the Soviet period.

“It’s God sending us these tests,” he said.

He was not, in any case, raised to hate the Russians, and has relatives living in Moscow.

The excessive grain requisitioning was a Soviet atrocity, not a Russian one.

“My mother never blamed anybody,” he said.

Source: The New York Times

Ukraine Leaders Fear Broad Russian Attack, Says EU’s Juncker

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s leaders believe Russia is preparing a broad attack on their country, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Tuesday as he returned from a summit in Kiev that coincided with fresh violence in Ukraine’s east.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (standing) delivers a speech as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk listen during the International Support for Ukraine conference in Kiev on Tuesday.

In an interview with a small group of reporters on his flight back from the Ukrainian capital, Mr. Juncker said he had advised the country’s President Petro Poroshenko to ease tensions by avoiding comments on a possible bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

His advice, he acknowledged, received short shrift.

Mr. Juncker said he had no specific information that backed up Kiev’s concerns and cautioned against allowing “self-fulfilling prophecies” to take hold.

In the last couple of days, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has warned of an uptick in violence in eastern Ukraine, where a Feb. 12 cease-fire, signed in the Belarus city of Minsk, was supposed to bring fighting with pro-Russian separatists to an end.

The OSCE said late Sunday the heaviest shelling in months had taken place in a town on the outskirts of government-held Mariupol.

In a report Tuesday, the group cited heavy fighting around Donetsk airport.

The U.S. State Department warned last week of a Russian arms buildup in and around eastern Ukraine.

Moscow continues to lie and denies it is actively supporting or arming the rebels.

Mr. Juncker said that Mr. Poroshenko and his colleagues had expressed real fears on Monday about Russia’s next steps.

“But they were explaining in the more private meetings we had, they are highly alerted about Russia—more alerted than I thought they would be,” he said.

“Because they are considering that Russia is preparing a broad attack on the Ukrainian territory.” Mr. Juncker, who became commission chief on Nov. 1, held long private talks with Mr. Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Monday evening following the summit.

Mr. Juncker said fears about Russia’s intentions seemed to be fueling Kiev’s insistence on some kind of international peacekeeping mission for eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk said Monday they would send a team to Ukraine to consider options for a new EU mission.

They effectively ruled out an EU peacekeeping deployment, however, saying any operation must be purely civilian.

The Minsk deal handed the OSCE the primary monitoring role.

Mr. Juncker said he did, however, advise Mr. Poroshenko not to talk publicly about Ukraine’s NATO aspirations.

When Ukraine’s parliament dropped a nonaligned law in December, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned of “negative consequences,” saying a NATO bid would make Ukraine a military opponent.

Privately, Western officials say Ukraine has no near-term prospects of winning membership.

“They saw my point, but they didn’t share my point of view,” Mr. Juncker said of his counterparts. 

While Ukraine also used the summit to push for progress on discussions with the EU over visa-free access and an eventual path to joining the EU, Mr. Juncker and his colleagues focused on prodding Kiev’s domestic overhaul efforts.

In a speech Tuesday, Mr. Juncker said the EU was offering Ukraine a basic contract:

“You keep reforming and we’ll keep supporting.”

The EU has offered Ukraine some €3.4 billion ($3.7 billion) in balance of payments support since early 2014, with around half of that money already disbursed.

It says Ukraine could win loans and grants worth €11 billion over time.

Some EU member states have openly criticized EU sanctions on Russia, and senior diplomats have warned of damage to the relationship if Kiev fails to implement its side of the Minsk deal.

But Mr. Juncker said the EU’s 28 members aren’t “losing patience” with Kiev.

“From time to time, we have to draw attention to the obvious need we do see to have huge reforms inside Ukraine,” he said.

Mr. Juncker praised what he called the growing partnership between Mr. Poroshenko and Mr. Yatsenyuk, whose political rivalry has at times threatened to stall Ukraine’s domestic agenda.

Both are “heavily engaged” in efforts to liberalize the economy, crack down on corruption and bolster the judiciary, he said.

“This government is in office for four months and a half and a lot has been done.

But more has to be delivered.

But my impression is that they are doing the right things,” the commission chief said.

In recent months, France and Germany have been the principal European voices in the Ukraine crisis while in Brussels there have been dissonant views.

Mr. Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, has taken a hard line on Russia while EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is widely seen as supporting closer dialogue with Moscow.

Mr. Juncker, who quit as Luxembourg’s premier in 2013 after almost two decades, has spoken in the past of using a relationship he forged with Vladimir Putin over years to help ease tensions.

The commission chief said he believes he still has a good relationship with Mr. Putin but declined to comment on whether they still speak.

He said only that he isn’t stepping on the toes of his European colleagues.

“We are playing our part in that difficult context, but without shadowing the role of others,” he said. 

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Russian Cyberwar Advances Military Interests In Ukraine, Report Says

ARLINGTON, USA -- Cyberwar does not take place in vacuum. When a geopolitical showdown is underway, nation states have every incentive to advance their interests using digital means.

Russian troops march during the Victory Day Parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Friday, May 9, 2014. Thousands of Russian troops marched on Red Square in the annual Victory Day parade in a proud display of the nation's military might amid escalating tensions over Ukraine.

One of the latest examples?

Russia hacking Ukrainian systems.

A report out of Arlington, Va.-based cyber security firm Lookingglass reveals a cyber campaign, allegedly Russian, waged against Ukrainian targets, such as the government, law enforcement, and military.

The purpose of the state-sponsored espionage has apparently been to gather intelligence on its adversary, bolstering Russian war efforts.

The researchers dubbed the campaign “Operation Armageddon” after the nom de guerre of an author (according to file metadata) of the Microsoft Word documents used in the attacks.

(Misspelled “Armagedon” in the “last saved by” field.)

The attackers sent the documents to victims as attachments in targeted spear phishing emails.

“For the most part the technologies were not advanced,” says Jason Lewis, chief collection and intelligence office at Lookingglass.

“It’s not super sophisticated, but it’s certainly persistent.”

The campaign has been active since the middle of 2013, according to the report.

And it may have been catalyzed by trade talks between Ukraine and the European Union, which Russia condemned.

Lookingglass researchers worked with neither Ukraine nor Russia in its investigation, sourcing its materials rather from proprietary methods and through sites like VirusTotal, a public database where people can upload and scan files for known viruses.

The firm’s researchers obtained 11 “lure” documents, files that serve to trick their recipients into clicking a malicious link or opening a malicious email attachment, that way.

Often, the researchers found, the hackers stole documents relevant to the outside conflict from victims’ machines, and then used those files to compromise future targets.

The crux of the report ties Russia’s kinetic tactics to its digital intrusions.

When the researchers compared the timestamps on modified documents and malware to roughly 300 news events pertaining to Russo-Ukrainian relations, they noticed a correlation.

When troops were preparing to move, cyber activity flared.

Once Ukraine’s interim President announced the start of an “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russian separatists in mid-April 2014, the conflict’s cyber activities significantly increased.

From this point onwards, waves of cyber attacks from the Russians directly correlated with the timing of military events and were geared towards gathering intelligence to empower themselves on the physical battlefield – a digital method of espionage in its truest of forms.

A damning, though inconclusive, timeline of the attacks can be found in the report.

The Lookingglass researchers, convinced that Russia is the culprit, agree with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB, descendant of the KGB) is to blame.

(SBU, too, has called out FSB as being responsible for recent phishing attacks.)

“We’re highly confident that the claims the SBU made are accurate,” Lewis says.

“We didn’t find any evidence to the contrary to dispute those claims.”

He admits, however: “A lot of it is circumstantial evidence—but this is a pattern that continues to occur throughout the campaign.”

Lewis believes the timing of attacks and motivations are more than just a coincidence.

That nation states are using cyber attacks to achieve geopolitical ends should come as no surprise.

Last year, CrowdStrike associated Chinese cyber espionage campaigns with China’s movement into disputed territory in the South Pacific as well as with an ISIS-led takeover of an Iraqi oil refinery.

The security firm FireEye found state actors using attack methods similar to those outlined above to target rebel forces during conflict in Syria.

The security firm Cylance recently implicated Iran as having probed critical U.S. energy infrastructure, just prior to nuclear negotiations.

And then, of course, there are the claims about Sony Pictures Entertainment and North Korea. 

Espionage and cyber attacks can give countries that engage in the practice an upper hand in international affairs.

“Nation states need to be able to asses how seriously people will take their threats and what they’ll do as result of a threat,” says Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at the security firm CrowdStrike, presenting a rationale for digital incursions.

“It puts them in a better position to make a credible threat if they know what the response is going to be.”

Although Meyers had not had time to assess the quality of the Lookingglass report’s attribution claims, he offered: “Russians are definitely known for making spelling errors for English words in their code.”

He added, “spear phishing is certainly a favorite of nation state hackers.”

Now that the report is public, Lewis hopes to exchange information with Ukrainian authorities next, he says.

Though his team had earlier reached out to the Ukrainian computer emergency response team, known as CERT-UA, he says Lookingglass found it difficult to collaborate.

“Part of the problem is that the Russians are not interested in cooperating with anybody,” he says.

“And in Ukraine finding a contact that’s trustworthy seems to be a challenge.”

“There are rumors of infiltration by Russian agents,” he clarifies, “so it’s hard to know if who you’re dealing with is actually Ukrainian.”

Indeed, recent reports suggest that Russian spies have penetrated deep inside Ukraine’s intelligence apparatus.

When Fortune spoke with Lewis on Tuesday afternoon, he had no updates as yet on the operation, which remains ongoing (although he did mention that his team has discovered more “lure” documents since releasing the report).

He expects the attackers will change their tactics soon.

“There may be parts we haven’t uncovered yet,” Lewis says.

“We hope by releasing indicators, other people can have a look.”

Source: Fortune

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Eastern Ukraine Sees 'Intense Shelling', Putin Defends Annexation Of Crimea

SHIROKINO, Ukraine -- European observers stationed in eastern Ukraine reported heavy and continuous shelling in the village of Shirokino, located in the strife-torn Donetsk region, on Sunday, according to media reports.

Lieutenant General Alexander Lentsov (2nd L), representing Russia in the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination, which monitors the implementation of the peace deal, and other members of the centre, including employees of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), visit the city's airport in Donetsk, April 4, 2015.

The reports of fresh shelling came just hours after the Ukrainian military claimed that a serviceman had been killed and several others wounded during clashes with Moscow-backed rebels near the city of Mariupol.

“On 26 April, the SMM [Special Monitoring Mission] observed what it assessed to be the most intense shelling in Shirokino since fighting began in the area in mid-February 2015,” observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reportedly said.

Shirokino is located about 14 miles east of Mariupol -- a government-held coastal city in southeastern Ukraine.

According to the OSCE monitors, at least 11 tanks were observed in the region, which has been under the control of Ukrainian forces since February.

Earlier on Sunday, Ukrainian military had alleged that separatists had stepped up attacks against government forces, putting the fate of a ceasefire deal -- signed in Minsk, Belarus, in February -- at risk.

A Ukrainian army spokesman earlier said that the rebels were using large-caliber artillery in violation of the Minsk accord, which calls for heavy weaponry to be pulled back from the conflict zone.

“An increase in the number of violations of the ceasefire regime by [separatist] fighters has been noticeable in the past 24 hours,” Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksander Motuzyanyk reportedly said.

Over 6,100 people, both civilians and military personnel, have been killed in eastern Ukraine since the start of the conflict, which began after Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March last year.

While most world leaders condemned the annexation, calling it a “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently defended the move.

Most recently, in an interview broadcast Sunday, marking Putin’s 15 years in power, Putin said he did not regret his decision.

“I believe that we did the right thing, and I do not regret anything,” Russia’s Sputnik News quoted Putin as saying about Crimea’s “reunification” with Russia.

“I am deeply convinced that we do not violate any rules of the game. … This refers to our relations with Ukraine, it refers to the situation in Crimea, it refers to our efforts with regard to the fight against international terrorism in other regions of the world.”

Source: IBT

Merkel Says Russia Sanctions To Stay As Ukraine Seeks EU Aid

WARSAW, Poland -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she expects European Union sanctions against Russia to be renewed as the bloc held summit talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, German Chancelor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. Merkel said, “we will take up this question in June and I think that, on the basis of the joint political decision in March, we will decide to extend the sanctions.”

Merkel said Monday that EU members agreed in March that removal of sanctions, which expire in July, must be tied to adherence to the Minsk peace accord.

Poroshenko met EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker in Kiev as international monitors reported a surge in fighting near Ukraine’s strategic port city of Mariupol.

“It’s completely clear that fulfilling the terms of this package will take longer than August or September,” Merkel said after talks with Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz in Warsaw.

“We will take up this question in June and I think that, on the basis of the joint political decision in March, we will decide to extend the sanctions.”

Ukraine, the EU and the U.S. accuse Russia of sending troops and weapons to aid separatists in the yearlong conflict that’s killed more than 6,100 people in eastern Ukraine and devastated the country’s economy.

Russia rejects the allegation and has accused the government in Kiev of waging war on its own people, as a fragile cease-fire negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in February comes under strain.

Daily Violations 

The EU is determined to act if the Minsk agreement isn’t implemented and, while violence has decreased, “cease-fire violations continue on a daily basis,” Tusk told reporters after the summit talks.

“On top of that, we are really concerned about information we are receiving that weapons are still entering into eastern Ukraine,” he said.

Poland and Germany agree “there’s no basis to ease sanctions against Russia,” Kopacz told reporters.

“Ukraine needs our constant support.”

Poroshenko said his nation wants political, financial and humanitarian support as well as a visa-free regime from the EU, while membership of the bloc remains the “key goal.”

There’s no alternative to a diplomatic solution to the conflict, he said, reiterating a request for peacekeepers.

One soldier was killed and three were wounded in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters in Kiev on Monday.

Rebels are intensifying fighting in the conflict zone, “ignoring the Minsk agreements,” he said.

‘Intense Shelling’ 

Monitors observed “the most intense shelling” since February in Shyrokyne, near Mariupol, on Sunday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in an e-mailed report.

A rebel advance on Mariupol would be “disastrous” for diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, the OSCE said Monday in a separate statement.

Ukrainian troops carried out “massive firing” with artillery and tanks against rebel-held territory, the separatist-run DAN news service reported on Monday, citing the Defense Ministry of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.

As the conflict simmered, recession-stricken Ukraine is continuing efforts to restructure its debt.

Its third-largest bank got bondholder approval on Monday to extend the maturity on $750 million of Eurobonds by three months to July 27.

The vote marked the first test of Ukraine’s ability to reach new terms on 29 bonds and loans by June to qualify for the second part of its $17.5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout.

Source: Bloomberg

EU, Ukraine Meet But Remain At Odds On A Number Of Issues

KIEV, Ukraine -- Leaders of the European Union and Ukraine made little headway Monday in easing strains between them, despite common ground in opposing Russia’s intervention in the east of the country.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, speaks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, center, and European Council President Donald Tusk, left, in Kiev on Monday. European Union’s Tusk doesn’t foresee a peacekeeping mission, while Poroshenko defends pace of domestic reforms.

After their first formal summit since Russia annexed Crimea in eastern Ukraine a year ago, the EU played down prospects for a peacekeeping operation here, while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko defended the pace of his government’s economic overhauls and anticorruption drive.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the bloc would soon send a team to assess “the needs and possibilities” for an EU mission.

However, any such operation must be purely civilian, he said, warning that a military component was currently impossible.

Since the signing of a fragile cease-fire agreement in the Belarus city of Minsk on Feb. 12 between Kiev and Russian-backed rebels in the country’s east, Ukraine has been urging the EU and other Western countries to form a mission to bolster the peace process.

EU officials have said they could envisage some kind of border advisory mission.

The bloc already has one operation advising the Ukrainians on judicial and security changes.

However, they note that the Minsk accord handed the role of monitoring the cease-fire to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a group that include Russia and Ukraine as members.

“We know the expectations of the Ukrainian side on the issues,” Mr. Tusk said.

“It will not be easy but we will look into it.”

European officials were focused on pushing Ukraine to fix its ailing economy.

EU officials acknowledged Ukraine has advanced a number of initiatives in recent weeks, including appointing the head of an anticorruption task force, giving local governments more control over budgets and other powers, and liberalizing the energy sector.

But they said much more needs doing.

Mr. Poroshenko bristled at suggestions his administration was too slow.

“In current conditions we just ask for one thing: fair assessment of Ukraine’s team actions,” he said at a news conference.

“The notion that Ukraine is lagging behind with the reforms isn’t necessarily fair and not necessarily true.”

A year into a grinding standoff with Russia over Ukraine, EU and Ukrainian diplomats have acknowledged a widening set of differences.

Moscow has reveled in the strains.

Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the State Duma, said on radio Monday that the Kiev summit would produce “a rather tough conversation…because the EU has started to get tired of Ukraine.” 

Monday’s summit came against the backdrop of fresh fighting.

Violence had subsided across most of the front line.

But OSCE monitors reported late Sunday they had witnessed some of the heaviest shelling since February around Shyrokyne, a town on the outskirts of Mariupol, the largest city in the region still under Kiev’s control.

The OSCE mission reported 69 shots fired from tanks, as well as hundreds of mortar rounds fired.

Heavy incoming artillery fire from separatist lines landed about 300 meters (330 yards) from the OSCE monitoring post, forcing the monitors to relocate.

The OSCE said it saw rebel tanks and other armored vehicles massing in the area.

The EU and Kiev sounded a joint note on the violence.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said all sides must fully implement the Minsk agreement, which he said “doesn’t foresee stepping up of Russian aggression.”

There was also agreement Monday on fully implementing a trade agreement by January.

Russia has fiercely opposed the pact, which it says would harm its economic ties to Ukraine.

In September, the EU allowed Ukraine to delay enacting key parts of the accord.

Mr. Juncker said, “If we keep postponing and postponing and postponing, we will never reach an end.”

Mr. Juncker also announced €70 million ($76 million) of additional assistance as part of a long-standing program to clean up the area around the Chernobyl nuclear site.

And Mr. Poroshenko thanked the EU for agreeing to a new €1.8 billion balance of payments loan.

The EU said it hoped the first tranche of that would be paid in the summer.

Mr. Poroshenko also renewed his call for the EU to consider Ukraine for eventual membership.

Asked to respond, Mr. Juncker said the question of a Ukrainian membership bid wouldn’t be on the table for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Mr. Poroshenko’s call for quick progress on visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the EU appeared to receive short thrift.

Ukrainian diplomats say the EU is blocking progress because of concerns that Russia’s control of Ukraine’s eastern borders would produce a wave of uncontrolled migration.

Brussels says Kiev hasn’t done its homework.

A senior EU official said Mr. Juncker handed Mr. Poroshenko a one-page summary of tasks Kiev must implement for the talks to succeed.

They include completing the rollout of biometric passports, measures to strengthen border security and steps to prevent and fight organized crime and money laundering.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Monday, April 27, 2015

'Cutthroats And Bandits': Volunteer's Stint With Ukraine Rebels Turns To Nightmare

ALCHEVSK, Ukraine -- When he joined the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, Russian businessman Bondo Dorovskikh thought he would be fighting hordes of fascists bent on victimizing the local population.

Russian volunteer fighter Bondo Dorovskikh and friends.

The reality on the ground turned out to be quite different.

Instead of defending eastern Ukraine, Dorovskikh says he found himself stranded in the town of Alchevsk, where pro-Russian rebels controlling the area spent their days looting and drinking.

"In the morning the commander would get up and line up the insurgents for the roll-call, and in the evening there were another roll-call," he told RFE/RL.

"The rest of the time the militants roamed around Alchevsk, pillaging, stealing scrap metal, removing metal gates and selling them to buy alcohol and cigarettes. Some of them would get drunk and fire at each other."

Dorovskikh recently returned from his six-month stint with the insurgents, feeling angry and cheated. 

Like many other volunteers, he decided to take up arms after watching Russian television reports that portrayed Ukrainian forces in the country's east as neo-Nazi thugs persecuting and slaughtering Russian-speaking locals.

"Reports from the Rossia 24 channel on the latest news in Ukraine were constantly on my mind," he says.

"The media influenced me."

Dorovskikh contacted the insurgency through its recruitment office in Moscow, where he was given a mobile phone number to call when he reached the southern city of Rostov, close to Ukraine's border. 

He left his job in Moscow and purchased ammunition, a bulletproof vest, and a one-way ticket to Rostov.

He then called the number he had been given in Moscow and received instructions on how to reach the group that would take him to Ukraine.

He was stunned to find out that recruiters in Rostov did not bother asking about his military experience and failed to conduct even basic identity checks on anybody.

"There were people there who didn't have any documents at all," he says.

Another incident soon confirmed his misgivings about the insurgency.

"The first thing we saw after crossing the border, literally five minutes later, was a brawl between two insurgents," he says.

"I immediately understood where I had landed, that this had nothing to do with an army. I was disappointed right from the start."

Dorovskikh was assigned to the "Ghost" battalion and sent to a unit in Alchevsk, where he was immediately handed weapons.

He says the unit was comprised of local militants, Russian volunteers, several Russian army officers, and a handful of foreign recruits from Spain, Italy, and France.

But Dorovskikh never witnessed any combat in Alchevsk.

He received no training, either.

According to him, the vast majority of militants have no interest whatsoever in politics and only join the insurgency to enjoy the salaries and material advantages granted to its members.

He describes them as "bandits" and says some of the local militants in his unit were convicts who were hunting down former police officers ousted when the separatists took over.

He says rebels also routinely turned against their own comrades-in-arms.

"Robberies and murders took place there," he says.

Dorovskikh's account also corroborates reports that Russia is supplying the insurgents with weapons.

Militants who crossed over from Russia, he says, are particularly well equipped.

"We had everything, we were fully equipped," he says.

"We had grenades, machine guns, grenade launchers and ammunition for them, absolutely everything. We even had two cars at our disposal."

He also confirms that the tanks spotted in eastern Ukraine come from Russia and describes seeing tanks being sent into Ukraine from the Rostov region.

"They gathered volunteers who had served in armored divisions in the army," he says.

"They were trained at a tank training base near Rostov, units were formed, they were also given weapons. These tanks were transported to the border, which they then crossed on their own and headed directly to the hotspots."

After several idle weeks in Alchevsk, Dorovskikh left his unit and headed to the town of Nikishino, on the front line.​

What he witnessed there only fueled his disillusionment.

He says that the fighters had no clear instructions and that the tank radios did not function, resulting in chaotic battles.

He says the insurgents also took part in shocking acts of cruelty against Ukrainian soldiers.

He recalls hearing the screams of Ukrainian soldiers on the radio as rebels torched their tanks with the men still inside.

"I felt sorry for those on the other side who were being slaughtered," he says.

"And they were being killed by cutthroats who don't even care against whom they are fighting." 

Dorovskikh says he is not an exception.

Disenchanted Russian volunteers, he claims, are streaming back home.

He is himself so upset that he is mulling enrolling in Ukraine's National Guard to help stamp out the separatists.

But for now, he has a message for all those still tempted to join the insurgency.

"Don't go there," he urges them.

"We are told on television this is like the Second World War, but in fact it's an act of pure aggression. This is not a war that's worth risking the most precious thing you have."

Source: Radio Free Europe

Ukraine’s Military Mobilization Undermined By Draft Dodgers

KIEV, Ukraine -- As the country’s eastern conflict drags into a second year, Ukraine’s military leaders are trying to learn from past mistakes.

A Ukrainian serviceman guards the area near the Shyrokino village of Donetsk, Ukraine, on April 19.

They are trying to be better trained and prepared, because no one knows when the warm weather might push this frozen conflict with pro-Russian separatists into all-out war again.

And they are calling up the able-bodied men of Ukraine in droves to turn the military that had only 6,000 battle-ready troops before the start of this conflict into a standing force a quarter-million strong. 

But not everyone is heeding the call to arms.

“I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t respond to the order,” said Igor, a 25-year-old worker with a nongovernmental organization within Kiev, who received a draft summons in February.

“I am not at all interested in participating in such a conflict. They should have been acting much more effectively to have fewer victims — I don’t want to end up on the victim list myself.”

The prospective soldiers in this article spoke on the condition that their last names be withheld because of the risk of penalties if they were to be identified as draft dodgers. 

Igor is, by most measures, a shoo-in for the service.

He’s a reserve officer, a radio specialist, and he participated in the 2013-2014 protests on Kiev’s Independence Square.

But between one-third and one-half of the more than 6,100 deaths in the Ukrainian conflict were in the military, and Igor cites systemic problems — such as draft commanders who ask for bribes, and commanders, including the president, who maintain Russian business ties while asking soldiers to die for Ukraine — as reasons why he and many others cannot bring themselves to serve.

“We do have some problems in the mobilization,” acknowledged military spokesman Vladislav Seleznev, when asked about cases like Igor’s.

“That’s why we are trying to strike a balance: From one side, the government provides benefits to those defending the country; from the other, there are very harsh criminal penalties for draft dodgers.” 

Rank-and-file soldiers can make upwards of $200 a month, with commanders eligible for far more.

But those who shirk the call to duty — or go AWOL, as about 13,000 have — risk fines and years of jail time.

In one recent case, a journalist speaking out publicly against the draft was charged with treason.

But that isn’t enough to scare many potential draftees from dodging.

“I would rather sit in prison for three years — and be fed and secure — than serve,” said Andrey, 26, a metal plant worker who was drafted in March.

“After a whole year of this government, we still have to work for two days to buy a loaf of bread. I don’t want to go fight for that kind of government.”

Andrey is from Slovyansk, an eastern Ukrainian city that came under heavy assault last summer, with troops eventually wresting the city from pro-Russian rebels.

But the local population’s sympathies are still divided, and of the approximately 40 people Andrey knows who recently received draft orders, he says only one is actually responding.

“We were fighting for autonomy, for the right to live and work in our own region. When the army came, they just bombarded us for two months in a row,” Andrey said.

“And now I’m supposed to go and fight for them? I don’t think so.”

Though penalties for draft dodging are steep, the process is fairly straightforward.

Summons are sent to the city where one is registered — normally a birthplace or place of work.

But if one has moved or has a job that is not officially registered, it is easy to hide in plain sight, as Andrey and Igor are doing.

The military says it has completed about three-quarters of the planned mobilization, now in its fifth wave, with a sixth already proposed.

Response rates vary widely across the country, however: Igor’s home region of Kharkiv, for example, has the most abysmal turnout, with only about 17 percent of those receiving draft orders responding.

Meanwhile Lviv, in the far west, reportedly boasts the highest response rate, with near full turnout.

But even with the majority of draftees turning up for medical checks, the military is worried.

Rotating soldiers off the battlefield, they expect only 15-20 percent to return voluntarily.

New soldiers get only 26 days of general training, plus a week or two to practice their specialization.

So without a steady stream of recruits, they worry that the quality of soldiers could drop.

Only 1 in 8 troops is a volunteer, not nearly enough to make up the recruitment gap.

“The more people that will respond to the mobilization, the better chance we have of sending the most prepared, motivated and best soldiers to the ATO zone,” Seleznev said, referring to the combat zone.

“It’s not right that some go to defend the motherland and others hide in bushes, living their lives and not defending the country.”

But military experts say the recruitment system suffers most from bad management; the legacy of years of post-Soviet decimation.

“We don’t understand what we are fighting for, and the government does not inform people about the goals of this war,” said Aleksey Arestovich, a military expert based in Kiev, who added that after a year of hostilities, the conflict is still not officially a “war.”

Despite the databases the administration is building of soldiers, their skills and their defections, Arestovich pointed out that specialists are often ignored in favor of funneling more people to the front line, and families of slain soldiers often must fight to get their promised benefits.

As the Interior Ministry starts to prosecute no-shows, human rights advocates are also speaking in defense of the dodgers.

“We can’t win only by the numbers, we have to win by the quality of our soldiers,” said Oleksandra Matviychuk of the Center for Civil Rights in Kiev, arguing that the military should offer more draftees noncombat roles.

“I don’t believe people forced to be in the army can effectively defend the population.”

Maxim, 23, who was drafted in the fall, is a Seventh-day Adventist, and thus, a pacifist.

But he is also a competitive athletic fighter, which he fears will make a military review board skeptical of his religious convictions.

More pressingly though, Maxim doesn’t want to go to war because his wife is five months pregnant with their first child.

If he has to, he said, he would try to get a Romanian passport, for which he is eligible as a resident of a border town.

“You know, I would go serve as something like a medical worker,” Maxim said.

“But I don’t have that education. And after the physical exam, I know where they would send me — straight to the infantry.”

Source: The Washington Post

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Turkey, Ukraine Eye Joint Defense Projects

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey and its littoral Black Sea neighbor, Ukraine, are striving to build a strategic industrial alliance that could include cooperation across a variety of military programs.

Turkey and Ukraine are discussing possible joint military projects, including armor technologies and tank production.

A Ukrainian delegation under the umbrella of Ukroboronprom, a state-owned defense conglomerate bringing together 130 companies and engineering institutions, came to Ankara in early April to discuss future cooperation.

After several meetings, the two countries agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding, the first legal text to pave the way for future joint projects.

"There is a lot we can do together … work jointly. Ukraine has an established, proven industry with impressive capabilities … which can assist some of our indigenous programs," a senior Turkish procurement official said.

He said that potential Turkish-Ukrainian cooperation would include programs such as missile defense, armor technologies, tank production, space, engines, satellites and fighter jets.

A Turkish agent for the Ukrainian industry said the new initiative would boost comprehensive cooperation.

"This can be the beginning of a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership. There is a long way ahead. If the two sides manage to handle a successful takeover a promising cruise will be ahead. The first year of talks will be crucial," he said.

Ankara has its own ambitions to design, develop and manufacture indigenous fighter and tank engines as well as a program to build its own fighter jet.

It also runs a number of missile programs, both tactical and cruise.

"Ukraine can be a suitable partner in many Turkish programs that are just shaping up," said one defense adviser to the Turkish government.

A London-based Turkey specialist said conditions are ripe for a possible Turkish-Ukrainian alliance to run joint programs.

"There are no major bilateral political rifts that could otherwise hinder defense cooperation," he said.

"In addition, there is no reason why Ukraine should not wish to share its defense technologies and capabilities with an emerging Turkish industry. That's a most alluring aspect for Ankara as it strives to make progress in several ambitious programs."

The procurement official said joint programs could include the development of aircraft and tank engines, tank armor and aerospace.

"We may also look at a Ukrainian aircraft body to make it a base model for our choice of the future Turkish fighter jet," he said.

But some political analysts said Ankara will face a difficult balancing act in relations between Kiev and Moscow.

"This [the Turkish-Ukrainian partnership] will certainly echo in Moscow, and not in a pleasant way," said one Vienna-based Russia analyst.

Ukraine opposes a planned Russian-Turkish natural gas pipeline, the Turkish Stream, which replaces a long-planned South Stream project that would have carried Russian gas to Europe across the Black Sea.

Russia is Turkey's largest energy supplier.

"It looks increasingly difficult for Turkey to maintain its policy to balance relations with hostile neighbors Ukraine and Russia," the Russia analyst said.

Turkey has been reluctant to join international sanctions against Russia after the latter's annexation of parts of the Crimean peninsula last year.

Turkey has been careful not to strain its ties with Russia since then.

But Turkey also has been courting business with Ukraine.

Earlier this year, Turkey and Ukraine held high-level strategic council meetings and agreed to boost bilateral trade and investment.

Turkey has agreed to grant Ukraine US $10 million in humanitarian aid and a $450 million loan to help the war-torn country cover its budget deficit.

Source: Defense News

Ukraine Marks 29 Years Since Chernobyl Disaster

SLAVUTYCH, Ukraine -- Ukrainians Sunday marked 29 years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, laying wreaths and candles near the plant where work to lay a new seal over the reactor site has been delayed.

A relative of a Chernobyl victim places a photo near the monument erected in memory of the victims of the Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine's capital Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, April 26, 2015.

The explosion of reactor number four on April 26, 1986, spewed poisonous radiation over large parts of Europe, particularly Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

At 1:23 am, the exact time of the explosion, hundreds of people placed flowers and candles in the dark at the foot of a monument in Slavutych, a town 50 kilometrers (30 miles) from the plant.

Slavutych was built to rehouse Chernobyl workers who had lived near the plant and were forced to move further away after the disaster.

At the site of the plant itself, around 100 kilometres from Kiev, Ukraine's President Poroshenko laid a wreath on Sunday at a monument to the victims.

The human toll of the disaster is still disputed.

United Nations experts officially recognised 31 deaths among plant workers and firefighters directly linked to the blast.

But environmental group Greenpeace predicted that there would be around 100,000 additional cancer deaths caused by the disaster.

The Soviet authorities of the time dispatched hundreds of thousands of people to put out the fire and clean the site, without proper protection.

They hastily laid over the reactor site a concrete cover dubbed "the sarcophagus", which is now cracking and must be replaced. 

Poroshenko on Sunday inspected ongoing work to lay a new 20,000-tonne steel cover - a project estimated to cost more than two billion euros ($2.2 billion).

It is financed by international donations managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The structure will contain technology that will act beneath the cover to decontaminate the area once the steel layer is in place.

Officials say the new cover will last for 100 years

The work is being done by Novarka, a joint venture by French companies Vinci and Bouygues. 

Poroshenko said the new cover would "protect forever" against radiation from the site.

The work had been scheduled for completion by the end of this year but the EBRD said last year technical problems would delay it until late 2017.

Source: Agence France Presse

Ukraine Conflict Attracts Foreign Fighters – On Both Sides

KIEV, Ukraine -- Just like the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the violence in eastern Ukraine is attracting foreign fighters – some with the pro-Russian separatists, and some with the Ukrainian government forces.

Many of these fighters are from European countries.

This makes it curious that we don’t hear much about this phenomenon from European governments – which are, of course, clamping down on citizens who go to fight in the Middle East.

True, the numbers of foreigners fighting in Ukraine’s Donbass region appear to be relatively low – perhaps 300 on each side.

That compares with at least 20,000 foreigners fighting in Iraq and Syria.

However, as in those conflicts, many armed foreigners in Ukraine are motivated by radical ideologies as much as, or more than, mere money.

“They, as a group or as lone individuals, might constitute a threat to European security and must be closely monitored,” says Kacper Rekawek, a Polish expert on the Ukrainian conflict.

Rekawek has written a lucid, well-researched paper on foreign fighters in Ukraine.

Published by the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, the paper makes the important point that there is no truth to the Russian allegations that a “NATO foreign legion” is fighting for the Kiev government, and no truth to the fantasy that the separatists have been joined by some sort of “Donbass international brigades”.

Nonetheless, there are enough foreign fighters in Ukraine for the issue to deserve the attention of European governments. 

Rekawek’s study estimates that the bulk of the foreigners fighting for the pro-Russian separatists come from Germany (up to 100), Serbia (up to 100), Hungary (up to 30) and the US (up to 25).

On the Ukrainian side, the largest contingents come from Belarus (up to 100), Georgia (up to 100) and Croatia (32 or more), Rekawek says.

What motivates foreigners to fight with the Donbass rebels?

For Serbs and people of Serbian origin in other countries, the pro-Russian separatists seem like Orthodox Christian brothers with whom they share a common hatred of the EU and US.

Meanwhile, some western European fighters, having fallen for Russia’s propaganda that the Kiev government is stuffed full of far-right fanatics, think they are engaged in an anti-fascist crusade.

Why do foreigners fight for the Ukrainian government?

The large presence of fighters from Belarus and Georgia tells its own story – they are motivated by hatred of what they see as a bullying, imperialistic Russia that might one day crush the independence of their countries.

As for the Croat contingent, they see similarities between the way the Donbass separatists are trying to split Ukraine and the way the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina tried in the 1990s to break up those two states.

Rekawek names one of the main recruiters for the Donbass rebels as Victor Alfonso Lenta, a former member of the French armed forces who encourages would-be fighters to join the rebels as a way of destroying “Anglo-Saxon globalism, atlanticism and the decadent west”.

For the Ukrainian government forces, a leading recruiter is Gaston Besson, another Frenchman, who lives in Croatia, Rekawek says.

Moreover, the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, Portugal and elsewhere provides aid and materiel for the Ukrainian side, and some of them have gone to fight in eastern Ukraine.

Rekawek concludes by saying of the foreign fighters:

“They are representatives of wider extreme and anti-systemic political milieus that are vehemently anti-Atlanticist, anti-European, anti-liberal, nationalist and quite often pro-Russian. Through violent acts they might attempt to emulate the creation of their preferred Ukraine or a ‘Donbass’ in their host countries – entities dictatorial and repressive in nature…”

It is a timely warning.

Source: ft

Saturday, April 25, 2015

With 580 U.S. Boots On The Ground In Ukraine, What’s Vladimir Putin’s Next Move?

KIEV, Ukraine -- As the crisis in Ukraine drags on, U.S.-Russia relations continue to deteriorate. The United States has just taken a step that risks bringing that relationship to a new low.

A serviceman of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army looks on as Ukrainian National Guard line up before an opening ceremony of joint military exercise “Fearless Guardian 2015″ at the International Peacekeeping Security Center near the village of Starychy western Ukraine, April 20, 2015.

As part of its effort to support Ukraine, the U.S. military recently sent 290 troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza, Italy, to train the Ukrainian National Guard.

In doing so, President Barack Obama is responding to widespread political pressure to “do something,” choosing a middle ground between doing nothing on the one hand — or, on the other, embroiling the United States more deeply in the conflict by sending billions of dollars of lethal weaponry to Ukraine.

But while the administration’s decision is understandable, it is likely to result in retaliation by the Kremlin in a variety of ways that are not in America’s best interests.

To understand why, consider the historical context.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has watched as the NATO alliance has expanded across Central and Eastern Europe to the Russian border.

As a result of this expansion, when the Maidan revolution in Ukraine overthrew former President Viktor Yanukovych, who had close ties to Russia, President Vladimir Putin and his advisers were convinced that this was a precursor to bringing Ukraine into NATO — a step the Western alliance had introduced previously.

For Putin and the Russian establishment, however, preventing Ukraine from turning decisively West is an existential issue.

U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock once told me that the possibility of NATO membership for Ukraine, for Putin, was and is something equivalent to Soviet missiles on Cuba for Kennedy.

As a result of Russia’s sensitivity toward Ukraine’s geopolitical orientation, we can expect that the introduction of American combat troops into Ukraine — even in a training role — will lead the Kremlin to retaliate against American interests in a number of possible ways.

First, Russia will likely become even more brazen in its support for its separatist proxies in Eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region.

This support could involve the introduction of additional troops and weaponry, or even a possible spring offensive to capture the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol as part of a “land bridge to Crimea” from southern Russia across Ukraine.

This aggression would be the end of the already tenuous Minsk II cease-fire, which was designed to end the conflict in Ukraine.

Put simply, Putin enjoys “escalation dominance” at every level of the conflict in Ukraine — any move the United States makes, Putin can match and surpass — and the Obama administration needs to be prepared to see Moscow double-down in the Donbass.

Second, we will likely see further nuclear saber rattling by the Russians in the upcoming weeks.

Due to its weakness vis-à-vis the United States in conventional weaponry, Russia’s nuclear doctrine has recently changed to consider the use of nuclear weapons as a way to “de-escalate” a conflict.

As if to emphasize its status as a nuclear power, in a March documentary that aired on Russian state-owned television, timed for the one-year anniversary of its annexation of Crimea, Putin startled viewers by stating that he had been prepared to put Russia’s nuclear forces on full alert at the beginning of Moscow’s operation in Crimea.

To back this up, recent Russian military exercises have included nuclear-capable weapons, such as the TU-95 nuclear bomber fleet, which in the past year has engaged in fly-by missions near Guam, the Alaskan coast, the Baltic region and the UK.

These actions increase the risk that each party will misunderstand the other’s intentions.

In 1979 and twice in 1983, the United States and Soviet Union had frightening incidents where each side believed that a drill by the other was the precursor to a real nuclear attack.

Last year Russian missile testing allegedly violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), a 1987 pact that eliminated all of the United States’ and former Soviet Union’s nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Russia recently moved 10 nuclear-capable Iskander missiles with a range of 400 kilometers into Kaliningrad, an exclave that borders Poland and Lithuania.

It also terminated an agreement with Lithuania to provide information to Vilnius about Russian weaponry in Kaliningrad.

None of this is in America’s interests.

It is also quite possible that Moscow will make additional efforts to undermine America’s NATO allies, particularly the three Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

Indeed, Moscow just initiated new criminal charges against an Estonian intelligence officer in Russian captivity.

The fact that this was announced on April 20 — the same day that American troops began training exercises with their Ukrainian counterparts — is probably not a coincidence.

Russia also just took a small, but provocative step against NATO member Norway.

Russian Deputy Prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is banned from entering Norway due to international sanctions against him over Ukraine, stopped on the Norwegian island of Svalbard on a trip to the North Pole — an action that infuriated Norway.

Russia’s actions against both Estonia and Norway are right out of the Kremlin playbook.

They are small, seemingly insignificant steps that are over and done before the West even realizes they’re happening — but which nevertheless send a threatening message to American allies.

Finally, Russia can take any number of actions to cause further disruption in the Middle East, especially vis-à-vis Iran.

Russia has just announced plans to move forward with the sale of its lethal S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran, a step that the Council on Foreign Relations says will “shift military balance across the Middle East.”

Not surprisingly, the impending sale is causing concern in Washington as well as among U.S. allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The Obama administration objects to any action by Moscow that could destabilize its P5+1 negotiations with Tehran.

While sending fewer than 300 American troops to Ukraine may seem insignificant, Moscow does not see it that way.

The ride is about to get rockier.

Source: Yahoo News

Ukraine’s Future Is In Europe – We Have Chosen Our Path

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians stood up in the frigid cold of a Kiev winter more than one year ago – facing arrest, truncheons and ultimately a hail of bullets – with concrete goals in mind.

‘Ukraine’s revolution was an affirmation of the European values of fairness and the rule of law.’

The revolution was, at its core, an affirmation of the European values of fairness and the rule of law.

It was a fight for transparent democracy, accountability for public officials and an end to the rampant corruption that has plagued our country.

The former system of governance in Ukraine, in which public officials and prominent businesspeople operated under the table and above the law, shut us off from the rest of Europe.

For Europe, with all its existing problems and challenges, has codified a system of checks and balances and a system of laws.

Europe represents Ukraine’s future.

My recent decision to dismiss the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ihor Kolomoiskiy, is indicative of this drive to prevent the inappropriate influence of private interests on the state.

The rule of law is of utmost importance in the new Ukraine, and there is no longer any tolerance for actions that undermine equality before the law.

Public officials and large business owners are regular citizens like pensioners, students, workers, and small businessmen, in fact, just like everybody else.

Those accused of abuse of power, corruption, or other offences are subject to the law regardless of their personal connections or wealth.

Viktor Shokin, our general prosecutor, has said as much, stating that there are no untouchables in Ukraine – not even the prime minister or president.

This is why we are already seeing arrests and charges against those suspected of misconduct or the misuse of public office.

Investigations into the business activities of other powerful oligarchs are under way.

A number of high-ranking civil servants were also recently detained on corruption charges.

State enterprises now have to disclose their financial data for independent audit, which will eradicate the rampant corruption that permeates this sector.

But we cannot simply push our way to justice.

Justice is not the revenge of new authorities over previous administrations.

Justice is blind to the untouchables, whether they are from the old or new authorities.

The road forward is still long, but we’ve already started.

Despite new legislation that launched judicial reforms in February, earning the praise of the Venice commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, much remains to be done to entrench the rule of law in the courts.

The newly adopted reforms to Ukrainian law ensure the right to a fair trial, change the rules relating to the selection of judges, return authority to the supreme court and establish transparent rules on the bodies responsible for judicial appointments.

The list of disciplinary penalties and the grounds for disciplinary liability has been extended.

The procedure for assessing judges’ qualifications has been introduced for all judges without exception.

A judge will have to undergo a qualification assessment – a professional exam – and abide by anti-corruption legislation.

In addition, a constitutional commission has been formed to craft constitutional amendments to make Ukraine a decentralised state that enshrines the rule of law and offers its citizens the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time frame.

We are also making it easier to run businesses in Ukraine.

We have significantly reduced (from 56 to 38) the number of business activities that are subject to licensing.

Registration of a legal entity can now be done online and a new head of the anti-corruption bureau has been appointed this month.

We are introducing a total change of the rules of the game – there will be no obstacles for entrepreneurs who play fair.

Post-independence Ukraine has often failed to match the promises made to its citizens and the international community.

Despite a particularly challenging environment, the new Ukraine is determined to live up to its obligations.

Ukraine will push forward on its path to the European Union in spite of the many obstacles.

(This article was written by Ukraine's President, Petro Poroshenko.)

Source: The Guardian

Fears Of New Offensive As Putin ‘Ramps Up Pressure’ On Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russia is building up forces on its borders with Ukraine, prompting pro-Kiev forces and analysts to predict an impending pro-Russian attack in the near future.

Alexander, a member of the People's Militia of Crimea, attends a rally marking the upcoming first anniversary of the Crimean referendum, to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, in Simferopol.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine’s war-stricken Donbas region has fallen dramatically since an initially shaky ceasefire was signed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and the separatist groups in Minsk in February.

However U.S. and Ukrainian officials have reported that Russia is gathering its regular troops at Russian-Ukrainian border again, fueling fears of another escalation of violence.

“Putin is ramping up pressure on Ukraine by adding troops on the eastern border and in Crimea and by increasing the violations across the ceasefire line,” former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst says.

According to Herbst the situation is reminiscent to the pro-Russian offensive towards the Ukrainian town of Debaltseve which immediately preceded and even overlapped with the signing of the Minsk ceasefire in February.

“Like most observers, I believe that there will be a new Kremlin-directed offensive; but I suspect it will be like the offensive in January,” Herbst believes there are strategic similarities between the Debaltseve offensive and the current security situation in Ukraine.

“The Russians finally seized Debaltseve a few days after the 15th February ceasefire started, but that was the culmination of an offensive that began a couple of days after the Orthodox Christmas on 7th January,” Herbst says.

“That offensive followed a relatively quiet period that began in early December. The December quiet period was in fact quieter with less shelling and fewer Ukrainian casualties, than the current ‘quiet period’.”

Herbst notes that both ‘quiet periods’ featured significant movement of Russian arms into the Russian-controlled parts of the Donbas.

 Fighting in Debaltseve ceased on 19th February as Ukraine’s president Poroshenko announced that Ukrainian forces were retreating from the town.

Sporadic outbreaks of violence have been reported since then, largely around the key port city of Mariupol near Shirokyne - a long term target for the pro-Russian separatists.

Other cities, such as Odessa and Kharkiv, have also been targets of bombings.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said that, “The Ukrainian authorities continue to construct fortifications near Mariupol as well as implement security measures for proper defense of other areas including the town of Shchastia.”

Neither Herbst nor the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence would speculate which city may be the next target for the advance, though Herbst believes an open attack on Mariupol may not be on the cards because of the size of the city and the diplomatic repercussions that such a large advance would have on Russia.

“It will require a lot of Russian soldiers’ lives to take it and a level of fighting that will complicate Putin’s efforts to persuade the EU to ease sanctions,” he warns.

Ukraine’s armed forces did not comment on whether a new Russian advance would take place but expressed assurance that defence preparations were being made in Mariupol and other parts of the country.

Source: Newsweek

Friday, April 24, 2015

NATO: Big Military Build-Up On Russia-Ukraine Border

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- NATO's chief on Thursday reported a sizeable Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine that he said would enable pro-Moscow separatists to launch a new offensive with little warning.

Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, meets with Denmark Prime Minister of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, right, at the Prime Minister's Office in Copenhagen on Monday April 20, 2015.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia has substantially stepped up supplies to the rebels, as well as providing them with advanced training and equipment like drones, despite a cease-fire.

Making an accusation of their own, Russian officials said U.S. military instructors were training Ukrainian national guardsmen in urban fighting techniques in the same eastern regions where Ukrainian forces and separatists have been fighting for the past year.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department rejected the Russian claim of U.S. trainers in eastern Ukraine, saying all the activity was in western Ukraine near the border with Poland.

"We've been doing this for about 20 years now," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters, calling the Russian statement "ridiculous."

Stoltenberg said the reported Russian moves undermine the cease-fire declared in eastern Ukraine and violate the Minsk agreements entered into by Moscow.

He said more than 1,000 pieces of Russian military equipment have been moved over the past month, including tanks, artillery and air defense units.

Stoltenberg said this "gives reason for great concern" and would enable the separatists to go on the offensive again with little warning.

He said the U.S.-led defense alliance is not certain about the intentions of Moscow and the pro-Russian rebels, "but we are certain about the capabilities."

The claim from Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Gen.-Maj. Igor Konashenkov that U.S. trainers are active in disputed areas of eastern Ukraine came one day after the U.S. State Department accused Russia of deploying air-defense systems in eastern Ukraine and combined Russia-separatist forces of maintaining artillery and rocket launchers in violation of the shaky cease-fire deal.

Konashenkov denied those claims, and said U.S. military instructors are working in the vicinity of the cities of Mariupol, Artemivsk and Volnovakha.

U.S. paratroopers last week arrived in western Ukraine to train national guard units.

Source: AP

Pentagon Dismisses Moscow Claim Of U.S. Troops In Ukraine Combat Zone

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday that U.S. troops were training Ukrainian forces in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, but the Pentagon flatly denied it, accusing Moscow of a "ridiculous attempt" to obscure its own activity in the region.

Eileen Lainez

Interfax quoted Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov as saying U.S. troops were training Ukrainian forces not only in western Ukraine "as Ukrainian TV channels show, but directly in the combat zone in the area of Mariupol, Severodonetsk, Artyomovsk and Volnovakha."

The Russian Defense Ministry affirmed the report, but the Pentagon rejected it.

"This is a ridiculous attempt to shift the focus away from what is actually happening in eastern Ukraine," said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

"Russia continues to supply lethal weapons, training and command and control support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, in blatant violation of Moscow's Minsk commitments and Ukraine's sovereignty," she added.

Lainez said the Pentagon had been clear about a program in which it was training Ukrainian guardsmen in the western part of the country.

The Pentagon announced on Monday that some 300 U.S. Army paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza, Italy, had begun long-planned training for members of the Ukrainian national guard at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center at Yavoriv, near the Polish border.

The initial training involved 300 guardsmen and up to 900 were expected to be trained over six months, the Pentagon said.

The focus was weapons handling, first aid, casualty evacuation and other small unit activity.

U.S. forces moved ahead with the training despite Russian warnings that it could be destabilizing.

A European-brokered ceasefire is in force in eastern Ukraine but violations are reported daily. 

Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the Ukraine situation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call on Wednesday, urging Russia to press the separatists to abide by the ceasefire deal, a senior U.S. official said.

Kerry also insisted that Russia remove its forces from eastern Ukraine "where they continue to provide heavy weapons and training to separatists," the official added.

The official said the secretary made clear the U.S. training exercise was at the invitation of the Ukraine government and was "fully transparent, defensive."

Washington on Wednesday accused Russia of building up air defense systems inside eastern Ukraine and of involvement in training exercises of pro-Russian rebels in breach of the European-brokered truce.

Source: Google News