Tuesday, June 30, 2015

McCain: Russia-Ukraine Cease-Fire Is A Fiction

WASHINGTON, DC -- Last weekend, I traveled with Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to eastern Ukraine to meet with the courageous men and women fighting there for their country's freedom and future.

I arrived on a solemn day as Ukrainian volunteers grieved the loss of two young comrades killed by Russian artillery the day before.

They had lost another comrade a few days before that, and four more the previous week.

Their message to me was clear: The cease-fire with Russia is fiction, and U.S. assistance is vital to deterring further Russian aggression.

Along the front lines, separatist forces backed by Russia violate the cease-fire every day with heavy artillery barrages and tank attacks.

Gunbattles are a daily routine, and communities at the front bear the brunt of constant sniper fire and nightly skirmishes.

Yet while these low-level cease-fire violations have occurred regularly since the Minsk agreement was signed in February, Ukrainian battalion commanders said the number of Grad rocket strikes and incidents of intense artillery shelling are increasing.

Their reports suggest that the separatists have moved their heavy weapons and equipment back to the front lines hoping to escalate the situation.

So far, Ukrainian armed forces supported by volunteer battalions have been able to hold their ground, and they have done so largely without the support of Ukrainian artillery and tanks that have been pulled back from the front as stipulated by the Minsk agreement.

How long can we expect these brave Ukrainians to abide by an agreement that Russia has clearly ignored?

It is time that the United States and our European allies recognize the failure of the Minsk agreement and respond with more than empty rhetoric.

Ukraine's leaders describe Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy as a game of "Pac-Man" — taking bite after bite out of Ukraine in small enough portions that it does not trigger a large-scale international response.

But at this point it should be clear to all that Putin does not want a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

He wants to dominate Ukraine, along with Russia's other neighbors.

No one in the West wants a return to the Cold War.

But we must recognize that we are confronting a Russian ruler who seeks exactly that.

It is time for U.S. strategy to adjust to the reality of a revanchist Russia with a modernized military that is willing to use force not as a last resort, but as a primary tool to achieve its neo-imperial objectives.

We must do more to deter Russia by increasing the military costs of its aggression, starting with the immediate provision of the defensive weapons and other assistance the Ukrainians desperately need. 

President Barack Obama has wrongly argued that providing Ukraine with the assistance and equipment it needs to defend itself would only provoke Russia.

Putin needed no provocation to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea.

Rather, it is the weakness of the collective U.S. and European response that provokes the very aggression we seek to avoid.

Of course, there is no military solution in Ukraine, but there is a clear military dimension to achieving a political solution.

If Ukrainians are given the assistance they need and the military cost is raised for the Russian forces that have invaded their country, Putin will be forced to determine how long he can sustain a war he tells his people is not happening.

I urge anyone who sees Ukraine's fight against a more advanced Russian military as hopeless to travel to meet those fighting and dying to protect their homeland.

These men and women have not backed down, and they will continue to fight for their country with or without the U.S. support they need and deserve.

During my trip, the Ukrainians never asked for the United States to send troops to do their fighting.

Ukrainians only hope that the United States will once again open the arsenal of democracy that has allowed free people to defend themselves so many times before.

How we respond to Putin's brazen aggression will have repercussions far beyond Ukraine.

We face the reality of a challenge that many assumed was resigned to the history books: a strong, militarily capable state that is hostile to our interests and our values and seeks to overturn the rules-based international order that American leaders of both parties have sought to maintain since World War II.

Among the core principles of that order is the conviction that might does not make right, that the strong should not be allowed to dominate the weak and that wars of aggression should be relegated to the bloody past.

Around the world, friend and foe alike are watching to see whether the United States will once again summon its power and influence to defend the international system that has kept the peace for decades.

We must not fail this test.

John McCain, a Republican, represents Arizona in the Senate and is chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Source: The Washington Post

Putin Announces $400 Billion In Defense Spending As Ukraine Denounces Russian Soldiers

MOSCOW, Russia -- According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the country faces intense threats on its border and must upgrade its army for protection.

Putin, the ruler of the Evil Empire.

Ukraine disagrees, as its government reports this week that over 54,000 Russian soldiers are standing by on its borders.

“Currently, Russia continues to deploy a group of troops in close vicinity to border and in the occupied territory of Ukraine, consisting of 45 battalion tactical groups, 17 company tactical groups, with a total number of servicemen exceeding 54,000 people, with all weapons and equipment,” stated the Anti-Terrorist Organization press office.

Putin promised new military graduates plans “to spend 22 trillion rubles (over $400 billion) through 2020 to give the armed forces dozens of navy ships, hundreds of new planes and missiles and thousands of tanks and other weapons.”

But his nuclear-armed intercontinental missile program has been delayed, which means the first missile will not be available for several months.

There are no specific details regarding why it is taking so long.

“The plant is doing its work,” one defense industry source told The Moscow Times.

“Everything now depends on whether or not contractors deliver the [remaining] components on time. The red line that cannot be crossed is the end of October.”

Tensions between the West and Russia continue to rise on an almost weekly basis.

Russia’s neighbors pleaded for more protection after Moscow invaded eastern Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in case Putin targets them next.

America recently announced more defense for NATO allies in Eastern Europe.

It is the first time America has increased its presence in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The U.S. will spread weapons and 5,000 troops in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Poland.

All of these countries were once Soviet states or satellite states.

Russian officials warned of retaliation if America places tanks and weapons near Russian borders.

“If heavy U.S. military equipment, including tanks, artillery batteries and other equipment really does turn up in countries in eastern Europe and the Baltics, that will be the most aggressive step by the Pentagon and NATO since the Cold War,” declared General Yuri Yakubov, the Russian defense ministry official.

“Russia will have no option but to build up its forces and resources on the Western strategic front.”

In mid-June, Putin sent waves through the West when he announced that Russia will own 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2015.

The move forced NATO to review its nuclear weapon policy.

“There is very real concern about the way in which Russia publicly bandies around nuclear stuff,” explained a NATO diplomat.

“So there are quite a lot of deliberations in the alliance about nuclear [weapons], but it is being done very slowly and deliberately. We need to do due diligence on where we are.”

Putin also caused a panic when he told the world that Moscow can plant nukes anywhere in their territory, including Crimea.

Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), five countries, including Russia, may plant “nuclear weapons anywhere in its territory.”

However, the United Nations and NATO still consider Crimea a part of Ukraine.

In May, NATO lashed out against Russia’s buildup in Crimea.

They also repeated to Moscow that none of them recognize their annexation of Crimea.

Source: Breitbart

Yanukovych 'Family' May Own Billions Of Dollars Of Ukrainian State Debt

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Finance Minister does not exclude possibility major part of Ukraine debt owned by Yanukovych 'family' through US bond holder.

Ukraine's Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko

Fugitive former President Viktor Yanukovych and his 'family' of business associates may own billions of dollars of state debt through Franklin Templeton Investments, a US-based bond holder Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko has admitted in an interview with news agency TSN.

In an interview with TSN on Sunday Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko did not refute the allegation but Yanukovych who is hiding in Russia is wanted by Ukraine partly over allegations of state theft and Interpol issued a red notice for his arrest earlier this year.

He is believed to have used his position to enrich himself and his network of business associates by siphoning off money from the state.

Experts say it could take years to trace the money, much of which may never be possible to return. 

Ukraine owes around 27 billlion dollars to its international creditors and is struggling to stave off a default which could threaten the Ukrainian banking system with collapse.

Ravaged by conflict in the country's east, Ukraine is asking its foreign bondholders to accept a 40 percent writedown or "haircut" on the billions of dollars they own; but so far they have not agreed. 

Last week Bloomberg reported that Ukraine was likely to default soon.

Quoting Goldman Sachs Bloomberg claimed that Ukraine would miss a repayment in July, setting off a default on about USD 19 billion of debt.

Source: Ukraine Today

Monday, June 29, 2015

US Warship Moves To Georgia Amid Ukraine Crisis

BATUMI, Georgia -- A US warship arrived Sunday in Georgia’s Black Sea port of Batumi on a training mission, the US embassy said, sending a message of support to the NATO aspirant amid the conflict in Ukraine.

USS Laboon

The US 6th Fleet’s guided missile destroyer USS Laboon “will conduct routine combined training with the Georgian Coast Guard,” the US embassy in Tbilisi said.

The port call “reaffirms the United States’ commitment to strengthening ties with NATO allies and partners like Georgia, while working toward mutual goals of promoting security and stability in the Black Sea region,” the embassy said in a statement.

Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from Kiev’s rule and its support for Ukrainian rebels have alarmed Georgia, which fought and lost a brief war with Russia in 2008.

The Ukraine crisis has triggered the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War, and the US said last week it would deploy heavy weapons in central and eastern Europe in a move that angered Moscow.

Georgia’s bid to join NATO and the European Union infuriated its former imperial master Russia, which bitterly opposes the alliance’s expansion into former Soviet republics.

US warships delivered humanitarian aid to Georgia in the wake of the Russia-Georgia conflict in August 2008.

Moscow criticised the decision to send the sophisticated warships, saying they were unsuitable for aid missions.

Source: AFP

'In Ukraine Oligarchs Fall Like Leaves' To Make Room For Poroshenko's Clan

KIEV, Ukraine -- Those gathered on the Maidan square in Kiev a year and a half ago wanted oligarchs to go, blaming them for some of Ukraine's worst ailments, but it is better to be careful what you wish for.

President Petro Poroshenko

Some of the superrich, who made fortunes before the February 2014 coup, retained their position in the new Ukraine, because the new leadership needed all allies it could find to fight the independence supporters in the east of the country, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported.

The alliance between the Kiev authorities and the oligarchs "lost its binding power" when the situation in the east of the country became relatively calm, the Poroshenko administration and those close to him remained in power and the Western countries started to pour in money to save the economy.

It was time to act.

"In Ukraine, the oligarchs fall like autumn leaves: not all at once, not in one dramatic descent into hell, but individually, slowly, sliding," Konrad Schuller said, evoking poetic imagery in his article "The Power of the Billionaires."

Igor Kolomoisky, described by his friends as "the most brutal among the many brutal men of Ukrainian big business" according to Schuller, was the first to go.

In March, President Petro Poroshenko dismissed the billionaire, who served as the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk Region.

In late spring, the president removed Kolomoisky's ally, Igor Palytsia from the post of the Odessa governor.

This position is currently held by former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, an ally of Poroshenko's.

Gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash and Rinat Akhmetov, a coal and steel magnate, have also fallen out of favor.

Firtash's key person in the power structures Valentyn Nalyvaichenko was dismissed as the head of the Security Service of Ukraine.

Coal mines and still mills belonging to Akhmetov were destroyed in the shelling and the billionaire is "only a shadow of himself," Schuller said.

There is a silver lining at least for one former multimillionaire, who is at the apex of his career now – Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko.

The man with an estimated wealth of $1.3 billion and an array of businesses has not fulfilled his major pre-election promise.

After more than a year in office he still has not sold his assets, including the Roshen Confectionery Corporation.

Member of the Ukrainian parliament Viktoriia Voitsitska from the Self Reliance party believes that a new group of oligarchs is forming around Poroshenko.

They intend to seize Ukraine's energy market, according to Schuller.

Minister of Energy and Coal Industry Volodymyr Demchyshyn, Valeriia Hontareva, who heads the National Bank of Ukraine, and Dmytro Vovk, the head of the National Commission for State Energy and Public Utilities Regulation are the key members of the president's entourage.

All of them are linked to the Investment Capital Ukraine (ICU).

Along with Rothschild CIS, the ICU is tasked with selling Poroshenko's assets, the German newspaper reported.

These are by far not the only vices plaguing Ukraine.

Unlawful privatization and questionable tenders help certain oligarchs' get richer.

State assets are sold so fast, Western investors have no time to assess whether they are lucrative or not.

The only ones, able to purchase profitable properties are members of Poroshenko's inner circle, Schuller concluded.

Source: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

She’s A Beautiful, Passionate Voice For Ukraine, But That’s Not Enough

ODESSA, Ukraine -- The vehicle jumped along the cracked and buckled road that runs from Odessa toward Romania, which is part of the European Union.

Yulia Marushevska

We passed by poor villages on the left bank of the lower Danube, uncultivated fields, falling-apart infrastructure.

But Yulia Marushevska, 25, a Ukrainian woman who might easily win a beauty contest among the world’s politicians, did not seem to mind the bumps.

She was smiling as she looked out the window.

She had no doubt, she said, that it is now just a matter of time before the holes in the asphalt will be fixed and a perfectly smooth highway will link Ukraine with the rest of Europe.

As we drove, Marushevska told The Daily Beast about her love for the corner of the Odessa region where she grew up on the frontier of Moldova and Romania: her walks on golden sand in the narrow stretches of land that extend like twisted fingers in the Sasyk estuary, the unique salt lakes and wonderfully pristine forests.

Marushevsa’s grandmother, a small, round person full of smiles (“a walking incarnation of kindness”) still lives in one of the small country houses on the shore of the long-neglected Tatarbounary resort.

So, a few weeks ago Marushevska asked her husband to wait for her in Kiev and together with seven other members of the team around newly appointed Odessa Governor Mikhail Saakashvili (yes, the former president of Georgia) they took a minibus to this land of marshes and inlets where the Danube flows into the Black Sea.

She knew this was her chance to make the difference for her beloved babushka, and to start making major strides for Ukraine, her beloved country.

Finding creative ways to make a difference is Marushevska’s specialty.

Less than two years ago, she was a Ph.D. student researching 20th-century Ukrainian mythology at Taras Shevchenko National University.

Then, as the popular uprising against the corrupt old regime in Kiev grew intense, she recorded a passionate video in English, “I Am a Ukrainian.”

She says now that it was not something calculated, but “an emotional impulse.”

“I want you to know why thousands of people all over my country are on the streets,” she said to the global audience, her voice full of feeling.

“There is only one reason: They want to be free from a dictatorship. … We are civilized people but our government are barbarians. This is not a Soviet Union.”

The video has since been seen by more than 8.3 million people.

Marushevska remembers the cold winter day early last year when the two-minute appeal was filmed in the Maidan.

Protesters her age were arrested, beaten, killed, and it seemed possible that at any minute communication with the outside world would be cut off so the forces of the state could murder the protesters in the night.

Hence, in the face of the fears, the passion in her voice mingling anger and defiance.

Moscow has claimed outsiders coached her; that the video was part of an alien plot.

“It had nothing to do with some foreign orders, as Russian propaganda claimed,” Marushevska told The Daily Beast.

Marushevska’s self-appointed mission reaching out to the world continued throughout last year.

She became La Pasionaria of Ukraine’s Maidan uprising, taking its message to the U.S. Congress and the European Union Parliament, reaching out to dozens of politicians from over 100 countries.

“Even Chinese leaders spoke with me about Ukraine issues,” Marushevska said.

But it’s one thing to travel the world talking about change, it’s another to make it happen on the ground, and in recent months that is where she has focused her talents: on the government of the Odessa region.

“It pains me to witness how hard-working people, some of whom head factories giving jobs to hundreds of people, humiliate themselves in front of lazy bureaucrats in Odessa,” Marushevska told us.

“We need to break the core misunderstanding: bureaucrats, including me now, are just public servants who are supposed to make people’s lives better.”

By the time she was two weeks into her new job as a reformer in Odessa, Marushevska had discovered what it is like to “wake up in the morning and go to war” with a cranky post-Soviet system based on feudal subordination and surly passive-aggressive resistance.

“Reality is so different from the theory,” says Marushevska, “especially if your job is to hire 50 of the most effective state managers you can find on a salary of less than $200 a month.”

Late last year, Marushevska attended a course on governance at Stanford, where her tutor was the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, who likes to describe himself as a “specialist on democracy, anti-dictator movements, revolutions.”

But when she got back to Ukraine, Marushevska realized that to be one of those creating the new transparent and decentralized government she believes in, she had to be fighting anti-democratic practices within the local management system, which was redolent with crime, corruption, laziness, and fear, the bouquet of features typical for any post-Soviet country.

Clearly the revolution alone was not enough to change Ukraine.

“Today I have a new tutor, Saakashvili, who probably is the best reformer one could find,” Marushevska said, sounding excited in the midst of what felt to her like a great day.

Governor Saakashvili was on his way on a public bus, coming to speak with locals.

Marushevska warmly hugged people she met on the streets in Tatarbounary, where several locals recognized her.

She told them that the governor would be speaking on the town’s main square shortly and everyone could have a chance to meet with Saakashvili in person, complain to him about all their troubles, give insights, help the new governor’s team of reformers to make the right decisions.

Then the governor arrived.

“This is the specialist we have,” he said, pointing at Marushevska.

“She buzzed and buzzed into my ears, so I would pay more attention to your town—and now you won’t be able to get rid of me.”

Source: The Daily Beast

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why Ukrainians Are Speaking More Ukrainian

KIEV, Ukraine -- It’s been 16 months since the first Ukrainian soldier was shot by Russian troops in soon-to-be occupied Crimea.

Since then, Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine has presented the country’s Russian-speaking population with some tricky questions about identity.

“I’m afraid of speaking Russian now, because Putin might want to protect me” — that became the frequently repeated joke last year after the Russian president made it clear he considered Russian-speakers in Ukraine to be endangered by Kiev’s new government.

Now many Russian speakers in Ukraine — who live primarily in the country’s east and in large cities — are demonstratively turning to Ukrainian as a badge of self-identification.

A concise tutorial on how to switch from Russian to Ukrainian, written by a Kiev blogger, has earned thousands of shares and reposts.

Patriotic Russian-speakers in Kiev and big eastern cities are pledging on social networks to speak Ukrainian to their children, hoping to make the next generation more fluent and natural speakers of their native tongue.

For the first time in decades, speaking Ukrainian is seen as fashionable rather than backward. 

Ukraine’s strong civil society has also been an important factor in “socializing” the country’s adult population into using Ukrainian.

Amid the dire lack of state-funded support for life-long education, dozens of organizations and initiatives teach the language to adults across the country.

Activists say the bulk of their students came in the wake of the Euromaidan revolution and the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Most of the students, says an organizer of the biggest course in Kiev, are 30-to-50-somethings.

Free Ukrainian courses have mushroomed in big, mostly Russian-speaking cities such as Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Kramatorsk and Odessa.

However, they’ve also popped up in Lviv and Vinnytsia, Ukrainian-speaking cities where many people displaced from Crimea and the east have settled.

The media landscape is also unmistakably becoming more Ukrainian.

Granted, the traditional media are still somewhat dominated by Russian: two of the top three TV channels broadcast their evening news and most entertainment programs in Russian.

Most high-circulation weekly magazines are published in Russian.

However, the emergence of powerful Internet-based news outlets is bucking the trend.

Ukrainian-language web-based TV, most notably Hromadske.TV and Espreso, have few Russian-language competitors of comparable quality, although the former has started to produce programs in Russian.

Since over half of Ukrainians regularly use the Internet, the social media is turning into another channel of “Ukrainization,” especially of the middle class.

Top bloggers writing in Ukrainian on Facebook and Twitter are boosting their follower bases, and many Ukrainian Internet users are starting to abandon platforms based in Russia, such as VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook.

A controversy over Facebook blocking Ukrainian-created content, allegedly by Russian citizens staffing tech support teams in Dublin, provoked calls to write more in Ukrainian as a way to insulate the “Ukrainian” blogosphere from Russian interference.

Discussing politics in Ukrainian makes it harder for Russian trolls to chip in.

The gravitational pull of the Ukrainian language is making a mark on business, too.

For the first time, Ukrainian pop music is selling better than Russian.

A popular chain of coffee shops, Lviv Handmade Chocolate, has made waitresses and baristas that serve customers only in Ukrainian into a signature policy, yet the chain is popular across the whole country.

Roman Matys, a Ukrainian activist, campaigns for companies to include labels and documentation in Ukrainian in addition to Russian, and several large companies have yielded to his group’s petitions. 

For the past twenty years, state education policy has been to promote Ukrainian in schools without directly impending the use of Russian.

Ukraine’s post-Soviet governments, even pro-Russian ones, treated secondary education in Ukrainian as a generous concession to national-minded activists.

While only 47 percent of Ukrainian schools taught in Ukrainian at the end of Soviet rule in the 1980s, that rate steadily increased to 75 percent in 2004 and 86 percent in 2013.

And as Ukrainian has become the principal teaching language at leading universities, schoolkids and their parents perceive it as more of a priority, even if they use Russian at home.

The trend was not reversed even after the passage of the 2012 “language law,” which provided for greater use of Russian on the regional level.

Legislative initiatives pertaining to the language use have been politicized since the Maidan revolution as well.

Parliament’s attempt to repeal the controversial language law in February 2014 (which was rejected by a presidential veto) was used as a rallying call by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine is still a bilingual country.

But the Ukrainization phenomenon is not just anecdotal — survey data shows that, in the last decade, the country’s linguistic landscape has undergone a visible change.

In 2005, 42 percent of Ukrainians claimed that they spoke mostly Ukrainian at home.

By 2011, 53 percent said they spoke it in their everyday lives.

Since most of them are perfectly fluent in Russian as well, the 11 percent upsurge, representing at least 5 million people, reflects the share of Ukrainian society that has switched from Russian to Ukrainian.

The Euromaidan revolution and conflict with Russia accelerated that trend: a poll conducted in May 2015 shows that almost 60 percent of the population prefer to use Ukrainian in everyday communication.

This burgeoning popularity of Ukrainian, especially among the youth and the middle class, is having unifying effects on the country’s social structures.

It facilitates social mobility between the east and the west.

Many western Ukrainian students are bringing their Ukrainian to universities in Kiev and the big eastern cities.

Young IT and service professionals who move from Kharkiv or Dnipropetrovsk to Lviv tend to bring Ukrainian into their everyday lives, despite Lviv’s tolerance for Russian speakers.

The revival of Ukrainian is only one of many societal upshots in the Ukrainian-Russian war.

Yet, as Ukrainian-savvy children come of age and the middle class starts to pay more for Ukrainian products and services, it may well become one of the most durable ones.

Along with the blue-and-yellow flag and the embroidered traditional shirts so often seen in the streets in this trying time for Ukraine, the Ukrainian language is set to become a cherished, and practiced, national symbol.

Source: FP

A Thorn For Russia, Georgia's Ex-President Pops Up In Ukraine

ODESSA, Ukraine -- When Mikheil Saakashvili was the flamboyant, provocative president of Georgia, he made an international name for himself with his willingness to take on Russia, his much larger neighbor to the north.

Mikheil Saakashvili (C) is the former president of Georgia, which waged a brief war with Russia in 2008. Last month, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L) named Saakashvili the governor of Odessa, the port city in Ukraine, a country waging its own battle with Russia. The two are shown in Odessa on May 30.

Saakashvili led his tiny country, a former Soviet republic, in the brief war with Russia in 2008, which Georgia quickly lost.

Saakashvili, who was also known as an economic reformer, served two terms as president but left Georgia after his party suffered a crushing defeat in parliamentary elections. 

Now, at 47, he has re-emerged in an unexpected place — as governor of Odessa, Ukraine's fabled port city on the Black Sea.

And he's still at odds with Russia. Saakashvili spent a number of years in Ukraine when he was young.

So Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko made Saakashvili a Ukrainian citizen and appointed him as governor of Odessa last month.

Saakashvili sees his new job as a continuation of the fight against Russia and for Western values. 

"Ukraine is in a very peculiar situation," he says.

"It's not just another country. It's a country where the fate of Europe is being decided right now." 

Saakashvili says Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to destroy Ukraine by cutting it off from the Black Sea, "so this project of his war cannot be complete until Odessa is under his full control."

Russia has already seized Crimea and is fueling a separatist war in Ukraine's eastern provinces.

The Odessa region in southwestern Ukraine borders another breakaway area — Transnistria in Moldova — where Russia troops are stationed.

So Saakashvili sees Odessa as threatened from all sides.

External And Internal Threats 

Odessa also faces a big internal threat in the form of endemic corruption.

Take it from someone who knows the city well, 80-year-old Halina Mazourenko, who makes her living busking in a pedestrian underpass at the port, playing sentimental Soviet favorites on the accordion.

"For starters," Mazourenko says, "Odessa is a sea port — smuggling, theft, prostitution, black-market trading — all bad stuff.

What's good about this place?

People are frank, open, willing to help.

But at the same time, they're thinking, 'What kind of money do you have, and what can I do to make it come to me?'"

You can see the money that has flowed through the city in the 19th-century, pastel-colored mansions on the hills above the harbor.

But that crime that Mazourenko spoke of has siphoned off much of the city's wealth.

And that, says Ukraine's finance minister, Natalie Jaresko, is why Saakashvili was appointed.

In Georgia, he was known for "fighting corruption, eliminating bureaucracy," the finance minister says.

"And if we can show in Odessa an example of that kind of quick success, quick cleanup, it will be very, very helpful as a symbolic effort for the rest of the country going forward."

Regional analyst Thomas de Waal, of the Carnegie Endowment, notes that Saakashvili eliminated bribe-taking among the Georgian traffic police and most importantly, among customs officials.

Odessa could be a major cash source for Ukraine if its customs were cleaned up.

A Wild Card 

But, de Waal says, the appointment of Saakashvili could backfire.

"He's a very provocative figure, he's very unpopular in Russia, and Odessa has a large, Russian-speaking population, so it's very much stirring up a hornet's nest by putting such a controversial figure there," he says.

DeWaal says there's also an element of danger to Saakashvili, who will have to protect himself in a criminalized environment where Russian agents operate freely.

Saakashvili is defying the risk by riding on public buses and mixing with crowds.

For advice, he says, he's meeting with civil society activists, so that he can avoid the city's shady power brokers.

He's relying on groups that, he says, are producing new ideas "and amazing number of new young recruits for our cause. And that's basically our troops."

Saakashvili marshals his troops in a walled business center in Odessa, where he gave NPR an interview near midnight.

A large man, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, he looked slumped and tired, yet energized by one more chance to sell his program.

Critics, especially those in Russia, accuse him of being an opportunist who has no real commitment to Ukraine.

He answers by saying he spent some of his most important formative years in Ukraine, first during his compulsory Soviet military service and later at university in Kiev, where he became friends with Poroshenko.

Poroshenko recently enabled Saakashvili to take the job by making him a Ukrainian citizen.

Saakashvili says the new job offers him a chance to repeat the successes of his past but with fewer mistakes this time around.

Source: NPR

Ukrainian Village Caught In Crossfire Of War

KRYMSKE, Ukraine -- Few places along the front line in east Ukraine see regular fighting as bitter as the village of Krymske.

In this photo taken Tuesday, June 23, 2015, a Ukrainian serviceman from the Kiev-2 volunteer battalion fires an weapon at a frontline in the village of Krymske, east Ukraine. Few places along the front line in east Ukraine see regular fighting as bitter as the village of Krymske. For now, Krymske is in the hands of Ukrainian government forces and the volunteer battalions that fight alongside them.

Roads to the village have all but crumbled away under the weight of military trucks, tanks and armored personnel carriers.

For now, Krymske is in the hands of Ukrainian government forces and the volunteer battalions that fight alongside them.

Somewhere in the distance is the enemy: Russian-backed separatists whose stated aim is to double the amount of territory under their control.

The whole front line is mined.

Unseen tripwires litter the fields.

Wandering unguardedly into the foliage risks attracting heavy machine-gun fire.

The sound of ammunition blasts is heard throughout the night.

Everybody uses everything that they have: mortars, rocket launchers and heavy machine guns.

These battles usually last no more than two hours, but usually less.

As the Ukrainian soldiers explain, the rebels are probing weak spots in their defensive lines.

Around an hour before light breaks, a new volley of rocket fire flies in from rebel positions.

The artillery fire keeps going until 5 a.m., the shells sailing over Krymske and landing with a burst somewhere in the distance.

Ukrainians troops reply in kind, grumbling about the would-be peace agreement signed in February that bans the presence of heavy weapons from the front line.

Later in the day, we learn where the rebel shells have landed: on government checkpoint No. 29, and in the villages of Toshkivka and Novotovshkiske.

The following night, the routine repeats all over again.

Source: The News Tribune

Saturday, June 27, 2015

UN Tribunal Eyed To Prosecute Those Who Shot Down MH17 In Ukraine

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- The five countries investigating last year's shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine are calling for an international tribunal established by the United Nations to prosecute those responsible.

Bouquets of flowers in tribute to the victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 25, 2014, at Schiphol airport near Amsterdam.

Malaysia's UN Ambassador Ramlan Bin Ibrahim said on June 25 that proponents hope to take up a draft resolution in the UN Security Council in July, saying, "We can only hope for the best."

Last week, legal experts presented the Security Council with a draft statute to establish a tribunal along with a draft UN resolution that would authorize it, diplomats said.

Malaysia, home to the airline whose plane was shot down, and The Netherlands, where most of the 298 travelers who were killed resided, originally espoused the idea, and the rest of the countries -- Australia, Ukraine, and Belgium -- gave their endorsement this week.

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her government is committed to working with "the broader international community to secure justice for the families of the victims."

Ukraine and the West suspect Flight MH17 was destroyed by a Russian surface-to-air missile fired by Russian forces or separatist rebels fighting in the area.

The Russian maker of the Buk air-defense missile system reported this month that the aircraft was downed by an older version of the missile that it said is not used by the Russian military but is in Ukrainian arsenals.

Dutch prosecutors, who are leading the investigation, have narrowed their focus to the theory that the plane was shot down by a Buk missile fired from an area held by pro-Russian forces.

They believe the missile was transported from Russian territory shortly before the incident.

That raises the possibility that Russian nationals could be named in their indictment.

But the chance of a successful prosecution is considered slim at best, Dutch sources said.

A trial in Ukraine itself appears a nonstarter, since the pro-Russian rebels are as unlikely to attend as the Russian government, which influences them but strenuously denies involvement in the incident or the rebellion.

The hope is that by pushing for a UN-backed court, countries representing the victims could pressure Russia into cooperating.

The Kremlin recently declined to comment on the tribunal proposal.

The countries representing victims acknowledge that Russia might wield its veto power over Security Council decisions to kill the idea.

But they argue that Russia would be reluctant to exercise that veto power, since that would make it the main obstacle to justice in a mass killing of civilians.

Moreover, the Security Council already has adopted a resolution demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Malaysia has had preliminary discussions with Russia, Ibrahim said, "but it's too early to say" whether Moscow will support a resolution.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders met his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on June 6 for talks about the criminal investigation, but no word came out of that meeting.

Source: Radio Free Europe

NATO Commander Says Putin Not Done In Eastern Ukraine

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The top military officer for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said he sees evidence that Russia is building an effective supply system to strengthen its ability to conduct military operations inside Ukraine, and is watching for further moves by Moscow to consolidate its hold on the eastern part of the country.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, talks with Gen Philip Breedlove on Wednesday during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.

Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander, said Thursday he continues to see a Russian force that is trained and “ready to do whatever mission is required of it,” hinting that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regional aspirations show no sign of abating.

“I don’t think that Putin is done in eastern Ukraine,” Gen. Breedlove told reporters during a briefing Thursday as allies meet here to plan efforts to counter potential Russian aggression in the region.

Gen. Breedlove, who also serves as the U.S. military’s top commander in Europe, has used forceful language before to describe Putin’s military actions in and outside of Ukraine.

His remarks Thursday didn't spell out specific Western responses to potential aggression, but came as NATO defense ministers wrapped up a two-day meeting that focused almost exclusively on the security threat posed to the region by Moscow.

During a five-day, three-stop tour of Europe, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a number of measures aimed at strengthening NATO’s military resolve and U.S. commitment to the region.

That included the pledge to provide a package of military capabilities to fortify a new rapid response force that is being built to respond to a crisis in as little as 48 hours.

And in a separate initiative, Mr. Carter unveiled a plan to base a brigade’s worth of equipment, including 250 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and artillery pieces across six nations in Eastern Europe. 

Gen. Breedlove said that Moscow remains active on both sides of its border with Ukraine.

“What we have seen on the east side of the border is a very detailed supply situation where we see stocking of important supplies, ammunition, et cetera,” Gen. Breedlove said, allowing greater flexibility for Russian-backed operations.

Mr. Carter has tried to persuade allies to throw out the “Cold War playbook” so they can adapt to the kind of warfare Russia and other potential adversaries could pose, through using unidentified troops, information operations and cyberattacks.

For example, he told defense ministers at the NATO gathering Wednesday in a closed-door meeting that the alliance must improve its cyberdefense capabilities before it can begin developing more advanced cybercapabilities, according to a senior defense official.

Meanwhile, during a stop in Berlin this week, Mr. Carter pledged a complement of U.S. military gear for the rapid response force that is still in development.

The U.S. contribution will involve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, likely to include drones, as well as command-and-control capabilities, special operations forces for both air and sea, combat helicopters, a “deployable combat post,” logistical expertise and weapons.

The response force, known as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or VJTF, would be manned by a number of nations on a rotating basis.

NATO and U.S. defense officials have stressed that it could be used, not only in response to a threat from Russia, but to guard against any other kind of security threat to NATO.

But as the concept of the response force develops, concerns emerged this week about deployment procedures requiring agreement by all 28 members of the North Atlantic Council, the political decision-making body of NATO, which could blunt its effectiveness by slowing down the decision to deploy it.

But defense ministers this week gave the NATO commander the green light to alert the task force to prepare for deployment “if we have those intel indications that trip our concern,” Gen. Breedlove said, thereby speeding its deployment as political leaders convened to vote on employing it.

Meanwhile, NATO announced Thursday it is intensifying support for Ukraine, launching projects to help the country secure its communications and airspace and kicking off an initiative to remove mines.

NATO is also helping Ukraine overhaul its armed forces, though Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said corruption remains “a big and difficult challenge.”

Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak acknowledged the corruption, saying, “This is one of the problems not only within our ministry, it’s a problem for the whole society.”

Ukraine expects to sign an agreement by the end of next month with Poland and Lithuania, both NATO members, to form a joint brigade.

Several other NATO countries, including the U.S., are training Ukrainian troops.

But Ukrainian leaders are privately pushing for more support than NATO members are now willing to give.

Kiev would like weaponry, for example, but NATO countries have been reluctant to provide it.

Mr. Poltorak said Ukraine would like to join NATO, but said he recognized the country isn't ready.

“The strategic aim of Ukraine is of course NATO membership,” Mr. Poltorak said.

“But we understand very well that in order to become members we have to work very hard.”

The U.S. plans to bolster security in the region might increase the need for U.S. troops in Europe, where roughly 65,000 now are permanently stationed.

But U.S. defense and military officials said they could rely on rotational forces, temporarily drawn from the pool of troops already in the region or from the U.S.

The initiatives wouldn't force the U.S. to increase its permanent footprint in Europe, they said.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Putin Out To Seize Control Of Ukraine, Says Kiev Defense Chief

MOSCOW, Russia -- The West should not drop its guard over Ukraine, the country's defense minister said on Friday, saying a build-up of Russian forces in support of separatists showed President Vladimir Putin was bent on seizing control of the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Civic Chamber at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, June 23, 2015.

Stepan Poltorak spoke alongside visiting Canadian Defense Minister Jason Kenney as Kiev military chiefs reported intensified attacks by separatists in the east, despite a ceasefire, with another Ukrainian soldier killed.

"There is a threat still because the military groups of the (separatists)... and Russian troops continue to build up their forces, bringing additional equipment and ammunition and of course their plans are not peaceful," Poltorak said.

"One should not be naive and think that Putin has given up his plans to seize Ukraine, to destabilize the situation in Ukraine. He's just changing his tactics and strategies, but his goal remains the same: to seize Ukraine."

Putin denies accusations by Kiev and the West that Russia has provided pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine with soldiers and weapons.

Although he is often accused of wanting control of Ukraine, he supports a February peace deal under which rebel-held areas of east Ukraine would be given more autonomy from Kiev but remain part of Ukraine.

Poltorak was expected to use Kenney's visit to press for the U.S.-led NATO alliance to provide further military assistance to shore up Kiev's forces in a conflict in which more than 6,600 people have been killed, according to U.N. estimates. 

Canada, like many other NATO members, has provided the ex-Soviet republic only with non-lethal aid.

Canadian military trainers are also expected to run programs for new Ukrainian conscripts inside Ukraine this summer.

Government forces and the Russian-backed separatists have accused each other of truce violations since February's deal, brokered by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France.

Poltorak, in his remarks on Friday, accused the separatists of carrying out 5,000 shelling attacks on government positions since the deal was signed in Minsk, Belarus.

Separately on Friday Kiev military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko said that one Ukrainian soldier had been killed in separatist rocket and artillery attacks since Thursday.

"The intensity of attacks is growing. They are going on around the clock," he told a briefing, saying hotspots were near the airport of the rebel-held city of Donetsk city and at Shyrokyne east of the government-held port city of Mariupol.

Source: Google News

Friday, June 26, 2015

NATO To Offer More Aid To Ukraine, But No Offensive Weapons

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO members agreed on Thursday to step up support for Ukraine with more air traffic data and assistance in countering roadside bombs, but member states stopped short of offensive weapons, which Kiev has sought in its battle with Russian-backed separatists.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on June 25, 2015.

A new trust fund to be established “will aim at de-mining and also on countering improvised explosive devices.

And this is vital for saving lives,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine commission.

NATO defense ministers are set to conclude two days of talks in Brussels later Thursday.

The ministers have focused primarily on concrete steps toward strengthening the alliance militarily, enabling to respond more quickly to crises.

Members have agreed to increase the size of its crisis-response force and to streamline the political process for approving the mobilization of troops.

The trigger for those efforts has been the unrest in Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists continue to violate a cease-fire deal in the country’s east, Stoltenberg said.

NATO will continue to assist the country in its efforts to reform its military, helping in areas such as command and control, establishing secure communications and logistics.

In the wake of the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in eastern Ukraine last year, which the West has blamed on Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons fired by separatist fighters, concerns have also grown over air traffic security.

Poland, Romania and Turkey will provide more data to help Ukraine better protect its airspace, Stoltenberg said.

That falls short of Ukraine’s hopes for lethal weapons.

“Regarding lethal weapons, we have a request on that. And to defend Ukraine, we need such weapons,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak said before Thursday’s meeting, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

NATO ministers also turned their attention to Afghanistan Thursday.

In May, NATO foreign ministers announced that they would maintain a military presence in Afghanistan once the current train, advise and assist mission called Resolute Support concludes, but the effort will transfer to civilian leadership.

NATO hasn’t specified when it will end Resolute Support, successor to the NATO-led combat mission, which ended last year.

“No final decision has been made,” Stoltenberg said.

“We are going to address and assess the situation after the fighting season this year.”

Details about the size and scope of the next phase, including troop numbers, are expected to be worked out by the fall.

It is expected to have fewer personnel than the current training campaign, which involves about 13,000 international troops.

The decision to extend NATO’s presence beyond 2016 underscores concerns about the ability of Afghan security forces to cope with an intractable insurgency, which continues to battle for control of key districts and to launch high-profile attacks in the capital, Kabul.

There also are concerns about foreign fighters moving into Afghanistan, such as the Islamic State group, but Stoltenberg said there are indications that some fighters calling themselves members of the group could be engaging in rebranding.

“It is obvious we face many challenges, including the presence of foreign fighters,” Stoltenberg said. 

Just this week, fighters carried out an attack on the Afghan parliament building in Kabul and were within miles of taking the city of Kunduz.

If they had succeeded, it would have been the first Afghan city to fall since the Taliban were toppled in 2001.

“The security situation remains difficult, as we have seen early this week in Kabul,” Stoltenberg said. 

Source: Stars & Stripes

Putin Cracks Down On U.S. Press Reporting Russian Involvement In Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia's Foreign Ministry has banned U.S. investigative journalist Simon Ostrovsky from working in Russia.

Fighters with the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Army walk at a checkpoint along a road from the town of Vuhlehirsk to Debaltseve in Ukraine, in this picture taken February 18, 2015.

On June 4, it denied a press visa for Ostrovsky, an Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist best known for his coverage of the Ukraine crisis for Vice News.

The denial came only days after Ostrovsky contacted Russian soldier Bato Dambayev—who fought in Ukraine as part of the 37th Motorized Infantry Brigade—as part of the journalist's effort to prove that Russian soldiers have fought alongside Russian-backed separatists.

Shortly after the February 2015 signing of the Minsk cease-fire agreement, separatist forces scored an overwhelming victory by capturing Debaltseve, a city that links the railways between Luhansk and Donetsk.

The reason was simple: These forces got help from enlisted Russian soldiers and their heavy machinery, including the 5th Tank Brigade from Ulan-Ude, Buryatia and the 37th Motorized Infantry Brigade from Kyakhta, Buryatia.

Using images that Dambayev posted to social media, Ostrovsky retraced the soldier's journey from his Siberian hometown of Ulan-Ude to Vuhlehirsk, a small Ukrainian city 12.9 kilometers from Debaltseve.

Locals remember seeing Russian soldiers of non-European appearance in Vuhlerhirsk on February 18, which coincides with the battle of Debaltseve.

The Kremlin's involvement with the war in Ukraine is politically sensitive. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied that his soldiers are fighting in Ukraine.

In his annual call-in show on April 13, Putin said, "Let me give it to you straight and to the point. There are no Russian troops in Ukraine."

On May 28, Putin decreed that the death or injury of Russian soldiers in special operations—even in peacetime—can be classified as military secrets.

After Ostrovsky made contract with Dambayev, a campaign of intimidation began in Ulan-Ude and continued to Moscow.

Migration authorities visited Ostrovsky at his hotel in Ulan-Ude and threatened legal action.

Then border guards at the airport in Ulan-Ude and Moscow's Domodedovo airport thoroughly searched his belongings.

"The Russians have banned me from operating here, so in my case and the case of many other journalists who haven't had their press credentials renewed, Russia has essentially banned the freedom to report," Ostrovsky said in a June 24 interview.

Ostrovsky's visa application went unanswered for months.

The Russian Foreign Ministry repeatedly stalled, taking weeks to answer follow-up questions and eventually denying his request without giving any reason.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

"It is not surprising that Ostrovsky was denied a visa, given the poor state of press freedom in Russia, but it is still outrageous," wrote David J. Kramer, senior director for Human Rights and Democracy at the McCain Institute.

"We should not resign ourselves into accepting such awful behavior and actions from the Putin regime as the new normal."

Ostrovsky has specific advice for the West.

"One potential measure worth considering is making Russian journalists' access to the U.S. reciprocal," he said.

"Western policy makers should make freedom of speech and press access a cornerstone of their foreign policy. They should make it clear to their Russian colleagues that there will be a concrete diplomatic cost associated with every journalist who is kicked out. Otherwise, why wouldn't Russia get rid of all the inconvenient reporters questioning its policy?"

Ostrovsky says he isn't the only one, but that others are afraid to speak out.

"I think too many media organizations have remained silent on this issue, although they have seen the foreign press pool slowly be whittled away as the government refuses to give freelance press visas and refuses to give visas to internet publications," he said, warning that larger outlets may be next.

"It's a matter of time before they start imposing restrictions on more traditional outlets that have had bureaus here for a long time."

According to a Levada Center poll, 94 percent of Russians get their news on Ukraine from state-controlled TV.

Ostrovsky's reporting is in English and is only available online.

Some of Russia's few remaining liberal outlets have reported on his work, but mainstream outlets have not.

So why is Moscow worried about only one foreign journalist?

"They're trying to send a signal to other journalists that their access to Russia is at stake and they need to self-censor if they want to continue operating in Russia," he said.

Ostrovsky is no ordinary journalist.

Born in what was then the Soviet Union, his family immigrated to the United States.

In his "Russian Roulette" series—which includes 112 dispatches from the frontlines in Ukraine—he speaks flawless Russian and native English, enabling him to gain access to places where many reporters cannot.

His videos from Ukraine have garnered more than 2.9 million views.

Ostrovsky has a unique style, which documentary filmmaker Peter Pomerantsev described on June 24 as "the news piece with cinematic dramaturgia, the Woody Allen meets Hemingway presenter [who is a character]."

"I remember when my old friend Simon Ostrovsky did his first news reports. Producers weren't so keen on his style at the time. So he went and redefined the format," Pomerantsev wrote.

"And you know what producers are telling TV reporters now? Can you be more like Simon Ostrovsky..."

Source: Newsweek

Canada Does Not Have Right Weapons To Help Ukraine, Defence Minister Reveals

OTTAWA, Canada -- Hinting at how close Canada has come to providing lethal aid to Ukraine in its war against Russian-backed separatists, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said Thursday that he recently ordered a military inventory to determine what weapons Canada could send to the Ukrainian army, if it chose to do so.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney speaks at a press conference for procurement of new naval vehicles on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 in Ottawa.

The answer that came back was: not much.

Until now, the official reason Canada has hesitated to arm Kiev has been concern that such a move could inflame the conflict in the east of the country.

Mr. Kenney revealed that another hurdle is the Canadian military doesn’t have appropriate weapons to give.

“We do not have surplus military kit sitting around in our storehouses that we can ship over to Ukraine. I actually had our military do an inventory of possible equipment, just to prepare for all eventualities. The conclusion is we just don’t have useful, operable equipment that we could send,” Mr. Kenney said, speaking after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the military alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

A Ministry of Defence official said the inventory of weapons “either scheduled for divestment – or currently in use but scheduled to be divested in the near future” was carried out in February and March of this year, shortly after Mr. Kenney took office.

The inventory was also ordered around the same time the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress launched a large-scale lobbying effort, arguing the West’s reluctance to provide weapons to Ukraine “fuels Russia’s escalation.”

Mr. Kenney said Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak used Thursday’s meeting to make the same point, again asking the alliance to provide his country with weapons.

Part of the problem is that the Ukrainian military still uses Soviet weapons systems, meaning that most armaments Canada could send would not be interoperable with the guns and equipment the Ukrainians use.

Mr. Kenney said that if Canada did decide to help arm Ukraine, it would involve purchasing weapons that fit the Ukrainian systems.

“It would essentially be us through one of our partnership funds, helping to procure equipment for them,” he said.

“But our decision at this point has been not to do so.”

So far Canada, like most NATO countries, has proffered only non-lethal aid, such as uniforms and night-vision goggles.

Canada is also providing satellite imagery to Ukrainian forces fighting the Kremlin-backed insurgency in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

This summer, 200 Canadian military trainers will arrive at a base in the far west of Ukraine, where they will help prepare new conscripts for the urban warfare being fought in the east of the country. 

Despite the overt support for the government in Kiev, Mr. Kenney said Canada didn’t want to act alone in providing armaments to the Ukrainian military.

“The Prime Minister has said that all options are on the table. Our position is essentially the same as the United Kingdom. We continue to review the possibility of providing lethal defensive equipment, but Canada will not act alone in this respect. We believe prudence would require that other major allies participate in that.”

The biggest barrier remains a fear shared by many within NATO that supplying the Ukrainian military with weapons would spur Russia to increase its own involvement in eastern Ukraine.

“Obviously, even though we are very forward-leaning in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, we and our allies do not want to escalate the conflict,” Mr. Kenney said.

So far, Lithuania is the only NATO member that has acknowledged supplying arms to Ukraine.

Mr. Kenney said he met Thursday with Lithuania’s Defence Minister to discuss the move, which he described as “pretty small-scale stuff. They’re providing machine guns, essentially.”

Olena Prystayko, the head of the Ukrainian Think Tanks liaison office in Brussels, which lobbies the European Union, as well as individual governments, to help Ukraine, said several other governments had indicated a willingness to provide weapons to Ukraine if they saw evidence Moscow and its proxies were trying to capture more territory.

The red line for several governments, she said, was the strategic port city of Mariupol, which is currently under the control of Ukrainian forces, about 20 kilometres from the separatist front lines.

Mariupol is seen as key because its fall would make it far easier for the pro-Kremlin armies to connect with Russian forces stationed in Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed from Ukraine following a controversial referendum there last year.

“If Mariupol is taken by Russia, it would completely change the whole situation,” Ms. Prystayko said.

“One of the reasons Mariupol has not been taken by the Russians is that they have been informed that not only sanctions would follow.”

On Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that a February ceasefire deal that has brought relative calm to eastern Ukraine was under threat and there was “a risk of a return to heavy fighting.”

“Russia continues to support the separatists with training, weapons and soldiers. And it has large numbers of forces stationed on its border with Ukraine,” Mr. Stoltenberg told a press conference.

He said he still hoped the ceasefire, known as the Minsk agreements, could be salvaged, adding that “without the Minsk agreements I am really afraid that the situation can deteriorate even more.”

At least two Ukrainian soldiers and three civilians have died this week amid escalating fighting along the front line between central government forces and the armies of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.”

Both sides accuse the other of violating the Minsk ceasefire on a near-daily basis.

More than 6,600 people have died in the year-old conflict.

Russia has consistently denied that it has provided direct support to the separatist armies, claiming that video and satellite evidence of its involvement has been falsified by Western intelligence services.

The Kremlin says the conflict in the east is a popular reaction to the rise of a “fascist” government in Kiev.

Moscow also alleges that a 2014 revolution that overthrew the elected government of Viktor Yanukovych was backed by Western governments.

Mr. Kenney flies from Brussels to Kiev on Friday, where he will meet with both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

While in Kiev, Mr. Kenney said he will announce a “bundle of relatively small projects” aimed at improving the country’s governance.

He will also travel to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to meet with 40 Canadian personnel who are deployed there now, preparing the ground for the larger continent of trainers this summer.

Mr. Kenney said that, even after a year of fighting, the Ukrainian army still badly needed the kind of training the Canadian military can provide.

“Quite frankly, what we are hearing from the Brits and the Americans who are a little bit ahead of us in the training operation is just how unprepared and – I’ll put it politely – modestly trained the Ukrainian troops seem to be.

There is a lot of very basic military tactics that they’ve never been taught.

The conscripts have gone through very basic training and have little or no knowledge of the techniques of modern warfare.”

The Russian Embassy in Ottawa has described Canada’s move to help train the Ukrainian military “deplorable.”

Source: The Globe and Mail

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Russian Former Leader Of Ukraine Rebels Warns Of 'Big War'

MOSCOW, Russia -- A ceasefire is likely to collapse in east Ukraine and Russia could be drawn into a "big war" to cleanse the "sore on its borders", the former leader of the region's pro-Russian separatists said.

Former prime minister of the self-proclamed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) Alexander Borodai speaks during an interview in Moscow, Russia, June 22, 2015.

Violence has eased but not halted in east Ukraine under what are known as the Minsk 2 agreements, reached in the Belarussian capital on Feb. 12 after an earlier ceasefire collapsed.

Alexander Borodai, a Russian citizen and former journalist for nationalist newspapers who emerged last year as prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), said he expects the Ukrainian army to launch a new offensive.

"To be honest, I expect that the Minsk 2 agreements will not be observed, in the same manner as the Minsk 1 agreements were not," Borodai said in an interview this week in a Moscow restaurant surrounded by former rebel commanders.

"And at the end of the day the Ukrainian army will launch an offensive. This is a very probable development ... I am not sure that it will end without a big war, as Russia cannot tolerate this sore on its borders forever."

Borodai stepped aside in favor of a local man as the rebel leader last August but is widely believed to have strong political links in Moscow and an open channel to the Donbass region where the war has unfolded in the last 15 months.

His leadership of the rebels in the early stages of their rebellion ensured he was often seen on Russian television, and passersby stop him to talk and pat him on the back when they see him on the streets of the Russian capital.

He also came to worldwide attention as leader of the rebel movement in the area when Malaysian flight MH-17 was shot down by what Western countries believe was a Russian missile fired from rebel territory.

He personally negotiated with Malaysian authorities to turn over the "black box" flight recorders from the airliner and has always denied that rebel forces were responsible for the crash that killed all 298 people on board the plane.

The fact that nearly all top figures in the rebel movement at the time were from Russia was awkward for the Kremlin, which maintained that pro-Moscow sentiment was indigenous in eastern Ukraine, and Borodai stepped aside in favor of Alexander Zakharchenko, a former electrician from the area. 


Though fighting is now less intense in east Ukraine, the death toll has continued to rise and is now more than 6,600, with each side accusing the other of planning a new offensive.

Borodai, 42, said the "half-frozen state" could not continue for long.

"A big offensive by the Ukrainian troops will mean many casualties among civilians, I am sorry, as well as among the military ... One cannot say Russia doesn't care about Donbass people. Therefore there is a chance Russia won't leave people in the (rebel-led) republics in need," he said.

Asked whether Russian forces could then intervene, he said: "I admit that Russia may lose patience." 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on Borodai's remarks.

The West and Kiev say Russia has already sent troops and weapons into east Ukraine to back the separatists but Moscow denies this.

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said Kiev is abiding by the Minsk agreements and denied Ukrainian government forces were preparing an offensive.

Borodai remains in touch with other Muscovites who held prominent roles as rebel leaders in Ukraine, such as Igor Strelkov, who was the main rebel military commander at the time the Malaysian airliner was shot down.

Strelkov and Borodai, who fought in Moldova's breakaway Transdniestr region in the 1990s, slipped back into Russia several months ago, deeming their job finished as "patriots" in east Ukraine.

Borodai, who is banned under Western sanctions from entering the European Union and the United States, says tightening the sanctions will not "frighten" Moscow.

He reiterated that Russia had not sent troops to east Ukraine, adding that if it had "there would have been no trace of the Ukrainian army left close to Donetsk now."

Source: Google News

Washington Confronts Russia Over Ukraine: Yet Europeans Won't Protect Themselves From Vladimir Putin

MUENSTER, Germany -- Europe is at risk, we are told. Russia’s assault on Ukraine threatens the post-Cold War order. Moscow may follow up with similar attacks on Moldova and even such NATO members as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, right, addresses NATO Response Force soldiers during his visit to the I. German-Dutch Brigade in Muenster, Germany, Monday, June 22, 2015. The troops are part of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).

But no one in Europe seems to care.

Even the countries supposedly in Vladimir Putin’s gun sites aren’t much concerned.

No one is bolstering their military.

And the European people oppose taking any military risks to help their neighbors.

Unfortunately, the Ukraine crisis is likely to continue for some time.

The allies hope sanctions will bring Moscow to heel, but the Pew Research Center found that 88 percent of Russians backed Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, the highest number since Pew started polling in 2003.

At least Putin, though no friend of the West, is no fool.

He recently opined: “only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO.”

But if Putin changes his mind, the Europeans don’t plan on defending themselves.

Instead, virtually everyone expects America to save them, if necessary.

Washington is being played for a sucker as usual.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is visiting Europe this week.

On Monday while observing exercises by NATO’s new rapid response force he announced that the U.S. will contribute aircraft, weapons, and personnel to the “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.”

Americans will provide intelligence, logistics, reconnaissance, and surveillance support.

That’s not all.

Separately, the Obama administration plans to pre-position tanks and other equipment for a combat brigade in seven nations in Eastern Europe.

James Stavidis, a former NATO commander, now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts, said this “provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies.”

Carter explained that Washington was acting “because the United States is deeply committed to the defense of Europe, as we have for decades.”

America is more committed to Europe than are Europeans.

“We are moving forward together, with new capabilities,” he said.

What does he mean by “we”?

Washington again will do the heavy lifting.

“You can nearly hear the sigh of relief in Europe,” said Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in learning that the U.S. again would bail out its allies.

The Europeans scrimp on the military while funding their generous welfare state.

They promise Washington whatever it desires—to increase outlays, hit the two percent of GDP level, improve international coordination, and more.

Then they will go back to doing what they do best, depend on America.

NATO always stood for North America and the Others.

During the Cold War the allied states shamelessly took a very cheap ride on the U.S.

That made sense in the immediate aftermath of World War II, but by the 1960s Europe had recovered and should have spent amounts commensurate with the Soviet threat.

However, Europeans correctly gauged that Washington wouldn’t leave, despite periodically upbraiding them for their meager efforts.

The problem has gotten worse in recent years.

The U.S. accounts for three-quarters of NATO outlays even though Europe has a larger GDP than America.

Because of European cutbacks, overall outlays are down 1.5 percent this year.

Of 28 members only the U.S., Britain, and Greece—mostly because of its confrontation with fellow alliance member Turkey—typically broke the officially recommended level of two percent of GDP.

Estonia has become a member of that exclusive club, but not Latvia and Lithuania, despite being on the front line.

After frenetically demanding that the U.S. do more, Poland only hit that mark this year.

But several members have been cutting outlays, despite the continent’s embarrassing showing against Libya (running out of missiles, for instance) and limited capacity to aid the Baltics (little more than nil) let alone defend a nation like Ukraine.

Of the five largest European defense budgets, only France’s will increase.

Those of Canada, Germany, Great Britain, and Italy will continue to decline.

None of these countries will hit the recommended two percent of GDP level in 2015.

Only Britain and France exceed 1.5 percent.

Canada barely makes one percent.

(At the G-7 Summit President Barack Obama essentially begged the British to spend more; London has responded by considering whether reclassifying intelligence and foreign aid outlays as “military” would allow Britain to technically meet the standard.)

Those NATO members spending more this year—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Netherlands, Norway, and Romania—collectively have outlays only half that of Britain.

Cooperation is poor even among those most at risk.

Add Poland to the three Baltic and five Nordic states and the group enjoys a GDP about a third larger than that of Russia.

However, their military outlays are only about 40 percent of Moscow’s.

Moreover, complains Edward Lucas of the Center for European Policy Analysis, they “are divided” and suffer from “strategic incoherence.”

Never mind the events of the last year.

Ukraine has not served as Thomas Jefferson’s famed “fire bell in the night,” despite the supposedly terrible threat posed to the peace and stability of Europe.

“It is much more business as usual,” said British defense analyst Ian Kearns.

As of 2013 the Europeans devoted just 3.6 percent of their governments’ budgets to the military, compared to a fifth of U.S. government spending.

America’s per capita military outlays are five times that of the alliance’s Cold War members and eight times that of those states which joined later.

“Total military spending by NATO’s European members was less in real terms in 2014 than in 1997—and there are 12 more member states in NATO today,” observed my Cato Institute colleague Chris Preble.

The issue is more than just money.

From the onset of the crisis with Russia a number of American analysts have proposed deploying U.S. forces to Ukraine, treating the latter as if it was a NATO ally.

No Europeans have volunteered to follow.

The U.S. House has approved legislation to arm Kiev’s forces, and a similar measure is being pushed by ever warlike Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain.

Most European governments have resisted the idea.

“Make no mistake: we will defend our allies,” declared Carter.

But will the Europeans defend anyone, even themselves?

A new poll suggests not.

The Pew Foundation recently surveyed eight leading NATO countries:

If Russia got into a conflict with another member of NATO, should your country use military force in the victim’s defense?

A majority of French, Germans, and Italians said no.

(The Germans were particularly emphatic, with 58 percent rejecting war. German support for NATO has dropped by 18 percent in just six years.)

Only pluralities said yes in Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

(Yet Poland is insisting that everyone else defend it!)

The highest European support level was in Britain, at 49 percent.

Only in America, naturally, and Canada did a majority say yes (56 and 53 percent, respectively).

Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, said “it will take a serious effort by the alliance to convince its public of the need to prepare for, deter and, if necessary, respond to a Russian attack.”

Yet why should they take action as long as they believe they can count on Washington to save them?

According to Pew, two-thirds of Europeans were convinced the Americans would come rushing over to do what they would not do for themselves.

It’s time to change that.

Judy Dempsey of Carnegie Europe asked why Washington allowed itself to be used in this way:

“Europe is prosperous. It should be confident enough both to take care of its own security and to contribute to a greater role in burden sharing.”

It will not do so as long as U.S. policymakers insist that Americans do the job instead.

The Cold War is over.

Moscow is an unpleasant regional actor, not a global threat.

Europe has a much larger GDP and population than Russia and even with its current anemic level of military outlays devotes more to defense.

The U.S. government is essentially bankrupt, with far greater unfunded liabilities than the Europeans, despite Greece’s travails.

Instead of pouring more resources into NATO, Washington should be disengaging militarily, turning leadership of the alliance and responsibility for defending the continent over to Europe.

Americans shouldn’t be expected to protect their rich cousins even if the latter were devoted to protecting each other.

That the Europeans expect the U.S. to do their job is yet another reason for Americans to say no more. 

Source: Forbes

For Ukraine, Half-Measures Are Worse Than None

WASHINGTON, DC -- If you're out for a hike and find a deep, wide chasm in your path, you have a few options.

Russia-backed rebel loads a shell in a tank near the Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine. Nothing proposed by President Barack Obama or his critics in Congress is likely to alter the outcome there.

You might give up and turn back. You might devise a way to get over it. You might look for a way around it. What you would not do is jump halfway across.

Half-measures are often worse than none.

But when it comes to dealing with Vladimir Putin, they are exactly the ones most favored by both the Obama administration and its congressional critics.

The Russian president moved last year to seize Crimea from its neighbor and former republic, Ukraine.

Ever since, the pro-Western government of Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country — forces that apparently include some actual members of the Russian military.

The United States and its European allies have responded by imposing economic sanctions in an effort to punish Putin and possibly force him to retreat.

The sanctions, reports The Wall Street Journal, "dented the ruble's value, fueled capital flight and sent the oil-dependent economy into a tailspin."

But the retreat has not happened.

So the administration has provided Ukraine with "nonlethal defensive security assistance," including medical supplies and night-vision goggles. 

American hawks want more.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says our refusal to ship weapons to Kiev is "one of the most shameful chapters in American history."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, says if we send arms, "Putin will pay a price for increased casualties — one he is obviously very nervous about paying."

But one rule of national security is to be careful about getting involved in shooting wars with countries that can destroy you — which Russia, with its hundreds of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, could do to us in, oh, half an hour.

Another wise policy is to avoid steps that are optically pleasing but practically destructive.

Furnishing weapons to Ukraine would expand the bloodshed without altering the outcome.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted that Washington can't "provide enough military support to the Ukrainian military that they could overwhelm the military operations that are currently being backed by Russia."

Whatever we do, Putin can do more — and almost certainly will.

Russia has more at stake in Ukraine than we do and is prepared to make greater sacrifices to get what it wants.

But the administration has its own fondness for ineffectual gestures.

This week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the U.S. will "pre-position" tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and artillery in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — NATO countries that used to be under Moscow's rule and prefer not to be again.

This step would make it easier to respond to a Russian attack.

Carter asserted that it also shows the U.S. and NATO "are absolutely committed to defending the territorial integrity" of the Baltic nations.

The New York Times reported that it's meant to serve "as a deterrent the way the Berlin Brigade did after the Berlin Wall crisis in 1961."

Oh? That particular U.S. Army unit was an effective deterrent because its presence assured the East Germans and Soviets that if they tried to seize West Berlin, they would be at war with the United States.

It was a simple statement:

"If you want to take West Berlin, you'll do it over our dead bodies."

This step allows Putin to suspect that if Russia were to invade, he would not have to fight the U.S.

By declining to place actual troops in the Baltics, Obama gives the Russians a yellow light, not a red one.

It's a gesture that conveys a fervent desire to have it both ways: keeping the Russians out without taking any risk.

In that respect, it fits perfectly with our original inclusion of these countries in NATO.

We happily extended our security guarantee to countries like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia only because we assumed we'd never have to make good on it.

Now we find ourselves contemplating the implications of that decision.

Are Americans prepared to send U.S. troops to die defending these nations from Russia?

Maybe so, and maybe not.

But it's a discussion Americans have never had.

The president's half-measure allows us to put it off again.

Lacking a solution, he offers an unconvincing facsimile of one.

Obama and his opponents disagree on specific policies, but they share an approach to Russia:

If you can't do anything useful, do something useless.

Source: Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

U.S. Sending Tanks And Armor To Europe

TALLINN, Estonia -- The U.S. military will be sending dozens of tanks, Bradley armored fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers to allied countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe in response to Russian actions in the Ukraine, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday.

The equipment, enough to arm one combat brigade, will be positioned in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, Carter announced at a press conference with U.S. allies in Estonia. 

Carter said the equipment will be moved around Europe for training and exercises.

The U.S. defense chief also said Washington and its NATO allies will be boosting cyber defense efforts.

"We must prepare NATO and our allies for cyber challenges, particularly from Russia," Carter said in prepared remarks.

Carter's announcement comes during a week-long tour of Europe.

"We need to explain to those who doubt the value of our NATO commitments that the security of Europe is vital to everything else we hold dear," Carter said at a press event with his German counterpart Monday.

While Carter won't be visiting Russia on this trip, Russian President Vladimir Putin's influence looms over the tour's discussions.

"One of [Putin's] stated views is a longing for the past and that's where we have a different perspective on the world and even on Russia's future," he told reporters en route to Germany, in response to a question about whether Putin is a rational actor.

"We'd like to see us all moving forward, Europe moving forward, and that does not seem to be his stated perspective."

Carter also addressed comments Putin made last week, announcing the addition of 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to Russia's nuclear arsenal, a move Carter said reflected "posturing" on the Russian leader's part.

"Nuclear weapons are not something that should be the subject of loose rhetoric by world leadership," Carter said.

"We all understand the gravity of nuclear dangers. We all understand that Russia is a long established nuclear power. There is no need for Vladimir Putin to make that point."

Carter's comments are just the latest in an escalating war of words between U.S. and Russian officials. 

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, Putin denied his government is behaving aggressively.

"We are not aggressive," Putin said.

"We are persistent in pursuing our interests."

"The biggest threat on my mind is what's happening with Russia and the activities of Russia," James said during a visit to the Paris Air Show.

"It's extremely worrisome on what's going on in the Ukraine."

Like what Carter said is planned for the U.S. Army's tanks, U.S. Air Force planes have been rotating through Europe under Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Participating in those exercises and rotations have been B-2 and B-52 bombers, F-15Cs and A-10 attack planes.

James said the F-22 Raptor, the Pentagon's premier fighter, could join that list.

"I could easily see the day -- though I couldn't tell you the day exactly -- when the F-22, for example, rotates in is a possibility. I don't see why that couldn't happen in the future," James said, The Army, too, has been active in these exercises.

In March, the Army sent a convoy of armored vehicles on an1,100-mile trek from the Baltics through Poland and the Czech Republic to Germany.

Analysts said the size of the armor deployment Carter announced Tuesday was showed it was more symbolic than strategic.

During the Cold War, the U.S. had the same amount of armor, a brigade, stationed in just one small part of what was then West Germany, said retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit, the former military assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

"We are now talking about taking one brigade combat team and splitting it among these six countries. That should hardly be seen as a threat to Russia," Kimmit said.

But the symbolism was important, he said.

"We're sending a message of assurance to our NATO allies. We have obligations, under the NATO treaty, to defend those countries if attacked. I think those countries in the region are going to be welcoming the positioning of these - this equipment into their countries," Kimmit said.

Orysia Lutsevych, an analyst with the Chatham House think tank in London, said the U.S. and its NATO allies should have been making these kind of statement to Moscow sooner.

The Obama administration "should have pushed the Kremlin before reaching to the kind of moment of escalation we are having right now," Lutsevych said.

"By trying to appease the Kremlin too long, we will be facing with a higher cost every day."

Source: CNN Politics