Friday, July 31, 2015

Ukraine Tells Depardieu To Get Lost

KIEV, Ukraine -- Earlier today, the Ukrainian authorities banned French film star Gérard Depardieu from entering the country for five years.

French film star Gérard Depardieu with Belarusian Dictator Alexander Lukashenko (R)

A government spokeswoman confirmed that he’s been placed on an official blacklist of public figures deemed hostile to Ukrainian sovereignty.

The decision didn’t come as a complete surprise.

Depardieu has been drawing attention with his pro-Russian antics for some time.

Last year, during an appearance at an event in Latvia, he declared, “I love Russia and Ukraine, which is part of Russia.”

And then, of course, there’s his much-publicized friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which probably didn’t help.

A few weeks ago, at the Cannes Film Festival, he assured reporters of his continuing fondness for Putin (“I like him a lot”) and cryptically downplayed the Russian annexation of Crimea (“if Crimea had been American it would have been a different matter”).

The ban is the latest twist in a bizarre saga that began two years ago, when Depardieu proclaimed his plan to establish tax residency in the Belgian border town of Néchin as a protest against a proposed French wealth tax on high earners.

Vladimir Putin, who had already hosted the French film star on his multiple visits to Moscow, seized upon the opening to offer Depardieu citizenship in Russia (which, it should be noted, boasts a flat tax rate of 13 percent).

Depardieu thereupon embarked on a madcap odyssey across the former Soviet Union.

In Moscow he rubbed elbows with Putin and assorted Kremlin court celebrities, and even starred in a Russian sitcom.

He attended a well-lubricated birthday party for brutal Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

He recorded a soppy duet with Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator (who has since, in effect, been declared persona non grata by her own father).

He also made a trip to Baku, where he hobnobbed with local leaders and appeared in a commercial for Azeri cuisine.

Earlier this month, in what may have been the oddest encounter yet, he turned up in Minsk, where he embarked on a grass-scything photo op (see above) with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

On Sunday, Depardieu gave an interview in which he generously gave his stamp of approval to Minsk’s role as the scene of negotiations to end the war in eastern Ukraine.

(This was also a rather odd move, considering that the widely criticized Minsk II agreement, signed by Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany, was concluded there five months ago.)

Just for good measure, Depardieu also seized the opportunity to hail a recent Belarusian law aimed at penalizing the unemployed.

He referred to Lukashenko’s reinstatement of the gruesome Soviet era “tax for a parasitic lifestyle” a “sign of democratic society.”

Paradoxical as this may now seem, given his current penchant for the company of dictators, Depardieu had once embraced democratic Ukraine:

He toured the Carpathians and took part in a failed scheme to open a restaurant in Kiev.

Long before Kadyrov proffered him the gift of a free apartment in Chechnya, Depardieu even spent a pair of vacations with ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko at his country house.

(A spokesman for Yushchenko declined to comment when contacted for this piece.)

The French star once floated a plan to make a movie, set in medieval times, celebrating a Ukrainian nationalist hero.

Now he’s talking instead of a joint Franco-Russian film project set in World War II, featuring French fighter pilots who fought with the Soviets against Nazi Germany.

Those days now seem long gone.

The Kiev government’s latest move appears to mark the final break in Depardieu’s long romance with Ukraine.

It’s sad to think that the French star once courted democratic Ukraine as fervently as he now woos autocrats.

But then, consistency was never his strong suit.

Source: FP

Ukraine Pilot Savchenko Appears In Russian Court

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian helicopter pilot, accused of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, has appeared in court in Russia.

Nadia Savchenko, seen here at an earlier court hearing in Moscow, could get 25 years in prison if convicted.

A pre-trial hearing for Nadia Savchenko, in custody for more than a year, was held in the town of Donetsk, close to the Ukrainian border.

It was adjourned after the defence asked for the trial to be moved.

Two Russian journalists were killed in a mortar attack last June, which prosecutors allege she helped target.

The case has soured already strained relations between Moscow and Kiev.

Russian investigators say Ms Savchenko, a helicopter navigator, was working as a spotter in eastern Ukraine, and provided the co-ordinates for the deadly mortar attack in June 2014.

Her lawyers have previously told the BBC that she has an alibi, and had already been captured by rebels at the time the attack happened.

However, they say a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion as the court follows political orders.

If convicted, the pilot could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison in Russia.

Embassy staff from the UK, US and several other countries were not allowed to attend the pre-trial hearing.

Ms Savchenko's defence team requested that the trial be moved to Moscow, away from Rostov region, which borders Ukraine and is close to the ongoing conflict.

Her lawyers say the trial was held in remote Donetsk to minimise critical media coverage, and to make the affair as logistically difficult for the defendant as possible.

The judge has accepted the defence's right to challenge the location of the trial, and referred it to Rostov's main regional court for consideration.

A decision is expected within 10 days.

The Ukrainian government says Ms Savchenko was abducted by pro-Russian separatists and handed over to the Russian authorities.

But Russia says she crossed the border illegally, posing as a refugee, before being detained.

Source: BBC News

U.S. Blacklists Some Due To Russia/Ukraine Conflict

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Obama administration moved Thursday to update and fine-tune sanctions on Russia, pro-Russian companies and people over the conflict in Ukraine.

John E. Smith, Deputy Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Treasury Department announced it had placed the names of 26 individuals and entities on blacklists that freeze any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions.

The blacklists also bar Americans from doing business with them.

Officials said the step is intended to maintain the effectiveness of existing sanctions, not to expand the penalties in response to any escalation in the Ukraine crisis.

"Today's action underscores our resolve to maintain pressure on Russia for violating international law and fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine," said John E. Smith, the director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

"Our message is clear: we will continue to act to ensure the effectiveness of our sanctions."

Thirteen of the 26 were targeted for helping others evade previous sanctions.

Five are former Ukrainian officials accused of corruption and undermining democracy, according to Treasury.

Five others operate ports in Crimea, the region that Russia annexed from Ukraine last year.

One of those is a Crimean ferry operator.

The other two are arms sector companies that operate in Russia.

In addition, several firms owned by previously sanctioned companies were named.

These subsidiaries were already covered by the existing sanctions but Treasury said they were now being specifically identified.

Source: AP

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ukraine Names Detained Russian Soldier, Charges Him With Terrorism

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's state security service on Wednesday named a Russian army major who was detained by Ukrainian servicemen at the weekend with a cargo of military equipment in eastern Ukraine and said he had been charged with terrorism.

State security chief Vasyl Hrytsak.

State security chief Vasyl Hrytsak told reporters that Vladimir Starkov, 37, from Russia's Kirov region, had admitted immediately he was a serving soldier in the Russian armed forces after he was stopped in a truck at a checkpoint 22 km (14 miles) outside the separatist-held city of Donetsk.

Ukraine is likely to use the case to bolster its charges that Russia is continuing its involvement in the 15-month-long conflict and undermining a peace agreement worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February.

While supporting the separatists' cause, the Kremlin denies it is supplying them with arms and equipment and that its forces are engaged in the conflict in Ukraine's east.

When Ukraine captured two Russian soldiers in May, Russia said the two men had quit their special forces unit to go to Ukraine of their own volition.

In a video released by the SBU state security agency, Starkov said that after arriving for service in Russia's Rostov region he was ordered to go to Ukraine as a military adviser to the rebels.

"They (the commanders) place you before an accomplished fact that you will serve in the DNR or the LNR (rebels' Donetsk or Luhansk people republics)," Starkov said.

SBU officials say Starkov and another man who said he was a separatist fighter lost their way and driven towards Ukrainian forces manning the checkpoint.

An SBU official told Reuters that Starkov had been accused of terrorism.

A fragile ceasefire, though punctuated by occasional clashes, largely seems to be holding while the sides withdraw heavy weapons from a buffer zone.

But each side accuses the other of failing to honor the Minsk agreements.

More than 6,600 people have been killed in the conflict.

Speaking in the western city of Lviv on Wednesday, President Petro Poroshenko repeated that all Russian forces had to be withdrawn from Ukraine.

"Russian forces must get out of Ukraine's territory.

State sovereignty must be renewed in the uncontrolled part of the Ukrainian-Russian border," he said. 

Source: Google News

Russia Vetoes U.N. Resolution On Tribunal For Malaysia Airlines Crash In Ukraine

UNITED NATIONS, USA -- Russia blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution on Wednesday that would create a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner last year in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin.

The measure was aimed at enforcing accountability for the downing of Flight 17, which killed all 298 people aboard.

Many of the passengers were Dutch, and the Netherlands has been investigating the disaster.

Russian officials had signaled their strong opposition to the resolution, which was introduced by Malaysia and drafted by a collection of countries, including the Netherlands, Ukraine and Australia. 

The vote in the 15-member Council was 11 to 1.

Three countries — China, Angola and Venezuela — abstained.

“We are deeply disappointed,” said the Malaysia transport minister, Liow Tong Lai, who attended the Council session and spoke in support of the resolution before the vote.

Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Council, along with Britain, China, France and the United States, has veto power over any resolution.

Explaining the veto, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, said his country wanted a “rapid determination of guilt” for whoever was found responsible.

But he also questioned the impartiality of the tribunal envisioned in the resolution.

“Can it resist propaganda?” he said.

Ukraine’s government accused Kremlin-backed separatists of using a Russian-made missile to shoot down the plane, which was en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam on July 17, 2014.

The jetliner plunged in pieces to a bucolic part of eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.

Russia, which has suggested that Ukrainian forces may have been responsible, said the resolution had been politicized and that an investigation into the cause of the crash had not been completed.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of Australia, who also attended the Council vote, called the veto “a mockery of Russia’s commitment to accountability.”

A few weeks ago, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia forcefully rejected the idea of a tribunal in a telephone call to Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, calling it an “untimely and counterproductive initiative.”

Source: The New York Times

Putin Tries To Unsettle Ukraine With Fake Demonstrations

KIEV, Ukraine -- Western leaders pressing Ukraine to give in to Russian demands and offer the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics autonomy would be well advised to take note of the other parts of Ukraine that, according to Russian media, are also demanding self-rule.

A Russian-language Pervy Baltiysky Kanal (PBK) technician supervises the broadcast of Russia's TV content in Riga January 26, 2015. Russian TV has been exaggerating small separatist protests recently, suggesting that Ukraine is disintegrating.

On July 17, approximately 20 people in Lviv staged a blitzkrieg demonstration with banners demanding greater autonomy for Halychyna in western Ukraine.

The action lasted no more than five minutes, but was presented on Russian pro-Kremlin channels as a 300-strong demonstration blocking one of the city's central streets.

Rossiya 24's report deemed it "Kiev's new problem."

The event bears a strong similarity to a similar stunt in Odessa on March 19, most chillingly because the fake demonstrations supposedly reflect an increase in separatist sentiments that were preceded by bomb blasts.

In Odessa, the first acts of terrorism date back to April 2014, while there have been three attacks in Lviv in the past three weeks.

Most recently, two police officers were injured in two explosions outside police stations on July 14.

Russian TV has presented the bombings as linked to the conflict between the Right Sector and police in Mukacheve.

Commentators suggest that if they are linked, the Lviv bombings are more likely to have been orchestrated by the Russian FSB than Right Sector.

It is not clear that they were a direct result of the Mukacheve events, however, since the first explosion on June 25 preceded the fighting in Mukacheve.

In Lviv, a group appeared at 5:30 p.m. on July 17 with banners, "dashed out onto Horodotska St. near the Circus, ran along the road, took several photos, and like rats, dispersed in different directions so that they wouldn't be caught," Ihor Zinkevych from the civic initiative Varta 1 (Civic Watch) wrote.

Varta 1 was alerted by residents and arrived within five minutes, but by that time the participants had already fled.

The demonstration was apparently organized by two local left-wing organizations, the communist publication Halytsky Yastrub (Halychan Hawk) and Zakhyst Suspilstva (Public Defense).

Little is known about Zakhyst Suspilstva, but had written about previous attempts by Halytsky Yastrub and the husband and wife team—Dmytro Lyashchenko and Olena Boiko—associated with it, to "organize provocation with communist symbols in the city."

On the day after Victory Day, Lyashchenko walked around Lviv with a communist flag and the St. George ribbon.

The ribbon was used during the 70th anniversary events marking the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany, but for most Ukrainians it is widely associated with Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbas.

Lyashchenko was assaulted, which was clearly the aim, so that the Russian media could draw attention to an attack on a Lviv journalist for supporting war veterans.

Russia's attempts to present Lviv as a hotbed of nationalism are nothing new, but the July 17 stunt was worryingly different.

The Russian media reports mixed up a couple of details, which suggests that the information was prepared in advance of the event and the event was merely staged for a photo-op.

Halytsky Yastrub and Zakhyst Suspilstva notified the authorities of their plan to hold a picket outside the Lviv Regional Administration on July 17 at 11 a.m.

Right Sector said that it would try to stop the picket and it was present, together with journalists and the police.

However, the picket did not take place because the authorities prohibited it.

It is, of course, possible that the original source was unaware or decided to ignore the fact that the scheduled picket did not materialize, and that the Russian media simply repeated its information, inaccuracies and all.

Possible, but unlikely. has a spotted reputation and is anything but a mainstream source, yet Russian channels like Rossiya 24 and Life News reported the same story within an hour or two.

The picket as planned never took place, but a five-minute sprint for the cameras was held much later, and not outside the Lviv Regional Administration.

The banners read: "Special status of Halychyna – real autonomy for the Lviv oblast"; "Enough of feeding the thieves in Kiev!", "More self-government for Halychyna."

The participants carried Ukrainian flags and blue and yellow banners.

This was highly unusual for Halytsky Yastrub, but perfect for Russian propaganda.

The flash-mob demonstration produced three photos intended to suggest a large-scale event.

Rossiya 24 showed all three, asserting that Right Sector tried to stop the protest that ended outside the Lviv Regional Administration.

From there, the channel moved to Mukacheve, with the key theme much the same: conflict, lack of unity and demands for greater self-determination.

Russian media did not show the widely posted photos, allegedly from the same event, where participants were being paid for their separatist zeal.

Even if there had been a 300-strong demonstration in support of autonomy in western Ukraine, it would not necessarily have been a problem.

This is something that Moscow does not understand.

Modest attempts to call for greater autonomy in Russia last year resulted in criminal prosecutions, activists being placed on Russia's terrorist and extremist list and widespread media bans.

But another fake protest against a background of real explosions is disturbing.

In addition to Lviv, there is clear evidence of Russian encouragement, if not creation, of separatist movements in Odessa and Transcarpathia.

In this light, western illusions regarding an end to Moscow's demands following Ukraine's acquiescence over greater autonomy for the Donbas seem dangerously misguided.

Source: Newsweek

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

One Year On - The Sparks Which Could Reignite 'Hot War' In Ukraine

LONDON, England -- Ukraine conflict remains an undeclared war, but the language in universal use use of "invasion," "occupation" and "the aggressor" leaves no doubt that this is a country under attack.

Ukrainian soldiers walk through the ruins of the village of Opytne, only a few miles from Donetsk international airport.

Travelling to the Dnipropetrovsk 'oblast' or region adjacent to the fighting, refugees from the conflict and humanitarian workers who'd helped them, gave a chilling account to us of the chaotic conditions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions captured by Russian-inspired rebels.

"People feel abandoned. There is rubbish everywhere, stray animals, the place is a mess. There is no law at all," said one refugee, Svetlana.

"900,000 people have been left helpless in their homes. All the doctors have left. When the international community gets full access to the territories, we will open the doors and start carrying out bodies of people long-since dead," Andriy Vaskovych from aid agency Caritas told us.

UN officials described a "Rambo generation" of children being created, up to 80% of whom had directly witnessed violence.

Babies born in the occupied territories are unable to be issued with birth certificates, effectively making them stateless.

Citing an incident where seven engineers who'd gone to repair a water pumping station were killed, humanitarian workers and local journalists both described deliberate attempts to block access to water, food and medicines as effectively a 'blockade' and 'punishment'.

The separatists have turned away many humanitarian deliveries to the territories, instead paying rudimentary pensions directly in Russian roubles - having the perverse consequence of making elderly people the meagre breadwinners to support everyone else.

This week too, the Russian rouble is due to be adopted as the official currency of the disputed territories.

Dnipropetrovsk was the home of Leonid Brezhnev.

Ironically it is a city which was itself 'closed' to all outsiders in the Soviet era, as a centre of military research and rocket technology.

Today it is the open focus for more than a million people who have fled their homes during the conflict.

Analysts in London and Brussels have started to write that the 'Minsk 2' ceasefire negotiated in February is holding, a new frozen conflict having evolved in Ukraine, to match others in the Caucusus region.

Local opinion described such analysis as optimistic, and the "best outcome" in what remains a highly unpredictable situation, albeit one which is still wholly unacceptable to the Ukrainian state.

European security monitors told us that despite tentative agreements for the withdrawal of heavy arms, there is no reduction of forces from the region.

One of their own unarmed drones filming the evidence was shot down as we spoke.

Breaches of the ceasefire have increased rather than reduced, they tell us.

Olexander Turchynov, head of the country's National Security Council back in Kiev, claimed to us that the previous night alone had seen 86 violations, ten wounded and one killed in action.

If Russia was planning a full-scale military invasion to annex the East of Ukraine, as they did to Crimea last year, wouldn't it have occurred by now, I ask?

"Not a single town or village would give up easily. If it was not for those heavy losses, nothing would stop Putin mounting a full scale war on Ukraine's territory," according to Turchynov.

Others suggested Russia's aims were satisfied having certainly prevented an early steps for Ukraine to join NATO, and using a combination of propaganda and local destabilisation now to keep the country weak and divided.

Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin suggested to us that this was a fight which might extend to two decades.

Germany's Angela Merkel was quoted stating Germany waited 40 years for its own reunification, whilst in 50 years, the United States never recognised Soviet control of today's independent Baltic States.

This could be a fight for the long-haul.

But shorter-term worries arise in Crimea's ethnic Tatars telling us local Mafia are using the territory to smuggle goods in breach of EU sanctions.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko also reminded us that the first Minsk ceasefire had failed over what he called a 'fake election,' and warned that similar manipulation at local elections in Ukraine as soon as this October risk collapse of the current deal.

A further potential provocation could come from right-wing groups in the country, one of the targets of Russian propaganda, but which an international journalist described to me as believed to be 'Moscow's men.'

A tactical decision to gain sea access for the rebel territories via the city of Mariupol is yet one more danger.

"That's the most likely flashpoint. Separatists were driven out from there not by Kiev but by local people. They are Russian speakers. If there is an attack, it will be a massacre," the same journalist added.

One final spark which could re-ignite a 'hot war' could perhaps come in the stories circulating that Ukraine is starting to allow troops on to its own borders from neighbouring Moldova, to cut-off Russian access to the frozen enclave in their own country.

I can't believe Vladimir Putin will stand idly by, if these stories are confirmed.

The chances of political agreement between Ukraine, Russia and the rebel territories look distant.

Despite setting up parallel structures of authority, the rebels are labelled 'terrorists' by Kiev.

International representatives concede they are 'puppets',' 'yanked' back to Moscow as soon as they are out of line, and would refuse any deal knowing it would mean not just the loss of power but of their liberty too.

We are briefed on what is called the 'Normandy format' telephone call which took place between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany during our visit.

Despite a promise only to continue talks on the key issue of the status of the two disputed regions, there is a positive sign in President Poroshenko telling us:

"This is the first time there have been constructive results from the talks."

Ukraine itself freely admits it has its own deep shortcomings, as it seeks to escape the corruption, bureaucracy and judicial failures which are the legacy of its own chapter in Soviet history.

The stamp required in the passport for internally displaced persons to register for assistance is likened to 'propiska' of the Soviet era.

Meanwhile corruption allegations within the office of the country's highest prosecutor in which a bag of diamonds was discovered, have been incredulously explained as "stones for the fish tank he has at home."

Prime Minister Arseniy Arsenyuk is impressively candid about the challenges for his government when we meet him.

He says he is in discussion with the Council of Europe about wholesale "reshuffling" of the country's 9,000-strong judiciary and implores EU countries to send our own detectives to bring rigour to the country's anti-corruption agency.

Even delivering the constitutional 'special status' to the two rebel regions which is an explicit part of the Minsk agreement presents him with problems.

The European parliamentarians added our own efforts to help bridge the fissures in the Government coalition, which left Arsenyuk thirteen votes short of the necessary majority at first reading, before the final vote in the country's parliament due next September.

"It's important to keep the coalition together to keep the country together," President Poroshenko encouraged us.

Nevertheless, we were left in little doubt that Ukraine's European perspective remains undimmed, which was the deepest aspiration of the protesters in Kiev's Maidan Square, and for which for many lost their lives.

"The only way for Ukraine is to 'Go West'," was the robust conclusion of the European Union's chief diplomat in the country.

Ukraine's 'association agreement' with the European Union is absolutely driving the agenda.

Indeed the country's leading politicians are all determined to avoid any Russian veto which might further delay implementation of the trade dimension to the deal from January next year.

It is ironic that it is the European side which has a cloud on the horizon, as Greece is one of just three countries which has failed to deliver the necessary unanimous ratification of the agreement, a country which has enjoyed a flirtation with Moscow in its own current plight.

There is a grim coincidence that the two places in Europe where the banking system has currently failed to operate are in Greece and in the conflict zone of eastern Ukraine.

This week's talks did suggest good progress towards achieving the much-cherished aim for agreement of visa-free travel for Ukrainians to mainland Europe's 'Schengen zone', which may be achieved by the end of the year.

But Ukrainian demands for arms sales and for the launching of a European Union "CSDP" defence mission to oversee the Minsk agreement are likely to meet a more divided response from within the European Union, as well as likely hostility from Moscow.

Nevertheless, while we were in the country too, the announcement of the formation of a joint battalion between Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, and the conduct of 'Trident' joint military exercises in the country by NATO, both showed that military cooperation is very much a component in Europe's response.

"Some EU member states are resisting large scale military support but let me be clear: we are protecting your borders," President Poroshenko told the European Parliamentarians.

The Socialist European group is committed both to sign up to the sanctions against Russia but also to keeping lines of communication open towards Moscow in favour of a negotiated solution if at all possible.

However, the last week has left me in no doubt that this is quite literally a fight for Europe within Ukraine.

Europe has to consider very carefully the consequences for all of us whether it is a fight we can afford to be lost and to decide for ourselves exactly what constitutes victory or defeat?

Cold war, hot war or no war at all.

Source: Huff Post

East Ukraine War Death Toll: 2,300 Ukrainian Soldiers Dead, Hundreds Missing Since Conflict Began, Military Says

KIEV, Ukraine -- More than 2,300 Ukrainian soldiers have died since the Eastern Ukraine war began in April 2014, the head of the civilian-military cooperation department of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Oleksiy Nozdrachov, said Tuesday.

A Ukrainian serviceman who fought in Debaltseve hoists a Ukrainian national flag before leaving for home, near Artemivsk.

In addition to the death toll, which represented nearly a third of the total number of deaths in the country as a result of the war, there were reported to be around 270 service personnel still unaccounted for, according to Tass, a news agency backed by the Russian government.

"As of today, the death toll is about 2,300 Ukrainian soldiers, but it is difficult to say how many people are missing in action, because, as seen from experience, 40 percent of them are often captives,” said Nozdrachov, who added that he believed the remaining 60 percent have been killed in action. 

However, a Ukrainian estimate suggested that there were anywhere between 70 and 200 troops and civilians just being held in captivity, a report Monday by Unian said.

Around 60 of those people detained by pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine were likely just civilians, said Yuriy Tandyt, special advisor to the Security Services of Ukraine, in the report.

Many of the soldiers being held have come from the regular Ukrainian military, soldiers of the National Guard, and from various volunteer battalions around the country.

In total, it’s thought that around 7,000 soldiers and civilians have died since the fighting began, with around 1,500 of those coming since the Minsk II ceasefire was instituted Feb. 15.

Clashes between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops have increased in recent months, with more than 120 attacks coming Monday night and early Tuesday evening alone.

Source: IBT

OSCE Reviews Operations In Ukraine Conflict After Monitor Injured

KIEV, Ukraine -- They are meant to be monitoring a ceasefire but are increasingly caught between the shots themselves.

Ukrainian security forces on the lookout in Eastern Ukraine.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, have been given a mandate by all sides in the Ukraine conflict to keep track of weapons movements and to examine and record violations of a ceasefire, now in its 162nd day.

For the first time, an observer was wounded Monday near one of the worst front lines of the ceasefire whose constant violations -- allegedly by both sides -- has many asking when the fire will actually cease and when a full-blown conflict will begin again.

The OSCE said it is reviewing its operations in parts of the conflict zone as a result of what happened Monday and other incidents.

OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said there were incidents "very close together which did directly target the mission.

That is a new phenomenon.

The incidents were enough to make us press the pause button and review the situation."

In Monday's incident, the observer was hit with debris near Shyrokyne from what seemed like rocket-propelled grenade fire.

His injuries weren't life-threatening.

Bociurkiw said he thought the rebel side was responsible but it was hard to tell if it was affiliated with any specific group.

On Sunday, an OSCE team was subjected to 90 minutes of shelling near Schastiye, with the firing coming from Ukrainian lines.

Bociurkiw called it "a coordinated visit," meaning both sides were notified of the monitors' location and presence.

The observers have grown in number to more than 500 to monitor the implementation of the Minsk 2 accords, which slowed the conflict earlier this year. 

Tension has built up, especially in the separatist-held areas of Eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region.

On Thursday, several hundred protesters marched on the hotel where the OSCE is based in the city of Donetsk, carrying placards with slogans such as "Your silence kills children" and "While you fatten, innocent civilians die."

Bociurkiw said he believes the protest was orchestrated but agreed that locals have genuine grievances over the shelling of their city that the OSCE is monitoring.

The self-appointed mayor of Donetsk, separatist official Igor Martynov, led the protesters.

Thirty OSCE vehicles were then damaged with spray paint and dollar bills daubed in red paint.

OSCE observers spent hours cleaning the vehicles and checking them for booby traps.

Alexander Hug, deputy chief of the OSCE mission in Ukraine, later called the incident "an act of vandalism, not a protest."

Local residents expressed mixed feelings about the OSCE.

The residents are under a form of economic barricade from the rest of Ukraine because of the difficulty of leaving and returning to separatist areas.

Anna, who didn't want her last name used due to the hostile environment, said monitors never come to her neighborhood but acknowledged the shelling stopped when they were in the city.

Ivan, who also declined to use his last name, said the mission was "quite useless."

He only saw monitors in restaurants where, he pointed out sarcastically, it was hard to tell the direction from which shells were fired into the city.

Source: CNN

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ukraine Must Be Armed to Counter Putin’s Advance

LONDON, England -- From the outset of the Ukraine crisis, the West has acted on the premise that economic sanctions would induce Russia to modify its actions.

Members of the Ukrainian armed forces gather on armored vehicles on the roadside near the village of Vidrodzhennya outside Artemivsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, June 9.

But while sanctions do constrain capacity, they do not constrain behavior.

Their immediate impact is bearable.

Moreover, they do nothing to diminish Russia’s most usable and effective form of power: military force.

Given the stakes, the case for strengthening Ukraine’s defenses is compelling.

The Russian military offensive of August 2014 secured diplomatic concessions in Minsk that would not have been granted otherwise.

An even more devastating offensive of January to February 2015, in blatant violation of the first Minsk agreement, produced a second Minsk accord even more flawed than the first.

According to its terms, future election conditions, constitutional reform and the restoration of border control are subject to the agreement of the separatists, who have license to withhold their consent indefinitely.

It is blindingly obvious to the Kremlin that the separatist enclaves are neither absorbable by Russia nor sustainable in the long term.

They are useful solely as a bridgehead for securing Russia’s wider objectives in Ukraine: its “federalization” (loss of sovereignty), “non-bloc status” (enforced neutrality) and the abandonment of its European course.

So far, military force has been the arbiter of this process.

But if Russia’s military card is devalued, so is the bridgehead.

And there are good reasons to believe strengthening Kiev’s military muscle would be effective.

Russia has underestimated Ukraine’s resilience.

Ukrainian national sentiment and civil society have been strengthened by the war, especially in the east.

It also has underestimated the capacity of Ukraine’s fighting forces.

Despite 16 months of armed insurgency and two military offensives backed by regular Russian troops, Russia’s separatist allies control less than 5 percent of Ukraine’s mainland territory.

Russia’s military system is potent but under strain.

Its battle groups are not occupation forces.

They strike hard and withdraw.

The maintenance of 40,000 to 50,000 troops in theatre have placed demands on ground forces units as far away as Kazakhstan and Vladivostok.

There is reluctance to risk prolonged exposure of ethnic Russian servicemen to hostile Russian-speaking populations in eastern Ukraine.

Nevertheless, Ukraine’s armed forces lack the means to prevail in high-intensity combat against well-armed Russian troops.

They are burdened by the hangover of a largely unreformed defense system, by distrust between volunteer units and higher command echelons and by a deficit of competent command and staff officers above unit level.

Yet they are also dangerously outmatched in hard capability.

In the Debaltseve offensive, Russia brought into the field advanced weapons systems against which Ukraine had no countermeasures.

Kiev needs capabilities that will protect its forces and slow down the battlefield.

If opposition forces are likely to face effective resistance and protracted combat, they will be less likely to attack.

And the equipment needed to achieve this—secure communications, electronic counter-measures and long-range passive counter-battery radar—are neither “lethal” weapons nor politically high-profile.

Yet, in their absence, even a well-trained and highly motivated force risks evisceration in battle.

Much has changed since President Obama first declined Ukraine’s request for non-lethal assistance, and NATO allies are now contributing to Ukraine’s defense in a variety of ways.

The problem is that the contribution is unsystematic, uncoordinated and unevenly matched to Ukraine’s needs.

In many quarters, it is now axiomatic that a refocusing and enhancement of Western assistance will “provoke” Putin into a dramatic escalation of the conflict.

The risk exists.

Yet there is nothing in Putin’s record to support this assumption.

What has repeatedly provoked him, however, is weakness and bluff.

In a contest with high-risk players, there is no such thing as a risk-free policy.

Failure to modify an ineffective policy invites at least as much danger as a more robust course.

Today’s dangers are created by Russia’s political aims, its military actions and its increasingly febrile and conspiratorial view of the world.

So far, within these ominous parameters, the Kremlin has behaved according to a rational calculus.

In this calculus, no respect is shown to opponents who are stronger, but unwilling to use their strength.

Source: Newsweek

Revelations In The Maidan Massacre Trial In Ukraine Go Unreported In The West

KIEV, Ukraine -- A delayed trial of two Berkut police members in the Maidan Massacre case have produced striking new revelations providing further confirmations of major findings of my Maidan “snipers’ massacre” study about Maidan snipers killing both police and protesters and subsequent cover up and falsification of the official investigation.

But these striking revelations have not been reported by the Ukrainian and Western media, even though the trial proceedings were open to the media, were streamed live over the Internet and their recordings were posted on YouTube.

On July 15, 2015, the prosecution made public in court for the first time its charges alleging that two arrested members of the Berkut special company massacred 39 out of 49 killed protesters on February 20, 2014.

However, the prosecution’s case unraveled on July 17 when the brother of one of the victims stated during his questioning by the prosecutors that Andrii Saienko was killed not from Berkut positions but from a top floor of the Maidan-controlled Hotel Ukraina.

He made this conclusion on the basis of his brother’s position as shown in a video at the moment of his killing and an entry wound location in upper right chest area and a steep wound channel to the backbone.

The prosecutors and relatives of some of the victims reported during the trial that technical expert reports in the investigative file established that Saienko and at least 9 other protesters were killed from the same exact 7.62mm caliber weapon.

This revelation alone means that a significant proportion of the protesters were shot from this Maidan-controlled hotel, since this caliber bullets were extracted from bodies of 16 protesters.

But the prosecution charged two Berkut members with their killings, even though Saienko’s brother and his lawyer officially handed to investigators the aforementioned video file in October 2014.

His brother identified the moment when Saienko was killed on Instytutska Street, at 9:08:34am in the video, which was initially filmed from the Hotel Ukraina by Radio Svoboda and then synchronized and time-stamped.

This video also shows the moment when Bohdan Solchanyk was killed at 9:08:16am, less than 20 seconds before Saienko in the same area, reportedly with a 7.62mm bullet.

His apparent position, the blood on the right side of the neck, and louder and different sounds of several shots in rapid succession, compared to the AKMS shots fired by Berkut at the same time, indicate that Solchanyk was most likely shot dead from the Hotel Ukraina.

At that time, the Berkut policemen were in front and somewhat to the left from Solchanyk and the other protesters; and a specific shot, which was presented in the video synchronization, made by his acquaintance, as the evidence of his killing by Berkut, was from a 12mm caliber Fort pump rifle.

In the same video, Ihor Zastavnyi is seen in a yellow helmet falling nearby several seconds after Solchanyk was killed.

Zastavnyi said in various interviews that he fell to the ground after he was wounded there third time and his leg was severed.

He stated that the prosecution informed him earlier this year that they lost a bullet extracted from his body.

The analysis of the content of the same video and photo compilation indicates that Maksym Shymko was killed in the same area at about the same time, since he was last seen alive at 9:07:15am and by 9:07:46am he was shot and his stick was on the pavement near a wooden shield.

Although the exact moment of his killing is missing from the video, his mother in her court testimony confirmed this location and indicated that the investigation found that he was killed from the same weapon as 9 other protesters, including Saienko.

Another bullet, which was stuck in Shymko’s neck and which was publicized as evidence of government snipers, was not of 7.62mm caliber.

His mother supported the prosecution charges that Berkut killed her son, but she stated that he was wounded in his neck with an exit wound below his shoulder blade.

This indicates a sharp angle, which is consistent with the similar location of the Saienko’s killer and an announcement from the Maidan stage at 9:10am about two or three “snipers” on the pendulum floor of the Hotel Ukraina.

This announcement relayed reports of Maidan protesters concerning the killings of Shymko, Solchanyk, and Saienko, since they were a part of the first group of the protesters that came under deadly live ammunition fire.

One of the charged Berkut members indicated during the trial that the investigative file contained testimonies of protesters about Maidan “snipers” at the Hotel Ukraina.

The list of the 39 protesters whose killing the prosecution attributed to Berkut was only released nearly one and a half years after the massacre.

The killings of the other 10 protesters were simply omitted from the charges, even though 8 of them were shot dead at the same time and place as these 39 protesters.

The special Council of Europe investigative panel reported that the Ukrainian investigation had evidence that ten protesters were killed by “snipers” from top of the buildings, but that investigation did not find any evidence that these were snipers from the Security Service of Ukraine Alfa unit and other government units.

The omitted list confirmed information that the investigation omitted the killings of Oleh Unshnevych, Evhen Kotliar, Ustym Holodniuk and Oleksander Kharchenko because of clear evidence they were killed from the Maidan-controlled locations, such as Hotel Ukraina.

In addition, the prosecution charges also omitted the killings of Vasyl Aksenyn, Vladyslav Zubenko, Volodymyr Chaplynsky and Volodymyr Melnychuk.

My study presents various evidence that these protesters were also killed from the Maidan-controlled buildings, mostly Hotel Ukraina, starting from about 9:18am till almost 5pm.

For instance, the much publicized Zelenyi Front video shows at 10:26am that Chaplynsky was shot dead when he was running away from the massacre area.

A Spline TV recording of its live broadcast, which is now removed from a list of its videos on the Internet, shows sparks flying from the Hotel Ukraina when a loud gunshot killed this protestor.

Zubenko was killed in the same area at 9:49am, reportedly with a 5.45 caliber bullet.

The prosecution charges confirmed earlier reports that the investigation did not find specific evidence linking specific Berkut members to specific killed protesters.

But these charges also revealed that the prosecution did not specify the exact time of killing of specific protesters and policemen, although such information can be determined from live broadcasts and synchronized and time-stamped videos, and it is presented in my study.

These charges deliberately omitted various evidence, including videos, interviews, and public admissions, of Maidan “shooters” of the police.

The prosecution case for the first time de facto admitted an absence of a specific top government order to massacre the protesters on February 20.

The prosecution stated that after an unspecified escalation of the conflict around 8am on February 20, the Berkut commander himself ordered the commander of the special Berkut company to disperse the protesters on the Maidan and block them from advancing to the parliament and presidential administration.

It would have been irrational for the Berkut commander to issue such an order on his own and use only about two dozen members of a special company.

The prosecution itself stated that then-president Viktor Yanukovych and the Minister of Internal Affairs ordered to disperse the protesters on the Maidan by force close to midnight on February 18.

The attempt to storm the parliament on February 18 was presented by the prosecution as a peaceful rally, and subsequent clashes, the killing of some 30 policemen and protesters and a computer technician at the office of the Party of Regions were omitted.

The charges stated that following the Berkut commander order, the Berkut special company commander ordered the use of AKMs and Fort 500 pump guns with lead pellets, although no evidence was presented as to why this elite police unit would start using hunting ammunition.

Contrary to the prosecutor charges account, various evidence cited in my study and later confirmed by BBC and other sources show that the Maidan protesters forced Berkut and Internal troop units, which did not have then live ammunition, to flee from the Maidan around 8:50am by killing and wounding about 20 of them, specifically with pellets and 7.62mm bullets, from the Music Conservatory and Trade Union buildings.

The Berkut special company was first filmed being deployed and shooting with live ammunition on Instytutska street at 9:05am and then briefly moving to Zhovtnevyi Palace to allow remaining policemen there to flee.

The prosecution claimed that around 9am on February 20, 2014, unidentified persons of unknown allegiance started to shoot at the police and that they killed from an unknown weapon one member of the Berkut special company and wounded another.

In response to this, the accused from the Berkut company and unidentified members of this company and other law enforcement units became hostile to protesters and started to shoot in the direction of the unarmed protesters with AKMS and Fort 500 with lead pellets in order to kill them.

This timeline is also deliberately misleading, because recordings of live broadcasts, time-stamped and synchronized videos, cited in my study, show that at least five protesters were killed starting at exactly 9:00 am before the member of the special Berkut company was shot dead with pellets at 9:16am.

The prosecution charged two Berkut members with being a part of an organized group that killed 39 protesters with 7.62mm caliber AKMS during the assault of the Maidan and from two barricades on Instytutska Street from 9am till 1pm.

During the testimonies and cross-examination of relatives of six killed protesters, only one single direct witness of the killing of one of these protesters (Eduard Hrynevych) was identified.

This witness now happens to serve in a paramilitary unit of the Right Sector, which was involved in the massacre.

My study cited videos of protesters referring at 10:25am to the killing of Hrynevych by a shot to his head several meters from them and referring to “snipers” on the pendulum floor of the Hotel Ukraina.

This and other videos show many protesters and journalists witnessing and recording shooting of these protesters.

Remarkably, a recently posted video, which shows “snipers” on the top floors of the Hotel Ukraina shooting at the Maidan protesters was referred to during the trial as evidence of the killing of Ihor Kostenko by Berkut.

This video shows Kostenko seconds before and after when he was shot at 9:29am.

At least seven other protesters were killed within less than three minutes in the same area.

My study presents various evidence, such as videos and eyewitness testimonies, indicating that these and almost all other 39 protesters were also killed from the Hotel Ukraina and other Maidan-controlled buildings, and that the Right Sector, Svoboda, and Fatherland parties were involved in the “snipers” massacre.

There are a few protesters whose location and time of the killing are still publicly undisclosed.

A Google News search shows that none of these revelations during the Maidan Massacre trial have been reported by the media in Ukraine and the West.

In contrast, there were numerous reports in the Ukrainian media about each of these protesters.

Similarly, The New York Times, The Telegraph, and Associated Press previously published articles, respectively, about the killings of Solchanyk and Saienko and wounding of Zastavnyi.

The ‘Maidan’ documentary film by Sergei Loznitsa, shown at the Cannes Film Festival this year, included the above-mentioned excerpts of the Radio Svoboda live Internet video stream showing the killings of Shymko, Solchanyk, and Saienko.

In media reports and in this documentary, these and other killings of the protesters were typically directly or indirectly attributed to Berkut or government snipers.

In contrast, the Maidan stage announcements concerning the “snipers” at the Hotel Ukraina and other various evidence of the concealed Maidan shooters there and in other Maidan-controlled areas were omitted.

The failure to report the striking new revelations from the ongoing trial suggests that the misrepresentation in Ukraine and the West of the Maidan mass killing is driven not by lack of information but by politics.

Search: Global Research

Ukraine Sees Record Truce Breaches As Army Reinforces Port

MARIUPOL, Ukraine -- Ukraine said daily breaches of a cease-fire to stem the war in its east reached the most since the pact was signed in February.

Rinat Akhmetov

The army bolstered positions near the front line.

Pro-Russian separatists used weapons banned by the peace accord as they shelled government troops 86 times in the past 24 hours, killing one soldier and injuring seven more, the Defense Ministry said Monday.

President Petro Poroshenko said elite marine units had been sent to reinforce the nearby Sea of Azov port city of Mariupol.

The rebels said fighting hadn’t worsened.

“The past 24 hours has been marked by a significant intensification in the fighting,” military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko told a briefing in Kiev, according to a video link.

Ukraine’s more-than-yearlong conflict, which has poisoned ties between Russia and its former Cold War foes, has threatened to reignite several times since the peace accord.

While unrest had eased, recent spates of violence have prompted phone calls between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, which brokered the deal.

Issues including autonomy for the rebel regions and local elections remain thorny.

Having invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March 2014, Russia now backs its neighbor’s territorial integrity, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Monday.

He discussed the Ukrainian conflict with his Slovenian counterpart, who called for an end to European Union sanctions against Russia because they harm trade.

Civilian Casualties 

The latest fighting has affected civilians districts, with a man and a woman wounded in the Donetsk region on Sunday.

Two civilians were also hurt on territory outside of government control, deputy rebel commander Eduard Basurin said by phone from Donetsk, alleging that the army is using arms banned under the truce.

“We aren’t observing the intensification of fighting that the Ukrainian side is talking about,” he said Monday.

“The number of attacks isn’t declining -- they continue firing at residential quarters.”

While the violence is worsening Ukraine’s recession -- a chemical plant owned by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov’s Metinvest BV was damaged in overnight shelling -- government bonds rallied.

Dollar-denominated debt due 2017 advanced to 55.7 cents on the dollar from 55.2 Friday as debt-restructuring talks progress and the next payment from a bailout nears.

Source: Bloomberg

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ukraine Military Seeks To Modernize Past Soviet Era

WASHINGTON, DC -- As Ukraine wars with Russia and its agents in the east, it also faces an internal battle with military reformers seeking to modernize past the Soviet-era versus the country's bureaucracy, pervasive corruption and largely outmoded defense-industrial base.

A Ukrainian serviceman talks on the phone July 13 at a checkpoint on a road leading to the village of Lavki near Mukacheve, Ukraine.

The new government in Kiev, which took over following the 2014 ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, is adopting NATO standards as the country sets sights on joining the US-led alliance.

But to get there, defense officials say, the old ways need to go.

"We are working hard because all the Ukrainian people are watching us, and we are like flags of the Ukrainian people, flags symbolic of future change for the Ukranian [nation]," said Konstiantyn Liesnik, an advisor to the Defense Ministry's reform office and head of its working group for logistics and procurement.

"If we will change the Ministry of Defense, people believe we will change the whole country."

The Ukrainian military, at worst considered corrupt and shabby, is under the administration of President Petro Poroshenko taking a serious look at both how it is organized and the defense industry's work, meant to make its military and defense industry truly effective, and to orient to the West.

"Like everything else in the reform area of the Ukraine, this is going to be a tough slog," said John Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council's Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and a Bush administration ambassador to the Ukraine.

"While the national interest is clear, the personal interest of some institutions and individuals do not necessarily line up. Corruption is a huge problem in that society, including in the defense sector." 

Military reform and transparency would not only thwart Russian efforts to destabilize and undermine the Ukranian government, but work to reassure potential donors of military aid that it will be used appropriately, said Olga Oliker, director of the Center for Russia and Eurasia and a senior international policy analyst at Rand.

"Reforming the military and the national security sector is part and parcel of showing the world that, no, actually Ukraine is working, this government is effective and doing things no previous Ukrainian government could do," Oliker said.

"Transparent, accountable militaries are probably militaries you can provide weapons to and be confident they will be used the way you expect them to."

US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, and the Wall Street Journal reports the Pentagon is seeking White House approval to provide Ukraine with bigger, longer-range radar after sending lightweight radar units and other nonlethal aid.

The US is upping its commitment to military education for Ukraine.

On July 24, the Obama administration announced it would extend training of the Ukrainian National Guard to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

That is notable, as it marks the start of the US training front-line military units that are actively engaged in the battle with separatists; previously, the units being trained were based in the Western, Kiev-controlled parts of the country.

“This small unit training will be conducted by personnel from US Army Europe to help develop the internal defense capabilities and institutional training capacity of Ukraine's Armed Forces, and is similar to our ongoing training of the National Guard, announced in March,” Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal said in a statement.

“This additional program brings our total security assistance committed to Ukraine to over $244 million since 2014.”

Asked what equipment the Ukrainian military could use from the US, Liesnik and other Ukrainian officials at a press conference at Washington's Ukrainian Embassy on July 23, called out a wish list that included anti-tank systems, armored vehicles, counter-battery radars, electronic reconnaissance systems, jamming and anti-jamming systems, and NATO-standard replacements for Soviet-era radios. 

It has been widely reported that Ukrainian troops are struggling to counter artillery fire and electronic jamming.

"The problem with Russia against Ukraine is we use similar Soviet Union systems, like radios, like counter-radios, and its a problem [that] we work in the same way," Liesnik said.

Ukrainian officials at the event said they were confident that with or without foreign support, Ukraine will win the war.

The difference, said Military Attaché Col. Serhii Dolenko, is foreign support could lessen the number of dead.

"My personal opinion and the opinion of the Ukrainian people is yeah, we need support, we need guns, but if you will not give us these guns, we will win any time," Liesnik said.

"Any war we will finish, and after the war, we will remember who helped and who did not."

Herbst forecast much larger, more effective and serious foreign support for Ukraine over time, led by the US — though it has so far been meted out too cautiously for some.

Herbst, author of a report calling for the US to arm Ukraine, said the two most important systems the US can send are shoulder-fired Javelin anti-tank weapons and counter-battery radars.

"The White House has in my judgement been strategically myopic, where other parts of government at the senior levels understand the strategic stakes," Herbst said.

"The White House does not get it, and it's quite appalling."

The US, traditionally cautious about sending weapons and materiel, is concerned that they will be lost or stolen, and in this case, there is not a strong history of the US aiding Ukraine with satisfactory results, Oliker said.

To boot, the US has already sent nonlethal aid that satisfies most of what Ukraine needs, she said, versus anti-tank weapons that may require substantial training.

Oliker argued that Ukrainian victory against the militarily dominant Russia will have to be political.

Though US aid could be a political tool that shows its backing, but the US has made clear that backing will not include troops, so it is of limited effect.

Ukraine is, for its part, inching toward the cautious West.

Part of the Ukraine's pivot away from Russia is evident in the adoption of NATO military standards or stanags, short for standardization agreements.

In revamping its military kit, a portion of the effort across the Defense Ministry, the aim is to meet 22 stanags out of roughly 40 in the sector by year's end.

Ukraine's military reform effort must overcome huge obstacles, and NATO membership, if not a long-shot, is a long way off, analysts said.

Still, the hope of NATO membership is a huge incentive for Ukraine to spur useful changes that it might not otherwise make, said Julie Smith, senior fellow and director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security.

"It's an enormously high wall to climb, but [NATO standards] are some of the best standards you can hope for," Smith said.

"Rather than coming up with their own plan or following the lead of another country in the neighborhood, the good news is NATO provides a lot of concrete steps and goals — though they [Ukraine] may find a lot of them out of reach while they're dealing with Russian aggression."

Several officials from the Defense Ministry's reform office, including Liesnik, were in Washington for a few days to discuss best practices with the US Army's procurement office for soldier equipment, PEO Soldier, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia; the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; and Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Maryland.

Ukrainian officials said they were able to see US Army gear on the visit, but access to Western equipment is likely to remain limited.

That is going to make it more difficult for Ukraine to meet NATO interoperability requirements, but Ukraine should still be able to make considerable progress with what it has until greater access is provided, said Paul Schwartz, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Russia and Eurasia Program.

Reforming the defense industry would also make a big difference, Schwartz said.

Yet Ukraine's defense industry has survived largely on exports, especially to Russia, and has had to adjust since access to Russian markets was cut off.

The loss of key suppliers in Crimea and the rebel-held Donbas has generated further problems.

"The increase in state orders has helped somewhat to fill the gap," Schwartz said.

"But in the long run, additional investment will be needed to help Ukraine's defense industry to modernize and to become more integrated into Western supply chains. However, given the current level of corruption in the system, outside investors may hesitate to become involved."

Ukraine is working with its local suppliers to improve the quality of soldier equipment like body armor and uniforms, and to meet NATO standards.

Ukrainian military clothing had retained its Soviet-era style and simplicity, but quality fell after Ukrainian independence in 1991.

Instead of being flame-resistant, some fabrics would melt, Liesnik said.

The reform council has developed a "personal unified combat kit" of 65 items, each manufactured to standard, with a national stock number that is traceable to a supplier and meant to prevent black market sales.

This kit will include new uniforms, a symbolic and practical step forward.

At the embassy, Liesnik and his team were wearing a unique camouflage pattern of Liesnik's design called "lizard," which would be distributed to the force next year, he said.

A new dress uniform in the works will replace a Soviet-style uniform that basically swapped the red star for the Ukrainian yellow-and-blue flag.

"It's important for our great Army to have their own uniform," Liesnik said, "a new Army, a new face of the Army.

Beyond uniforms, the Defense Ministry is looking to both domestic and foreign suppliers.

The plan is to offer two defense tenders for electronics, likely equipment Ukrainians lack the know-how to manufacture locally.

"We are trying to grow our manufacturing, but we really don't care about where it should be made," Liesnik said of military equipment.

"We want to have the best quality at the best price in a short time. We are the Ministry of Defense, not the Ministry of Economics."

Source: Defense News

Ukraine Detains Suspected Russian Army Officer

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian state security agents on Sunday questioned a soldier suspected of being a Russian army officer who was picked up while riding in a military truck packed with ammunition in the country's east.

A celebration of Russia's Navy Day takes place in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea, July 26, 2015.

If he is confirmed as a Russian soldier, Ukraine is likely to use the case to bolster its charges that Russia is continuing direct involvement in the 15-month-long conflict and failing to honor a peace agreement worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February.

The Ukrainian military and border guard service said the soldier had identified himself as a Russian officer with the rank of major in a rocket-artillery unit when he was detained.

Another man who was detained identified himself as a pro-Russian separatist fighter.

A spokesman said the two men may have taken a wrong direction and driven toward Ukrainian forces manning a checkpoint southwest of the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk by mistake.

The truck stopped only after Ukrainian border guards fired warning shots.

"We can assume that they took a wrong direction while driving, got lost and came on our checkpoint," military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanuk told a briefing.

The two men wore military uniforms, without insignia, and carried no identity documents, he said.

In the face of what Kiev and Western governments say is undeniable proof, Moscow denies its regular forces are engaged actively in the conflict on behalf of the separatists.

Though a fragile ceasefire seems to be holding, more than 6,600 people have been killed in the conflict in Ukraine's industrialized Russian-speaking east.

Ukraine is still holding two Russian soldiers who were captured in May and have been charged with terrorism.

Russia says the two men had quit their special forces unit to go to Ukraine on their own.

Ukraine's border guards said in a statement they found nearly 200 cases containing grenades and ammunition including rocket-propelled shells when they stopped the truck at the Berezove checkpoint about 45 km (28 miles) southwest of Donetsk.

They were driving from the direction of Olenivka, which is under separatist control.

The suspected Russian officer "had no documents. But he admitted that he was a chief of an RAO (rocket-artillery weapons unit).

He is responsible for ammunition supply.

He said that while delivering the ammunition they had got lost," Oleksandr Tomchyshyn, a border guards spokesman, said.

Source: Newsweek

Sunday, July 26, 2015

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's justice ministry has barred three Communist parties from running in the upcoming local elections, citing recent legislation.

Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko

Ukrainian news agencies on Friday quoted Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko as saying that the three parties will be barred from the October elections.

The minister also pledged to file a lawsuit to ban the three organizations.

The Communist party has been an important force in Ukraine, polling 13 percent in the 2012 parliamentary election, but its popularity plummeted over its support for ex-President Viktor Yunukovych.

In last year's parliamentary election the Communist Party of Ukraine garnered less than 4 percent of the vote.

Ukraine passed several laws in April banning the use of symbols from the Soviet years and denouncing Communist ideology.

Source: AP

Russia's Medvedev: Ukraine Could Face Yugoslavia-Style Break Up

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned that Ukraine could disappear from the map of Europe as Yugoslavia did, if Kiev does not "show some flexibility" and grant more autonomy to the territories in the east held by pro-Russian separatists.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev looks at documents in his office in the Gorki state residence outside Moscow, Russia, July 1, 2015.

Six countries currently on the map of Europe were once members of the Serb-led communist Yugoslav Federation before the Yugoslav wars in 1992, while Kosovo declared its independence from the territory of Serbia in 2008.

Ironically Russia has backed Serbia in not recognizing Kosovo's independence and blocking a U.N. resolution recognizing the organised killing of ethnic Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces as "a crime of genocide".

Speaking to Slovenian broadcaster RTV Slovenija ahead of his visit to the country, a former Yugoslav republic, Medvedev compared the conflict between pro-Russian forces in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions to Yugoslavia.

The interview transcript was published on the Russian government's website.

"Let us ask, for example, the Russian youth if they remember a country such as Yugoslavia? I think most young people would already be struggling to recall that this country was ever on the map of Europe," Medvedev said.

"It was a very difficult, harsh, painful and, unfortunately, unpeaceful process. Why am I reminding you of this? Because, when we are told that it is necessary to respect international obligations, it is something we completely agree with... but this approach must be applied to all states, in all situations."

The early 1990s saw the Yugoslav conflict reach the height of its violence, specifically in Bosnia and Croatia where around 110,000 and 20,000 respectively have been reported killed.

Other states seceded more peacefully, most notably Montenegro which parted from Serbia in 2006 after a referendum agreed by both sides.

Slovenia's own war of independence lasted 10 days, during which around 100 people were killed.

"I am reminiscing about Yugoslavia, only because I hope that at some point in the future we will not have to remember the country which used to be called Ukraine in the same way," Medvedev added.

"The existence of Ukraine at the present moment depends on the wisdom, patience, tact, willingness to compromise and the desire to speak to everyone who makes decisions on the territory of Ukraine." 

Source: Newsweek

Can Putin Afford To Keep East Ukraine?

DONETSK, Ukraine -- The Russian-backed blitz that seemed imminent hasn’t materialized. One reason: confusion about what Moscow and the rebels really want.

A pro-Russia rebel, in Donetsk.

The military commandant in this embattled city, Andrei Shpigel, was having an emotional discussion with officers and soldiers of his “DPR Army” on the veranda of a local restaurant.

They were talking about the future of their self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

Would it eventually become a peaceful region of Ukraine, or be annexed by Russia, or stay an independent but unrecognized separatist territory?

For Shpigel and perhaps 15,000 other rebel soldiers controlling this part of eastern Ukraine, a return of Kiev’s legal and military authority over their “republic” would mean potential prison terms and even worse: “mass physical elimination,” they agreed, nodding at each other.

The commandant told The Daily Beast that DPR forces would never allow their self-proclaimed republic to reunite with Ukraine.

And yet, the struggle for quasi-independence appears to have lost momentum.

“Whatever happened to the Russian ‘blitz’ that everybody was predicting a month ago?”

I asked the soldiers.

Then, Kremlin-backed rebel forces launched a violent offensive on Ukrainian positions in Maryinka, a village outside Donetsk city.

It seemed that the clashes were going to escalate through the summer, much as they had done last year.

As the soldiers tell the story, there was a bureaucratic and administrative problem.

“That blitz has never happened because our DPR Army did not support the idea of the Maryinka operation, the attack was conducted by the DPR interior ministry,” Shpigel explained to The Daily Beast.

Reaching out for a piece of paper and a pen, the commandant drew a simple optical illusion of cylinders that could be curved or square depending on the angle:

“There are at least three truths,” he said:

“One in Russia, one in Ukraine and one in the DPR— but there is only one reality.”

In their ideal reality, the Donetsk separatists would keep all their weapons and power, receive financial support from Russia and do business with Ukraine.

But in the real reality people living in rebel-controlled territories are suffering for lack of medicine, waiting months expecting Moscow to pay their pensions and salaries and even to deliver groceries and consumer goods.

A commander named Mamai chimes in: “Putin’s man, administrator Vladislav Surkov, is here right now cleaning up the upper circles around Zakharchenko,” he says, referring to the supposed leader of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko.

But the rebel commanders insisted it’s not just a matter of Moscow making decisions for DPR.

Shpigel suggested, “The Kremlin’s power has at least three heads, liberals from Yeltsin’s family, Putin’s men and Putin himself.”

A 24-year-old soldier named Vladimir put in a word:

“What politicians are you talking about? Today two of our guys with guns can enter any minister’s office and decide politics in our people’s republic,” he said.

In spite of the divided opinions and controversial tensions among rebels, Russia has supplied food, gas, clothes and other goods to Donbas residents.

On July 16, a caravan of over 30 trucks with “Humanitarian Help from Russian Federation” written on their sides arrived in Donetsk; on Thursday, 100 more trucks loaded with over 1,000 tons of goods reached the border with the rebel controlled territories.

A special investigative report by the Russian RBK agency described the complicated subterfuge by which Russian money flowed to eastern Ukraine through South Ossetia, a breakaway Georgian republic that, unlike DPR, had accounts in Russian banks.

Was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy to back the breakaway republics, while expecting Ukraine to pay the pensions and other bills?

If so, he miscalculated.

Ukraine stopped paying salaries and pensions to the breakaway republics last summer and today the economy, political scandals and internal conflicts have become the Kremlin’s headache.

To provide pensions for over one million retired people in the breakaway territory, Russia had to take a part of the money from its own budget.

In interviews with The Daily Beast, residents of Horlivka, Snizhnoye, Rassypnoye, and Grabovo complained about tiny pensions of about $25 to $30 a month.

There is also a dramatic shortage of medicine, and speculators bringing medicine from Russia or Ukraine sell it at prices that local pensioners can’t afford.

Enrique Menendez, a participant in the Responsible Citizens volunteer movement, told The Daily Beast that many babies born in Donetsk are premature and need special medicines, but “at the moment there are only four boxes of medicine for premature babies left in all of Donetsk, while we need at least ten boxes.”

Patients with diabetes cannot buy insulin inside the DPR.

A recent United Nations report noted that 8,000 HIV patients have been left without medicine.

Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have pointed out again and again that Russia does not have the money to feed Donbas and that the breakaway territories were Ukraine’s responsibility.

So, who would supply medicine to millions of people in rebel republics of Luhansk and Donetsk?

Donbas should not expect much from Russia on that front.

Its own pharmaceutical market depends on for foreign producers who demand payment from dwindingly supplies of foreign currency.

In fact, Russia does not have enough money left to feed itself: on Wednesday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev admitted that there was no money left in Russia’s budget to support 94 so-called "crisis cities" dependent on single industries; about 19 million Russians live in these one-factory towns now without support programs.

Maybe the Kremlin should have thought a year ago whether Russia was prosperous enough for a foreign policy that leaves neighboring areas expecting support from Moscow.

“Very soon crowds of angry Russians will blame the Kremlin for annexing Crimea and backing Donbas while Russia itself is desperate and hungry,” Timur Olevsky of Rain TV told The Daily Beast.

“Under new regulations, Russian law enforcement will have a right to shoot at protesters,” he suggested.

Source: The Daily Beast

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Lessons In Democracy On Ukraine’s Front Line

MARIUPOL, Ukraine -- In a stuffy basement a block off Prospekt Lenina (Mariupol’s main street, which is named after Vladimir Lenin), about 30 Mariupol residents recently gathered for a lesson in democracy.

Ukrainian women embroider a map of Ukraine with the different flags of the regions in the country during a pro-Ukranian meeting in the southern coastal town of Mariupol.

It was raining and thundering outside.

And, like during most storms in Mariupol since the war began in spring 2014, it wasn’t immediately clear if the sounds of thunder were from the storm or from fighting on the front lines in Shyrokyne—only a 20-minute car ride away.

“Democracy is not a perfect thing,” said Maksim Borodin, a computer repairman and one of the leaders of the pro-democracy group called “Together,” which had organized the meeting.

The audience fanned themselves to keep cool in the hot, humid basement as he spoke.

“But we have to learn the government is not the authority,” he added.

“They are our servants.”

The mission of Together (which has about 80 total members) is to teach Mariupol’s residents about the norms of democratic culture, such as freedom of information and the belief that government works for its citizens, not the other way around.

The group also teaches citizens not to tolerate bribery and corruption, or thuggish tactics of coercion meant to silence political opposition—all hallmarks of Ukraine’s post-Soviet democracy.

“Mariupol is caught between the past and the future,” said Peter Andrushchenko, one of the group’s leaders, speaking to the audience.

“The city council site must be open and accessible by all,” he added.

“When we control the local government, we control our own money. So we have a right to control these activities.”

Cultural Hurdles 

Many citizens in Mariupol have been dissuaded from participating in their country’s political process due to 70 years of Soviet rule and a 25-year span of corrupt oligarchies—intermittently interrupted by revolutions in Kiev.

The lesson learned by many is referred to as the “ostrich mentality”—keep your head down and out of trouble; it’s not worth being singled out trying to effect change that most likely won’t succeed.

“Many of Ukraine’s civic laws and local governments still operate under the rules and along the lines of the Soviet days,” Borodin said.

“And people are afraid to speak out against their politicians.”

Additionally, the failed promise of democracy to improve living conditions has spurred some residents to retain pro-Russian sympathies out of nostalgia for the Soviet era, when pensions and politics were perceived to be more stable.

“Almost all of our parents have pro-Russian views,” said Igor Peftiyev, 30, an insurance broker.

“They’ve seen enough. They faced political crisis two or three times, and the devaluation of the currency. They’ve seen the revolutions, and they’ve seen how everything changed for the worse.” 

Andrushchenko’s basement pro-democracy lecture, for example, provoked some pushback.

“How can you control the authorities?” one old man in the crowd yelled.

He had a gray beard and wore a flat cap.

“You are ambitious young people, but you won’t be able to change anything.”

Among Mariupol’s millennials, opinion is also split about the likelihood of reform.

Some claim the younger generations, for whom the Soviet Union is a secondhand memory, are more exposed to the West through social media and the Internet and will consequently demand changes that their parents and grandparents have been reluctant to pursue.

“Our parents grew up in the USSR,” said Katerina Altunina, 19.

“But we never got used to the Soviet Union, and never had to stay silent and be afraid of the regime.” 

Others, however, say the inescapable threat of war has stifled progress, spurring the prioritization of personal security over pushing for political reforms.

“When you are safe, you can have an opinion,” said Serhiy Zubrev, 30, an engineer.

“We are living in a circle, nothing has changed.”

In August 2014, as separatist attacks ramped up on the outskirts of Mariupol prior to the first cease-fire on September 5, the civic group New Mariupol organized a human chain on the outskirts of the city as a symbolic call to end the war.

The event drew more than a thousand people, highlighting what the group’s leaders say is a new trend of civic participation in Mariupol that did not exist prior to the conflict.

“Mariupol is not a city where people go out and go to meetings; it was unusual to have that kind of civil society reaction,” said Ivan Syniepalov, a spokesman for New Mariupol.

“Civil society in Mariupol started to form that day.”

New Mariupol’s missions are diverse, including military training for civilians to prepare for urban warfare, babushka volunteers who sew ghillie suits for Ukrainian snipers and pro-democracy classes in local elementary schools.

“We want our children to grow up in a Ukrainian environment, not Russian or Soviet,” Syniepalov said.

An Uneven Revolution 

Last year’s revolution—centered in Kiev’s central square, the Maidan—has spurred national anti-corruption campaigns, the sacking of oligarchs from political positions and a house-cleaning of corrupt officials across Ukraine’s different national ministries.

Even Kiev’s notoriously corrupt traffic police have had a top-to-bottom makeover, including a comprehensive personnel change, new uniforms (patterned off U.S. police) and U.S. law enforcement training.

The 2014 revolution also spurred a volunteer activism awakening across the country.

Numerous anti-corruption and reform-focused civic groups have formed, as well as volunteer groups that collect and transport equipment and supplies to soldiers on the front lines, and civilian volunteer battalions—formed out of protest groups active in the Maidan—that still actively fight in the Donbas. 

“Civic groups like ours are a victory of the Maidan,” Andrushchenko said, referring to the 2014 revolution.

Yet, across the country, local governments remain largely unchanged, still comprising officials elected before the revolution.

Outside of Kiev, many citizens’ lives have not been positively affected by the 2014 revolution.

The war in the Donbas has killed more than 7,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians and has displaced almost 2 million people.

And an economic crisis has collapsed the country’s currency—consumer price inflation is forecast to end 2015 at 30 percent—and led to a sharp decline in GDP.

“There is a feeling in Ukraine like nothing changed for the better,” said Hennadiy Korban, 55, in an interview with The Daily Signal from his Dnipropetrovsk offices.

Korban is a Ukrainian businessman and former deputy of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, whom Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko removed as governor of Dnipropetrovsk earlier this year.

“Pensions have plummeted from $500 to $150 a month,” Korban said.

“The opposition plays on people’s dissatisfaction with the revolution. After Maidan the corruption has gone from the bottom up; we just changed the flow of corruption.”

“It was good to take out Yanukovych,” said Soslan Bekoev, a lawyer in Dnipropetrovsk, referring to deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

“But it’s more than one year later, and nothing has changed.”

A Key Test 

On Oct. 25, Ukraine will hold national elections, including all local government positions.

Many consider the October elections a key test of Ukraine’s democratic reforms and a bellwether of the country’s chances for a prosperous and peaceful future.

“The old political ways won’t come back; people can now see the difference,” Korban said.

“People don’t want to go back to the old ways; people see things differently now. They won’t let the old systems come back.”

There are concerns that if the elections do not produce significant changes, internal tensions could reignite.

“Our country wouldn’t survive another revolution,” said Svyatoslav Oliynyk, a former deputy of Kolomoisky, in an interview.

“The time for these changes is right now.”

Decentralization of governmental powers will be one of the key campaign issues this October.

On July 16, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) overwhelmingly approved draft constitutional amendments to decentralize governmental power.

One key element of the amendments was to give local communities access to their own bank accounts for discretionary spending.

Speaking to reporters in Kiev on July 15, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland said the decentralization amendments were an important step to “de-Sovietize, de-oligarchize the country—to liberate Ukraine from the structures of the past and bring it closer to Europe.”

Nuland added:

It will bring more opportunity for all the regions of Ukraine to control their own future, to have more power in budgeting, to take the kind of responsibility for improving quality of life at the local level—the quality of democracy at the local level—and to bring growth to the local economy. My country is a country that is very decentralized, as you know. And we believe that people at the community level know best what is right for their people. That when government is close to citizens it is strongest.”

Back in the Mariupol basement, Andrushchenko extolled the value of participating in the local democratic process.

“Nobody can force you to change,” he said.

“You have to be inspired to make a change. It requires sacrifice, and it requires you to make a contribution. But if we never even try, we will never achieve anything.”

Source: Newsweek