Monday, August 31, 2015

Ukraine's Forces Held Up By Red Tape

KIEV, Ukraine -- “Of course we want to listen to the radio and hear the news from Kiev,” said Bardan, a Ukrainian infantryman based in a devastated neighbourhood on the northern fringes of Donetsk. “Out here, though, we just tend to pick up stations from Russia and Novorossiya Rock FM.”

Ukrainian fighters are stuck in a bureaucratic bottleneck as commanders delay permission for soldiers to defend themselves against rebels.

He stood smoking in a gutted building in Pesky, one of the war’s deadliest stretches of the frontline in the conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels.

The scant choice of Ukrainian radio programmes may seem trivial.

But it highlights the gulf between frontline fighters and their superiors, and signals a wider breakdown in communication occurring on the restive nation’s far eastern limits.

Red tape is stifling Ukraine’s war effort, they say, as military commanders allegedly delay and even ban soldiers from responding to artillery attacks from pro-Russian rebels.

When bombarded from enemy positions, government units regularly have to seek permission for a counterstrike from superiors removed from the action.

But they complain of an inefficient chain of command and say the fight is lost in a bureaucratic bottleneck.

Heavy weapons are ready to use, but often high command must first give the green light.

“That comes too late,” one officer told The Independent on Sunday.

“Sometimes we wait an hour, even more. It’s not effective. It’s no way to win a war.”

Bardan, 26, added: “A few days ago, we were under fire from Grad missiles and 152mm shells. The enemy shoots at us but we don’t have permission to answer with our artillery. It’s a big problem. They kill our soldiers but we can only stand and watch. We’re sitting ducks.”

Ukraine is keen to publicise its compliance with February’s crumbling ceasefire deal agreed in Minsk.

The government wants its armed forces to be viewed as a responsible force that resorts to heavy weapons only in defence.

Do the soldiers accept that the peace accords are, in part, reason for the limits on the force and frequency of counterstrikes?

“Not at all,” said Bardan, echoing the response heard across the frontline among government and rebel fighters.

“Minsk is dead.”

Heavy exchanges of artillery this month around the rebel-held city of Horlovka and the small, government-held town of Starohnativka, killing civilians and soldiers alike, would support such a statement.

Oleksiy Melnyk, a foreign relations and international security expert in Kiev, points to deeper systemic issues.

“Decisions are made two to three levels higher than in the British military,” he said, with commanders sometimes even seeking permission from civilian leaders in Kiev.

Some senior Ukrainian commanders have also faced criticism for strategic failures and mass casualties, Mr Melnyk said, and try to shift responsibility to avoid possible flak.

Yesterday, France’s President François Hollande spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin and said that all three backed a complete halt to ceasefire violations from this Tuesday, a plan that had been mooted, according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which monitors the conflict.

OSCE observers have noted an increase in ceasefire violations involving artillery.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Viktor Muzhenko, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, confirmed that troops “all along the frontline” have to seek permission from senior military commanders before responding with artillery.

But he insisted that this was because of the ceasefire deal signed in Minsk and said the procedure was “optimised as much as possible”.

“We do not keep firing back because the Ukrainian side will fulfil its promises, including those made in the Minsk agreements,” he said.

“We also want to show the civilised world that we are ready to resolve the conflict on a political level. 

“Our position allows us to disprove the cynical propaganda from Russia,” he added, with Russia having been repeatedly accused by Western nations and Ukraine of backing the rebels and having forces directly involved in the conflict.

Russia has denied this despite mounting evidence of troop numbers.

“They try to portray us as the instigators of the war and to absolve themselves of responsibility for the deaths of thousands of people,” Mr Muzhenko said.

Mr Muzhenko denied that permission necessarily had to be granted from Kiev, and said local commanders had the authority to sanction artillery attacks after notifying officials from the OSCE. 

Pesky’s destruction bears all the hallmarks of repeated blitzes from missiles, mortar rounds and artillery shells.

In the town, Vasily, a sniper, surveys no-man’s land from his barricaded lookout.

Next year marks a quarter of a century of independence from the USSR.

Where did Vasily expect his country to be then?

He looked dead ahead.

“We’ll be in exactly the same place.”

Source: The Independent UK

How The U.S. Can Help Solve The Ukraine Crisis: Treat Ukraine Like Georgia

WASHINGTON, DC -- In August 2008, when Russia’s military appeared to be preparing to move through the Roki Tunnel from Russia into Georgia’s South Ossetia, Bush administration officials told Georgia’s then president, Mikheil Saakashvili, “don’t get drawn into a trap” and “don’t confront the Russian military.”

The George W. Bush administration's approach to Georgia in 2008 could work well for the Obama administration in 2015.

They quite correctly feared that what one official termed “a ‘Guns of August’ scenario’” could lead to full-scale war and Georgia’s defeat.

Yet today, some seem to think that the United States should take the opposite approach in Ukraine or even to imply that the Obama administration should not have discouraged Kiev from resisting Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from a position of great weakness.

Few explain why Ukraine’s escalation—with or without lethal U.S. military assistance—would not spring the same trap that the Bush administration encouraged Georgia to avoid.

Even fewer describe what America would have to do to prevent Ukraine’s defeat in a wider war.

This does no favors for either the United States or Ukraine.

Perhaps most striking in Ukraine crisis is the extent to which Western leaders and politicians and pundits agree that “Putin must be stopped” while expecting someone else to do the work.

NATO’s new “front line” states in Central Europe appear eager for the United States to arm Ukraine, but reluctant to become too involved themselves (or, for that matter, to increase their defense budgets commensurately with the threat they describe).

Western European governments want the United States to take the lead, but don’t want to follow Washington into anything too costly, and the European Union is providing Ukraine with less than 1 percent of the assistance it has committed to Greece.

In fairness, Ukraine’s economy is somewhat more than half Greece’s, and Ukraine is not an EU member.

Still, Ukraine’s population is four times higher than Greece’s and many European officials describe its fate as almost existential for Europe.

No small fraction of America’s political leaders, including senior officials in the Obama administration, are ready to arm Ukraine, but few if any are willing to send U.S. troops into combat; in other words, they are fully prepared to fight Putin—to the last Ukrainian.

Or perhaps to the last dollar that the Congress would authorize for this purpose, a limit that they would likely see sooner, since recent legislative proposals call for about $60 million for offensive weapons out of $300 million in total assistance.

These political realities across NATO’s democracies raise two fundamental questions about policy toward Russia and Ukraine.

The first has to do with commitment and it has two components.

Do the “hawks” seeking to force the administration to spend $60 million—roughly equivalent to the proposed 2016 budget for Washington DC’s public libraries—and like-minded Europeans think that minimal commitments like this will do the job?

After spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fight nonstate adversaries in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military capabilities considerably inferior to Russia’s, U.S. and European assistance to Ukraine is either a fig leaf or a very small down payment.

In the former case, if $60 million is all that America as a nation is willing to spend to defend Ukraine, we would be better off admitting this to ourselves sooner rather than later.

A half-hearted policy (or, for that matter, a 5 percent–hearted policy) to confront Moscow will likely produce outcomes demonstrably worse than a settlement—better to get the most advantages possible negotiated terms than to set up ourselves and the NATO alliance for a high-profile defeat.

Conversely, if the advocates of this course see small arms deliveries as the first step in a substantially broader effort, they should be honest with the American people about their proposed objectives and the costs and benefits they foresee.

If the United States is to make confronting Russia an organizing principle of its foreign policy, it will require an extended national commitment that will be unsustainable without broad public support (and difficult to pursue without virtually nonexistent European public support).

Indeed, if advocates of this approach believe that a nuclear superpower—notwithstanding its other weaknesses—has already made an analogous national commitment to confront the United States, as many of them argue, it is difficult to understand why they have not done this already.

If Moscow has indeed made such a choice, which does not seem very likely, it would be a much graver threat than Iran or the Islamic State.

The second fundamental question about our policy toward Russia and Ukraine is a moral one.

If the United States is not willing to make a commitment to defending Ukraine sufficient to ensure success, how can we encourage Ukrainians to fight and die in a conflict with a very powerful neighbor and with no clear endpoint?

Allowing the government in Kiev and the Ukrainians resisting Moscow to think that America is behind them when we are not—or when we are pretending to ourselves that we are—is functionally equivalent to encouraging the 1956 uprising in Hungary, or the 1991-92 Shi’ite uprisings against Saddam Hussein, and then watching the devastating consequences for the courageous people who believe us.

Making a moral case to assist Ukraine without answering tough moral questions about outcomes means pursuing “the histrionics of moralism at the expense of its substance,” as George Kennan put it. 

The George W. Bush administration, which was not shy in making moral arguments about U.S. foreign policy, appeared to follow this logic in Georgia in 2008.

Why shouldn’t the Obama administration do the same in Ukraine?

Most important, being honest with ourselves, with our allies and with Ukrainians does not mean acquiescing to Russia’s conduct or giving up.

On the contrary, it is the first step in building a policy that can work in protecting U.S. national interests and strengthening European security.

Reckless rhetoric or—worse—reckless action helps no one but the Kremlin hawks looking for an excuse to escalate the fighting and a means to distract attention from their own failings.

Washington should discourage Kiev from providing either.

Source: The National Interest

UN Relief Wing Cites Major Access Challenges In Eastern Ukraine, Where Millions Need Supplies Ahead Of Winter

UNITED NATIONS, USA -- Sounding the alarm on behalf of relief agencies working to meet ongoing needs and jump-start critical preparations for winter in strife-riven eastern Ukraine, the United Nations humanitarian wing has reported that aid organizations are facing major challenges in getting access to the most vulnerable of an estimated 5 million people affected by the conflict that began in the region in April 2014.

A girl waits with her mother to get hygienic supplies after leaving their home near Donetsk airport, Ukraine, to escape shelling.

According to the latest monthly update from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) access challenges vary from security concerns, bureaucratic impediments, and logistical and legal constraints.

An estimated 2 million people living in areas along the contact line between Government forces and armed groups are the most vulnerable and the highest priority group in terms of aid operations.

“Half of these people are estimated to be living in Government-controlled areas, while the remainder live in non-Government-controlled areas. Fire exchanges and shelling in many hot-spot locations along the contact line are constantly endangering the lives of many civilians and exacerbating their suffering.”

OCHA explains that their plight has been compounded by their inability to flee to safety, particularly across the contact line (from non-Government controlled- to Government-controlled areas) due to complicated procedures on population movements in the area.

This has been further aggravated by the lack of social services, disruption of trade, lack of access to pensions and other social-benefit payments, and lack of functioning banking systems in non-Government-controlled areas.

At the same time, people living in Government-controlled areas have been similarly affected and cannot access basic services.

Most of the 2 million people have received limited or no assistance from humanitarian agencies, as aid organizations have been unable to reach these people due to insecurity and bureaucratic hurdles. 

Humanitarian agencies are also concerned about the protracted displacement of 1.4 million people in [Government-controlled-areas].

About 60 per cent of the registered IDPs [internally displaced persons] are elderly people and about 13 per cent are children, says OCHA, explaining that meeting their needs requires interventions by humanitarian and recovery/development actors in the immediate and longer term.

“The humanitarian community has repeatedly advocated to all parties to the conflict to guarantee free and unimpeded humanitarian access, including limiting bureaucratic procedures to the strict minimum,” notes OCHA, adding that under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict are responsible for facilitating access for humanitarian organizations to affected people.

Intense discussions are under way at various levels to resolve the issue and find practical solutions, focusing on the humanitarian imperative of providing assistance to the people who need it most.

OCHA also notes that positive steps have been undertaken to engage with the Government of Ukraine on facilitating access to vulnerable people, and on bringing various laws and by-laws and the temporary order on population movements and movement of humanitarian cargo and personnel in line with the laws of Ukraine and international humanitarian principles.

Yet aid agencies remain concerned, noting the critical delay of winterization efforts caused by suspension of aid convoys.

They are extremely concerned, says OCHA, that the “window of opportunity to be well prepared for the winter already closing.”

If access continues to be restricted, aid agencies will be unable to transport, store and ensure sufficient supplies of critical non-food and shelter items to help thousands of affected people.

The agencies are also concerned that due to ongoing hostilities about 1.3 million people are at risk of losing access to safe drinking water.

Finally, OCHA underscored that the 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine remains underfunded, according to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS).

By the end of August, donors disbursed and pledged about $114 million, which is equivalent to 37 per cent of the $316 million required.

This includes $104.9 million (33 per cent) disbursed and another $9.2 million pledged (3 per cent).

The shortfall is about $200 million.

Source: UN News Centre

Sunday, August 30, 2015

White House Criticizes Ukraine Separatist Plans For Local Elections

WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is criticizing pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine for threatening to take more territory and hold their own elections.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko by phone on August 28.

The White House said Biden offered U.S. support for constitutional amendments Poroshenko has proposed to decentralize power and hold local elections while maintaining a unitary federal government in Kiev.

Biden "welcomed news of an agreement among several pro-reform political forces to run a common slate of candidates in Ukraine’s local elections this October," the White House said.

But the vice president "strongly criticized statements by separatist leaders indicating their intention to take additional territory and hold local elections outside of the Ukrainian legal framework, in direct contravention of the Minsk agreements," it said.

Biden also praised Poroshenko for reaching a deal with Ukraine's creditors to restructure its debt.

The deal with international bondholders will lighten Ukraine's public debt burden in a move aimed at helping the country avoid default.

The White House said Biden and Poroshenko also condemned recent attacks by pro-Russian forces, including attacks on international monitors.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Ukraine-Russia Conflict: Russian Generals Fighting With Separatists, Ukraine Says

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s security service on Thursday revealed the names of four Russian generals whom it says were fighting with so-called separatists in Ukraine, a statement from the secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council said.

A journalist takes pictures of a screen during the presentation of evidence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine during a press conference in Kiev on Aug. 28, 2015.

The statement said Ukrainian forces were facing “structured military units of Russian regular army” troops organized along the same formations as the Nazis' Waffen SS units, a reference to German troops in World War II.

In the statement, Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov identified the four Russian generals as Andrey Serdyukov, who fights under the code name Sedov; Alexey Zavizyon (aka Pilevin); Evgeniy Nikiforov (aka Morgun); and Sergey Yudin, who was recently rotated out.

Russian officers hold key positions with the so-called separatists, while residents of the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine make up 40 percent of the forces, in addition to mercenaries and contract soldiers from Russia, the statement said.

The troops have been organized into two army corps, one in the Donetsk region and the other in Luhansk.

The mix of professional soldiers and volunteers mimics the structure of the Nazi Waffen SS unit, which also used volunteers, the Ukrainian government statement said.

A tweet sent by the presidential administration detailed that Russian military leaders were purportedly managing militants.

In July, Ukraine released the names of other generals believed to be involved in the conflict, RFE/RL reported.

Nazi comparisons and terminology have been cited by both sides, with Russia describing the Ukrainian government in Kiev as fascist and run by Nazis.

Russia continues to deny any direct involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, saying that any Russian citizens fighting there are doing so as volunteers, not officially part of the Russian military.

Earlier this week it was reported that a Russian website accidentally published and then quickly removed the number of soldiers killed and wounded in Ukraine, along with the amounts of financial compensation they receive.

More than 6,900 people have died and at least 1.4 million have been displaced as fighting continues in the Donbass region.

The Ukrainian government will have to continue with a seventh wave of mandatory conscription after failing to meet its goal of 25,000 conscripts, as reported last week.

Source: AFP

Russia's Surrealistic August

MOSCOW, Russia -- There are still a few days left for all hell to break loose, but Russia appears to have survived August without a major catastrophe this year.

What a long, strange month it's been.

There have been no coups and no defaults.

No submarines have sunk, no trains or shopping malls have been bombed, and no wars have started -- well, at least no new ones.

There's been plenty of stupidity, to be sure: bulldozers running over forbidden goose meat in Tatarstan, the mass slaying of contraband Ukrainian ducklings in Belgorod, and a viral video of a crazed man (or good actor) sticking it to the West by destroying iPhones and iPads, just to name a few examples. 

There have also been the routine exposes of the elite's opulence, this time Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov's $620,000 watch and lavish honeymoon on a yacht.

And there were surprises, like the shock resignation of Vladimir Yakunin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest cronies, as head of Russian Railways.

But if this August was largely uneventful, it has been marked, at least among the chattering classes, by a sense of foreboding.

Russia is stuck in a quagmire in eastern Ukraine.

The economy is buffeted by falling oil prices, a sinking ruble, and Western sanctions.

And the best the Kremlin can do is wage a war on foreign cheese.

This, together with signs of stress in the regime like Yakunin's departure, have led many leading Russian commentators to conclude that things cannot continue as they are -- and that something big just has to be coming soon.

Speaking to Ukraine's Espreso TV, political analyst Andrei Piontkovski said "strange tectonic shifts are taking place around the Kremlin."

According to Piontkovski, "panic and confusion" are evident in the elite and "a showdown in the upper echelons of the authorities" is looming.

Likewise, Aleksei Venediktov, editor in chief of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, said Putin's relationship with his inner circle has changed dramatically.

"The Kremlin's towers are battling as always," Venediktov told Novy Kaliningrad, using the euphemism for clan wars among the elite.

"But if in the past these battles were waged for influence over the president, now they are being conducted over how to get away from him.

This has to be done gracefully so one is not charged with desertion."

And Valery Solovei, a professor at the elite Moscow State Institute of International Relations, suggested the whole thing was about to collapse.

"What I think is clear, and even inevitable, is the departure of the current political regime in the not-too-distant future," Solovei wrote recently on his heavily followed Facebook page.

"Its governance has been an absolute failure and this is gradually becoming evident to everybody.
Even propaganda won't save it. And the fall of the regime will likely be bloodless and banal."

So are we on the verge of a palace coup?

Is September the new August?

Who knows?

Russia's chattering classes are notoriously alarmist and the Kremlin's inner sanctum, opaque in the best of times, is a virtual black hole today.

In recent years, the narrative on Russia has tended to swing between two extremes:

Putin Is the Master of the Universe! and The Regime is About to Collapse!

The collapse narrative reigned during the mass protests of 2011-12, the master of the universe meme took hold following the annexation of Crimea and the patriotic wave that followed it.

And the surrealistic August we've just experienced has caused the pendulum to swing yet again. 

Source: Radio Free Europe

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Estonia 'Plans Russia Border Fence' Amid Ukraine Tensions

TALLINN, Estonia -- Estonia says it wants to build a fence along its eastern border with Russia to boost security and protect the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.

Estonia is concerned about the potential threat from Russia following the annexation of Crimea and conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Construction on the fence, planned to be about 110km (70 miles) long and 2.5m (8ft) high, is set to start in 2018.

It is expected to cost about €71m (£52m; $80m), according to reports.

The plans come amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Europe is also struggling with an influx of migrants.

"The aim of the construction is to cover the land border with 100%, around-the-clock technical surveillance to create ideal conditions for border guarding and to ensure the security of Estonia and the Schengen area," interior ministry spokesman Toomas Viks told AFP news agency.

He said information gathered could be used to investigate illegal border crossing, smuggling and human trafficking.

The fence would only cover just over a third of Estonia's 294km (183 miles) border with Russia as much of it is covered by water, Estonia's Postimes newspaper reports.

The former Soviet nation is among the EU member states to have borders on the external boundaries of the Schengen zone, which enables passport-free travel.

Another such country, Hungary, has already started building a controversial 175km-long fence along its border with Serbia to try to keep migrants out.

Officials say thousands of people cross into the country every day as they head north into Europe and Germany in particular.

However the focus of the migrants crisis in recent months has been in the Western Balkans, rather than Estonia.

Migrants have also continued to make the perilous crossing to Europe via the Mediterranean from Libya.

'Ideological aim' 

Meanwhile Konstantin Kosachev, deputy head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, has condemned the plan for the fence, according to local media.

He said Estonia did not face the same migrants challenge as other EU countries and that the aim instead was ideological - to depict Russia as a threat to Europe.

Earlier this month Russia jailed Estonian security official Eston Kohver to 15 years in prison for spying in a case that provoked a diplomatic row.

Kohver was detained at the Russian border last September, with Estonia and the EU insisting he was on Estonian soil and Russia saying he was on Russian territory.

Estonia joined NATO and the EU in 2004.

Both bodies accuse Russia of directly helping separatists in eastern Ukraine with regular troops and heavy weapons.

Russia denies the claims.

Great divides: Past and present 

  • Israel began building barrier in and around the occupied West Bank in 2002: 720km (447mi) planned by completion 
  • India has fenced much of the 740km (460mi) Line of Control (LoC) that divides Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir 
  • Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea created in 1953 heavily guarded on both sides: 250km (155mi) long and about 4km (2.5mi) wide 
  • Saudi Arabia is building a fence along its border with Yemen: 1,800km (1,119mi)
  • The Berlin Wall (20th Century) divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989: 155km (96mi) 
  • Hadrian's Wall (2nd Century), divided the Romans in England from Scotland: 117.5km (73mi)
  • The Great Wall of China (began in 5th Century BC), a series of walls protecting China's northern border: 21,196km (13,171mi), built up over several centuries 
  • Big walls can cause big problems 
Source: BBC News

Ukraine: The Forgotten Conflict

OTTAWA, Canada -- Market convulsions erupting initially in China have swamped virtually all other global issues, at least for the time being.

Meanwhile, efforts to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are treading water but with no clear objective let alone resolution in sight.

IS’s shocking destruction of ancient monuments in Palmyra and brutal murder of one of Syria’s most prominent archeologists is a travesty and unspeakable horror, which has been greeted by hand-wringing but little more by Western powers.

But most forgotten of all now is the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Pressure and provocation from Moscow, in blatant contravention of the Minsk accord, continues unabated.

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny that Russian troops are fighting in Eastern Ukraine, recent leaks disclose that 2,000 Russians have been killed in combat and another 3,200 have been seriously disabled.

Ukraine’s democratic future hangs in the balance.

Two ideas proposed recently – one on debt reduction and financial aid by former World Bank president Robert Zoellick and former national security adviser Stephen Hadley and one on peacekeeping by former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister Carl Bildt – offer sensible prescriptions for salvage.

What is absent is the political will and leadership to engage by those who purport to support the concept of an independent Ukraine.

Mr. Zoellick and Mr. Hadley contend in The Wall Street Journal that Russia’s incursions have destroyed 20 per cent of Ukraine’s economic potential and displaced about one million people.

The IMF predicts that Ukraine’s economy, after dropping by 7 per cent in 2014, will shrink a further 9 per cent this year.

Inflation is approaching 50 per cent and shows no sign of stopping its stratospheric climb.

Energy prices have quadrupled.

These are numbers that would jeopardize the political legitimacy and mandate of any democratically-elected government.

The situation is increasingly precarious.

The Ukrainian parliament has adopted comprehensive reforms – judicial, economic and political – in a desperate bid for survival.

They have reduced pensions and increased taxes but there are real limits to what Ukraine can do to save itself when its treasury is bare.

As Mr. Zoellick and Mr. Hadley assert, “If Western governments do not stretch to assist – and creditors persist with short-term calculations – the likelihood is that Ukraine will fall back to the post-Soviet world of authoritarian government and gangster capitalism.”

The worse the economic plight of Ukraine becomes the less likely will be the prospect of any reforms taking hold.

Europe is paying more attention to bailing out Greece, more for reasons of political sentiment than economic prudence, while Ukraine burns and the threat it poses to the collapse to Europe’s long-term security and stability is far greater.

Mr. Bildt has suggested separately that, “If Russia is serious about seeking a solution to the conflict, it should be prepared to endorse the deployment of an international peacekeeping mission and force.”

He sees a parallel in the effort 20 years ago to stabilize events in Eastern Slavonia.

The United Nations mission inserted at that time “is virtually forgotten – not because it failed, but because it succeeded.”

In the face of Western pusillanimity, Russia shows no more inclination to accept this kind of multilateral mission than Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic did in 1995.

Putin is exploiting the vacuum of empty Western gestures and hand-wringing.

He is awaiting the complete collapse of Ukraine’s government, which he believes will return Ukraine obediently to the Russian motherland as part of his grand design to build a “New Russia.”

But he would be hard-pressed to refuse a mission designed to enforce a declaration Moscow has signed, one which his clever mouthpiece, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov continues to endorse publicly.

What is missing is a signal of leadership and resolve from the West, either from Washington or the European Union or both, that embraces both a substantial economic package of aid and debt reduction along with a firm commitment to respect and enforce the terms of the Minsk accord through the placement of a peacekeeping force in Eastern Ukraine.

Canada is well-placed to participate and help orchestrate both efforts, even during an election campaign.

It would be consistent with our strong rhetorical support for an independent Ukraine and our experience in peacekeeping.

We and our Western allies need to walk the walk.

Source: The Globe and Mail

Ukraine Crisis: Life On Street Dividing Ukraine And Russia

MILOVE, Ukraine -- A dog barks and crosses the street in Milove, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk, 10km (6 miles) from the conflict zone.

On the outskirts of Milove, residents wait to cross the official border between Ukraine and Russia.

This could be anywhere in Ukraine.

But Friendship of the Peoples Street belies its name because, on the other side of the road, lies the Russian town of Chertkovo.

If the dog's owner were to go after it, in theory he could be detained for illegally crossing the state border.

And there is little love lost between the two countries.

A fragile ceasefire is in place, but some parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions are still witnessing clashes between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebels.

Some food stores on the Ukrainian side take Russian roubles and attract Russian customers, who largely ignore the legal requirement to take purchased goods through an official border crossing point on the outskirts of Milove.

"Why don't they use their own shops? Because it is cheaper in Ukraine, and Ukrainian sausage and butter are tastier," jokes one resident.

Local border guards do not mind as this area is relatively peaceful.

However, when the conflict between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists was at its fiercest you could hear the guns and some residents spent the night in underground shelters.

A year ago a Ukrainian border guard office was shot at with a grenade launcher.

Nobody was hurt.

Since then nothing much has changed other than more troops patrolling the streets.

Residents still cross Friendship of the Peoples Street.

Ukrainian and Russian border officials used to meet and discuss co-operation but they stopped talking when the conflict worsened.

Russians have installed CCTV cameras on their side of the border.

The government in Kiev plans to build a wall to enforce the border with Russia and work is due to start next year.

There is little enthusiasm among the inhabitants of Milove for a wall that will separate them from their neighbours on the other side of the street.

The Ukrainians already face stricter border controls and the Russians are not supposed to cross with only their internal ID cards.

It is bad news for Valeri Fedorovich who has for years sold local potatoes to his Russian neighbours.

"I don't know what I am going to do with all those potatoes now," he complains.

"They are going to spend so much money on building that wall! It would be better to give it away to the people. I used to serve in Germany [in Soviet times], the Berlin Wall didn't stop anyone. The time will come and all the walls will fall."

'Milking goats' 

"Locals don't feel threatened by Russia," says the head of Milove's administration, Vladimir Mirny.

Although they disagree with Russian government policies in Milove, their attitude to the Russians in neighbouring Chertkovo is completely different, he says.

"We don't talk about politics. All we talk about is milking our goats and tending our gardens."

But the town official accepts that even though the two adjacent towns get along, their annual day of celebration of friendship between two nations has now been suspended.

The politics of the conflict for most people here is secondary to the struggle to get through the economic crisis.

"I am not scared of war if I don't watch TV," says Sergei, who is buying vegetables with his family on Friendship of the Peoples Street.

With no job and the prospect of increasing local service charges, he is more concerned about the prospect of winter.

Many of Milove's residents are out of work and monthly benefits are barely more than 1,000 hryvnia (£30; €45; $50).

Life on the Ukrainian side of the street is a constant struggle.

"When you talk to the Russians they support their authorities, trust them - and we live in Ukraine so we should also support our authorities." says Vera.

"But power changes hands all the time in Ukraine, and our lives don't change," she sighs.

Source: BBC News

Friday, August 28, 2015

Four Ways The West Could Counter Putin In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- This month, Russia stepped up military pressure on Ukraine, concentrating about fifty thousand troops along its border with Ukraine, using its proxy militias to shell Ukrainian government positions in the Donbass, and threatening Kiev with "a big war."

A man inspects debris while standing outside his house, which according to locals was damaged by recent shelling in a fight between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk, Ukraine, August 17. So far, the West has reacted to the current cycle of violence only with statements of concern, which Moscow predictably ignores, the author writes.

The current escalation indicates Russian discontent with Ukraine's refusal to make unilateral concessions such as allowing the creation of a demilitarized zone in Shyrokyne near the city of Mariupol without reliable guarantees that Russian-backed separatists won't take back this area after Ukrainian forces withdraw.

Parties to the Minsk contact group discussed this issue at an August 3-4 meeting but failed to agree.

They also bickered over the idea of withdrawing heavy weapons of less than 100 mm caliber.

In both cases, the main obstacle has been the lack of reliable guarantees that separatists would keep their part of the bargain.

Escalation in the Donbass and maneuvers of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border are designed to impress not only Kiev but also the French and Germans.

It was French and German pressure—and U.S. pressure as well—that in July 2015 led the Ukrainian parliament to add to the draft constitutional amendments a provision referring to self-governance in certain districts of the Donbass (which pertain to the Russian-occupied territories).

Many Ukrainian MPs see that provision as a concession to Russia, and a potential danger to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Ukraine's parliament plans to vote for the draft constitutional amendments on August 31 and in early September, and Russia still hopes France and Germany will help it push provisions that give it the opportunity to influence Ukraine through the Moscow-controlled separatist areas of the Donbass region. 

On August 17, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed hope that Moscow—together with Berlin, Paris and Washington—"will be able to help establish direct dialogue" between Kiev and the separatists.

But so far, Ukraine has rejected direct negotiations with separatists because they have not been legitimately elected, and consequently are not legitimate representatives of the Donbass people. 

Ukraine's local elections set for October 25, 2015, also annoy Moscow.

Russia's proxy in the Donbass—in violation of the Minsk II agreement—refused to hold elections in accordance with Ukrainian law and scheduled its own elections on October 18 and November 1.

The Kremlin wants to force Kiev and the West to recognize the predictable results of such separatist "elections" and thus legitimize the Moscow-controlled regime.

It is also possible that constant shelling will provoke Ukraine to attack Russia in response.

If that happens, Russia might use such an attack as an excuse for another major escalation with the involvement of Russian regular troops.

So far, the West has reacted to the current cycle of violence only with statements of concern, which Moscow predictably ignores.

Even the August 9 destruction of OSCE vehicles in Donetsk didn't cause angry reactions from Washington or Brussels.

The West should understand that Moscow's readiness to fulfill its obligations cannot be bought with concessions at Ukraine's expense.

Putin wants all of Ukraine, and after he gets it, he'll want the Baltic states.

Only the following measures can stop Russian aggression:

First of all, the West should make clear that any further escalations—even minor ones—will cost the Kremlin dearly.

Strong sanctions packages should be on the table, ready to come into force in case of renewed attacks or shelling.

Moscow would think twice before escalating if it knew that such actions would disconnect Russia from SWIFT, and that a possible attack on Mariupol would spark an embargo on Russian oil. 

Secondly, the West could deter Russia from constantly transferring military equipment to separatists by compensating Ukraine with defensive weapons deliveries.

The Kremlin might lose its eagerness to provide separatists with new battle tanks and APCs if it knew that Kiev would get an appropriate amount of Javelins to neutralize them.

Western counter-battery radars could become a good answer for Russia's supplies of artillery systems.

And so on, until Moscow understands that its military transfers are useless.

Thirdly, the EU must dramatically boost financial aid to Ukraine.

One of the main goals of Moscow's military escalation is to exhaust Ukraine and make it a failed state.

Even one-fifth of the EU's assistance to Greece would help Ukraine overcome its present crisis and deprive the Kremlin of the joy of seeing the Ukrainian economy collapse.

Finally, the West must change its paradigm of helping Ukraine, and begin resorting to the most effective measures instead of the cheapest.

France and Germany should remember who blocked Ukraine's path to NATO common security, and the EU should recall whose oil and gas money allowed Putin to rebuild the army that has killed thousands of Ukrainians.

Source: Newsweek

Russia’s Dirty War In Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- You have to wonder what the Kremlin has been thinking. I mean, did they really think they were going to get away with it? I guess the official narrative is still mainly for domestic consumption, but internationally, the Ukrainian cat is officially out of the bag.

People fish in a stream outside a steel factory in the Sea of Azov port city, Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. The bulk of continued unrest along the 485-kilometer (300-mile) front lines, between Ukraine's government forces and Russia-backed rebels, has been concentrated around the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, but pitched battles are also taking place in the town of Shyrokyne, near the strategic port city of Mariupol.

Earlier this week, Business Life, a Russian finance periodical, posted budget data that appeared to show exact figures for payments made for dead soldiers and those maimed in combat, Ukrainian combat that is.

The data showed approximately 2,000 killed in action and another 3,200 declared an “invalid” due to war injuries.

We’re talking Russian troops here.

The West doesn’t need to heed the words of retired U.S. Army Gen. Scales to kill as many Russians as possible to end the conflict.

The Ukrainian military seems to be doing a fine job of that all by themselves.

Beside the obvious question of how long the offender who accidently posted the data (it was immediately removed by Kremlin censors) is going to spend in hard labor in Siberia, one has to wonder.

I mean, did Moscow actually think, in the age of the Internet and the 90-minute news cycle, really think they could wage a major war and hide all the evidence?

Even worse, how does a government prevent mothers of dead and maimed soldiers from finding out the truth of what happened to their sons?

It has been reported that the families are threatened with the loss of financial benefits if they discuss the fate of their children, siblings, fathers, etc.

It certainly is not a government that cares about the Russian-speaking people as the Kremlin purports to do.

I think this is what the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, was talking about when he said that Russia does not share Western values.

To borrow a phrase from the prison warden in “Cool Hand Luke,” what we have here is a failure to communicate (the right information).

What we also have in Ukraine is a really nasty, Slavic civil war.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin famously told George W. Bush, “You see George, Ukraine is not a country.”

Ordinary Russians see Ukraine as their little brother, the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, a place for a nice dacha in the countryside.

The Kremlin sees Ukraine as the source of much of its military hardware.

Novorossiya, or East Ukraine, is really just a euphemism for the heart of Soviet military industry.

It’s obvious why Russia wanted Crimea, Black Sea access and all.

The same goes for East Ukraine — heavy industry takes time to replace, especially with Western sanctions hollowing out the Russian military.

And to put icing on the cake, how about a land bridge between the two?

So now you see why Moscow risked it all to directly use the Russian active-duty military in East Ukraine.

It simply is a bridge too far for the Kremlin to see Ukraine go over to the dark, Western side.

Therefore, Putin has thrown in the kitchen sink.

He’s burned the bodies [of his soldiers who died in Ukraine.]

He’s continues the lies [and the stupid soviet propaganda.]

[Former President Ronald Reagan was absolutely right in labelling Russia the "Evil Empire"]

[One day President Obama may come to the realization that Russia was, is and will be our worst enemy.]

But as Hillary Clinton is finding out, eventually, somebody screws up and you get caught red-handed.

Even if the majority of the Russian people don’t believe it, the rest of the world does.

Source: The Washington Times

Ukraine And Top Creditors Agree To Restructure $18 Billion In Foreign Debt

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine and its main creditors agreed on Thursday to restructure $18 billion of the country’s foreign debt, in a rare deal between bond funds and a wobbly, emerging-market government.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk hands flowers to Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko during a government meeting in Kiev on Thursday.

If the deal is approved by the Parliament of Ukraine, it would write off 20 percent of the nation’s foreign debt, helping to avoid a drawn-out, Greek-style negotiation with large bondholders.

The terms would also offer financial relief to Ukraine during a deep recession and an armed conflict with pro-Russia separatists.

But it leaves unanswered whether lenders not represented in the negotiating committee — including, critically, Russia — would comply with the deal.

The committee of creditors backing the proposal represents holders of about half of the debt.

Under the proposal, bondholders, including the California-based Franklin Templeton fund, Ukraine’s largest lender, would accept an immediate loss on the principal.

The deal would allow Ukraine to delay repayments for four years, though interest rates would rise slightly.

The creditors might recoup some losses after 2021 if the country’s economy returns to growth faster than expected.

In only three other instances in the last 15 years did creditors agree to reduce principal amounts without a country heading first into default, according to Ukraine’s minister of finance, Natalie A. Jaresko.

The previous cases involved Greece, the small Central American nation Belize, and St. Kitts and Nevis, in the Caribbean.

“It’s a benchmark for emerging markets” that might serve as a template for other countries bogged down by debt, Ms. Jaresko said on Thursday in a telephone interview.

“It is every sovereign’s dream.”

“I would hope that it shows that you don’t need to rush into a default, even having the willingness to use a moratorium if needed,” she said, adding that a country can end up “working with creditors” and “not on opposite sides of the table.”

Big bond investors, like Michael Hasenstab at Franklin Templeton, poured money into Ukraine before President Viktor F. Yanukovych was ousted last year.

The Yanukovych government had lobbied Franklin Templeton to hold its bonds, sending a first deputy prime minister to the fund’s offices in San Mateo, Calif., even as Ukraine’s foreign policy swiveled away from the West toward Russia and the economy started to skid.

Although the economy was stumbling, some investors argued they would win regardless of the geopolitical outcome, because either the International Monetary Fund or Russia could be expected to bail them out with public sector aid to Ukraine.

After the power change, the cash-poor Ukraine started pushing for debt relief. The government asked for an immediate 40 percent reduction and threatened to default.

Officials in Kiev, the capital, had been hinting strongly that the creditors should accept the loss given the glaring signs of corruption in the government of Mr. Yanukovych, who kept a private zoo and golf course at his residence.

The Ukrainian officials argued that an initial bailout might not have worked, if bondholders had held out.

If that had happened, Ukraine faced being back at the table with creditors again and again — much like Greece.

But big investors initially resisted, arguing instead for extending the repayment period.

They figured Ukraine’s economy would recover quickly enough to make the payments by dipping into gold and foreign currency reserves.

Eventually, they compromised, agreeing to a 20 percent loss.

Franklin Templeton’s bonds, once worth $7 billion, are now worth roughly $4.6 billion.

Franklin Templeton declined to comment.

Under a concession, the government will pay the creditors bonuses under a value recovery instrument, if Ukraine’s economy bounces back faster than expected.

If gross domestic product rises faster than 3 percent after 2021, for example, Ukraine must pay creditors part of the total value of the economic growth.

It would be based on a sliding scale from 15 percent to 40 percent, depending on how quickly things pick up.

The deal also helps Ukraine meet a requirement of the International Monetary Fund to save $15.3 billion by reducing payments to commercial creditors over four years.

Ukraine had to do so as a condition of receiving $34.7 billion in I.M.F. loans and aid from the United States and other Western nations.

“Less of the government’s scarce financial resources will be spent servicing high debt levels taken on by previous governments,” Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance said in a statement.

“And more will be available for critical social spending and national defense.”

The Ukrainian Parliament must vote on the deal and, if it is approved, creditors not represented in the committee would have to decide whether to participate.

That could be complicated, given that Russia is a major creditor.

Russia is unlikely to be swayed by the Ukrainian government’s arguments to lenders that the agreement would free money for the military to fight the separatists in the east of the country.

A protracted legal dispute could ensue.

Anton G. Siluanov, the Russian finance minister, said on Thursday that he expected Ukraine to repay its debt to Russia in full.

And the deal hardly solves Ukraine’s broader economic problems.

Besides its debt, Ukraine is plagued by high inflation.

The inflation rate peaked at 60 percent in April and was still at 55 percent in July.

The central bank raised an important interest rate significantly in March, in an attempt to curb inflation, which had been made worse by a decline in the value of the currency, the hryvnia.

But the situation is showing signs of stabilizing.

On Thursday, after the government announced the debt-reduction agreement, it cut the rate by 3 percentage points, to 27 percent.

Source: The New York Times

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Arming Ukraine – It’s Time For Action

KIEV, Ukraine -- More than 20 years after the Ukraine Independence Act that created the country I love, its future hangs in the balance once again.

Alexander Temerko, the author of this article, is a Ukrainian-born British businessman and a deputy chairman of Newcastle-based OGN Group. He was previously vice-chairman of Russian oil giant Yukos.

Hostilities have resumed in Eastern Ukraine and the number of casualties are multiplying.

Following three-way talks in Berlin on Monday, the leaders of Germany, France and Ukraine all reiterated the need to implement the Minsk cease-fire agreement hammered out this year in tense late-night talks involving Russia.

“We have only one single rule today and this is the full respect and implementation of the Minsk agreement,” said French President Francois Hollande.

He is not alone in this view.

Many in the west still cling to the hope of a political and diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine.

Yet to imagine at this stage that Russia suddenly intends to abide by the Minsk II agreement is naïve, wishful thinking.

As someone who has seen the modus operandi of Vladimir Putin and his clique up close, I believe the time has come for western powers to arm Ukraine.

Power is the only language Russia understands; anything else is a weakness to be exploited for as long as it prevails.

Underneath the Russian bluster, as so often proves to be the case, is fear.

Everyone can see that Russia cannot win a war with US military muscle backing the other side.

A united and genuine show of resolve by the US and the EU to do whatever it takes to protect Ukraine, military action included, would stop the Kremlin in its tracks.

We hear a lot of voices arguing against arming Ukraine.

A rapid escalation of the violence would be the only result, they say.

Civilians would suffer and Ukraine’s economy would be damaged further if the war continues.

An east-west arms race could once again become reality – a frightening concept.

There is truth to all these arguments but we have to be clear about one thing: this war is only continuing because Putin has gone unchallenged.

We have been here before.

Putin’s aggression in Ukraine is part and parcel of his strategy to sow instability and weaken Russia’s neighbours, then impose his will on them.

He has tried this in the Baltics, in Georgia and in Armenia.

His gamble is that he can create a satellite state in Ukraine because the west would judge the costs of opposing him too high.

We must prove him wrong.

The US has already assumed the lead in taking a tougher stand against Russia.

With a presidential election looming large in 2016, Barack Obama will not want to be remembered as the president who allowed Putin to have it all his own way.

European leaders have been more inclined to appease Putin but it is clear this approach is not working.

For the first time since the Cold War, Europe is in a position where it must face down its fear of Russia and develop a unified strategy to confront the threats of Putin’s regime.

Arming Ukraine is a fundamental part of the solution but there is also an economic element.

The west must start combating the widespread corruption that swirls around Putin and his cronies.

This is a much more important part of the solution to the Ukrainian conflict than is commonly understood.

The US and EU sanctions on Putin’s inner circle and his military and political advisers have bitten harder than many in the west realise.

Restricting the vast cash flows around Putin will weaken at least one of the heavy levers of influence he wields.

In short, the time for appeasement is over.

The west faces a test.

It must prove that it is truly ready to defend the principles of self-determination, democracy and the rule of law.

Failure to do so sets a potentially disastrous precedent.

Source: ft

Switzerland To Adopt Law To Speed Return Of Yanukovych's Assets To Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian authorities started to prosecute in absentia disgraced former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Viktor Yanukovych delivers a speech in Kiev on Feb. 14, 2014.

Switzerland expects to adopt a new law by the end of the year that will speed restitution of illicit funds stashed in the Alpine country, where thousands of 'politically exposed persons' are believed to hold bank accounts, a top Swiss official said on Monday, according to Reuters.

"Swiss authorities are cooperating with a number of countries, among them [are] Haiti, Egypt, Tunisia and Ukraine, to return stolen assets that have been frozen following changes in power," said Valentin Zellweger, the head of the foreign ministry's federal department of international law.

"The two houses of the Swiss parliament still need to reconcile their versions of the new draft law, including the issue of a statute of limitations," Zellweger said.

"I guess that we will only have the statute by the end of the year," he said.

"It will be the most comprehensive act worldwide... it is the right thing to do," Zellweger said.

As reported earlier, Swiss Ambassador to Ukraine Christian Schoenenberger said that Switzerland was awaiting the provision of reliable data by Ukraine on assets stolen from the Ukrainian people by the regime of its ousted former president.

He said Ukraine's General Prosecutor's Office still has to provide a sufficient evidentiary basis to enable the return of the frozen assets of the previous government to Ukraine.

The assets of former President Viktor Yanukovych and his associates have been frozen in Switzerland, the UK, the Netherlands and other countries.

Source: Ukraine Today

Polish Deputy FM: Warsaw, Jerusalem Agree On Ukraine

JERUSALEM, Israel -- Warsaw and Jerusalem largely see eye-to-eye on Ukraine crisis, Polish Undersecretary of State Konrad Pawlik said on Tuesday.

Polish Undersecretary of State Konrad Pawlik.

Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post following a briefing he gave to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Pawlik said that he had held discussions on the issue with representatives of Israel’s National Security Council and that the parties “share several assessments over the situation in Ukraine.”

Both countries “have the same understanding of the responses to the situation,” he continued, stating that neither had recognized the Russian annexation of Crimea and that both are closely monitoring developments in separatist held regions of Eastern Ukraine.

Both Israel and Poland have absorbed refugees fleeing from the Ukrainian conflict, albeit with much fewer coming here, and while Poland has frequently taken the lead in decrying what it sees as Russian aggression against former Soviet possessions, Israel has taken a more neutral approach.

Officials have explained Israel’s neutrality in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict as being motivated by a desire not to antagonize Russia, which – if it so desired – could cause Israel enormous headaches when it comes to issues such as Middle East arms sales, Syria and Iran.

However, it is possible that Israel’s role in the conflict may change.

Jerusalem has protested against the planned sale of advanced Russian S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran.

In April, Israeli defense officials told the news site that Israel may respond by selling arms to Ukraine and Georgia.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly scheduled to visit Ukraine soon and host its president in Jerusalem.

Pawlik denied separatist claims that his government is providing lethal aid to Ukrainian forces, stating that Warsaw contributes only “humanitarian” aid and “logistic equipment” such as sleeping bags and comestibles that “are not even considered non-lethal or lethal, they are just humanitarian.”

Asked about the possibility of Israel introducing its weapons into the conflict, he said that he does not “want to assess Israel’s policy in this regard,” adding that the idea of arming Ukraine is much less discussed in Europe now than it was before the signing of the Minsk II agreement in February.

While Jewish leaders in Ukraine have largely denied Russian claims that their government is either fascist or neo-Nazi, there have been concerns over Kiev’s willingness to honor historical nationalist figures with Nazi ties.

In April the Ukrainian parliament passed a bill recognizing a World War II-era armed group that collaborated with the Nazis and which massacred Jews and Poles.

Asked if Ukraine needs to reconcile itself to its Holocaust history as Poland has striven to do since the end of the Cold War, Pawlik said that he thinks “we are observing two phenomena in Ukraine. First of all, it is still a state in the making, still in the process of formulating and strengthening its own statehood. Secondly, its national identity is also under the process of formulation. We should remember that Ukraine has never existed before. This is the first time that this state exists as an independent state for a long period of time. So they are in the process of formulating several identity issues,” he said.

Beyond providing support for Ukrainian anti-corruption efforts, his country has also been involved in what he called “historical dialogue and reconciliation” with its neighbor, especially in light of past grievances.

Polish and Ukrainian historians, politicians and others are in contact and “this is a good start,” said Pawlik.

“What we indicate to our Ukrainian partners is that as we already created such a good platform of reconciliation process, we should do any efforts to strengthen and facilitate this process, not to hamper it.”

Warsaw has indicated to Kiev that legislation such as that recognizing extreme Ukrainian nationalists “could influence the process of the dialogue” and that it supports an amendment to the law excluding recognition to anyone who committed crimes.

“So that is why these two issues about penalization and war crimes are the most critical for us. We made it clear to Ukrainian side, and we were assured that certain changes or amendments will be considered. Whether this which we would wish to see, the time will show,” he said.

Source: The Jerusalem Post

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

US Sends F-22 Fighter Jets To Europe As Part Of Ukraine Response

WASHINGTON, DC -- The US is to deploy F-22 fighter jets to Europe as part of efforts to support eastern European members of the NATO alliance unnerved by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

US air force F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters are to be based in Europe.

“Russia’s military activity in Ukraine continues to be of great concern to us and to our European allies,” the air force secretary, Deborah James, told a news conference at the Pentagon.

“For the air force an F-22 deployment is certainly on the strong side of the coin.”

James did not give details about the specific number of planes, date or location of the deployment but said it was in line with defence secretary Ash Carter’s recent call for a strong and balanced approach to Russia.

The first deployment of the Lockheed Martin Corp F-22 to Europe outside air shows is seen as a move to address growing concerns among NATO allies about Russian military aggression.

The air force has also been using radar-evading F-22 fighter jets to carry out some its attacks against Islamic State, the first real combat air strikes by the jets.

The air force chief of staff, General Mark Welsh James, said the F-22’s inaugural training deployment in Europe would allow US forces to train with NATO partners across Europe, testing the ability of the jets to communicate and fight together with the Eurofighter and other advanced warplanes.

James said the deployment would give F-22 pilots more experience with the European terrain.

The air force has previously used the jets in Japan and South Korea.

Welsh said it would also allow the jets to fly into and out of facilities that could be used in some future conflict.

The single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft was designed by Lockheed and Boeing as an air superiority fighter but can also be used for ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence.

The USAF considers the F-22 a critical component of its tactical air power, and states that the aircraft is unmatched by any known or projected fighter. The Raptor's combination of stealth, aerodynamic performance, and situational awareness gives the aircraft unprecedented air combat capabilities.

The jets formally entered service in December 2005, with the last F-22 delivered to the air force in 2012.

Source: The Guardian US

Russia Inadvertently Posts Its Casualties In Ukraine: 2,000 Deaths, 3,200 Disabled

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russian president Vladimir Putin has decreed that all Russian casualties “in peacetime” be a state secret.

A local resident examines his building, destroyed during recent shelling, in the small town of Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region on August 25, 2015. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia of this week sending three military convoys over the border into the separatist-controlled east with a total of up to 500 tanks, 400 artillery systems and up to 950 military armoured vehicles to pro-Russian rebels, although he did not specify the time period for these deliveries.

In addition to criminal charges arising from divulging state secrets, families risk losing pensions and lump-sum payments if they reveal that their sons were killed in Ukraine.

Mothers of soldiers’ associations have been branded “foreign agents” for collecting data on Russian casualties.

Dissident Boris Nemtsov was murdered shortly before completing his study of Russian casualties in Ukraine.

Russian civil rights organizations, working against the fog of official resistance, could confirm only several hundred battlefield deaths.

Business Life (Delovaya Zhizn) reports on markets, finance, entrepreneurship, finance, and leisure, scarcely an outlet for sensational information.

Its innocuously entitled “Increases in Pay for Military in 2015,” however, reveals what appear to be official figures on the number of Russian soldiers killed or made invalids “in eastern Ukraine.”

Russian censors quickly removed the offending material but not before it had been webcached by the Ukrainian journal Novy Region (New Region).

Here is the “top secret” material the censors removed (my translation):

“Compensation of military personnel taking part in military actions in Ukraine in 2014-2015.”

In addition, the Russian government, in a decision about the monetary compensation of military personnel taking part in military action in eastern Ukraine, approved compensation for families of military personnel who were killed taking part in military action in Ukraine of three million rubles (about $50,000).

For those who have become invalids during military action, the compensation is one and a half million rubles (about $25,000).

A payment of 1,800 rubles ($26) is envisioned for contract “fighters” for every day of their presence in the conflict zone.

In all, as of February 1, 2015, monetary compensation had been paid to more than 2,000 families of fallen soldiers and to 3,200 military personnel suffering heavy wounds and recognized as invalids.” 

Sovietologists found many secrets of the USSR by digging into the Soviet press and technical and financial trade journals.

That fallen and invalided military personnel are compensated must be reflected somewhere in budgets.

As reported in Delovaya zhizn, compensation payments for those killed and invalided in Ukraine came to almost $20 million dollars, not a large share of the approximately $50 billion defense budget but large enough to appear in an appropriate budget subcategory.

Source: Forbes

Lviv Is Ukraine’s Happiest Sad City

LVIV, Ukraine -- Names on the crosses could be hardly read under heaps of flowers and wreathes. On a recent morning, a woman and a teenage girl lay more bouquets on top of 40 freshly dug graves for soldiers killed on the front lines in the Donbass region, far to the east of here.

Lviv, Ukraine 

Lviv, a beautiful ancient city on Ukraine’s western border, looked after its dead sons, burying them with honors at Lychakovsky, one of Europe’s oldest cemeteries.

Maidan revolutionaries and soldiers are lying here together among graceful monuments to the city’s famous personalities of history, victims and heroes of conflicts and crises in past centuries.

Today the fate of Lviv, with its dark memories of Nazi and Soviet terror, as well as past and current wars, is decided by a tall 46-year-old man in glasses, Andrei Sadovyi.

For nine years, Mayor Sadovyi has carried out democratic reforms turning Lviv into a model for the rest of Ukraine.

He calls his concept for Lviv’s development Open World.

His party, Self Reliance, is one of young and talented economists, lawyers and business people who do not obey any of the old political clans.

“We are a bone in the throat of the Ukrainian oligarchy," Sadovyi told The Daily Beast.

On the other side of the country, the conflict once again has escalated.

Both the Ukrainian military and Russia-backed rebel forces report casualties almost every morning.

But here in the west, in Lviv, the conflict seems not to interrupt the pace of daily life: Russians and Ukrainians continue to travel by plane and train between Moscow and Lviv.

In the evenings colorful crowds of locals and tourists fill up the central Market Square to marvel at medieval cathedrals, graceful statues or just to have a cup of Lviv’s famous hot chocolate on one of the flower-trimmed verandas.

On Monday, national Independence Day, President Petro Poroshenko said that the Donbass war has killed about 2,100 Ukrainian military.

Many in Lviv wore embroidered shirts to celebrate Independence Day, sang a sad Plyve Kacha song, and shed tears as they remembered the victims.

“We drafted our men to the front lines,” says Sadovyi.

“We lost dozens. We’ve received 11,000 internally displaced persons. Every one of Lviv’s big companies contributes millions of dollars to the army.”

The mayor spoke with the firm intonation of a strong politician.

“The war is hugely painful, the most severe test.”

But Lviv’s society has been tempered by such experiences over the centuries.

Lviv has a long history of suffering—people still find remains of Russians killed by Ukrainian nationalists or German Nazi soldiers, and Ukrainians killed by Russian secret police.

“Every third man and every fourth woman died from violent murder during the last century,” said the mayor.

Painful losses and brutal provocations continue to trouble the city.

In late July, a crowd of a few dozen people came out to shout about a “Jewish brotherhood” running Ukraine.

“Our eastern neighbor organized that show for the Russian media, the level of anti-Semitism in Lviv is very low,” the mayor said.

In the past 100 years, Lviv’s Jewish population, once counted among the most vibrant in Europe, shrank to about 5,000 people, who are now struggling to restore their destroyed synagogue.

Through his personal example, Sadovyi has demonstrated that there is a real chance for politicians to get rid of the country’s Soviet heritage.

Wearing a traditional embroidered vyshivanka shirt, the mayor walked out on the balcony of his office on Market Square.

There are only two stone lions to guard the door of city hall.

Anybody from a U.S. military official to a Polish civil society leader or a news reporter can drop by to chat with the mayor.

Sadovyi and his young and polite administration are the most accessible politicians in today’s Ukraine.

But it is not they who run the country.

While the war envelops the east of Ukraine, Kiev, the capital, continues to talk about decentralization.

Cities continue to ask for more independence and responsibility.

“Back in the 1990s, a few families received a monopoly for business, for political parties and media—their conglomerate has enormous influence in our country today,” said Sadovyi, outlining the true nature of power in Ukraine.

But his Lviv provides a different example with the emergence of new, young, talented, professionals. 

So we asked him if he thinks Ukraine’s current leadership is serious about reforming Ukraine? 

“President Petro Poroshenko quoted Lee Kuan Yew: ‘If you want to fight corruption, put three of your friends in jail,’” said Sadovyi.

“He said that but he did not do it. The system has not changed and this is a very big problem for Ukraine.”

Parliamentary deputies from Sadovyi’s Samopomich (Self Reliance) party criticize Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk for appointing loyalists to key positions in state companies worth billions of dollars to oversee embezzlement and corruption schemes at a time when post-revolutionary civil society expects the leaders to end such practices.

Sadovyi’s critics remember his missteps: the mayor flipping his middle finger at his opponents at one occasion, or turning the city, where the average salary is around $200 a month, into a haven for expensive restaurants, known for “wow!” effects and themes.

(Anyone for an eatery catering to masochists?)

But there are very few critical voices.

“Only Sadoviy can help us create a cultural center for 2,000 Tatars escaped here from Crimea or for 11,000 mostly Russian IDPs from Donbass,” says Alim Aliyev, leader of local Tatar community.

“Ukrainian nationalists are against that, but he is our supporter.” Sadoviy’s has pinned hopes on investment projects for dozens of IT companies opening in the city.

Dutch CTP plans to invest $50 million to develop the industrial park of IT companies in Lviv.

But for big investment projects to succeed, Lviv and the rest of Ukraine need peace and stability. 

Source: The Daily Beast

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Russia's Fake Ukraine War Report Exposed In Putin PR Disaster

LONDON, England -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's twisted propaganda machine has been revealed after a fake news report purported to be from the conflict in Ukraine was leaked online.

The 'news report' begins with Maria Katasonova reporting of shelling at the Ukraine conflict frontline.

In the extraordinary clip a Russian parliament employee pretending to be near the volatile frontline of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine bursts out laughing as her cover is blown.

A light is switched on and Maria Katasonova, who works for a Russian MP, is revealed to be standing in a darkened room as recorded explosions play in the background.

With the cover blown, Katasonova then quickly orders her friend to stop shooting.

The fake war report, which has already been seen over a million times on YouTube, is an embarrassing propaganda flop for Dictator Putin, who is trying to win the PR war alongside the military one in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has been trying to portray the Ukrainian government forces as the aggressors in the conflict despite a fragile ceasefire holding.

The West has accused Putin of propping up the Ukrainian rebels and supplying them with soldiers and tanks - a claim the Russian leader denies.

At the start of the video, Katasonova, an assistant to the nationalist MP Evgeny Fedorov, claimed:

"We are now only 1,000 feet away from the front line, the Ukrainian army started shelling at 5 o’clock."

Katasonova describes the scene to the camera as the sounds of shelling explosions go off all around her.

However, the young Maria Katasonova, who has a record of starring in extreme propaganda videos, couldn't keep a straight face and soon bursts out laughing.

The lights are then switched on in the room and her propaganda scam operation is uncovered. 

Commenters on social websites have branded the clumsy news report attempt as a perfect example of how the manipulative Russian propaganda machine works.

Angry GarisMan says:

"Am I the only one who sees this video is fake?"

Don Ivanov posted:

"It is a video for Russian nationalists from Putinland! Shame to Russian TV!"

The controversial Katasonova is known for spreading her radical political views and has supported attacks on anti-military rallies in the past.

She writes in a pro-Kremlin newspaper and claims to be in Donetsk supporting the separatists - however this latest PR gaffe throws that claim into question.

Katasonova appeared in a video earlier this year holding a Kalashnikov and threatening the West with nuclear destruction if it interferes in Ukraine. 

She now works for Fyodorov, who is one the longest-serving deputies in the Russian parliament and the leader of the National Liberation Movement in Russia.

Neither she nor the MP have commented on the stupid publicity flop.

Source: Express UK

Ukraine's President, In Independence Day Speech, Pledges More Troops To Fend Off Rebel Attacks

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president vowed to increase troop numbers to fend off attacks by Russia-backed separatist rebels and warned his countrymen that there is still the threat of a "large-scale invasion," in an impassioned speech to mark Independence Day on Monday.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko hands over a flag of a military unit as a soldier kisses the flag before a military parade on the occasion of Ukraine's Independence Day in the capital Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. Speaking at the parade, President Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine would continue to increase its troop numbers in order to fend off the attacks of separatist rebels.

Speaking during a military parade, President Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine must not be complacent even though hostilities have largely died down.

In a show of force, thousands of Ukrainian servicemen marched in downtown Kiev to commemorate the country's independence from the Soviet Union on Aug. 24, 1991.

"We stand for peace, but we are not pacifists," Poroshenko said.

"We must get through the 25th year of independence as if on brittle ice. We must understand that the smallest misstep could be fatal. The war for independence is still ongoing."

Poroshenko didn't say how many more troops he would send to eastern Ukraine.

He said that Russia had massed about 50,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, still had 9,000 soldiers in eastern Ukraine and had supplied the rebels with about 500 tanks and 400 pieces of artillery.

Poroshenko warned that Russia is wary of carrying out an outright invasion and is instead developing another strategy: sow discord across all of Ukraine and thus spoil its relations with its Western allies. 

Poroshenko compared the rebel-held territories in the east and their viability to the evil kingdom of Mordor from J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" novels.

Russia's foreign minister said Poroshenko's statements about Russian troops were "unsubstantiated and unscrupulous."

"It is difficult to escape the thought that their goal was to break the genetic code that guarantees the unity of our peoples," Sergey Lavrov said.

"I don't think he will succeed."

The Ukrainian troops taking part in the Independence Day commemorations carried rifles, but, unlike last year, the parade didn't feature any of the more powerful weaponry.

This could have been seen as provocative because of the conflict in the east, which has claimed more than 6,900 lives since it began in April 2014 and saw a major uptick in violence last week with nine civilians and soldiers killed in just one day.

Ukraine's military said Monday that the rebels violated a cease-fire 82 times overnight in the eastern part of the country, in some cases with large-caliber weapons that should have been withdrawn in line with a truce signed in February.

Poroshenko later traveled to Berlin for an evening meeting with the leaders of France and Germany, in which the three reasserted that the ceasefire agreed to in Minsk, Belarus in February must be implemented.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there are still hostilities and observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers cannot move freely to assess the situation.

"Everything possible must be done to ensure that the ceasefire is a reality," she said.

Poroshenko said that Ukraine is fulfilling its obligations on the ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and on humanitarian issues.

"We clearly declare that today Russia and the fighters it supports are the only threat to the peace process. "

Moscow did not send a representative to Berlin, but said it would watch the meeting closely, and Merkel said that there was still regular contact with Russia.

A top French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to speak on the issue, said the gathering was planned as a three-party meeting and that talks also including Russia could be expected "in the next few weeks."

Poroshenko told reporters in Kiev that the meeting was crucial for Ukraine, Germany and France to "coordinate their positions" before a possible meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On front-line positions in eastern Ukraine, the mood was less festive.

Source: AP

European Leaders Make A Show Of Support For Ukraine On Its National Day

BERLIN, Germany -- Clinging to a deal on Ukraine that has never been fully enacted, the leaders of Germany, France and Ukraine called on Monday — the 24th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence — for the bloodshed to end.

Border Guard Troopers Of The Ukrainian Army In Kiev, Ukraine, August 24, 2015.

President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine arrived in Berlin hours after warning his people at a ceremony in Kiev that “we must walk through the 25th year of independence as if we are walking on thin ice.”

“We have to understand: the slightest misstep can be fatal,” he said, illustrating the precarious state of his country.

In Berlin, he expressed thanks for the support from Germany, France and the broad coalition of nations that he said had supported Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 and helped foment armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that “first and foremost, everything must be done to make the cease-fire a reality.”

The tattered truce, never fully observed, has frayed further in recent weeks, and the death toll in the conflict has edged toward 7,000.

German officials have said that Monday’s meeting was held to show Russia that the three other parties still believed that the accord, which was negotiated in Minsk in February by the leaders of the four nations, was the basis for restoring peace.

“We are here to implement the Minsk deal, not to call it into question,” Ms. Merkel said, alluding to reports that cast the meeting as a snub to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The four-nation formula can take on various forms, Ms. Merkel noted.

She cited as one example a meeting of Russian and Ukrainian legal experts held in Berlin last week to try and find a way forward on constitutional and other reforms in Ukraine.

Sergey V. Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, said on Monday that he hoped Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande “will insist” on Ukraine enacting “everything that has been agreed” in Minsk.

Mr. Poroshenko cited one example of potential progress: the agreement to set up by Aug. 31 three centers along the combat line that would enable the distribution of humanitarian aid to people in areas occupied by Moscow-backed rebels.

German officials have voiced frustration in recent weeks that even such apparently simple and obvious acts are often fraught with difficulty.

In his speech at home to mark Ukraine’s national holiday, Mr. Poroshenko struck a more combative tone, accusing Moscow of still pursuing the idea of attacking Ukraine directly.

Both he and Putin have different constituencies to court in their respective countries, often further obstructing the enactment of the Minsk accord.

“We know that the Minsk process is not perfect,” one German official said earlier this month, describing the situation on condition of anonymity.

“But it is the process we have,” and — in Berlin’s view, at least — has prevented even worse fighting. 

Meanwhile, Denis Pushilin, a leader of the pro-Russian rebels in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, called on Ms. Merkel and President François Hollande of France “to convince Mr. Poroshenko to return to the Minsk format.”

If the two Western leaders did not succeed, Pushilin told reporters in Donetsk, then the city and surrounding region, known as the Donbass, “are in for further destruction and victims, and Ukraine is in for new encirclements.”

Source: The New York Times

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ukraine Forces In Svitlodarsk Try To Learn What's Coming Next In Russia's War

SVITLODARSK, Ukraine -- A reconnaissance group from St. Mary, a Christian Orthodox battalion, arrives in Svitlodarsk – north of Debaltseve in Donetsk Oblast.

Ukraine-controlled Svitlodarsk is close to the war front in Russian-occupied Debaltseve.

The city is in a buffer zone between Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatist forces.

Today‘s objective is to collect information from pro-Ukrainian sources in the city, while remainder of Ukrainian forces prepare for renewed hostilities.

In recent days, Ukrainian intelligence has received information about impending separatist assault - coinciding with Ukrainian Independence Day on Aug. 24, according to the head of Security Service of Ukraine Vasily Hrytsak.

This may once again lead Donbas towards open hostilities.

Before the war, 12,000 people lived in Svitlodarsk; only a few thousand remain today.

As with many other cities in Donbas, Svitlodarsk is strongly supportive of separatists.

“Practically, there are no pro-Ukrainians here,” says Tarantino, one of St. Mary’s commanders who, like many in Ukraine's military, refuse to be identified by their proper names.

The group visits the few pro-Ukrainian sources within the city, which provide the group with up to date information.

“They understand the risk associated with working for us,” says Tarantino.

“Not a single person says hello, everyone stares angrily,” says a driver of the group.

In the middle of the Sovet-built town centre, a faded Russian-flag is stenciled on the ground.

In the main shops of the city, the most vital materials – such as dry foods and water - have been sold out.

After two weeks of continuous artillery duels, three day silence seems odd.

“I have worked in this city for a long time, but today I had a very bad feeling,” says Tarantino.

One of Svitlodarsk’s firefighters regularly visits Russian separatist-controlled Debaltseve, where second encirclement of Ukrainian forces took place during the Minsk II negotiations.

“He’s from Debaltseeve, so he goes there often,” says one of the firefighters’ commander.

Tarantino walks away with the man to talk.

“He’s actually from Sloviansk” – one of the first cities to join the separatists, later retaken by Ukrainian forces in the summer of 2014.

“He told me that, in Debaltseve, there are no separatists forces or equipment. We know from our drone reconnaissance that there are currently large accumulated forces,” says Tarantino.

Ukrainian and separatist positions are clearly visible from the tall tower above the fire station.

“From here, they guide separatist artillery against our forces; the station’s commander used to serve with an artillery unit,” says Tarantino.

St. Mary unit waves goodbye as they depart; the firefighters respond with the same.

“This whole group are separatists,” swears one of the fighters.

Back in Artemivsk, 20 kilometers away from the front, the same mistrust between Ukrainian forces and local population exists.

Using information of Ukrainian intelligence and local units – such as St. Mary, an undisclosed number of separatists have been arrested.

“We arrest them, put them in local prison, and they get released the following day,” explains Tarantino.

“In Artemivsk more than half of the police forces support separatists.”

The situation on the front line, north of Donetsk, remains tense.

As from the start of Russia's war in the Donbas, Russian propaganda continues to have deciding power, especially, here people remain reliant on Russian TV and radio as in Svitlodarsk.

Tarantino laughs: “The separatists have now started calling us Ukr-Wermacht.”

Source: NewsUnited