Friday, April 29, 2016

9,333 Killed Since Ukraine Conflict Began, U.N. Says

UNITED NATIONS, USA -- Nearly 10,000 people have been killed and more than 20,000 wounded since the Ukraine conflict began in April 2014, a top United Nations official said Thursday.

Taye-Brook Zerihoun

The official, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, the assistant secretary general for political affairs, told the Security Council that the total number of casualties was now 30,729, with 9,333 people killed and 21,396 wounded.

Mr. Zerihoun said the most recent casualties occurred Wednesday when shelling killed at least four civilians and wounded at least eight people in Olenivka, near the city of Donetsk.

He said that fighting had escalated in recent weeks to levels not seen since August 2014, when it was at its most intense, and he called on all parties to cease hostilities.

He criticized both sides for hindering access to an international monitoring mission put in place under the cease-fire agreement worked out in Minsk, Belarus, on Feb. 14, 2015, by Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, but he said that according to statistics provided by the monitors, restrictions were more common in rebel-held areas.

The Security Council meeting on Thursday was the first since December 2015 to address the situation in Ukraine.

During the meeting, representatives from Russia and Ukraine traded bitter accusations over who was to blame for the flare-up in hostilities.

“Russia has organized and deployed in Donbas a 34,000-strong hybrid military force consisting of the regular Russian troops as well as of foreign and local militants,” Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, told the Council.

“Russian generals and military officers provide direct command-and-control of this illegal military entity, impressively heavily armed.”

Mr. Prystaiko claimed that this force was better armed than most NATO members despite the Russians’ claims that the weapons were acquired in local hardware stores.

“Last time I checked, you will hardly be able to buy a decent knife in Ukrainian hardware stores, not to mention the multiple-launch rocket systems and jet flamethrowers,” Mr. Prystaiko said.

Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin of Russia denounced the United Nations session as a play for time while Ukraine’s army occupied towns “in the neutral strip” stipulated by the Minsk agreement.

“Over the entire crisis, the U.N. has been used as a propaganda platform,” Churkin said, dismissing the Ukraine statement before the Security Council as “very disappointing,” and “a lot of rhetoric.”

Russia tried to circulate a statement that would reaffirm the United Nations’ commitment to the Minsk agreement, but it failed to gain consensus approval because it also called for an investigation into the killing of Russian protesters in Odessa, without mentioning violations of the cease-fire by rebel forces.

The United States, France and Britain all denounced Russian aggression for igniting the conflict. 

“What is happening today is the result of Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity which began with its occupation of Crimea more than two years ago and expanded with substantial military on the ground and weapons support for armed separatists in Eastern Ukraine,” the American ambassador, Samantha Power, told the Council.

Source: The New York Times

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Look Who Funds Ukraine's 'Anti-Putin' Internet TV

KIEV, Ukraine -- The best way to raise funds for a media project in Ukraine? Go full-bore anti-Russia to easily woo North American and European governments to give you money.

Vladimir Putin is supposedly overseeing vast Baltic-invading armies and a media empire propagandizing the West to his very whims. The same can be said about Western influence in global media, as one Ukrainian pro-West start up shows.

Kiev-based Hromadske.TV is the symbol of the info wars between Moscow and the Western world, a war that the West claims it is losing to the big guns in Moscow.

So worried are the Europeans, Canadians and Americans that the Russians are beating them at their own game –the sexy world of news and entertainment — that they’re funding the company.

According to their financial report for the year ending 2015, they have nearly a dozen foreign backers.

Some long term, some more fly-by-night.

Who are they?

They are the Canada International Development Agency (CIDA); the Embassy of The Netherlands in Ukraine; another Canadian charity called the Ukrainian World Foundation; independent DC-based Pact World; the U.S. Embassy of Ukraine’s Media Development Fund; California based Internews Network; Swiss Cooperation Office and the Swiss International Development Agency; eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s fund is one of the four biggest donors; the Swedish International Liberal Center; Thomson Foundation; the German Embassy of Ukraine and the biggest funder of all, the European Commission’s Ukrainian delegation office.

The U.S. is the smallest donor while European and Canadian government backed agencies are the biggest.

Many of the donations are harmless funds from organizations like Pact and Thomson that train young reporters.

But donations from the European Commission are a particularly interesting reveal given the anti-Russian government news flowing coming out of Hromadske.

The site was created by 43 year old Ukrainian journalist, Roman Skrypin, during the heat of the Euromaidan movement in 2013.

Within a year, the site became one of the go-to spots for news from the activists point of view, all of whom were pro-Europe.

The movement began following the rejection of a trade deal between Brussels and Kiev by then-president Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych was then “rewarded” by the Russians by getting a Gazprom subsidized natural gas agreement.

Ukrainians in Kiev saw this as a slap in the face to national sovereignty, and Yanukovych was ousted from power in February of 2014, punished for kowtowing to Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine quickly moved to install a pro-Western government and Hromadske was its young, aggressive, digital chronicler of events.

Not unlike Ukraine, Skrypin allegedly stole around $250,000 from the online media company he created.

The channel is suing their ex-CEO.

Although Hromadske’s producers go after president Petro “Panama Papers” Poroshenko too, the media outlet can be relied on to push anti-Russia rhetoric about Putin’s aims in Ukraine and the Baltics, a three hour flight north of Kiev.

The Baltic story line has been one of particular interest to the West.

Even Hillary Clinton has chimed in saying the Russians were coming to a Baltic country near you.

Hromadske follows that narrative and others regularly seen in Russia-Ukraine headlines out of the U.S. and Europe.

For instance, this week it ran a story favorite to Western journalist sentiments about how the Crimean Tatars were under attack and being treated as third class citizens in Crimea, now owned by Russia.

The Russian government barred a separate assembly for the minority group, which set off the firestorm.

Nevertheless, the Tatars are a constant cause of concern for the U.S. press.

They make up 10.6% of the population of Crimea.

By comparison, African-Americans are around 13% of the U.S. population.

Hromadske also ran a piece this week assuring readers that NATO and Russia are most definitely not friends, despite recent meetings between the two sides.

Whew… If they were actually talking to each other sensibly, and someone reported on it, that would really throw a wrench in the narrative.

Interestingly enough, both the U.S., U.K. and Germany have sounded alarm bells about Russian television’s impact on public opinion in Ukraine and abroad.

The Daily Beast, no friend of Putin, reported back in September that the reach of Russia Today, better known as RT, was not as big as Russia said it was.

RT is Russia’s BBC.

Sure, the Russians fund this and the Russians fund that and the CIA funds this and the CIA funds that.

But until governments are 100% transparent in what they spend on foreign ventures, it is safe to say that the West equally invests in promoting its official story line to influence public opinion as the Russians do.

Hromadske.TV is merely an example.

American consumers of news media would be disgusted if they learned that the Huffington Post received grants from Russian think tanks.

It may not lead to outright editorial input in daily operations, but journalists and newsrooms are notorious self-censors.

And increasingly under financial strain.

Who will bite the hand that feeds it?

Judging by a small sampling of Hromadske’s daily coverage, not them.

Source: Forbes

US Urges Ukraine To Jail Corrupt Officials

KIEV, Ukraine -- The United States is urging Ukraine to start jailing corrupt officials, after months of political turmoil that has delayed billions of dollars in foreign loans.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland speaks during a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, April 27, 2016. She has called on the country's government "to start locking up people who have ripped off the Ukrainian population for too long."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland said in Kiev Wednesday that she was encouraged by Ukraine’s commitment to reforms but stressed that steps must be taken to counter corruption.

"Overall, I go home encouraged by the commitment of all the political forces to continuing and accelerating reform, economic reform, anti-corruption reform, in particular judicial reform... It's time to start locking up people who have ripped off the Ukrainian population for too long and it is time to eradicate the cancer of corruption," she said.

Nuland called for greater political unity, saying Ukraine must "stay the course" with a $17.5 billion bailout program from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a $1.7 billion third installment of which has been delayed since last October.

A third $1 billion loan guarantee is in the offing from the U.S., she said, but it all depends on the government adhering to the terms of the IMF program.

Nuland also indicated that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry intends to visit Ukraine this spring.

On elections in eastern Ukraine Regarding elections in eastern Ukraine as stipulated by a peace deal between Kiev and pro-Russia separatists engaged in conflict there, Nuland said that Washington was not setting a specific deadline as was reported Tuesday, but added that the so-called Minsk agreement requires proper preparations for elections, including sufficient security and OSCE access in the Donbass region.

“We have put no date on when elections need to happen,” Nuland said countering an earlier statement by a Ukrainian lawmaker who after meeting Nuland Monday said she was setting a July deadline for the elections.

“We have made absolutely clear that Minsk requires that there be sufficient security and OSCE access and the ability of candidates to ballot and the ability of citizens to hear from candidates before you can have an election."

Holding elections in the east is seen by Ukraine's European partners – Germany and France, who mediated the Minsk deal - as a way to end the two-year conflict in eastern Ukraine that has claimed about 9,200 lives.

Source: Voice of America

Under The Umbrella: Russia 'Covers' Ukraine's Former President And PM

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych and his ally, former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov are now officially Russian citizens and, consequently, are under the protection of the Russian Federation.

Yanukovych and Azarov obtain Russian citizenship and protection - Transparency International.

This was reported by Transparency International investigators within the framework of their 'Unmask the Corrupt' project.

The report says: "All evidence indicates that Yanukovych and Azarov received the Russian citizenship and are placed under the protection of the Russian government. Azarov seems to be willing to get back to Ukrainian politics at any time, even if he has to give up his Russian citizenship in this case. On the other hand, the former Ukrainian President does not show any signs of trying to return to politics." 

Here is another important finding of the report: the gradual lifting of the sanctions against relatives and representatives of Yanukovych and Azarov allows them to sell properties they acquired, presumably, through corrupt practices.

The investigators report: "Reselling assets to complicate main beneficiaries' identification was largely observed in Ukrainian and off-shore companies whose beneficiaries are supposedly families of Yanukovych and Azarov. The same thing may happen to assets that are currently placed under the EU sanctions."

Thus, neither Ukraine nor European countries cannot compensate for losses caused by Yanukovych's and his allies' corrupt schemes.

This casts doubts on the effectiveness of the international anti-corruption measures.

Yanukovych fled his opulent mansion outside Kiev in February 2014 following mass protests against his decision to reject an E.U. Association Agreement and move the country towards Russia.

The new Ukrainian government says Yanukovych and his associates stole tens of billions of dollars during his tenure.

As of January 13, 2016, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was on the top of the list of the world's most corrupt persons according to Transparency International's Unmask the Corrupt campaign.

Mykola Azarov, Ukraine's last prime minister under Yanukovych.

On August 3, Azarov who is now living 'in exile' in Moscow formed the "Ukraine Salvation Committee," whose goal is "regime change" back home.

Azarov is wanted in Ukraine for several crimes, including embezzlement and abuse of power.

Source: Ukraine Today

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Russia Deploys 'Flame-Throwers' To Militant-Held Areas In Eastern Ukraine - Intel

KIEV, Ukraine -- Deadly TOS-1 Buratino rocket system spotted in Luhansk. Russia has deployed a heavy multiple launch thermobaric rocket system - TOS-1 Buratino - to the occupied territories of the Luhansk region, the intelligence department of Ukraine's Defence Ministry reports.

TOS-1'Buratino' heavy flamethrower systems

This type of weapon spreads and ignites a flammable liquid over its target, causes indiscriminate and terrible damage.

Only Russia produces the system and it was not exported to Ukraine before the conflict broke out, according to IHS Jane's Group and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which track arms exports.

TOS-1 Buratino and three 122mm multiple rocket launchers Grad were delivered by train from Russia to the city of Sverdlovsk (Sverdlovsk repair-mechanical plant), in the Luhansk region.

Ukrainian intelligence officers also say that Russian regular Air Force and Air Defence servicemen (from the Russian city of Sieveromorsk) serve in the air force units operating in the occupied territories of Donetsk region. 

The Ukrainian party informed the OSCE monitors about tanks, self-propelled guns and Grad rocket launchers that are stationed in the city of Donetsk.

Source: Ukraine Today

Ukraine Marks 30 Years Since Chernobyl

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine on Tuesday commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident that sent radiation spewing across Europe, led to a death toll still being debated — estimates range from 4,000 up to 1 million — and displaced and sickened hundreds of thousands of people.

Ukrainians light candles and lay flowers at a memorial in Slavutich for 'liquidators' who died during clean up operations after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster on April, 26, 1986.

The meltdown is considered the world's worst nuclear disaster.

Bells and sirens throughout Ukraine sounded Tuesday at 1:23:58 a.m. — the moment the plant's reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986.

In the city of Slavutych — built for workers evacuated from the Chernobyl plant in the former Soviet Union — a remembrance ceremony was held for the "liquidators," the term for the thousands of military personnel and volunteers who responded to the unfolding accident without suitable protective equipment.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko led a ceremony in Chernobyl, where work is underway to build a new cover for the reactor, due to be completed in 2017.

Many liquidators have since died or are ill from radiation.

“We honor those who lost their health and require a special attention from the government and society,” Poroshenko said.

“It’s with an everlasting pain in our hearts that we remember those who lost their lives to fight nuclear death.”

In Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where land was affected by the Chernobyl fallout, more than 1,000 people held a protest march through the city center, the Associated Press reported.

Belarus usually cracks down on dissent but allowed the march.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message Tuesday to the liquidators.

"Chernobyl has become a serious lesson for all mankind, and to this day it has severe repercussions on both the environment and human health. " Putin said.

"The scale of the tragedy could be immeasurably greater, if it were not for the unprecedented courage and dedication of the firefighters, military personnel, experts, medical workers who honorably fulfilled their professional and civic duty. Many of them sacrificed their own lives to save others."

Relatives of those who died attended candlelight vigils, and flowers were placed at memorials and churches in Ukraine's capital of Kiev and elsewhere.

The international community on Monday pledged an extra $100 million to Ukraine to help build a new underground storage facility for hazardous nuclear waste at the plant.

More than $2.2 billion has already been donated to help Ukraine build the new reactor cover.

Source: USA Today

Monday, April 25, 2016

Chernobyl, Ukraine: The Nuclear Option Holiday

PRIPYAT, Ukraine -- Standing 100 yards from the husk of Chernobyl’s Reactor Number 4, the click-click-click of the Geiger counter becomes alarmingly insistent.

Ghost town: the abandoned streets of Pripyat, former home to Chernobyl workers.

One step closer and it is beeping and flashing.

Our guide gives a reassuring smile.

“It’s fine,” she says.

But she knows we know she would say that.

Soon, we are back on the bus and driving away from the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Power Station, better known as Chernobyl.

When I first visited, two years after the world’s worst nuclear accident, it took weeks of negotiating with the Soviet authorities to gain access to the plant.

Today, busloads of visitors arrive on an almost daily basis.

For less than £100 ($144), the adventurous can take a one-day tour of the so-called “dead zone”, the contaminated 10km (6.2 mi) circle drawn around Chernobyl after the accident in the early hours of 26 April 1986.

Aside from the frisson of standing yards from the shattered reactor, tours include a visit to an abandoned kindergarten, and the once top-secret Woodpecker “over-the-horizon” Soviet listening station.

You can even traipse through the rural shack of a “self-settler”, one of the handful of elderly people living illegally in the dead zone, most of them without electricity or running water.

The most bizarre, however, has to be a visit to Pripyat, the ghost city that was home to Chernobyl workers until it was hastily evacuated 36 hours after the accident.

In 1988, the city’s public address system was still broadcasting music that drifted eerily through the abandoned streets.

Today, those same streets have been reclaimed by the trees that once lined them and there is total silence.

Not even the birds sing.

Thirty years on, I recall the eek moment when scientists at the nearby research station – now also closed – presented me with a bunch of unnaturally large “Chernobyl roses”.

“Get rid of them,” hissed the translator as we walked away.

Perhaps I should have worried, too; the same scientists had shown us a bizarre collection of pine saplings grown from the seeds of what became known as the “Red Forest” around Chernobyl after radioactive dust made the trees glow – and they had weird deviations, double centres, needles growing backwards…

Holidaymakers rubber-necking the scenes of catastrophes used to be called “disaster tourists”.

Today, those helping travellers to beat a path to Chernobyl, Fukushima or Auschwitz prefer to talk of adventure tourism.

The Ukrainian authorities refer euphemistically to “education” rather than “tourism”, mindful of accusations they are profiting from tragedy.

Although it seems adventurous, the itinerary must be agreed with Chernobyl officials in advance and rigidly stuck to.

The zone is punctuated with radiation hotspots and only the reckless wander off the verified and agreed track.

Dylan Harris, owner of the British-based Lupine Travel, whose catalogue includes Chernobyl, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, Somaliland and Turkmenistan, says he can understand why some might view such trips as “morbid and voyeuristic”.

But, he explains, “I genuinely don’t think it’s the reason why most people want to visit these places. I believe it gives a much deeper understanding of what happened there. Everyone has heard about the Holocaust, but nothing can prepare you for the feelings that engulf you on a visit to Auschwitz".

“The Chernobyl disaster was a big part of my growing up in the 80s,” he continues.

“It was covered extensively in the news. Eastern Europe always felt like another world that could never be visited and therefore always intrigued me.”

Timing, says Harris, is important.

“A couple of months after the Fukushima disaster, I was contacted by somebody in Japan who offered to set up tours for me around the area. I rejected the idea immediately. It was much too soon to gain any kind of benefit or rewarding educational experience from it. It didn’t sit right with me – it felt totally dark and voyeuristic. Hundreds of people had been killed, lives had been destroyed, homes washed away. It was still completely raw.”

Dominik Orfanus of has been running tours to Chernobyl for eight years.

Most tourists, he says, are European and male.

He says his company gives part of its profits to organisations helping Chernobyl children, and recently bought a cultivator for a group of self-settlers whose old horse had died.

“Chernobyl is my passion. I love the place. When we take people around, they can understand what happened, they see how people’s lives changed from one day to the next. We have people tell us the visit changed their values because they realised how fragile life is. There is a big human and emotional side to visiting Chernobyl. It wouldn’t work if we didn’t give something back.”

Leaving the zone, there is a moment of high drama as we pass through radiation detectors that appear to be the same ones I saw back in 1988.

No alarms sound.

The guide says we have probably absorbed less radiation than on a transatlantic flight.

“So we won’t glow in the dark?” someone asks.

Everyone laughs.


Ukraine International Airlines flies ( from Gatwick to Kiev, from £112 ($161) return.

BA ( flies direct to Kiev from Heathrow, from £56 ($81) each way. and arrange tours to Chernobyl, Pripyat and other areas within the exclusion zone.

Prices start from £100 ($144) for a day trip, Geiger counter included.

British passport holders don’t need a visa for tourist visits.

Source: The Guardian

Ukraine Children Eat Food Tainted By Chernobyl

ZALYSHANY, Ukraine — Viktoria Vetrova knows the risk her four children take in drinking milk from the family's two cows and eating dried mushrooms and berries from the forest.

Natalya Vetrova, 1, sleeps holding a bottle with fresh cow milk at home in Zalyshany, 32 miles southwest of Chernobyl. 

But the cash-strapped Ukrainian government canceled the local school lunch program for 350,000 children last year — the only source of clean food in this village near Chernobyl.

So rural families are resorting to milk and produce from land still contaminated by fallout from the world's worst nuclear accident three decades ago.

Vetrova's 8-year-old son Bogdan suffers from an enlarged thyroid, a condition which studies have linked to radioactivity.

"We are aware of the dangers, but what can we do?" said Vetrova, standing in her kitchen after pouring a glass of milk.

"There is no other way to survive."

Vetrova's family and thousands of others are caught between the consequences of two disasters: the residue from Chernobyl and the recent plunge of Ukraine's economy.

After the April 26, 1986, explosion and fire, the most heavily affected areas in Ukraine were classified into four zones.

Residents from three of them were evacuated or allowed to volunteer for resettlement.

But the village of Zalyshany, 53 kilometers (32 miles) southwest of the destroyed reactor, is in the fourth zone — not contaminated enough for resettlement but eligible for subsidies to help with health issues.

Ukraine's Institute of Agricultural Radiology says the most recent testing in the zone showed radiation levels in wild-grown food such as nuts, berries and mushrooms were two to five times higher than what is considered safe.

However, Ukraine's economy has since been weakened by separatist war in its eastern industrial heartland, endemic corruption and the loss of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia.

Last year, the Ukrainian government, which is propped up by billions of dollars in loans from the United States, the European Union and the World Bank, cut off paying for school lunches in Zone 4.

There are no official cost figures, but a typical price of about 20 hryvnia (80 U.S. cents) would put the program's funding at about $50 million a year.

"Hot meals in the schools were the only clean food, which was tested for radiation, for the children," teacher Natalya Stepanchuk said.

"Now the children have gone over to the local food, over which there is absolutely no control."

In 2012, the government halted the monitoring of radioactive contamination of food and soil in Zone 4, which was called the "zone of strict radio-ecological control."

The state has also cancelled a program for buying Ferocin, known as Prussian Blue, a substance farmers could give their cattle to hasten the elimination of the cesium-137 isotope.

Without financial help, farmers in the area are unwilling to buy it on their own.

"The government spends huge funds for the treatment of the local population, but cannot put out a little money on prevention," said Valery Kashparov, head of the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology.

"I am ashamed to look people in the eye."

In the view of Vitaly Petruk, head of the agency that administers the "exclusion zones" closest to the Chernobyl plant, the decision on the school lunches came down to how best to use limited funds. 

"What is better: to give all the money to people who have radiation sickness and save them, or split the money ... and give each of them four hryvnia (15 cents)?" he asked.

"The idea was to focus on certain things, rather than dissipate energy and waste money."

This calculation means that many in the village of about 350 people go without food.

And beyond Zalyshany, there are some 1,300 settlements in the zone where the lunches were cancelled.

Even when the lunches were available, children were likely eating contaminated food when out of school.

Nine-year-old Olesya Petrova's mother is sick with cancer and can no longer work.

Olesya hungrily awaits the coming of warm weather, when she can scour the woodlands for berries and other goodies.

In the meantime, she can hope that one of her classmates will slip her a sandwich.

But in economically depressed Zalyshany, such largesse is fitful.

The lunch cancellations did not affect kindergartens, such as the one that's in the same building as the local school.

The kindergarten's cook, Lyubov Shevchuk, sometimes slips the older children a little something. 

"Children faint and fall. I try to at least give them some hot tea, or take from one child to give to another," she said.

With no government agency taking responsibility for feeding the schoolchildren, it's left to warmhearted efforts like Shevchuk's or to charities.

An Italian group, Mondo in Cammino, took notice of the Zone 4 lunch cancellations and raised money to supply the 130 pupils in one village, Radynka, with a year's lunches at a cost of 15,000 euros ($17,000).

"We know that Ukraine is near default. They decided that these families were no longer children of Chernobyl," said the organization's director, Massimo Bonfatti.

The overall effects of radioactive fallout remain intensely debated.

A United Nations report concluded that the additional radioactivity over a 20-year period was approximately equivalent to that of a CAT scan, because of higher levels of the long-lived cesium-137.

Ausrele Kesminiene, a doctor with the World Health Organization, said there is little evidence associating radioactivity-contaminated food with cancers other than in the thyroid.

But a review compiled by the Greenpeace environmentalist group and published in March found scientific studies indicating children in areas contaminated like Zalyshany show much-reduced respiratory capacity.

A European Union-funded study tracking 4,000 children for three years in contaminated areas also found cardiovascular insufficiencies in 81 percent of the children.

Yuri Bandazhevsky, a pediatrician who has studied the effect of small doses of radiation on the human body, said there are "very serious pathological processes" which can lead to defects of the cardiovascular system and cancer.

Bandazhevsky, whose work is widely cited abroad, was imprisoned in his native Belarus for four years.

Supporters allege it was due to his work on studying Chernobyl's consequences; he now works in Ukraine.

"With regret I have to state that nobody cares about this, and those hungry children are another proof of how authorities treat a population which suffers on these territories," he said.

Nadezhda Ivanchenko, whose grandson was monitored in the European Union study, agreed that the government seems callous.

She brought the 10-year-old boy for examination at the hospital in the district center of Ivankiv.

He shows advanced sinus arrhythmia of the heart.

"People get sick a lot, but neither children nor anyone here are needed. We were thrown away and forgotten," she said.

Olesya, the 9-year-old who now often has to go without lunch, wants to eventually become a doctor, so she can "treat everybody for radiation."

But for right now, her desire is to fill her stomach with treats foraged from the woods.

"In the forest, you don't need money," she said.

"There's all kinds of food that can feed everyone."

Source: AP

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ukraine's Crimean Tatar Battalion To Start Border Patrols

KIEV, Ukraine -- Crimean Tatars have announced they are launching a battalion to help Ukrainian police patrol the region bordering annexed Crimea, Radio Free Europe has reported.

An activist stops a truck near the village of Chongar in the Kherson region adjacent to Crimea.

Lenur Islyamov—the leader of the Asker activist group that cut off Crimea’s electric supply in 2015, in protest of Russia’s annexation and treatment of the native Muslim Tatar population—is now preparing another move to shore up resistance to what he perceives as ongoing Russian aggression in the Kherson region bordering Crimea.

Asker plans on assisting patrols in Kherson, in anticipation of “informational bombardment by the Russian authorities,” seeking to destabilize Ukraine further.

A car explosion in the Kherson village of Novoalekseevka earlier this month killed one and injured four , with no group claiming responsibility.

Islyamov alluded that Russia was behind the blast, saying—ironically—that it heralded “the arrival of Russia’s peace” to the town.

“This came under the guise of a terrorist attack,” he said, comparing the situation to the arrival of pro-Russian armed troops in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and in eastern Moldova in the 1990s.

“The aggressor is charging towards us.”

Islyamov alleged that the attack deliberately targeted an area near a mosque in Kherson, to hit Crimean Tatars in the area.

Russia has denied reports that Crimean Tatar communities are living under persecution since the annexation.

Tatar media and religious authorities , however, have complained of greater duress.

The chief of police in Kherson’s city of Henichesk told Radio Free Europe in February that talks with Asker were ongoing.

Source: Newsweek

Pope Reminds World Of Suffering In War-Torn Ukraine

VATICAN CITY, Italy -- Pope Francis' pleas for humanitarian aid for Ukraine is bringing needed attention to a forgotten war, said Ukrainian Catholic leaders.

A man stands in front his damaged house after shelling March 24 in the Ukrainian town of Makeevka.

The 2-year-old war has caused thousands of deaths and forced more than 1 million people to seek refuge abroad, the pope said.

After Mass April 3, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis asked that Catholic parishes throughout Europe take up a special collection April 24 as a sign of closeness and solidarity with people suffering because of the war in Eastern Ukraine.

He prayed that the collection also "could help, without further delay, promote peace and respect for the law in that harshly tried land."

Ukrainian Bishop Borys Gudziak of Paris, head of external church relations for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said the three things needed most are "to pray for peace and justice in Ukraine, to stay informed regarding the true situation in this ancient European land and to show your solidarity."

In a statement sent to the media on April 14, Bishop Gudziak said that after two years of war, there are "1.7 million internally displaced people and a million refugees in neighboring countries. Half a million do not have basic food and hundreds of thousands do not have access to safe drinking water."

In March 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine, and about a month later, fighting began along Ukraine's eastern border.

Russian-speaking separatists with support from the Russian government and its troops have been battling Ukrainian forces.

Jesuit Father David Nazar, rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute and former superior of the Jesuits in Ukraine, said April 13, "There is a great human need that's been lost in the media," which is no longer covering the war.

"The Russian military presence is still very strong, and increasing day by day," said Father Nazar.

"The diplomatic community knows this, the parliament knows this, there are always negotiations going on at that level. But the general populace has forgotten about this."

But Bishop Gudziak said the Ukrainian people have not lost their hope and faith: "Despite their suffering, Ukrainians believe that God has not forsaken them. Indeed, he has not forgotten them."

Since the crisis began, Caritas Ukraine, the charitable agency of the Eastern-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church, and Caritas Spes, the charity of the Latin-rite church, have been assisting the displaced as well as those still living in the conflict zone.

"Sometimes when the fighting is going on, we have to put our operations on hold and wait. It is very difficult to live with the fact that these people need our assistance and we cannot reach them," said Hryhoriy Seleshchuk, coordinator of humanitarian aid for Caritas Ukraine.

"It is even harder to know that there are millions of people in need in areas beyond government control and that we can only send through a very limited amount of aid," Seleshchuk said in an article posted on the website of Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organization for Catholic aid agencies.

Other members of the Caritas federation have been assisting Caritas Ukraine.

The U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Austria, for example, have provided funding to set up six centers for displaced children, providing them with fun activities, but also psychological support.

The Canadian bishops' organization Development and Peace, CRS and other Caritas members also help Caritas Ukraine provide small cash grants to displaced families to help them pay rent and buy food and other necessities.

Source: CNS

Ukraine Leader Says Russia Appears To Agree To Prisoner Swap

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, said Tuesday that he and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “seemed” to have agreed on a high-profile prisoner exchange that would bring home a Ukrainian officer now in Russian custody.

Defendants Yevgeny Yerofeyev (L), and Aleksandr Aleksandrov sat in a cage during a trial session in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 15.

At a news conference in Kiev, Mr. Poroshenko said he had called Putin to discuss the matter, and that “it seemed to me that we succeeded in agreeing” on the swap, which would repatriate two Russian soldiers that Ukraine recently convicted on terrorism charges.

Analysts cautioned that the deal could still hit a snag over perhaps the most critical issue of the war in Ukraine: Russia’s insistence that its regular army has never been involved in the fighting there.

Given that stance, the trade poses a dilemma for Putin: Accepting a swap for a Ukrainian officer would get the pair home, but might also amount to a tacit admission of the Russians’ status as soldiers. 

Throughout the war that had the worst bloodshed in Europe since the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, Russia insisted the well-armed, masked men who were showing up on the battlefield in unmarked uniforms were not its soldiers.

When the bodies of Russian men were returned from Ukraine, the Kremlin said they were patriotic volunteers fighting on their vacation time.

It is a delicate topic.

A Russian opposition leader, Boris Y. Nemtsov, was assassinated in Moscow in February 2015, midway through compiling a report saying that about 220 Russian soldiers, known as “the little green men,” had died in Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials nevertheless say they are in talks to trade Lt. Nadiya V. Savchenko for the two Russian men whom they say are Russian soldiers captured last year.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has refused to acknowledge any ties to the two, Capt. Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Sgt. Aleksandr Aleksandrov.

A Ukrainian court on Monday sentenced them to serve 14 years each in prison.

The Ukrainian lieutenant’s sister, Vera Savchenko, said in a telephone interview that a deal seemed far from settled for now, given the Russian sensitivities. 

“Putin changes his mind every day,” she said.

Source: The New York Times

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Panama Papers, Corruption Hamper Ukraine's Democracy

KIEV, Ukraine -- The sniper’s bullet went into the head of the man standing in front of Valentyn Onyshchenko. Blood and brain matter sprayed into Onyshchenko’s face with enough force to break the then-21-year-old’s eyeglasses.

Recent events, such as revelations Poroshenko secretly placed money in a tax haven abroad, have strained Ukrainians’ faith in the twin pillars of the 2014 revolution—closer ties to Europe and the fight against corruption.

“Like a robot” he weaved through the thousands of protesters gathered in central Kiev, Ukraine, for the February 2014 revolution.

He went to a nearby McDonald’s, which, despite the bloodshed just outside its doors, was still open for business.

In the bathroom, Onyshchenko washed his face and picked human remains from his blood-matted hair.

He took a moment to compose himself, and then he walked back toward the sound of gunfire to rejoin the revolution.

Days later, Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Russia.

The revolution was over—but the celebration was short lived.

Weeks later, Russia launched a hybrid warfare campaign in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, ultimately annexing the territory in a move that a U.N. General Assembly resolution later declared illegal.

The Kremlin also launched subversive military operations in eastern Ukraine, plunging the region into war.

More than two years after the revolution, a bespectacled Onyshchenko sits in an underground bar in Kiev.

He speaks quickly and fluently in English.

Onyshchenko was haunted for months by his memories of the revolution.

He had nightmares about the man shot by the sniper.

The face is gray and lifeless; the man’s hands are stretched out, reaching for something.

The nightmares have since faded, but so have Onyshchenko’s revolutionary passion and his hope for Ukraine’s future.

“During the revolution, especially at the most critical days, you could literally feel that special atmosphere in the air, and maybe for a second you could think, ‘Now, as people are united so much, we can achieve anything, we can change the country,’” Onyshchenko says.

“But if we throw away the emotions, I definitely knew that the revolution would only let us get rid of one, two, maybe three corrupted bastards,” Onyshchenko says.

“It wouldn’t change the system, and definitely wouldn’t destroy the ‘Homo sovieticus’ that is, unfortunately, still prospering among our people, especially those 40 plus years old.

“Nothing will change them. No revolution will explain to them that bribing a cop is bad, or taking a bribe is bad. I respect our nation, I really do. But it’ll take lots and lots of time until something will really change.”

Reality Check 

A string of recent events at home and abroad have strained Ukrainians’ faith in the twin pillars of the 2014 revolution—closer ties to Europe and the fight against corruption.

In the span of one week beginning April 6, Dutch voters rejected ratification of a long-awaited EU-Ukraine trade deal, putting Ukraine’s aspirations of European integration in jeopardy; the Panama Papers exposed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s offshore assets, sparking a media firestorm in Ukraine; and Ukraine’s prime minister resigned after months of political turmoil, sparking a political clash in the search for his replacement.

Meanwhile, the ongoing war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region is steadily worsening, and a ceasefire that never fully took hold is teetering on the edge of collapse.

“No, of course the revolution didn’t achieve its goals,” Onyshchenko says.

“People are definitely frustrated, but they are too tired to make another revolution.”

The April 6 Dutch referendum vote was a high profile stumble in Ukraine’s incremental westward pivot, and was predictably lauded by the Kremlin.

Yet, most Ukrainians and European political observers say a Continent-wide Euroskeptic movement fueled the rejection.

Worries about refugees, terrorism and economic malaise trumped any specific aversion to Ukraine, some claim. 

“The initiators are driven by anti-government and anti-EU feelings rather than by anti-Ukraine feelings,” Marcel Van Herpen, director of the Cicero Foundation, a Dutch think tank, says.

“This movement is clearly a part of the broader anti-EU and anti-refugee movement in other EU countries,” Van Herpen says.

“People are looking for simple, populist solutions—close the door for refugees from Islamic countries, but also for Ukraine.”

Closer to home, the Panama Papers revealed that Poroshenko has assets in a holding company in the British Virgin Islands.

Some politicians and media outlets accused the Ukrainian president of moving his money offshore to skirt paying taxes.

Poroshenko denied wrongdoing, claiming he handed over control of his assets to a team of advisers after he took office in 2014.

Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said Poroshenko had not broken the law.

Despite the media outcry, most Ukrainians shrugged off the allegations against Poroshenko with fatalistic indifference, reflecting an already crumbled confidence in the post-revolution government.

“It didn’t surprise me at all,” says Bogdan Logvynenko, 27, a Ukrainian journalist and political activist, reacting to Poroshenko’s inclusion in the Panama Papers.

“He wasn’t happy to give his business away when he became president. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it.”

“Nothing was shocking,” Onyshchenko says.

“Poroshenko is an oligarch, and what oligarch wouldn’t have an offshore account? The real disappointment was a few years ago when he was elected.”

Agents of Change 

Last week’s referendum in the Netherlands was a symbolic blow to Ukraine because the EU-Ukraine trade pact in question was the original impetus for the 2014 revolution.

In November 2013, Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president, made a last minute decision to cancel ratifying the agreement in favor of closer ties with Russia, spurring protests on Kiev’s central square, the Maidan.

The pro-EU demonstrations—originally called the “EuroMaidan”—did not call for Yanukovych’s ouster at first.

“We were willing to wait until the next election to vote him out,” said Dmytro Kryvonog, who participated in the protests, referring to Yanukovych.

“But everything changed when they beat up the students.”

The tipping point, those who took part in the revolution say, was when the Berkut (a now-disbanded special police force dating from the Soviet era) attacked protesters on November 30, 2013.

The images of bloodied and terrified students, some helplessly sprawled on the ground in fetal positions as packs of Berkut laid into them with nightsticks, ignited pent up anti-government anger nationwide.

“The protests became about the fact that you cannot beat up the students, it became about that,” Onyshchenko says.

“It started about the EU, but it became about us not being like Russia.”

“It wasn’t so much about Europe as about not being a part of Russia,” Logvynenko told The Daily Signal.

“We know what the Putin regime is, and no one wants that,” Logvynenko says.

“We saw the example of Belarus, and we saw that their freedoms disappeared. Yeah, the highest inspiration among my friends on the Maidan was to not be like Russia.”

Across the country Ukrainians from a broad demographic scope, including those from both predominantly Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking areas, set off for Kiev to join the gathering crowds on the Maidan.

Those who couldn’t travel organized local protests.

The “EuroMaidan” became known simply as the “Maidan.”

“It was not purely about the EU agreement, but it was a trigger,” said Svitlana Kisilova, 26, a Ukrainian political activist who was active on the Maidan.

Kisilova added: For me it was very important to live in a free democratic country, where you can openly express your views.

That is why when Yanukovych tried to push on us by limiting our freedom of speech and being totalitarian I knew that my duty was to fight for my rights, my country and the things I believe in. 

More than two years after the revolution, corruption still plagues Ukraine.

Paying bribes is a fact of life, practically required for things like passing university exams, finding a parking spot, or seeing a doctor.

Many Ukrainians acknowledge, however, that systemic corruption is not only a political problem.

Some say the tolerance for corruption in day-to-day life is a cultural leftover from the Soviet era, when such practices were more about survival than greed.

Some also blame a weak legacy of civil society institutions, as well as national journalism outlets, which operate more like mouthpieces for the various oligarchs that own them rather than watchdogs against government malfeasance.

“Ukraine still has an enormous amount of problems and it will take us a lot of time to fight corruption, up and down, and vice versa; to teach people to be responsible for decisions they are making at the elections and to be responsible citizens,” Kisilova says.

“We have a very weak civil society and people’s engagement into the public sphere is very low. But it’s only the beginning of a new society in Ukraine.”

The slow pace of change has dimmed support for Ukraine’s post-revolution government.

A Gallup poll released in December revealed that Ukrainians have less confidence in their government now than they did prior to the 2014 revolution.

“Another challenge the Rada (Ukrainian parliament) faces is that many of the well-known activists who were elected on the wave of the Maidan are now realizing that political activism is not the same thing as governing and legislating,” Luke Coffey, director of the Heritage Foundation’s foreign policy center, said.

“So there is a learning curve, which only adds to the existing challenges.”

The New Normal 

Despite certain advances after the revolution, most Ukrainians’ lives are now occupied with the day-to-day reality of existing on salaries that are worth one-quarter what they were two years ago, as well living in a country hounded by the omnipresent spectre of war and civil unrest.

However, on the streets of Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, life appears to be improving.

New coffee shops and restaurants seem to be popping up on every street corner.

There are fresh art venues, a hipster movement has taken off, and many young people say they want their city to become the “new Berlin.”

But most of the visible progress in Kiev is a façade.

Across the Dnieper River from central Kiev and its Orthodox cathedrals and blocks of colorful Stalinkas (neoclassical buildings built in the Stalin era) is what Kievans call “sleepy town.”

This part of Kiev is a concrete and steel forest of endless rows of Khrushchyovkas—the monolithic, drab apartment blocks that epitomize Soviet sprawl and enforced equality.

During the workweek, the streets in central Kiev are slow until about 10 a.m. while residents from “sleepy town” commute in.

Rent is too expensive for most Ukrainians to live in the city center.

Yet, Ferraris, Land Rovers, Mercedes, BMWs, Bugattis and Bentleys are common sights on the streets of central Kiev, a stark reminder of the extravagant lifestyles enjoyed by oligarchs, corrupt public officials and their families (the “golden children”) while the rest of the country exits on an average income of about $175 a month.

In rural Ukraine, life is a step back in time.

Many homes still have outhouses, livestock wander the streets, and the roads are potholed disasters liable to rip off on axle over 20 miles per hour.

Ukrainians describe the economic demographics of their country as the shape of an apple core—broad at the top and the bottom of the economic spectrum, but with almost no middle class.

In the Soviet Union, civil society was stifled and it was all but impossible for citizens to question government authority and organize grassroots efforts to effect political change.

Many say the legacy of Soviet civil society and what Ukrainians call the “ostrich mentality” (keep your head down and don’t cause trouble) is a key obstacle to Ukraine’s contemporary post-revolution progress.

“It’s sad,” Helenka, a 23-year-old university student studying public health, says.

“I have friends who say they love their parents and grandparents, but they also admit that they’re waiting for the day when those generations have died so that we can finally leave the Soviet past behind.”

And the War 

The war against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine sucked the oxygen out of anti-corruption reforms after the 2014 revolution.

“Ukrainians are learning that political reform while fighting a war is like building a ship while you’re already at sea,” Coffey says.

Instead of anti-corruption housecleaning, political triage in Kiev has favored pushing through emergency economic measures to avert an economic tailspin.

According to government data, territory held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region accounted for 10 percent of Ukraine’s pre-revolution GDP and about 15 percent of the country’s industrial output.

The country’s economy dropped 10 percent in 2015 and 6.8 percent the year prior.

And the national currency, the hryvnia, has depreciated to one-quarter of its value against the dollar from before the revolution.

Despite Ukraine’s economic woes, some say the most damaging and least quantifiable consequence of the war has been the diverted energy and patriotism of those who protested on the Maidan.

Rather than holding political leaders accountable to their revolutionary promises, Ukraine’s millennial generation, the driving force in 2014, has been focused on supporting the war effort.

Millennials played a key role in forming the volunteer combat battalions that stepped in for a floundering regular military in the early days of the war.

And the grassroots volunteer movement, which supports the war effort in myriad ways from building drones to providing post-traumatic stress counseling, is almost entirely dependent on the efforts of Ukrainians aged 18 to 35.

“The past two years have been challenging for the Ukrainian generation of millennials,” Iryna Fedets, 28, a research associate with the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, a Ukrainian think-tank, told the Daily Signal.

Fedets said, “The 2008 recession never really ended for them, as it turned into economic stagnation under Yanukovych, and later, Russian occupation of the Crimea and the war in the east brought down the economy throughout the country.”

Stay or Go? 

Onyshchenko risked his life in the 2014 revolution.

He has a job, a girlfriend, family, and friends in Ukraine.

Yet, he admits, if given the chance to live abroad he would take it.

“I’d say 80 percent of my friends are already abroad or plan to move abroad,” Onyshchenko says. 

Many reform-minded Ukrainian millennials who played a key role in the 2014 revolution now want to leave Ukraine for a new life abroad.

Others are determined to stay in Ukraine to fight for change.

“I didn’t feel like I could do anything here before the revolution,” Logvynenko says.

“No one felt like you could change anything. Now change is possible, but many people don’t see the opportunities.”

At a high school classroom in Kiev, when a group of students was asked if they would rather stay in Ukraine or move abroad, only one student out of a class of 17 preferred to live in Ukraine.

The combination of the war and the slow pace of reform has accelerated a trend of Ukrainian youth opting to leave the country.

According to a 2015 survey jointly funded by the United Nations and the Ukrainian government, 55 percent of Ukrainians aged 14 to 35 said they would like to go abroad temporarily or for good. 

Economic opportunities were the top reason for emigrating, followed by the explanation, “there is no real democracy and legality in Ukraine.”

War was another key consideration: 34 percent of those surveyed cited the ongoing conflict in the Donbass as a reason for leaving the country.

From 2009 to 2014, the number of Ukrainian students studying abroad increased 79 percent, reflecting a trend that predates the 2014 revolution.

In the past two years the number of Ukrainian students going abroad jumped 22 percent, comprising 47,724 Ukrainian students studying in 34 countries, according to CEDOS, a Kiev-based think tank . 

“There had been the tendency of a gradual increase of Ukrainian students who were leaving to study abroad, which could be attributed to conventional negative factors: lower quality of education in Ukraine, less economic opportunities, corruption in education, and others,” Fedets said.

“But in 2014, new challenges—the war, occupation, and crisis in the country—contributed to the rise of the amount of Ukrainian students abroad,” she added.

Undimmed Hope 

Despite the post-revolution setbacks, there is a persistent grassroots reform effort in Ukraine, mainly led by millennials who have chosen to commit their futures to the country.

Logvynenko was living in Poland during the Maidan revolution, but decided to return to Ukraine to take advantage of greater economic and political freedoms in the post-Yanukovych era.

He says the revolution was a success.

“I’m happy the revolution happened,” he says.

“If it didn’t happen I don’t think I would ever have come back to Ukraine. And now I want to stay here.”

Kisilova has also taken Ukraine’s challenges in stride.

She acknowledged that meaningful reforms would take years, perhaps decades to realize.

But she pointed to the volunteer and pro-reform movements among millennials as proof that Ukraine is slowly making good on the promises of the 2014 revolution.

“For the last one and a half years I have seen so many young and bright people who are working for our better future, and I believe we will have it,” Kisilova told The Daily Signal.

“I know it’s not enough to change everything in a year or two, because it is the beginning of a hard way.”

Fedets added that despite limited economic opportunities and a shaky security situation, many millennials will opt to stay in Ukraine if they believe they have a realistic chance to effect change. 

“For reform-minded young people who would like to enter civil service and bring changes in Ukraine, a sign from the government that their initiatives will have impact and their ideas will be heard should be sufficient to be willing to stay in the country,” Fedets said.


The top of Institutskaya Street in central Kiev has become hallowed ground.

The laid-brick street steeply ascends from the Maidan around the side of the monolithic Soviet-era Hotel Ukraine.

Trees dot a patch of ground behind a small rise at the top of the street.

This is where Berkut snipers gunned down protesters on Feb. 20, 2014.

More than two years later, bullet holes still pockmark trees, street signs and planters.

Today, where dozens of protesters vainly crouched behind sign poles and trees for safety, there is a monument to the fallen—two rows of steel-framed photos beneath a cross.

Evidence of the violence that happened here in 2014 seems impossibly out of place on this spring evening.

It has just rained.

The sunset-illuminated clouds and the green of the budding leaves on the trees glow in that airbrushed, after-rain way.

Young couples stroll by, some holding hands, some pushing a stroller.

A father leans down to his son, a toddler, pointing to the memorial, whispering something to him.

Two soldiers in uniform pause at the memorial; their faces and gaits are stiff.

They stand silently for a moment before carrying on.

Earlier, at a café in downtown Kiev, Onyshchenko adjusted his eyeglasses and explained the duality of his love for, and disappointment in, Ukraine.

“I was trying to make Ukraine better,” Onyshchenko said.

“I grew up here; I love the people. But I don’t think things will improve drastically in the next 10 to 15 years. At the same time, I want to see Ukraine be a success. There is so much potential here.”

Source: The Daily Signal

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Estranged From Russia, Turkey And Ukraine Join Forces

ANKARA, Turkey -- Moscow’s intervention in Syria may have achieved its objective of bolstering the Assad regime, at least temporarily, against various opposition groups in Syria’s civil war, but it has complicated its strategic position in the Black Sea by poisoning relations with Ankara.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) speaks with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko during the NATO summit at the Celtic Manor resort, near Newport, in Wales September 4, 2014.

Moscow’s repeated violations of Turkish airspace in its Syria campaign, the Turkish shoot-down of a Russian warplane, and the Kremlin’s economic sanctions and threats of retaliation have spoiled a decades long successful effort by Moscow to court Ankara.

In the process, it has spurred Turkish security cooperation with Georgia and especially Ukraine. 

During the Cold War, Turkey was NATO’s strong southern anchor against the Soviet Union.

Even in the 1990s, Ankara continued to treat Moscow with suspicion, evident, for instance, in its refusal to consider easing limitations for Russian conventional force deployments in the south during negotiations of the Conventional Forces Europe Flanks Agreement at that time.

Yet, following Ankara’s refusal to permit American forces to enter Iraq through Turkey in 2003, Moscow saw an opening and began a careful campaign to cultivate better relations with Turkey. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rise to power and his pursuit of policies in the Middle East that, at times, clashed with Washington’s own in the region, provided fertile grounds for Putin’s efforts.

So too did the growing Russian-Turkish economic relationship, with major Turkish construction projects and the prospects of Russian gas flowing to Turkey through Turkish Stream.

The advantages of this courtship for Moscow were evident following its annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014.

Ankara has always maintained a special relationship with the Tatars of Crimea, a remnant from the Tatar Khanate that ruled the peninsula under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire until Moscow took it after defeating the Ottomans in the late eighteenth century.

The Tatars who returned to Crimea in the 1990s after Stalin forcefully resettled them in Central Asia during World War II, have been staunch Ukrainian patriots ever since.

Representing at least 13 percent of the population of Crimea, they have opposed Moscow’s seizure and annexation of Crimea.

As a consequence, Crimean leader Mustafa Djemilev has been banned from returning to Crimea and the Tatar community has been subject to severe repression.

Moscow’s annexation of Crimea prompted sanctions from the West on Russian officials and businessmen, and the West also threatened sanctions for foreigners conducting their business there.

The official Turkish reaction to the annexation was mild.

While refusing to recognize the annexation and calling for the protection of the Crimean Tatars, Ankara chose not to criticize Moscow’s actions.

Turkey didn’t impose sanctions on Russia, and Turkish airlines even reestablished flights to Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea.

Putin’s decade-long attention to Ankara and especially Erdogan had paid off.

The fact that Moscow and Ankara were pursuing different policies in Syria was not an impediment to this Russian-Turkish rapprochement.

Since the start of civil unrest in Syria in 2011, the Kremlin has firmly backed the Assad regime, and Ankara has supported the Turcoman ethnic group in northern Syria and then various Islamic groups. 

But Moscow’s intervention in Syria, last fall, changed the equation for two reasons.

First, the Kremlin decided to demonstrate its contempt for NATO by repeatedly violating Turkish airspace during its bombing runs.

Second, despite its intention to take the war to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Moscow’s bombing campaign was directed more against moderate opposition groups in Syria’s northwest, including the Turcomans.

Moscow violated Turkish airspace three times, despite Turkish diplomatic complaints and warnings.

The fourth time, on November 24, the Turks shot down the Russian warplane.

Moscow realized that it had overplayed its hand and tried to downplay the incident in its official reaction.

Both Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu denied publicly that the Turks had taken their plane out.

But when Erdogan took credit for defending Turkish airspace, the Kremlin reacted sharply with economic sanctions, threats of military retaliation, and the deployment of Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft systems and warplanes to Syria’s northern border with Turkey.

Moscow then dared the Turks to act again by sending planes into Turkey’s airspace.

Putin’s declaration of victory in Syria and partial drawdown there has reduced the danger of a direct Russian-Turkish military confrontation.

With his prestige high, Putin has less need get even with Ankara for last November’s embarrassment.

But the damage has been done.

The consequences are evident in the Black Sea.

Less than two months after the shoot-down, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov visited Ankara to discuss defense industry cooperation and Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin followed within weeks.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu traveled to Kiev in early March and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko returned the favor with a stop in Ankara shortly thereafter.

The tangible result of these visits has been the blossoming of the Ukraine-Turkish defense relationship.

Besides burgeoning cooperation in defense industries, Ukraine and Turkey naval forces conducted joint training in the Black Sea last week to ensure their ability to operate together “in accordance with NATO standards.”

This followed an initial naval exercise in the Sea of Marmara in March.

At the same time, Turkey’s policy coordination with Georgia and Azerbaijan is growing.

All these countries share a major interest in thwarting Moscow’s revanchist policies.

Moscow’s unnecessarily provocative policy in Syria has encouraged Turkey to play a much more active role in this enterprise.

Source: Newsweek

OSCE Warns Of Intensified Fighting In Ukraine's Separatist East

KIEV, Ukraine -- Fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government troops has increased sharply in eastern Ukraine in defiance of calls to observe a year-old peace agreement, the head of an international monitoring mission said Friday.

A Russian soldier stands guard in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

The February 2015 Minsk cease-fire deal failed to completely halt the conflict that is now in its third year.

Both sides accuse the other of violating the terms of the truce — which includes a pullback of heavy weapons — and casualties among soldiers or civilians are reported almost daily.

"We have been registering with great concern the deterioration of the situation in the east for months now," said Ertugrul Apakan, chief monitor of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's monitoring mission to Ukraine.

"It is regrettable that the sides did not heed our many calls for restraint," he said in an emailed statement.

The continued fighting has helped sap public confidence in Ukraine's Western-backed leadership, which underwent its biggest reshuffle since December 2014 this week with the appointment of a new prime minister and cabinet.

Twenty Ukrainian soldiers were reported killed in March — the army's highest monthly death toll since August, while seven have been killed so far in April, according to Reuters calculations based on military data.

In the past 24 hours, Ukrainian positions on the front line experienced the heaviest attack from mortar and light weapons since Aug. 27, military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko said in daily televised briefing.

The government-held town of Avdiyivka, north of rebel-controlled Donetsk, was the focus of the majority of the attacks, he said.

Over 9,300 people have been killed since fighting between Ukrainian troops and rebels seeking independence from Kiev erupted in April 2014.

Kiev accuses Russia of seeking to destabilize Ukraine for seeking closer ties with Europe by supporting the separatists with weapons and fighters — a charge the Kremlin denies.

Source: Voice of America

Friday, April 15, 2016

Ukraine Conflict: Daily Reality Of East's 'Frozen War'

DONETSK, Ukraine -- War in eastern Ukraine is now routine for the people still living there, and there is little cause for optimism, despite a ceasefire and a strong desire for peace.

Shoppers in Donetsk now use Russian roubles in the local market.

Outbreaks of fighting between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian army frequently violate the truce and lives are still being lost, two years after the conflict broke out.

The front line is just 800 m (2,625 ft) from the school at Oleksandrivka, a village controlled by the pro-Russian self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR).

Its soldiers are in trenches close-by, and not visible.

On the school's main door is a chilling reminder of daily reality: a piece of white paper that reads: "Weapons banned inside."

Head teacher Valentina Cherkas's booming voice offers a reassuring welcome to the children as they arrive.

Outside, by the playground, are blue flak-jacketed ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE).

"Madness" is the one word Valentina uses to sum up the war.

"You see I'm Ukrainian, and the Donbass (eastern regions of Ukraine) is my land. So it's like cutting me in half."

And that is the reality.

The very eastern fringe of Ukraine has been sliced in two.

On the rebel side, where people can only watch Russian TV, some semblance of normality can be found in pockets of the main city in rebel hands, Donetsk.

At a bustling market, the Russian rouble is the only money changing hands, as it is now the official currency of DNR.

Among the city's disproportionate number of pensioners, stories of destroyed houses and divided families are common.

A stoical, cash-strapped woman of 62 blames Ukraine for the fighting and says her heart has "always been leaning towards Russia".

But Yilena, 25, is visiting her family in Donetsk and is representative of a huge number of largely younger people who have left this territory.

"There is no future here and no prospects," she says.

In her opinion, people left here have become hostages to the conflict.

"I have a nice flat here. [But] it's easier for me to abandon my home and look for a future elsewhere."


Back at the school, as a class of teenagers study the latter period of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, their teacher calls them to their feet.

"We do not want war! We want peace!" they chant in unison at our camera.

Two years after the war began, people are increasingly weary of the daily fighting close to the school.

Class teacher Galina Maxinovna sees the war as between "two groups of representatives of the same people".

And as if pleading to politicians on both sides she says; "It is members of the same family. Because you have your relatives on both sides of the barricades."

Little progress 

But while the citizens crave peace, there has been little or no progress in the corridors of diplomacy and international power.

Talks in Paris between Ukraine and Russia seemed to stall and there have been an increasing number of ceasefire violations.

Minor agreements are overshadowed by the bigger, intractable issues of elections; the future status of the rebel-held land; control of Ukraine's border with Russia.

Western analysts and Ukraine accuse Russia of wanting to keep the war going, in order to undermine Ukraine's stability and drain the country of vast financial resources, while the economy is in dire straights.

The pro-Russian authorities in Donetsk blame Ukraine for the continuing fighting.

What is certain is that Ukraine's chances of becoming a prosperous nation, allied to the West, will become undermined if the conflict drags on.

Source: BBC News

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ukraine Approves New PM In Bid To End Reform Deadlock

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament approved presidential ally Volodymyr Groysman as prime minister on Thursday in the biggest political shakeup since a 2014 uprising brought in a pro-Western leadership.

Newly elected Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman speaks to lawmakers during a session of Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev.

President Petro Poroshenko hopes the appointment of the former parliamentary speaker will end months of political deadlock that has delayed billions of dollars in foreign loans needed to shore up Ukraine's war-battered economy.

But the departure from the cabinet of experienced technocrats, including U.S.-born Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko, who led strategic talks with Western lenders and investors has rattled pro-European reformists.

Some deputies said the new government would struggle to get laws approved.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Groysman, 38, said his government was committed to tackling Ukraine's endemic corruption and strengthening ties with the European Union.

"I understand the threats that face us. In particular I would like to highlight three threats - corruption, ineffective governance and populism, which do not pose less of a threat than the enemy in eastern Ukraine," he said, referring to the conflict with pro-Russian separatists.

A new government should allow talks to resume on the disbursement of a third tranche of loans from the International Monetary Fund worth $1.7 billion, delayed since October.

Ukrainian bonds firmed after the vote in parliament.

Technocrats exit 

Groysman's rebooted cabinet appears to strengthen the influence of Poroshenko in the government and on the economic side of policymaking in particular.

Oleksandr Danylyuk, 40, who is set to become finance minister, is the deputy head of Poroshenko's administration, while the economy minister and first deputy prime minister positions will be given to Stepan Kubiv, who is currently the president's representative in parliament.

They replace Yaresko, praised by Washington for her handling of Ukraine's debt crisis, and Aivaras Abromavicius, who as economy minister spearheaded a drive to privatise graft-ridden state firms, but quit in protest over corruption in February.

Poroshenko, whose confectionary business Roshen has made him Ukraine's sixth richest man, said the new government must honour reform commitments made under its $17.5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout.

"I stress the imperative and inviolable necessity of continuing cooperation with the IMF and other international lenders," he said.

His comments were echoed by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who in a joint statement said the formation of a new government was "a crucial development at a time when new momentum in the country is badly needed."

Some lawmakers doubt the government will find that momentum, questioning whether it has sufficient votes to pass critical reforms or laws to underpin the fragile peace deal in eastern Ukraine, after former coalition partners joined the opposition.

"It means the government will only last for a few months at most, afterwards the president will be forced to dissolve parliament," said Opposition Bloc lawmaker Serhiy Lyovochkin.

Ukraine's Western allies fear that a snap election could boost populist parties who oppose IMF-led austerity measures to save an economy emerging from two years of recession.

Groysman replaces Arseny Yatseniuk, who was appointed after the "Maidan" street uprising that ousted Russia-backed president Viktor Yankovich.

His popularity declined into the low single digits, partly due to public perceptions that his government did too little to hold powerful oligarchs to account.

Source: CNBC

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

U.S. Limits Training In Ukraine To Avoid Provoking Russia In The Region

WASHINGTON, DC -- The White House has boosted aid for Ukrainian forces battling Russian-backed separatists but limits training to mainly defensive tactics, triggering criticism the policy is too cautious to blunt President Vladimir Putin's aggressive moves in the region.

Ukrainian servicemembers practice with a drone during their training near Mariupol, Ukraine.

The United States recently turned down Ukraine's request for sniper training for its armed forces because that is considered an offensive skill.

The U.S. policy is aimed at teaching defensive skills in order to avoid escalating the conflict.

U.S. officials said the distinction between defensive and offensive tactics makes little difference, since the training is focused on building basic soldier skills, which are similar for offensive and defensive operations.

As a result, U.S. trainers can teach nearly all the skills needed for small and mid-size combat units despite the focus on defensive operations, commanders say.

Skills such as patrolling, for example, are used defensively and offensively.

“At the company and maybe even at the battalion level, there’s not really a big distinction between offensive and defensive things,” said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe.

"What we're trying to do is make sure the Ukrainians at the tactical level are as capable as they can be."

Some critics worry that the policy reflects an approach that won't work against Putin's expansionist policies.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and other Republican lawmakers have criticized the Obama administration for limiting aid to Ukraine’s military to “non-lethal” supplies, such as medical equipment, communications gear and radar.

But the training has received less scrutiny.

The United States has several hundred military trainers in Ukraine.

U.S. training efforts began with Ukraine's border forces and national guard, which are responsible for internal security, but recently expanded to Ukraine's conventional forces.

“If you’re there, why not train them in the way Ukrainians need to be trained to counteract the Russian offensive,” said Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who recently visited Ukraine.

“How nice can you be while Putin takes over the world?”

Such training limitations are not new.

Many European countries in the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, for example, had limits on missions they could perform.

During the war there, the U.S. military urged its European allies to lift the restrictions, called national caveats.

In Ukraine, the situation is reversed.

“There are some specific offensive tasks that we just don’t do,” said Col. Nick Ducich, commander of the multinational training group in Ukraine.

He said U.S. trainers are not teaching Ukrainian troops how to establish an ambush, which is considered an exclusively offensive skill, in addition to avoiding sniper training.

Canada and Lithuania, which also train Ukrainian forces, do not have similar restrictions.

The Ukrainians face a formidable foe in the separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Russia backs separatists with ammunition, weapons and advisers.

Russia also has massed forces at the border at times and provided deadly fire support to the separatists, using drones as spotters for its artillery.

Michael Carpenter, a deputy assistant Defense secretary, said the U.S. has to walk a line, helping Ukraine without provoking a Russian response.

“The goal has been to help the Ukrainians be more effective in defending their territory without escalating the conflict,” Carpenter said.

The United States is providing Ukraine’s military force with about $600 million in training and equipment.

The equipment includes counter-artillery radar, night-vision goggles and other sophisticated hardware. 

“There is no other country that is doing even close to what we're doing,” Carpenter said.

Source: USA Today

Russia-NATO Relations 2016: First Meeting Since Ukraine Crisis Will Not Be 'Business As Usual'

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The NATO-Russia Council is scheduled to meet next week for the first time since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, but don’t expect it to be a breakthrough in relations between the Western political and military alliance and the Kremlin.

President Barack Obama meets with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office, April 4, 2016.

“The sides will discuss threats from unprecedented NATO military forces buildup, including in the regions bordering with Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Monday, Russian news agency Tass reported.

“We will establish further dialogue basing on real NATO actions and in strict compliance with the alliance’s readiness to the equal cooperation towards peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region.” 

NATO suspended its cooperation with Russia in April 2014 following the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the subsequent start of a war in eastern Ukraine that has left more than 9,200 people dead.

The ambassadorial-level meeting of the council, which was established to keep communications open, is scheduled April 20 at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

It signals a desire to improve strained relations, Defense News reported.

The conflict in Ukraine, military activity, risk reduction and terrorism are all on the agenda.

“This meeting is the continuation of our political dialogue,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a press release Friday.

“At the same time, there will be no return to business as usual until Russia again respects international law.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has seen NATO expansion in Central and Eastern Europe as a threat to his sphere of influence.

Eastern European states have called for a greater NATO troop presence in the region following the annexation of Crimea.

The U.S. announced at the end of March it would deploy an armored brigade combat team to Eastern Europe along with equipment to reassure allies.

NATO has also increased its naval presence in the region with the U.K. sending more ships to the Baltic.

The NATO-Russia Council was created in 2002.

A political dialogue has continued since the annexation of Crimea, but it has avoided any discussion of military issues.

Source: IBT

Police Detain Suspected Assassin Who Tried To Kill Ukraine's Chief MH17 Expert

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's chief forensic expert Oleksandr Ruvin survived assassination attempt in November 2015

Oleksandr Ruvin, Director of Kiev Research Institute of Forensic Expertise at the Ministry of Justice.

Ukrainian law enforcement officers have detained a man, who is suspected of attempted murder of Ukraine's chief forensic expert on the most high-profile criminal cases.

Oleksandr Ruvin, Director of Kiev Research Institute of Forensic Expertise at the Ministry of Justice, was shot several times near his residence in November 2015 but survived.

Police say the attack is associated with his professional activities.

Ruvin has played a key role in the investigation of the crash of Malaysian flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine in July 2014, and represented Ukraine in a number of international commissions, effectively exposing the manipulation attempts of Russian experts.

The conclusions of his expertise were taken as a basis by the Dutch investigative team, which has also received evidence sent by Kiev Research Institute of Forensic Expertise.

Ruvin was previously a lead expert into examining the causes of the ‘Ilovaisk kettle', where at least 350 Ukrainian soldiers died being largely outnumbered by the enemy and coming under the direct fire while moving out of the area through a designated corridor.

Source: UAToday

Monday, April 11, 2016

Putin Ponders A Spring Offensive In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's war is going into its third year, and leaders in Washington and Kiev are bracing for the possibility that Russian military brinksmanship may be the new status quo in Eastern Europe.

In Ukraine, some worry the time soon may be ripe for an uptick in the Russian-backed war in the eastern part of the nation.

Warm summer weather and the end of the “mud season”—as waterlogged ground from melting snow and spring rains dries—is historically the time for military offensives in the region, dating from Napoleon’s march to Moscow and Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union.

But modern concerns about a summer offensive have more to do with geopolitics than the weather. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announced drawdown of military forces in Syria last month spurred politicians and journalists in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, to anticipate a Kremlin pivot back to supporting two breakaway separatist territories in eastern Ukraine that are pro-Russian.

“Russia is trying to multiply conflicts,” Mykhailo Samus, deputy director of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, a Ukrainian think tank, said in an interview with the Daily Signal.

“More conflicts are better for Putin, and worse for the West,” Samus said.

Since Russia’s surprise move to cut back its presence in Syria, the Ukrainian military has released several intelligence reports predicting a Russian-backed military offensive in Ukraine this summer.

At the Ukraine Crisis Media Center in Kiev, military representatives continue to issue daily updates on the ongoing war.

The press briefings include Ukrainian military casualty reports and information about the ongoing flow of Russian weapons and troops into separatist territories.

On April 2, the Ukrainian military reported another Russian shipment of war materiel to the twin separatist republics, including 15 tanks and seven trucks with ammunition.

The report could not be independently confirmed, and Russia continues to deny arming Ukrainian separatists or sending Russian military personnel to participate in the conflict. 

Cease-Fire Violations 

The Ukrainian military is not the only group trumpeting warnings about a potential spike in the war. 

For weeks, international monitors have reported a slight increase in cease-fire violations around the separatist stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, as well as sporadic fighting along the length of the 200-mile-long front lines in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbass region, which borders Russia.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is headquartered in Vienna, is the multinational group responsible for monitoring the Ukraine cease-fire.

Teams of OSCE monitors in telltale blue and white body armor and helmets plod along the potholed roads in Donbass in white SUVs.

Their mission is to monitor the battlefield for cease-fire violations—which include artillery shots, tank shots, rocket attacks and small arms fire.

The OSCE also inventories heavy weapons on both sides of the conflict.

According to the terms of the February 2015 cease-fire, weapons of 100 mm caliber and higher are supposed to be stored in locations at prescribed minimum distances from the contact line.

The work of the OSCE monitoring teams is difficult, often placing them in harm’s way.

Monitors frequently say they are turned back at separatist checkpoints, denying them access to key spots on the battlefield.

Some in Kiev claim the presence of Russians on the OSCE monitoring teams compromises the objectivity of the group’s reports—a charge the organization denies.

Despite the challenges, the teams produce reports almost daily on the Ukraine cease-fire.

And according to the group’s most recent reports, the daily tally of violations is increasing.

In a March 30 interview with Radio Free Europe, Alexander Hug, the OSCE’s deputy chief of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, said:

“We have seen in the past days and weeks a high number of cease-fire violations, namely in the Donetsk region.”

Reflecting Kiev’s long-term assessment about the cease-fire’s chances of holding, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced on March 22 a seventh mobilization wave to draft another 10,000 soldiers.

The Ukrainian military currently comprises about 250,000 active duty personnel; Russia’s military fields about 800,000 active troops.

Pax Americana 

Russia’s involvement in Ukraine war has Eastern Europe and the U.S. taking the threat seriously.

For the past several years, Russia also has shown a pattern of testing NATO’s defenses in Eastern Europe while building up its military presence in the region in places like the Kaliningrad enclave and the recently annexed Crimean peninsula.

NATO declared last year that any hybrid warfare provocation on a NATO state would prompt the invocation of Article V, the alliance’s collective defense protocol, underscoring a pathway to a major war in Europe should Russia overreach militarily.

“If NATO sees foreign forces infiltrating its sovereign territory, and if we can prove it comes from an aggressor nation—then that’s Article V,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander, said in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt in August 2014.

The White House’s 2017 defense budget suggests a partial military pivot back to Europe, which would reverse the post-Cold War U.S. drawdown on the Continent and highlight how seriously the Russian threat is perceived to be.

President Barack Obama’s budget request for 2017 includes $335 million in nonlethal military aid for Ukraine. Congress also appropriated $75 million as part of a combined State Department and Defense Department fund to train Ukrainian forces.

‘Balanced Approach’ 

The White House’s budget also quadruples funding for the European Reassurance Initiative from $789 million to more than $3.4 billion.

The White House first announced the European Reassurance Initiative in 2014, the year Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and launched military operations in eastern Ukraine. 

Totaling $1 billion in 2014, the initiative was meant to be a one-year emergency reinforcement of U.S. military forces in Europe.

An April 5 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S. think tank, said the White House’s 2017 budget increase for the European Reassurance Initiative “indicates the administration’s acknowledgement of the growing threat Russia poses to long-term U.S. national security interests in Europe and beyond.”

According to the Defense Department, the money will be used to preposition U.S. military forces and military hardware across Europe, increase the number of U.S. troops stationed in Europe, and increase training and joint military exercises with European allies.

Describing the Pentagon’s budget at a Feb. 2 event in Washington, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said:

“We’re taking a strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression, and we haven’t had to worry about this for 25 years. While I wish it were otherwise, now we do.”

Soft Power 

Despite the pledged increase in U.S. military spending to defend Europe, Obama’s remarks in the April issue of The Atlantic spurred doubts among some in Ukraine about U.S. resolve to deter Russian aggression.

The article quoted Obama as saying: “The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do.”

In an earlier interview with The Daily Signal, Samus, the Ukrainian think tank official, said Obama’s foreign policy stance incentivizes Russian aggression.

“Putin is trying to destroy Ukraine internally in this last year before the new American president comes to power,” Samus said, reflecting a common opinion among Ukrainian military and political analysts.

He continued: Putin understands that this might be the last year of maneuver in the post-Soviet area before the next American administration.

Everyone assumes the U.S. will be more active in the region after Obama leaves.

Source: Newsweek