Saturday, July 30, 2016

U.S. Diplomats Accuse Russia Of Undermining Ukraine Peace Plan

VIENNA, Austria -- Two top U.S. diplomats working to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine have accused Russia of continuing to supply separatist fighters with fuel and weapons and creating a "deteriorating security situation" in the region that is as bad as it was a year ago.

Relatives cry over the coffins of three children killed by a grenade explosion in the Yenakiyeve area near Donetsk earlier this month.

Ambassador Daniel Baer, head of the U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt made the statements during a July 29 telephonic press briefing from Vienna.

The briefing came one day after the head of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine, Ertugrul Apakan, and OSCE special representative on Ukraine Martin Sajdik briefed the OSCE Permanent Council on the situation.

Baer said the United States and other OSCE members were increasingly concerned by what they see as a disconnect between Russia's words and its actions regarding the conflict.

"We see continued resupply of weapons and fighters; we see continued provocations to keep the conflict going; we see continued restrictions of the SMM and its monitors; we see continued shoot-downs of SMM UAVs [drones] after they have seen Russian heavy weaponry in places where it shouldn't be," Baer said.

"And so, the message that was delivered to the Russian Federation yesterday by many, many participating states in the [OSCE] Permanent Council is that it is time to match your words with action."

Pyatt stressed the same point, saying that Russia's continued material support of separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine was "driving the conflict."

"Rather than terminating this conflict, Russia's actions are having the effect of escalating it once again," Pyatt said.

The ambassadors also accused Russia of failing to implement the Minsk agreement that was signed in September 2014 and which, along with a second agreement signed in February 2015, is supposed to provide a road map for resolving the crisis.

Pyatt said Russia had failed to withdraw troops and equipment, fully implement the cease-fire envisioned under the Minsk agreements, and release all hostages.

Baer said that the Minsk accords had "all of the steps that are necessary" to end the conflict.

"We have known what needs to be done for two years now," he said.

"The problem is not in solving some sort of difficult puzzle. This is not a puzzle. The problem is political will."

Baer added that the U.S. position on not recognizing Russia's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea remained unchanged.

"A point that we have made here [at the OSCE] when Russian representatives say they want to have a conversation about the future of European security is that any conversation about the future of European security will have to start with Crimea," Baer said.

According to the United Nations, almost 10,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian security forces and Russia-backed militants in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Keeping Bankers’ Hours, European Observers Miss Most of Ukraine War

AVDIIVKA, Ukraine -- As the afternoon shadows grow long, nocturnal creatures begin to stir. A stray cat rises from a nap, stretches and trots off to hunt. Overhead, swallows swoop and screech in the deepening twilight.

A team of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conducted a monitoring mission in Avdiivka, Ukraine.

Soon, the human inhabitants of this town in eastern Ukraine set about their evening rituals.

Green-clad soldiers strap on their helmets and load their guns, while white-clad European cease-fire observers pocket their notebooks, climb into their cars and drive away.

And then the fighting starts.

This improbable routine between soldiers and monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe plays out nightly, illustrating the glum quagmire of the Ukraine war, now entering its third year.

“I never see them here at night,” said Tatyana Petrova, whose apartment looks over a parking lot that is a frequent listening post for the monitors.

“In the evening, I look out and they are gone, and then the concert starts.”

Avdiivka, a warren of back streets eerily overgrown with years of untended vegetation, is the most troubled flash point along the so-called line of control separating Russian-backed separatists from the Ukrainian Army.

The unarmed monitors, mostly European diplomats seconded to the mission, are empowered to listen for cease-fire violations, escort humanitarian aid and negotiate local truces.

But they patrol only during the daytime.

This adherence to bankers’ hours and other signs of weakness in their mandate are doing little to help end the only active war in Europe, at a time when the Continent’s security is already unraveling from terrorism and tensions over migration.

Typically, the O.S.C.E. reports from dozens to hundreds of cease-fire violations daily.

The Ukrainian Army reports several deaths per week, commensurate with the casualties of the United States Army during the Iraq war.

The United Nations says nearly 10,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine since March 2014.

Out on patrols, whenever military commanders on either side object to their presence, the monitors turn and leave, no questions asked.

During one recent patrol I accompanied, a Ukrainian military nurse shooed monitors away.

The mission now has about 100 budgeted yet unfilled positions, partly because European public employees are loath to interrupt long summer vacations.

It is a seasonal dip, O.S.C.E. officials say, caused by member governments struggling to recruit for summertime rotations.

Emblematic of the group’s weak hand, one key mission of observers stationed at two crossing posts on the Russian-Ukrainian border has conceded to Russian pressure not to use binoculars, lest the observers observe too much.

Britain’s ambassador to the Vienna-based security organization, Sian MacLeod, quipped on Twitter about that concession, “What’s to hide?”

In March, Russia’s continued refusal to permit the use of binoculars at these sites attracted harsh criticism from the American mission’s chargé d’affaires, Kate Byrnes.

In response, Russia’s ambassador, Aleksandr K. Lukashevich, said that “the possibility of using binoculars was being considered.”

And yet in June, the matter was still unresolved, with the European Union issuing a statement condemning Russia for obstructionism in “small measures, such as the use of binoculars.”

No progress has been made, largely because the 57-nation group, which includes Ukraine and Russia, makes decisions by consensus.

The group’s mandate is limited to peace monitoring, not peacekeeping — an important distinction.

The teams driving along potholed roads in armored, white Toyota Land Cruisers are not supposed to become human shields separating combatants, but rather to remain close enough to observe the fighting.

“Becoming the buffer, or the shield, is not our role and would exceed our mandate,” Alexander Hug, the Swiss diplomat who leads the on-the-ground monitoring as deputy chief of the mission, said in an interview.

The mission has about 600 observers deployed along the front line, he said.

Mr. Hug said instances of the pro-Russian side blocking access for observers had doubled over one weeklong reporting period this month, leaving the mission little recourse but to report the obstructions.

To be sure, individual monitors undertake grave risks for an unambiguously noble goal of ensuring an impartial, third-party presence along the front, discouraging flare-ups and saving civilian lives.

The O.S.C.E. has opened “forward patrol bases” in hotels in small towns more stable than this one, and leaves video cameras rolling at night.

And it recently received mobile homes paid for by Switzerland, painted blue and white, so monitors could spend the night in more remote locations.

But the organization is still struggling to adapt to the circadian rhythm of a war fought mostly at night.

Its absence after dark is a striking feature of the Ukraine conflict.

“We call them deaf, dumb and blind,” said the Ukrainian military nurse who ordered the observers out of her field hospital.

She offered only her nickname, Romashka, a typical practice for soldiers here.

“They know nothing. They see nothing. They are too soft.”

On a recent afternoon in Avdiivka, whose prewar population of 35,000 people has decreased by about half, monitors wrapped up at the close of business at 5 p.m., as usual.

By and large confined to their hotels after dark, monitors say they pass the time watching television, surfing the internet or chatting with colleagues.

They can listen for violations from inside the hotels.

The sun set through a beautiful layer of pink, horsetail clouds and then it was officially night.

A distant shot rang out.

High above, a rebel spotter drone buzzed past.

To cover the increase in violence after observers left, I awaited the onset of the nightly fighting in a trench on the town’s edge, overlooking a reedy swamp that acts as a buffer zone.

Soldiers of the 58th Brigade waited, smoking.

The metallic zing of a bullet flew past overhead.

Soon enough, shooting erupted all around, with bullets fired from the pro-Russian line smacking into the abandoned country houses where the Ukrainian conscripts sleep during the day.

A .50-caliber machine gun answered.

Soldiers ran about, crouching for cover.

Pvt. Denis Krylov ran for the trench wearing just the striped military undershirt he had been sleeping in during the day.

“You arrived for the start of the disco,” Sgt. Ruslan Pilipenko, the commander of this position, said of the nighttime fighting.

“Everybody is fed up with this war,” Private Krylov said.

“People want to go on with their lives.”

He told me ruefully he had left his meal, a bowl of borscht, unfinished in the house that was hit.

The shooting escalated until around 9 p.m., when heavy artillery that neither side is supposed to deploy opened up somewhere in the Ukrainian rear, firing toward rebel positions with distant booms. 

Ambulances streaked through the streets, carrying the wounded.

The fighting, soldiers said, followed the typical nighttime rhythm, even if it seemed more intense than usual. 

That evening, three Ukrainian soldiers died and 16 were wounded along the line of control.

Source: The New York Times

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ukraine Sees Ulterior Motives After Car Bomb Kills Journalist

KIEV, Ukraine -- An award-winning journalist working for the online investigative website Ukrayinska Pravda was killed by a car bomb in central Kiev early on Wednesday morning, in what President Petro Poroshenko said was an attempt to destabilize Ukraine.

A police officer blocks off the site where journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed by a car bomb in central Kiev, Ukraine, July 20, 2016.

Pavel Sheremet, a Belarussian known for his criticism of his home country's leadership and his friendship with the slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, was driving to work in the car of the website's owner when it was blown up.

The killing was a throwback to the days of violence against journalists that Ukraine, under a pro-Western leadership since the 2014 Maidan protests, hoped to have shed.

"It seems to me this was done with one aim in mind - to destabilize the situation in the country, possibly ahead of further events," Poroshenko said in televised comments.

He has asked experts from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to join the murder investigation in the interests of "maximum transparency."

Earlier, senior Interior Ministry officials said they could not rule out Russian involvement in the murder.


In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "The murder of a Russian citizen and journalist in Ukraine is a very serious cause for concern in the Kremlin."

Sheremet, who was given Russian citizenship after fleeing political persecution in Belarus, had told Reuters in October that he no longer felt comfortable visiting Moscow, where he worked for twelve years as a TV journalist.

"I'm threatened often and given hints. Every time I go to Moscow, it's like I'm in a minefield," he said in an interview.

He also said Ukraine needed strong, independent media to counter the influence of outlets controlled by the country's powerful business tycoons.

"Now the problem of freedom of speech and objective journalism is becoming again a serious issue," he said.

"As far as internal politics is concerned, I can see oligarchic games again, black PR, the use of media to settle scores and solve political problems."

Sevgil Musayeva-Borovyk, the editor-in-chief of Ukrayinska Pravda, which has made its name exposing corruption, called him "very brave".

It was not clear whether the bomb had been set off by remote control or a timer.


Sheremet's friend Nemtsov, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, had been working on a report examining the Russian military's role in the Ukraine crisis when he was shot dead in central Moscow last year.

Sheremet led tributes at his memorial service.

"The last time we met was at the funeral of Boris Nemtsov, and of course I couldn't have known that a similar thing would happen to Pavel," Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the Belarussian opposition party United Civil Party, told Reuters.

In 2002, Sheremet won a journalism prize from the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) for his reporting on human rights violations in Belarus, including the disappearances of opposition politicians and journalists.

The OSCE called on Wednesday for action to address the safety of journalists in Ukraine.

The founder of Ukrayinska Pravda, Georgiy Gongadze, was an investigative journalist who was murdered 16 years ago, his decapitated body discovered in a forest outside Kiev.

The incident helped to precipitate the Orange Revolution of 2004/05, which resulted in an election re-run and the victory of an opposition presidential candidate.

Source: Google News

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

In Russia And Ukraine, Women Are Still Blamed For Being Raped

KIEV, Ukraine -- I was scrolling through an online discussion where people were blaming a rape victim for what had happened to her, when I knew that I had to do something.

In cases like this in Ukraine, and throughout the post-Soviet world, people immediately start to question what the woman did wrong.

Maybe she was wearing a short skirt?

Maybe she was walking home too late?

Or maybe she was drunk?

The suggestion is that a woman is guilty simply because she is a woman.

I raised the issue on my Facebook page and shared my own experiences of sexual harassment – which started aged six and continued into adulthood – and the story quickly went viral as thousands of women started to add their stories.

The #IAmNotScaredToSpeak campaign (‪#‎яНеБоюсьСказати‬ in Ukrainian; #‎яНеБоюсьСказать in Russian‬) is against the treatment of women as sexual objects.

I wanted to show that women face harassment regardless of their age, clothing or what time they decide to walk home.

Why this hashtag? 

It’s empowering, it says that a woman shouldn’t feel fear or shame for the things that happen to her. 

For many it was the first time they had spoken out about their experiences, and as the campaign gathered traction last week I was concerned that some women might be forced to relive their trauma.

However, a specialist told me that people don’t share stories on social media unless they are ready to talk.

Their voices came as a shock for Russia and Ukraine, where domestic violence and sexual abuse are often taboo topics, and swept under the carpet.

‘Don’t wash your dirty linen in public’ 

In Russia and Ukraine people who have been raped find it very difficult to talk about it, due to the culture we live in.

We’ve developed a mentality of “don’t wash your dirty linen in public”, a situation which is harmful for women and men.

The objectification of women is also rife.

In this climate, how do we explain to little girls that they can say no, and that they have the right to their own boundaries.

And how do we teach boys that no means no and about the limits of acceptable behavior?

Some people have said that an online campaign won’t solve the problem, but I believe that starting a public discussion is a necessary to finding a solution.

It turns out that you can’t afford to share openly sexist views if you’re a public figure.

At first, the trend was positive with lots of people writing about their experiences.

By the third day, the negative reactions and criticisms were rising.

But however you look at it there was a discussion.

Everyone is talking about it.

Those who have openly ridiculed the campaign have been called to account: it turns out that you can no longer afford to share openly sexist views if you’re a public figure in Russia or Ukraine.

We need to recognise that every incident of sexual harassment, every individual’s story, is important.

Once people have seen the scale of the problem they can no longer turn a blind eye.

Source: The Guardian

NATO Backs A free Ukraine. Only France Is Out Of Step

WARSAW, Poland -- Russian aggression, radical Islamist terrorism, the refugee crisis, Brexit, Afghanistan.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, on July 9. Nolan Peterson reports that the NATO secretary-general said Russia must stop its “political, military and financial support for separatists” in eastern Ukraine.

The list of challenges NATO leaders faced at the biennial summit in Warsaw, Poland, over the weekend was diverse, highlighting what some consider to be a post–Cold War moment of truth for the alliance to prove it still matters.

Speaking to reporters Saturday, President Barack Obama addressed what he called a “pivotal moment” for NATO.

“In the 70 years of NATO, we have perhaps never faced so many challenges at once,” Obama said.

“We’re moving forward with the most significant reinforcement of our common defense at any time since the Cold War.”

NATO’s modern charge is tricky.

The alliance must reassure eastern members who are wary of Russian aggression while not antagonizing Russia into a back-and-forth of military one-upmanship.

Meanwhile, many NATO states, particularly those in Western Europe, are feeling the domestic political pinch of the combined threat of radical Islamist terrorism and a wave of refugees from war-torn Middle Eastern states.

This all comes as Europe deals with post-Brexit fallout and the rise of nationalist sentiment across the Continent, which collectively eats away at popular support for multinational institutions such as NATO, founded as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“The Warsaw Summit comes at a defining moment in the history of our alliance,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday.

“With unpredictable threats and complex challenges from many directions, NATO has responded. We have launched a wholesale reinforcement of our collective defense and deterrence. The biggest since the end of the Cold War.”

The two-day NATO summit was held at Warsaw’s national stadium.

Delegates and journalists from around the world filled the hallways, rubbing shoulders with world leaders and military officials.

Journalists jockeyed for position at press conferences, afterward scrambling to the sprawling media center to file dispatches.

The stadium was under security lockdown, and one could constantly hear the sounds of police sirens as the motorcades of world leaders arrived and departed.

The city was also on high alert.

Warsaw’s streets were unusually quiet, long stretches sealed off for security reasons.

Soldiers patrolled with weapons drawn.

Friday, the sky roared with the sound of jet noise as NATO warplanes performed flybys for visiting leaders.

Obama’s Saturday evening press conference drew by far the biggest audience.

The summit’s largest press briefing venue was filled to capacity, with journalists standing huddled along the walls, craning their necks for a better view of the U.S. president while under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service.

Obama was like a conductor before an orchestra—a cacophony of clicking camera shutters matched his every hand gesture as photojournalists hunted for the perfect shot.

Obama commented on the Dallas shootings before he segued into the importance of NATO and the legacy of America’s commitment to defend Europe.

“Generations of Americans have served here for our common security,” Obama said.

“In good times and in bad, Europe can count on the United States.”

Obama also addressed worldwide tides of anti-globalization sentiment, which many political watchers say was partly responsible for British voters choosing to leave the European Union.

“I believe the process of globalization is here to stay. It’s happening. It’s here,” Obama said.

He added: NATO is an example of a really enduring multilateral organization that helped us get through some really challenging times.

There are fewer wars between states than ever before, and almost no wars between great powers.

And that’s a great legacy of leadership in the U.S. and Europe and Asia after the end of World War II that built this international architecture that worked.

Since 2014, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has attacked six NATO countries—the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Belgium and Turkey.

And plots have been thwarted in other NATO countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom. 

Yet despite the mounting threat, summit talks in Warsaw largely focused on responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Russian threat to NATO’s eastern members.

“For sure, Russia is a bigger threat,” Luke Coffey, director of the Heritage Foundation’s foreign policy center, told The Daily Signal:

ISIS is a terror threat and does not pose an existential threat to any NATO member.

Whereas Russia invading Estonia could mean the end of the country—literally.

There has been, however, some breaking of ranks within NATO over Russia.

On Friday, French President François Hollande said: “NATO has no role at all to be saying what Europe’s relations with Russia should be. For France, Russia is not an adversary, not a threat.” 

Hollande added: Russia is a partner which, it is true, may sometimes, and we have seen that in Ukraine, use force, which we have condemned when it annexed Crimea.

Hollande’s statement contrasted with the language other NATO leaders used regarding Russia, including British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“The multinational spearhead force that we agreed to at the Wales summit [in September 2014] is now operational,” Cameron told reporters Saturday.

“It’s capable of deploying anywhere on alliance territory in just a few days. So it sends a strong, clear message to Russia that NATO stands ready to respond quickly to threats.”

Also calling out Russia, Obama said “there will be no business with Russia as usual” until the Kremlin fulfills its part of the Minsk II cease-fire accords in Ukraine.

The EU, NATO and the United Nations all have condemned Russia’s 2014 takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula as illegal.

NATO also continues to condemn the ongoing flow of Russian troops and military hardware into eastern Ukraine to support separatist forces.

This movement is a violation of the Minsk II cease-fire agreement, for which the EU maintains punitive economic sanctions against Moscow.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine, along with a pattern of aggressive flybys by Russian warplanes in the Baltic Sea region, have left NATO’s eastern flank rattled.

One of the summit’s key news items was the announcement that NATO will deploy four combat battalions to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on a rotational basis beginning next year.

The battalions will be fielded by Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

This supplements a previously announced U.S. plan to deploy about 3,500 additional troops to Eastern Europe on a rotational basis.

Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, said the alliance’s troop deployments will send a message that “an attack against one ally will be met by forces from across the alliance.”

“NATO is as strong, as nimble and as ready as ever,” Obama said Saturday.

“NATO is sending a clear message that we will defend every ally.”

The Kremlin pushed back against NATO’s planned troop deployment, calling the perceived threat from Russia “absurd.”

“It is absurd to talk about any threat coming from Russia at a time when dozens of people are dying in the center of Europe and when hundreds of people are dying in the Middle East daily,” Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters Friday, according to Reuters. 

Responding to Peskov’s comments, Poland’s top diplomat, Witold Waszczykowski, told reporters in Warsaw on Friday:

An absurd situation would be if we forgot about the military actions against Georgia, and Ukraine in Crimea and Donbass, about Russia’s military engagement in Syria and about the incidents and provocations by Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea.

The main driver of NATO’s eastward pivot, and some say the alliance’s renewed post–Cold War purpose, has been Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

NATO’s 2014 summit in Wales came on the heels of Ukraine’s Maidan revolution and Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

Two years later, Crimea is still in Russian hands, and Russia still supports separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine in which people die on an almost daily basis.

“Two years on from Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine, our message to Russia has not changed,” Cameron said Saturday.

“Such action is indefensible and wrong. And we will always stand up for the sovereign right of countries to make their own decisions.”

Russia’s actions have eroded the longtime assumption among European powers that the kind of state-on-state conflicts that ravaged Europe in the first half of the 20th century could never happen again. 

Reflecting this new reality is a push by some NATO leaders to increase military spending across the alliance.

Out of 28 member countries, only five—the United States, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Greece and Poland—currently spend 2 percent or more of their gross domestic product on defense, an obligation agreed to during the summit in Wales.

On Saturday, Obama pushed alliance members that are not hitting the 2 percent mark to beef up their defense budgets, saying:

After many years, NATO has stopped the collective decline in defense spending.

Over the past two years, most NATO members have halted cuts and begun investing more in defense.

And this means defense spending across the alliance is now scheduled to increase.

Ukraine is not a NATO member state, but a partner country to the alliance.

NATO members therefore are not obligated to defend Ukraine militarily.

Yet NATO has taken other steps to support Ukraine.

In Warsaw, NATO leaders met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to outline a comprehensive assistance package to help Ukraine make key political reforms and modernize its military to meet NATO interoperability standards.

The package also tags funds to help Ukraine counter the threat of improvised explosive devices on the battlefield, bolster its cybersecurity and rehabilitate wounded soldiers.

During a joint press conference Saturday with Stoltenberg, Poroshenko called NATO’s support for Ukraine a “de facto alliance.”

The Ukrainian president pointed to the historical significance of NATO’s holding its biennial summit in Warsaw 61 years after the creation of the Warsaw Pact, the collective defense treaty the USSR and Soviet satellite states signed in the Polish capital in 1955.

“It is our common responsibility to change Russia’s aggressive behavior,” Poroshenko said.

“We are grateful that NATO stands by Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg said Russia must stop its “political, military and financial support for separatists” in eastern Ukraine.

Stoltenberg made clear, however, that the question of Ukraine joining NATO as a full member was “not currently on the table,” and the alliance would address the issue of membership at a later stage. 

Stoltenberg added a thinly veiled warning against any Russian efforts to derail Ukraine’s budding NATO ties.

“Every nation has the right to decide its own path,” the NATO leader said.

“No one else has the right to intervene.”

Source: Newsweek

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Obama Slams Russian Aggression Against Ukraine In Historic Speech In Canadian Parliament

OTTAWA, Canada -- Outgoing US President uses his address to Canada to send NATO solidarity message.

President Barack Obama addresses the Canadian Parliament in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 29, 2016.

In a historic speech in Canadian parliament US President Barack Obama has once again called Russia an aggressor state, and called on the allies to send a strong message of solidarity and commitment at the next week's NATO summit in Warsaw.

"When nations violate international rules and norms, such as Russia's aggression against Ukraine, the United States and Canada stand united, along with our allies in defence of our collective security," Obama said to Canadian lawmakers.

Obama, the first in more than 21 years US chief executive to speak in Canada's parliament, urged Canada to "contribute its full share" to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization:

"And as your ally and as your friend, let me say that we'll be more secure when every NATO member, including Canada, contributes its full share to our common security," Obama said.

"Because the Canadian Armed Forces are really good," he added.

"If I can borrow a phrase, the world needs more Canada. NATO needs more Canada. We need you. We need you."

A day after US President's remarks Canadian media reported that Ottawa will deploy 1,000 soldiers in Latvia.

The Canadian troops will join a total of 4,000 soldiers NATO is deploying to the Baltic states and Poland to help deter the Kremlin's threat after its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Source: UAtoday

Evidence Of Military Aggression Against Ukraine Easily Found On Russia's Presidential Website – Turchynov

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's National Security and Defence chief says Putin awarded generals for 'military successes' in Donbass.

Turchynov reminded that on June 11 Putin signed a decree to award and advance in ranks a number of Russian servicemen "for committing crimes in the eastern regions of Ukraine."

One does not have to travel far to seek more evidence of Russia's military activities in Ukraine, it is enough to visit the official web site of Russia's presidential administration.

This is how the head of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) Oleksandr Turchynov commented on the recent statement made by President Vladimir Putin on the "internal nature" of Ukraine conflict.

Turchynov reminded that on June 11 Putin signed a decree to award and advance in ranks a number of Russian servicemen "for committing crimes in the eastern regions of Ukraine."

According to Turchynov, Major General Asapov, who commanded the 1st army corps in the occupied Donetsk region between April 2015 and May 2016, has been promoted to Lieutenant General.

The same military rank of Lieutenant General was given to Major General Yudin, who commanded the 2nd army corps in the occupied Luhansk region between January and April 2015.

Colonel Ruzinsky, who commanded 2nd separate motorized rifle brigade (Luhansk city) of the 2nd army corps between April 2015 and May 2016, has been promoted to Major General.

"These two army corps that wage the war against us in the east of Ukraine, are an integral part of Russia's Armed Forces, and are commanded directly by the Center of territorial troops of the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation," Turchynov noted.

"There is no internal conflict in Ukraine, but there is a brutal undeclared war that is waged against our independent democratic country by the Russian Federation.

Only Russian TV viewers, brainwashed by the Kremlin propaganda, can believe Putin's lies," the NSDC secretary summed up.

Source: UAtoday

Friday, July 01, 2016

Yards From War, Miles From Peace

AVDIIVKA, Ukraine -- Most of the fighting here takes place at night, when deep thuds of artillery and the staccato sounds of gunfire routinely fill the air.

The Ukrainian army’s 128th Brigade occupies a former mine at this extreme front line of the war against separatist forces, connected to Ukraine-held territory by one road that bisects a dense anti-tank minefield designed to thwart pursuit if government troops were forced to retreat.

The brigade has witnessed a steady rise in the aggressiveness of the fighting over the last two months. 

Col. Bandar Balkovnic, the unit’s second in command, points to the massive craters in grounds of the mine’s compound, holes in the walls and ceilings and fragments from the shoulder-fired 82 mm rockets, mortars and 152 mm artillery shells as evidence of what he and his troops have most recently endured.

“During the days, they use guns to start shooting – morning, day and evening – and artillery at night,” Balkovnic says.

“We use guns but don’t use artillery because we don’t have it.”

The spike in hostility is drawing the world’s attention back to this simmering 2-year-old conflict, in which a shaky cease-fire has suppressed much of the outright combat between the nation’s army and pro-Russian rebel forces propped up by Moscow who wish to break away from Ukraine.

Balkovnic, a 25-year army veteran, repeats a common complaint among Ukrainian soldiers here, that separatist forces and their Russian backers use artillery despite a strict prohibition under a 2015 cease-fire agreement negotiated in the Belorussian city of Minsk.

They say the separatists hide their artillery among the civilian population, making it all but impossible for the Ukrainian army to target it without killing innocents.

The Ukrainians also say the rebels use tactics with the sole purpose of antagonizing them to goad them back into fighting, such as mounting lights on wheelbarrows and having farmers push them down roads at night to make it appear as though tanks are approaching the cease-fire line.

Reports have also emerged of sophisticated electronic warfare from the pro-Russian side, such as sending “reverse text messages” to Ukrainian soldiers’ cellphones encouraging them to quit.

Asked whether he would like to violate the truce and return fire, Balkovnic, like all of his comrades who spoke to U.S. News, offers a short response.


“It is our land. And we have to remove them from our land,” he says.

It won’t be easy.

The conflict, which began in 2013 with widespread protests among pro-Western Ukrainians upset with their country’s tilt toward Russia, is currently at something of an impasse.

The separatists mount heavy opposition through forces that receive arms, supplies and support from Moscow, and which most observers believe actually includes experienced Russian paramilitary troops operating out of uniform.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has masked arms convoys into the disputed areas as humanitarian aid and only recently admitted Russian involvement in the conflict, but he still denies regular forces are on the ground.

He has, however, acknowledged the threat that the country’s “civil war” poses to a population of ethnic Russians in the east, many of whom descended from the workers the Soviet Union sent to the industrial centers in this largely agrarian environment known as Donbass.

“We cannot leave the people residing in southeastern Ukraine at the mercy of nationalists,” Putin said in December.

“It's not only the Russians, but also other Russian-speaking people, who rely on Russia.”

He invoked similar rhetoric when he backed a March 2014, so-called referendum in Crimea that cleared the way for Russia to annex the strategic peninsula, sparking fears that he is intent on seizing as much Ukrainian territory as he can, despite assertions to the contrary.

Following the populist movement that saw the ousting of a president friendly to Moscow, the separatist forces here declared themselves to be independent states known as “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, or DPR and LPR.

It appeared at the time as if the Ukrainian army’s intense response would be enough to quell the uprising, until Russian forces crossed the border and bolstered the separatists, effectively beating back the Ukrainian troops.

U.S.-led equipping and training along with two years of hard-fought battlefield experience have transformed what was once a decaying post-Soviet collection of individual battalions into a more coherent and effective fighting force.

But now, the conflict has stalemated.

“They can’t beat the Russian army, and they’ve had that hammered home a couple of times,” says Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, now with the Brookings Institution.

Allowing the standoff to fester, however, is risky.

“The longer this goes on,” Pifer says, “there is the prospect that it could flare up, even if nobody in Kiev and nobody in Moscow wants it to happen.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the group tasked with monitoring the cease-fire, points to Avdiivka as the potential flashpoint that could lead to a resumption of all-out war.

The ongoing violence around this town is a testament to its strategic value and the commitment of both sides to continue fighting for it.

A lucrative chemical plant sits just a couple miles to the west of the formal cease-fire line, which runs along a key road connecting the separatist-held city of Donetsk to the town of Horlivka to the northeast.

A filtration plant along that road provides the only source of potable water for the more than 400,000 people who remain nearby.

The region had been controlled by separatist forces early in the war, as evidenced by the artillery and shrapnel scarring on the sides of most apartment buildings near the conflict zone, where many local residents still live.

It has subsequently been wrested back by the Ukrainian army, which gained some momentum last year before returning to this cease-fire line.

Casualties from intermittent attacks now approach an average of one every day or two – the highest since August of last year and representative of a gradual upward trend in the fighting.

Cease-fire violations have also spiked, numbering in the thousands in April, May and June.

But the leader of the OSCE mission says it isn’t just the separatists who are to blame.

“The two sides are moving far too close to one another,” says Alexander Hug, a former Swiss army officer now serving as the deputy chief of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission for Ukraine.

“This leads to tension, and these tensions of course often end up in periods of intense fighting.”

The Minsk agreement called for a withdrawal from the cease-fire line.

It prohibits the use of artillery as well as other 21st century warfighting tools, like the surveillance drones that both sides continue to use heavily, Hug says.

Instead, the combatants here have advanced to within hundreds of yards from one another along multiple fronts.

Balkovnic reports enemy sniper positions have come as close as 200 feet from his brigade’s positions. 

“The lack of trust is certainly something that is a problem,” Hug says, “but it applies to both sides equally.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose tenure has been defined by trying to hold together the deep fissures that allowed for his ascension, has been among the most vocal supporters of the Minsk talks and subsequent internationally negotiated cease-fire agreement, to which Russia only agreed after Kiev signed off on ambitious concessions, including new elections in contested regions – a prospect so far stymied by the ongoing war.

Even if Poroshenko wouldn’t condone a planned increase in fighting against the separatists, that doesn’t mean the military couldn’t become engaged in yet another bout of fighting.

And many young officers at the front lines are growing impatient with waiting.

“All the Minsk, it’s bullshit,” says a Ukrainian army lieutenant in command of three roads leading to separatist territory and the trench network at the farthest points forward.

He asked only to be referred to as Alexander.

“It’s working not for us, only for the Russians. It works only for them, not for us. For us it's always worse. Minsk is tying our hands.”

He points to a fresh, roughly 8-foot crater just a few yards from a new observation post at the head of one of the trenches.

It’s proof, he suggests, that the separatists’ ability to target the Ukrainian troops using drones and radar systems has accounted for more precise attacks in recent days.

Nearby, a similar hole sits at the center of a wide circle of shrapnel damage that ripped apart cherry trees in a farmer’s small orchard.

The soldiers here say the family had to return to their home just off the front lines because they couldn’t afford to stay where they had fled.

“Politicians want to show they’re doing something,” he says of the cease-fire negotiations.

“But really they’re doing nothing.”

Source: US News

Wassyl Slipak, Who Left Paris Opera For Ukraine War, Dies At 41

KIEV, Ukraine -- Wassyl Slipak, a baritone at the Paris Opera who became a folk hero in his native Ukraine for returning home to fight in his country’s war in the east, was killed by sniper fire on Wednesday near the town of Debaltseve. He was 41.

Wassyl Slipak

Mr. Slipak died around 6 a.m. after his position came under a surprise attack, said Artyom Skoropadsky, a spokesman for Right Sector, a nationalist paramilitary organization.

Mr. Slipak was born in the western city of Lviv on Dec. 20, 1974.

A musical prodigy as a child, he rose quickly to fame performing in France in the late 1990s.

By 2011, he was at the top of his field, winning the prize for best male performer at the Armel Opera Competition and Festival in Szeged, Hungary, for his rendering of the Toreador Song from the opera Carmen.

But after the war with Russian-backed separatists broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, he traded the stage for the trenches, carrying a belt-fed machine gun with other right-wing volunteers in Right Sector.

He adopted a traditional Ukrainian hairstyle, similar to a Mohawk, and served at various positions along the front line — a maze of trenches and minefields that surrounds separatist territory.

Mr. Slipak, who had won fame in France for his renditions of the aria of Mephistopheles from the opera “Faust,” adopted the nom de guerre Meph.

In an interview with Hromadske TV, a Ukrainian station, Mr. Slipak had said he was inspired to serve his country by the popular uprising on Maidan Square in Kiev, though he had been living in France since 1996.

“Ukraine can become a successful country and a major player on the political stage if we start heeding the voices of the people,” he said in the interview.

Right Sector, originally an umbrella organization of far-right groups, including some with neo-Nazi leanings, is vilified in Russia as a fascist organization.

Right Sector denies it is neo-Nazi.

Euromaidan Press, a Ukrainian news website, quoting a field commander, said Mr. Slipak’s survivors included his parents and an older brother.

A city spokesman in Lviv said Mr. Slipak would be buried at the historic Lychakiv Cemetery, which is reserved for notable local figures.

Mr. Skoropadsky said: “Ukraine this year celebrated 25 years of independence, but it was real independence only after the Maidan, when a real state started to form.

Here we have an example of a person who left his career to fight.

New heroes of the new Ukraine are being born.”

Mr. Slipak would sometimes sing for his fellow soldiers at the front, Mr. Skoropadsky said.

In the public television interview, Mr. Slipak is shown singing the Ukrainian folk song “Moon in the Sky” as he loads his gun, snapping bullets into the magazine in time with the music.

Source: The New York Times