Putin ‘urges talks on statehood for east Ukraine’

From – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29003116

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for talks to discuss “statehood” for eastern Ukraine.

He said the issue needed to be discussed to ensure the interests of local people “are definitely upheld”.

His comments came after the EU gave Russia a one-week ultimatum to reverse course in Ukraine or face sanctions.

Russia denies Western accusations that its forces illegally crossed into eastern Ukraine to support separatists there.

“Russia cannot stand aside when people are being shot at almost at point blank,” he added, describing the rebels’ actions as “the natural reaction of people who are defending their rights”.

He dismissed the EU’s threat of further sanctions, accusing the EU of “backing a coup d’etat” in Ukraine.

The West, Mr Putin said, should have foreseen Russia’s reaction to the situation, adding it was impossible to predict how the crisis would end.

Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later said the president’s remarks on “statehood” should not be taken to mean an actual separate entity, and that the Ukrainian crisis was a “domestic” one.

The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg, in Moscow, says raising the concept of statehood in the east may be one way of Mr Putin increasing pressure on Kiev to halt its military operations.

Pro-Russian rebels have made gains against Ukrainian troops in recent days in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Also on Sunday, Russian media reported that 10 Russian paratroopers returned home in exchange for 63 captured Ukrainian soldiers held by Russia.

Some 2,600 people have died in fighting since April.

Analysis: Steve Rosenberg, BBC News, Moscow
In his interview with Russian TV, Vladimir Putin called for “substantive talks” with Kiev on “statehood for south-east Ukraine”.

So, does Russia now want south-eastern Ukraine to split from Kiev and become independent? Is Moscow now wedded to the idea of breaking up of Ukraine? Recent reports of Russian military activity across the border would seem to back up this idea.

But it may not be the case. Not yet, anyway.

There is no doubt that Russia is determined to retain a degree of influence in Ukraine and to ensure, at the very least, that Ukraine never joins Nato. Moscow is equally determined to make sure the pro-Russian separatists avoid a military defeat.

Promoting “statehood” in the east is one way of increasing the pressure on Kiev to stop its military operation and start talks with the pro-Moscow militants – and with Russia itself.

If Kiev fails to do this, the Kremlin may well press for south-eastern Ukraine (or “Novorossiya” as Moscow increasingly refers to the region) to break away from Kiev.

The conflict in the east erupted in April following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula a month before.

Speaking after a summit in Brussels, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the EU “stands ready to take further significant steps in light of the evolution of the situation on the ground”, adding that the EU was working urgently on further restrictive measures.

The EU and US have already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on many senior Russian officials and separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine.

Western sanctions also restrict loans for Russian state banks, block defence-related technology exports and certain oil industry exports to Russia.

Russia denies that its forces are backing the rebels, instead accusing Ukrainian forces of aggression and deliberately firing at civilians.

Several European leaders at the summit condemned Russia’s actions and expressed support for further sanctions if necessary.

But Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said the “jury is still out” on whether sanctions had worked, adding: “We need to find a ceasefire, a peace plan.”

Federica Mogherini, named on Saturday as the EU’s future foreign policy chief, said there could be no military solution to the crisis and that while sanctions were being worked on, the diplomatic process would need to continue.

Government forces have lost ground in recent fighting to pro-Russian rebels.

Western and Ukrainian officials say this offensive has been substantially helped by Russian regular troops, opening a new front. Russia denies the accusation.

Ukraine warns of return to ‘full-scale war’ over crisis with Russia

From – http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/31/world/europe/ukraine-crisis/

A U.S. lawmaker is calling for the arming of Ukrainian forces engaged in fighting Russian troops along the nation’s eastern border with Russia.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, is in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on a fact-finding mission into the monthslong conflict there between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian military.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Menendez called this a “watershed moment” in the conflict. He said it’s time to recognize what’s really happening in eastern Ukraine — not a rebel uprising, but a Russian invasion.

“And we must recognize it as that,” said Menendez, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. “When I read the headlines back at home that suggest rebels are advancing in different parts of eastern Ukraine, it’s not rebels — it’s Russian soldiers.”

“We should be providing the Ukrainians with the type of defensive weapons that will impose a cost upon (Russian President Vladimir) Putin for further aggression.”

U.S. President Barack Obama has opposed supplying Ukraine with weapons in the past, but Menendez said he believes the Obama administration should re-examine what he calls changed circumstances there.

“I think the European Union, NATO, as well as the United States has to consider this is dramatically different and we have to give the Ukrainians the fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m not suggesting U.S. troops here or NATO troops here … but I am suggesting that the Ukrainians have the wherewithal to fight for themselves. ”

Poroshenko warns of looming war with Russia

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned Saturday that his nation’s crisis with Russia has worsened in recent days and is inching closer to a “full-scale war.”
“I think we are very close to the point of no return,” Poroshenko said following an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium. “The point of no return is full-scale war, which already happened in the territory controlled by separatists and where — instead of separatists — there are regular Russian troops.”
Poroshenko said thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of foreign tanks are now on Ukrainian territory.

Russia has repeatedly denied supporting the rebels or sending troops over the border. But the West has rejected Moscow’s denials.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, speaking at a meeting in Brussels, said new sanctions are in the works for Russia.
“The European Council says that it stands ready to take further significant steps in the light of the evolution of the situation on the ground and it requests the commission to urgently undertake preparatory work … and present proposals for consideration within a week,” Rompuy said.
As condemnation from the West escalated, Putin was defiant.

Moscow doesn’t want or intend to wade into any “large-scale conflicts,” Putin said, according to state-run ITAR-Tass. A few breaths later, he said Russia is “strengthening our nuclear deterrence forces and our armed forces,” making them more efficient and modernized.
“I want to remind you that Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations,” Putin said. “This is a reality, not just words.”

Ukrainian port city fortifies defenses

The Ukrainian military worked to fortify the port city of Mariupol after Russian intelligence groups were observed there, said Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Defense and Security Council.

A CNN team saw Ukrainian forces strengthening defensive positions on the eastern outskirts of the city, reinforcing checkpoints and digging trenches along roads leading toward the Russian border.

Beyond these checkpoints, the team found a small advance detachment of Ukrainian troops on the main road about halfway between Mariupol and Novoazovsk.

Months of violence leads to thousands of deaths

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March, following the ouster of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych the previous month.
Violence broke out in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April, as separatist leaders declared independence from the government in Kiev. Since mid-April, the conflict between the pro-Russia rebels and the Ukrainian military has cost more than 2,500 lives, according to the United Nations.

Russia and Ukraine trade soldiers at border

From – http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/08/31/ukraine-crisis-prisoners-idINKBN0GV09N20140831

Ukraine has handed over a group of captured Russian paratroops and Russia has returned 63 Ukrainian soldiers who crossed into its territory last week, Russian news agencies quoted a paratroop commander as saying.

RIA news agency quoted Russian Major-General Alexei Ragozin as saying the paratroops had been handed back after “very difficult” negotiations and after what he called an unacceptable delay.

Ukraine said last week it had captured 10 paratroops and presented them to the press as evidence that the Russian military is fighting alongside pro-Moscow separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Russia said the men had crossed an unmarked section of the border by accident.

The handovers appeared to mark a slight easing in tension between the two countries after a sharp escalation late last week, when the rebels — supported, according to Kiev, by Russian armoured columns — opened a new front in the fighting by capturing the southern coastal town of Novoazovsk.

Ukraine had previously said the men were on a “special mission” and had been detained for crossing the border illegally and supporting a “terrorist organisation”, the term it uses to refer to the separatists. Its military spokesman mocked the idea they had “got lost like Little Red Riding Hood in the forest”.

Ragozin criticised Ukraine’s behaviour over the incident.

“I consider it unacceptable that our servicemen were detained by the Ukrainian side for so many days,” he said.

Ragozin said Russia, by contrast, had promptly returned ‘hundreds’ of Ukrainian soldiers who at various times have crossed the border when squeezed by rebel forces. He said the latest group of 63 had entered Russia on Wednesday.

“Our lads are upset about everything that happened. They will all receive the necessary psychological and other kinds of help. The lads will all be OK,” Ragozin said.

European Union leaders decided at a summit on Saturday to draw up proposals within a week for further sanctions against Russia in the light of mounting evidence of its military involvement in Ukraine, something Moscow continues to deny.

EU warns Russia of new sanctions

From – http://www.theday.com/article/20140831/NWS14/308319916/1044

Ukrainian troops evacuate the rebel-held town of Starobesheve, eastern Ukraine, on Saturday. Ukrainian government forces have succumbed to a sequence of military failures and seen their holdings in the conflict-ridden east shrink in recent days as Russian-backed rebels continue their fast-paced offensive.

Brussels – Despite tough rhetoric decrying Russia’s increasing military involvement in Ukraine, European Union leaders today stopped short of imposing new sanctions against Moscow right away.

Instead, the 28-nation bloc’s heads of state and government tasked their executive body to “urgently” prepare tougher economic sanctions that could be adopted within a week, according to EU summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy.

The decision on new sanctions will depend on the evolution of the situation on the ground but “everybody is fully aware that we have to act quickly,” he added. The EU leaders call on Russia to “immediately withdraw all its military assets and forces from Ukraine,” they said in a joint statement.

NATO said last week that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine. Russia denies that. NATO also says Russia has amassed some 20,000 troops just across Ukraine’s eastern border, which could rapidly carry out a full-scale invasion.

The fighting between the military and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has so far claimed 2,600 lives, according to U.N. figures.

The U.S. and the EU have so far imposed sanctions against dozens of Russian officials, several companies as well as the country’s financial and arms industry. Moscow has retaliated by banning food imports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the new sanctions would target the same sectors as previous punitive measures, which also included an export ban for some high technology and oil exploration equipment.

“If Russia continues to escalate the crisis it will come with a high cost,” said EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. “It’s time for everyone to get down to the business of peace-making. It is not too late, but time is quickly running out,” he said.

Several European leaders had called for additional sanctions at the outset of the meeting in Brussels, but the fear of an economic backlash apparently prevailed and led the bloc to grant Russia another chance at avoiding tougher action. New sanctions would have required unanimity among the leaders.

Russia is the EU’s No. 3 trading partner and one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers. The EU, in turn, is Russia’s biggest commercial partner, making any sanctions more biting than similar measures adopted by the U.S.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who briefed the leaders at the beginning of their talks, said a strong response was needed to the “military aggression and terror” facing his country. Efforts to halt the violence in eastern Ukraine were “very close to a point of no return” and failing to de-escalate the situation could lead to a “full-scale war,” he warned.

“Thousands of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko told reporters in English. “There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine, but for the whole … of Europe.”

Conceding ground in the face of a reinvigorated rebel offensive, Ukraine said Saturday that it was abandoning a city where its forces have been surrounded by rebels for days. Government forces were also pulling back from another it had claimed to have taken control of two weeks earlier.

The statements by Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the national security council, indicate that Ukrainian forces face increasingly strong resistance from Russian-backed separatist rebels just weeks after racking up significant gains and forcing rebels out of much of the territory they had held.

The office of the Donetsk mayor reported in a statement that at least two people died in an artillery attack on one of Donetsk’s neighborhoods. Shelling was reported elsewhere in the city, but there was no immediate word on casualties.

European leaders also issued dire warnings, reflecting their concern over the most recent military escalation with the opening of a new front by the Russian-backed rebels in southeastern Ukraine.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said Russia’s meddling in Ukraine, which seeks closer ties with the EU, amounts to a direct confrontation that requires stronger sanctions.

“Russia is practically in the war against Europe,” she said in English.

Grybauskaite said the EU should impose a full arms embargo, including the canceling of already agreed contracts, but France has so far staunchly opposed that proposal because it has a $1.6 billion contract to build Mistral helicopter carriers for Russia.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also warned that Europe shouldn’t be complacent about Russian troops on Ukrainian soil.

“Countries in Europe shouldn’t have to think long before realizing just how unacceptable that is,” he said. “We know that from our history. So consequences must follow.”

Moscow, meanwhile, is preparing to send a second convoy of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Moscow has already received Kiev’s preliminary approval and insisted that it would send aid in coordination with the Red Cross. Lavrov wouldn’t say when the aid is likely to be sent, but said it could happen next week.

Russian state Rossiya 24 on Saturday showed trucks from the previous convoy at the border being loaded with humanitarian aid that was brought to the area by train. It was unclear when the new convoy could start moving.

Barroso said that the EU – a bloc encompassing 500 million people and stretching from Lisbon to the border with Ukraine – stands ready to grant Kiev further humanitarian aid and financial assistance if needed. The bloc will also organize a donors’ conference to help rebuild the country’s east at the end of the year, he added.

Ukrainian forces had been surrounded by rebels in the town of Ilovaysk, about 15 miles east of the largest rebel-held city of Donetsk for days.

“We are surrendering this city,” Ukraine’s Lysenko told reporters. “Our task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in order to regroup.”

Lysenko said that regular units of the military had been ordered to retreat from Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, two towns on the main road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. Ukraine had claimed control of Novosvitlivka earlier in August.

Separately, Ukrainian forces said one of their Su-25 fighter jets was shot down Friday over eastern Ukraine by a missile from a Russian missile launcher. The pilot ejected and was uninjured, the military said in a brief statement.

Vladimir Putin’s rusty iron curtain

From – http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2014/08/29/vladimir_putins_rusty_iron_curtain_editorial.html

Frustrated in his bid to bully Ukraine into his Moscow-led Eurasian Union, Vladimir Putin is now sending Russian troops across the border. He is taking Russia down a calamitous path by attacking a neighbour and turning his back on 25 years of bridge-building with the West.

Little by little Russian President Vladimir Putin is drawing a rusty iron curtain back across Europe at Ukraine’s expense, 25 years after the old one fell apart. He has seized Crimea, provided comfort and aid to pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, and now he is sending Russian troops across the border to threaten Mariupol and the Sea of Azov region.

This brazen aggression in what Putin ominously refers to as “New Russia” aims to bring all of Russified, heavily industrialized southeastern Ukraine under Moscow’s intimidating shadow, if not into outright annexation. Frustrated in his bid to bully Ukraine into a Moscow-led Eurasian Union, Putin is planting the imperial flag where he can. And Russians are proud of his cynical audacity.

Against Putin’s serial invasion and the loss of 2,600 Ukrainian lives, the cautious response from U.S. President Barack Obama and the European Union looks feckless. No one is prepared to go to war for Ukraine, at least for now. So the Kremlin can continue with impunity to destabilize Ukraine’s government, demoralize its people and threaten its integrity.

That’s Putin’s short-term calculation, at any rate. But he is taking Russia down a calamitous path by attacking a neighbour and turning his back on 25 years of bridge-building with the West. He has isolated Russia and dragged it into a ruinous, long-term confrontation with far superior military and economic powers.
Putin had an option. He could have recognized the legitimacy of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s new government, accepted Kyiv’s decision to join the European Union economic zone, and held Poroshenko to his pledge to give Ukraine’s ethnic Russian regions more political and economic autonomy. Instead, Putin opted for aggression.

The decision to send regular Russian troops, tanks, missile launchers and artillery into Ukraine this past week to come to the separatists’ aid will have profound consequences.

Politically, Putin has sealed Russia’s isolation from its closest European neighbours and trading partners, and made Russia unwelcome in the powerful Group of Eight club of leading industrial democracies.

Militarily, Moscow’s adventurism has forced the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization to strike a tougher stance. American and Canadian forces have been scrambled to Europe. There are plans for new forward bases, and moves to strengthen NATO’s rapid reaction forces. While only Ukrainians can defend their turf, pressure is building in advance of the NATO summit in Wales next week to help out with military advisers and weapons. And Kyiv wants to be admitted to the alliance.

Economically, Putin has set up Russia for yet another punishing round of sanctions that can only undermine the devil’s bargain that the public has struck with him to tolerate his corrupt autocracy in exchange for better living standards. Compared to the G-7’s $35-trillion output, Russia’s struggling $2-trillion economy is badly outmatched. And the oligarchs who surround Putin know it.

If ordinary Russians haven’t yet felt the pinch in lost jobs, lower living standards and unpaid salaries and pensions, they soon will.

Officials in Moscow acknowledge that economic growth has fallen to “close to zero,” a far cry from the 7- to 8-per-cent growth of Putin’s early years a decade back. Meanwhile, American, British, German and other major foreign lenders are denying Russia the credit it needs to refinance its debt, upgrade infrastructure and increase energy production. Capital is fleeing at an annualized rate of $200 billion. Foreign direct investment fell by $50 billion this year, a vote of non-confidence in the economy. Consumer prices are soaring, along with interest rates. And the ruble has crashed to an all-time low.

Russian economists fear a harsher downturn than during the global economic crisis of 2009 when output plunged 8 per cent, and thousands of Muscovites rallied behind red banners under a statue of Karl Marx, calling for a return to Communism. There is real hardship ahead.

None of this is much consolation to Ukraine’s beleaguered people, bullied by their cousin and neighbour. But over time Russia stands to pay the heavier price, as Putin walls it off again.

Conflict intensifies as Russian tanks obliterate village

From – http://www.independent.ie/world-news/conflict-intensifies-as-russian-tanks-obliterate-village-30549548.html

The Russian-backed offensive in Ukraine appeared to be gathering pace last night as Russian tanks were reported to have “shelled every house” in a border village and Kremlin forces were reported to have shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet with a surface-to-air missile.

Ukraine said the conflict in its east was intensifying, with thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of tanks aiding separatist fighters, as the country appealed to Europe to impose further sanctions on Russia.

Troops loyal to Kiev were reportedly retreating through a humanitarian corridor from the besieged town of Ilovaisk, while residents in the southern Ukrainian coastal city of Mariupol braced themselves for an expected assault by Russian-backed rebels.

Russian tanks entered the small Ukrainian settlement of Novosvitlivka on the border and shelled almost every house until the town was destroyed, said Andriy Lysenko, a Ukrainian military spokesman.

Ukraine also said that rebels had downed a Ukrainian fighter jet last week, using a surface-to-air missile system.

Despite reports of secret military funerals being held in Russia for soldiers killed in Ukraine and rebel leaders claiming to have Russian military personnel under their command, the Kremlin denies that Russian troops are engaged inside Ukraine.

Evidence of Russian support on the ground, however, has mounted in recent days, as separatist fighters, apparently on the verge of defeat, pushed back the Ukrainian army.

Russian officials and state-controlled media now routinely refer to the “militias of Novorossiya”, employing a term used to describe former Ottoman territories conquered by Catherine the Great in the 18th century – an area that includes huge swathes of modern southern and eastern Ukraine.

The death toll in the conflict is almost 2,600, the UN said, with half that number recorded in the past month. Figures from Kiev yesterday put the number of Ukrainian troops killed at 765. Seventy-five rebels have been killed in the past 24 hours.

In what has been touted as a forum for defusing the crisis, diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE will gather in Belarus for talks tomorrow.

Russia is demanding that Kiev return 10 Russian soldiers that the Ukrainian military captured on its territory.

Mr Putin said on Friday that the men accidentally crossed the border when they got lost during a patrol.

He also raised the spectre of nuclear war with the West, as he defied condemnation of Russia’s actions. He boasted: “It’s best not to mess with us,” adding: “Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.”

‘Mariupol? Yeah, we’re going to take Mariupol, all of it’

From – http://www.independent.ie/world-news/mariupol-yeah-were-going-to-take-mariupol-all-of-it-30549550.html

Roland Oliphant met with some of the pro-Russian militia in Novoazovsk

At the entrance to Novoazovsk, a tank squats behind a freshly dug earth bank, its barrel pointing west, with the red and blue flag of “Novorossia”, the latest incarnation of the separatist fighter’s self-declared state, flying on the turret.

But if the fighters here get their way, it won’t be parked there long. With the backing of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, the men on the banks are eyeing up a band of territory stretching from the Russian border into the far west of Ukraine. First in their sights is the Black Sea city of Mariupol and then many more towns and cities in Ukraine.

“Mariupol? Yeah, we’re going to take Mariupol. And then we’re going all the way to Lviv,” said a stocky man with a beard and a camouflage-painted Kalashnikov. “Our goal is Novorossia. All of it. Odessa, Kherson, everything.”

“Swat”, a turncoat Ukrainian special forces lieutenant colonel who prefers to be known only by his nickname, said he rolled into town with his column of rebel fighters on Wednesday, seizing control of a stretch of beach front that has become Novorossia’s first outlet to the sea and depriving Ukraine of control of its southern border with Russia.

“There are already militia forces on all sides of Mariupol. We will stay here until we have established a self-defence of local volunteers then move on,” said the commander.

Asked why no one has seen this encircling force, he said they were lying up in hidden positions, waiting for an order to move. There was no way to confirm the claim.

For now, life in Novoazovsk is going on as much as possible as normal. Locals who would talk said the new occupiers have caused little trouble, and since Thursday there has been no shelling in the area, allowing people to get back to work.

The men occupying Novoazovsk and manning the front line just outside town are a motley crew in mismatched camouflage, who are variously too old, obese, malnourished, or simply unconvincing to be mistaken for serving Russian soldiers. Their main vehicles are spray-painted pickup trucks, and their tanks – they have at least three – are battered and on closer inspection somewhat rusty T-64s.

They have discarded the tricolours of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s republic in favour of the flag of Novorossia, which resembles the flag of the confederacy without the stars, but they are otherwise not dissimilar to the ragtag forces who have long been fighting in other parts of east Ukraine.

The problem is, that does not quite add up. For months before last week’s offensive, the rebels had been retreating. Superior Ukrainian numbers, artillery and air power were pushing them back into an ever shrinking area around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Now, they have opened an entire new front.

For Ukrainian and Western Governments, there is one explanation: the active involvement of regular Russian forces, including cross-border shelling that forced Ukrainian troops out of the area around Novoazovsk ahead of the advancing separatists.

To listen to the commander of the town, not a single man, weapon or vehicle came across the Russian border.

“We were readying our counter-attack for a month. The Ukrainians abandoned a lot of equipment and vehicles in the southern Cauldron,” he said, referring to an encirclement of Ukrainian forces defeated last month.

“If Russia was here, this would have been over in days,” he said. “The tanks are Ukrainian, my gun is Ukrainian. As for artillery shooting from Russia: I wish.”

Swat also claimed his column set off last Sunday from the rebel-held town of Krasnodon, over 160km away in the Luhansk region, and entered Novoazovsk on Wednesday, dog-legging to avoid Russian territory.

But, Ukrainian soldiers who fought here say they met troops whose equipment and professionalism meant they could only be Russian. And locals in the town said they have seen unmistakable “regulars” in the early days of fighting here, though none were seen yesterday.

And, despite Swat’s bold words, it is difficult to see at first glance how they will take Mariupol – let alone roll all the way to Odessa – without some outside help.

For at least some civilians in the conflict zone, the zealousness is wearing thin.

“Am I glad they are here? How can I say?” said Maria, a 42-year-old teacher visiting one of a handful of food shops that have reopened since the fighting ended. “The whole thing is entirely artificial. All I know is that we had some local authorities, then we woke up and there is a new local authority.

“All I am happy about is that there’s not been any shelling for three days. It doesn’t matter to me whose flag is flying here.”

Russia’s army is so brazen they painted this tank with the name of its Ukrainian target

From – http://www.vox.com/2014/8/30/6086767/russian-tank-spotted-with-its-ukrainian-target-painted-on-the-side?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_name=share-button&utm_campaign=vox&utm_content=article-share-top

Russian President Vladimir Putin insists that Russia is not invading Ukraine (his government says any Russian troops found fighting alongside the rebels in eastern Ukraine are either vacationing there or just lost). It is no secret that he is lying, as there is a growing mountain of evidence of the Russian invasion. Increasingly, that evidence is so glaring that even for Putin the brazenness is just staggering.

The latest neon-lit “we are invading Ukraine and not even trying to hide it” moment came on Friday, when someone in the Russian border region of Rostov took a video of a Russian T-72 tank being trucked through town. That in itself might not be so damning — Russian tanks have been massing at the Ukrainian border for months — were it not for the fact that Russian troops had painted “For Donbass” on the side of the tank.

Donbass is the region of eastern Ukraine where Russian troops are invading to bolster Russia-backed separatist rebels.

It’s difficult to overemphasize just how brazen that is. It would be as if the US invaded Mexico, insisted that it was definitely not invading Mexico, and then 10 days into the invasion someone photographed an M-1 Abrams tank in San Diego with the words “For Tijuana” written in giant letters on the side.

The discovery was made by Russian-language Twitter use Timur Khorev, who even identified a distinctive Rostov restaurant in the background of the video to verify the location. New York Times Moscow-based reporter Andrew Roth translated the tweet into English: “Tank with ‘For Donbass’ in stenciled Cyrillic near a popular bar in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky Russia.”

Ukraine President Says Europe’s Security Depends on Stopping Russia

From – http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/world/europe/russia-pushing-ukraine-conflict-to-point-of-no-return-eu-leader-says.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=LargeMediaHeadlineSum&module=photo-spot-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=2

Accusing Russia of waging a campaign of “military aggression and terror” against his country, President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine told European leaders here on Saturday that their own countries’ security depended on stopping Russian troops from stoking a conflict in eastern Ukraine that he said could escalate into a wider war.

His warnings won no pledges of military assistance from the European Union, but helped set the stage for a new round of sanctions against Russia. Leaders ducked an immediate decision on what new measures to take, despite agreeing that Moscow had escalated the conflict sharply in recent days. They instead asked the European Commission, the union’s executive arm, to prepare proposals for expanding existing sanctions, and said these must be ready “for consideration within a week,” according to a statement issued early Sunday.

Saying that Russia was pushing the conflict in Ukraine toward “the point of no return,” the president of commission, José Manuel Barroso, said European leaders who gathered Saturday in Brussels would endorse new, tougher measures in an effort to make Moscow “come to reason.”

Some European leaders, particularly those from former Communist nations in Eastern Europe, called for direct military assistance to Ukraine’s badly stretched armed forces, which are battling pro-Russian rebels on three fronts in eastern Ukraine. But officials said a decision on military aid would be left to individual countries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, speaking early Sunday after the meeting broke up, said that Germany “will certainly not deliver weapons, as this would give the impression that this is a conflict that can be solved militarily.” But she said further sanctions were needed, as “the situation has deteriorated considerably in the last few days,” and would be imposed “if this situation continues.”

She said it was unclear whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine constituted an invasion under international law, but added that “the sum of all the evidence we have seen so far is that Russian arms and Russian forces are operating on Ukrainian territory.” Despite her numerous phone conversations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, she said she could not make “a final judgment” on his intentions and whether he might still try to take “further parts of the country under his control.”

Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russian tanks had entered and flattened a small town between the rebel-held city of Luhansk and the Russian border.

Mr. Poroshenko, alongside Mr. Barroso in Brussels, said that Ukraine still hoped for a political settlement with the rebels, but that a flow of Russian troops and armored vehicles into Ukraine in recent days to support them were setting off a broader conflict.

“We are too close to a border where there will be no return to the peace plan,” Mr. Poroshenko said, asserting that since Wednesday, “thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine, with a very high risk not only for the peace and stability of Ukraine but for the peace and stability of the whole of Europe.”
He added that this made Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine “crucially important for all of us.”

Russia has dismayed European leaders by repeatedly denying that it has sent troops or military hardware into Ukraine. After the Ukrainian authorities released videos on Tuesday of captured Russian troops, Moscow conceded that some of its soldiers had crossed into Ukraine but said they had done so “by accident.”

Rebel leaders say Russian servicemen are fighting in Ukraine during their holiday leave. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a separatist leader in Donetsk, said earlier this week that these soldiers “would rather take their vacation not on a beach but with us, among brothers, who are fighting for their freedom.”

Russia’s evasions and denials in response to mounting evidence of its direct involvement in supporting pro-Russian separatists has left even Europe’s more cautious leaders, notably Ms. Merkel, ready to endorse further sanctions. Ms. Merkel, the dominant figure in European policy-making, said early Sunday that Germany still favored a negotiated settlement and that Europe needed to keep the pressure on Russia with additional sanctions. “We need to do something to clearly demonstrate what are the values we defend,” she said.

She said that Russia’s opaque political system made it difficult to assess whether sanctions already in place were affecting Russian decision-making but added: “I would say they are.”

Ms. Merkel has spoken regularly with Mr. Putin, by telephone during the crisis but has had no success in curbing Russia’s support for the rebels, who had been losing ground in the face of a Ukrainian offensive. Now, reinvigorated by new arms and fighters from Russia, the rebels are expanding territory under their control.

Mr. Barroso said that he, too, had spoken by phone with Mr. Putin and “urged him to change course” during a “long and frank” conversation on Friday.

While not directly accusing Russia of sending soldiers into Ukraine, as Mr. Poroshenko and NATO have done, Mr. Barroso said Russian moves to feed fighting in eastern Ukraine were “simply not the way responsible, proud nations should behave in the 21st century.” Further sanctions, Mr. Barroso said, would “show to Russia’s leadership that the current situation is not acceptable and we urge them to come to reason.”

European leaders, he added, had long stated that any further escalation of the conflict would set off additional sanctions, and they would “be ready to take some more measures” at the meeting in Brussels.

President François Hollande of France also backed new measures against Russia, telling journalists in Brussels that “what is happening in Ukraine is so serious” that European leaders were obliged to increase sanctions.

But France is expected to block calls by some leaders to extend an existing ban on future military sales to Russia to include already signed contracts. France has resisted pressure from Washington and some European capitals to cancel a contract for the sale of two naval assault ships to Russia, a deal worth 1.2 billion euros, or about $1.6 billion.

Arriving Saturday for the summit, Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, demanded that existing and future military contracts with Russia be prohibited. Europe, she said, could not “listen to the lies that we are receiving from Putin” and should offer military support to Ukraine. Russia, she added, was “in a state of war against Ukraine and that means that it is in a state of war against countries that want to be closer to the European Union and that means practically that Russia is in a state of war against Europe. That means we have to help Ukraine battle back, to defend its territory and its people, to help militarily.”

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has been going on for months, mostly around rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk. But the conflict expanded last week after the rebels — backed by Russian forces, according to NATO — opened a front along a coastal road leading to the industrial port city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian military units and the civilian population were preparing on Saturday to defend the city against any assault by the Russian-backed militias, Ukraine’s military spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko, said in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

“We are very grateful to the Mariupol residents, who have also helped in the fortification of the city against the armored vehicles of the enemy,” Colonel Lysenko said. The city fell briefly under the control of pro-Russian fighters earlier this year, but after they were driven out it had been firmly in the hands of Ukraine. The governor of the Donetsk region, forced from his headquarters in the city of Donetsk, decamped there to maintain a formal, if largely impotent, government presence.

Colonel Lysenko said that local residents were volunteering to join the armed forces, but that the military had enough men there “to repel the Russian military and its mercenaries.”

He repeated accusations that the Russians were sending arms and men across the border to support rebel fighters, who have declared independent states in Donetsk and Luhansk. He asserted that Russian tanks had entered Novosvitlivka, a small town on the road from the Russian border to Luhansk, and flattened “virtually every house.” He did not give details on when the reported attack took place.

Ukraine also accused Russia on Saturday of helping to shoot down one of its combat aircraft in eastern Ukraine.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, speaking early Sunday in Brussels, described the situation in Ukraine as “deeply serious” and said, “We have to show real resolve, real resilience in demonstrating to Russia that if she carries on in this way the relationship between Europe and Russia, Britain and Russia, America and Russia will be radically different in future.”