Kiev Sees Ukraine Truce Holding, Withdraws Heavy Artillery From Front

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Ukraine announced Thursday that it would begin withdrawing artillery from the frontline with separatist rebels in the east, a move that amounts to recognition that a cease-fire meant to take effect on Feb. 15 is holding at last.

The pro-Russian rebels have already been pulling back heavy weapons for two days, but Kiev had held back, arguing that fighting had not yet ceased.

However, the army reported no combat fatalities at the front for a second straight day on Thursday, the first time no troops have been killed since long before the French- and German-brokered truce was meant to take effect.

The withdrawal of artillery is “point two” of a Feb. 12 peace agreement reached in the Belarus capital Minsk, so beginning it amounts to an acknowledgement that “point one” — the cease-fire itself — is being observed.

“Today Ukraine has begun the withdrawal of 100 millimeter guns from the line of confrontation,” the military said in a statement, saying the step would be monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

“The Ukrainian side demands a full cease-fire and immediate implementation of the Minsk agreement by all signatories. In the event of any attempted offensive, the schedule for withdrawal can be reviewed,” the military statement said. “Ukrainian forces are fully prepared to defend the country.”

Journalists in rebel-held Donetsk said they had heard not a single artillery explosion throughout the night.

The separatist rebels initially ignored the truce last week to launch an advance that led to one of the biggest battles of a war that has killed more than 5,600 people.

But since capturing the strategic town of Debaltseve, where the rebels said the truce did not apply, they have taken pains to emphasize that they now intend to abide by it.

Western countries denounced the rebels and their presumed sponsor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, for advancing on Debaltseve after the truce was meant to take effect. But they have since held out hope that the cease-fire will now hold, with the rebels having achieved that objective.

In the days after its troops were driven from Debaltseve, Kiev maintained that it believed the rebels were reinforcing for another advance, particularly expressing fear for the city of Mariupol, a port of 500,000 people.

Western countries have threatened to impose new economic sanctions on Moscow if the rebels advance further into territory the Kremlin calls “New Russia.”

Moscow, which denies aiding its sympathizers in Ukraine, said on Thursday the threats of more sanctions were cover for Western efforts to undermine the truce.

“It’s an attempt to … distract attention from the necessity to fulfill the conditions of the Minsk agreements,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The West Is Ignoring Some Unpleasant Truths About Putin

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At the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to have told U.S. President Barack Obama that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “in another world.” After months of near-constant shuttle diplomacy, a mere 48 hours after Minsk II was concluded, the West had to watch a humiliating Ukrainian rout at Debaltseve.

While on a recent visit to Hungary, Putin gloated, “Obviously it’s bad to lose, but life is life and it still goes on.” It seems more and more clear that if anyone is living in another world, it is Western leaders.

Minsk and the subsequent Debaltseve collapse revealed the reality of the West’s own situation — it negotiated with Putin on his terms and in his world. It is clear that the West has an interlocutor in Putin whose objectives are not transparent, promises are not trustworthy, and who is making decisions that have heightened conflict in the region.

Last December, an international consortium of investigative journalists, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) named Putin their “person of the year” for 2014, “for his work in turning Russia into a major money laundering center for enabling organized crime in Crimea and in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine; for his unblemished record of failing to prosecute criminal activity; and for advancing a government policy of working with and using crime groups.”

A runner-up was Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who is on record as wanting to establish an “illiberal democracy” in Hungary.

Most analysts concede the depth of Kremlin thievery and U.S. sanctions specifically target “team Putin.” The question however is whether kleptocratic tendencies are central or peripheral to the conduct of Russian policy. Those, like myself, who say they are central agree with opposition activists like Boris Nemtsov that Putin’s building and renovation of 20 palaces, his receipt of $700,000 in watches and his unlimited access to yachts, planes, and a Kremlin property management department with a staff of more than 60,000, and an annual presidential office budget of $2.41 billion is costly in terms more than treasure.

It also reveals that at the system’s heart is total bespredel — limitlessness. Unconstrained by laws, rules, or any sense of decency, Putin stands astride the world’s largest gap between rich and poor.

Credit Suisse noted in 2014 that “inequality in Russia is so far above [all other countries] that it deserves to be placed in a separate category.” The top decile of wealth holders owns 85 percent of all household wealth in Russia, while 83 percent of the population has less than $10,000 in personal wealth.

Instead of the state acting as a market regulator and redistributive agent, kleptocratic interests at the top have only fueled the tendency toward monopoly and state capitalism. Allowing Kremlin cronies to raid less protected entrepreneurs has stymied development and encouraged capital flight, exceeding $150 billion in 2014.

Russians can only secure property rights by keeping money in foreign banks or buying apartments abroad. But by doing so, they never develop a vested interest in the emergence of sustainable legal and financial systems in Russia.

The regime increasingly claims legitimacy through Putin and his much-vaunted popularity rating. But polls also express dissatisfaction with dishonest elections, widespread corruption, and government mismanagement.

Transparency International ranks Russia positively in terms of human development but negatively in terms of judicial independence, press freedom and corruption. The population has the skills to make a transition to a law-based society, but the state has taken the country in the opposite direction.

As regimes close politically, the quality of decision-making always declines. And when closeness to the leader also depends on willingness to maintain a tribute system based on gifts, fealty and silence, professional advice takes a backseat to slavish expressions of loyalty.

More and more of the high-ranking posts are going to people not just connected to Putin since the St. Petersburg days, but also his own relatives and relatives of his friends. Sitting on the Scientific Council of Moscow State University and director of Innopraktika — a $1.7 billion project to build a Russian Silicon Valley — is a certain Katerina Tikhonova. Russian opposition figures claimed at the end of January that she is Putin’s 28-year-old daughter.

Two sons of Putin’s cousins similarly hold positions in the gas industry, as do many other top leaders’ children.

In addition to officials being placed in positions less because of their expertise than their relationship to Kremlin officials, decision-making is slowed while everyone waits for Putin. Even in his first year in office a fire in the Ostankino television tower burned out of control until he had given the order to cut the electricity. Three firemen died.

Also in 2000, 118 young men aboard the nuclear submarine Kursk died a slow death at the bottom of the Barents Sea tapping out rescue messages as the military waited for Putin’s decision to accept international help. Over the time of Putin’s tenure, Kremlin insiders have come to talk less about the “vertical of power” — decisions made along a chain of command, and more about “manual control” — all decisions made at the top.

The pressures of making all the decisions, combined with fear by subordinates of making any, only weaken state response to crisis. One could see this in Putin’s rambling answer last December during his annual news conference to a question on the government’s response to the ruble and oil price collapse.

“I said that given the most unfavorable foreign economic situation this could last (approximately, because no one can say for certain) for about two years. However, it may not last that long and the situation could take a turn for the better sooner. It could improve in the first or second quarter of next year, by the middle of next year, or by its end. Nobody can tell. There are many uncertain factors.”

Should anyone criticize the president for his less than commanding performance, they could easily be branded as an enemy. The reemergence in the official political lexicon of denunciations of opponents as speculators, fifth columnists, traitors, foreign agents and fascists further weaken the quality of decisions.

Those Kremlin elites who came to power to become rich now are faced with sanctions and visa bans that keep them in Russia. It might be hoped that over time they will lobby for real laws to protect their gains. But the state takeover of Sistema’s subsidiary Bashneft late last year suggests the Kremlin will continue to consume juicy morsels at will.

It is not encouraging for Russia, for the West or for Ukraine and the Baltic states that Russia is ruled by a leader whose actions he may describe as serving Russia’s interests, but which clearly do not in the long run.

Unless we recognize what we are dealing with here — a kleptocratic authoritarian regime which has and will use many levers to undermine, divide and defeat the West, it may be historians who will ultimately write that it was the West and not Vladimir Putin who once lived in another world.

Russian Fighter Jets to Stage Drills Off Barents Sea, Report Says

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Russian fighter jets will take part in exercises on thwarting a potential missile attack in the Barents Sea, the latest in a series of war games that have alarmed the West since the Ukraine conflict began.

The RIA Novosti news agency said MiG-31 jets were taking part in the initial part of the exercises in the Perm region and the next stage would be launched in the next few days from Monchegorsk airfield in the northern region of Murmansk.

“There will be flights from there to intercept an imaginary army’s missiles and planes,” RIA quoted the Central Military District as saying, adding that the exercises would last until March 6.

The Central Military District said on its website that some exercises had already been carried out to test anti-submarine weapons. Russian news agencies also said small anti-submarine shops from the Pacific Fleet would stage exercises in the Sea of Japan next month.

The Barents Sea is off the coasts of Russia and NATO member state Norway. NATO states have voiced concern over an increase in Russian military exercises and “near misses” with Russian military aircraft in the past year.

NATO said last November that planes from its member states had to scramble 400 times throughout the year in response to an increase in Russian air activity around Europe not seen since the Cold War.

The following month, the U.S. ambassador to NATO accused Russian military aircraft of endangering civilian flights in Europe by turning off their communications and failing to file flight plans.

This included a case in which the Norwegian military released footage showing an apparent close encounter between a Russian and Norwegian fighter jet.

Donetsk Withdraws 90% of Heavy Weaponry From Line Of Contact – DPR Leader

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Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) leader Alexander Zakharchenko said that Kiev must start the withdrawal until 7:00 Moscow time [16:00 GMT] Friday, otherwise the republic will return its heavy weapons to where they were on February 12, 2015, the day when reconciliation agreements were signed in Minsk.

DONETSK (Sputnik) – The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) has withdrawn 90 percent of its heavy weaponry from the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Thursday.

“Donetsk has withdrawn 90 percent of heavy weaponry from the line of contact,” the Donetsk news agency quoted him as saying.

Zakharchenko added that Kiev must start the withdrawal before 19:00 Moscow time [16:00 GMT] Friday, otherwise the republic will return its heavy weapons to where they were on February 12, 2015, the day when reconciliation agreements were signed in Minsk.

Earlier on Thursday, the Ukrainian military said the Kiev army had begun the first stage of weapons pullback. The military spokesman also said that the withdrawal would proceed only under OSCE monitoring.

The DPR and the LPR announced that they had started to pull back weapons last week, while Kiev forces refused to follow suit citing the unstable ceasefire regime in the area.

Under the Minsk peace accord worked out by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, the sides to the Ukrainian conflict committed to implement a ceasefire on February 15 and withdraw heavy weaponry from the line of contact. Under the deal, the withdrawal is scheduled to start no later than on the second day after the ceasefire came into force and is to conclude within 14 days.

Watch the video of Donetsk military hardware being withdrawn under OSCE supervision:

Putin’s job approval rating reaches 86 percent

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If im honest, im of the opinion that no politician should have a consistent approval rating like this, people ‘should’ question their leaders…that’s the whole dam point of democracy…

This is once again proves the effectiveness of propaganda.

The job approval rating of Russian President Vladimir Putin has grown one percentage point in the past month, rising to 86 percent in February against 85 percent in January, Levada Center sociologists told Interfax on Thursday,

Thirteen percent of respondents to the center’s latest survey criticized Putin’s work at the post of Russian president.
The job approval rating of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stands at 64 percent, while his work received negative assessments from 34 percent of those polled (35 percent in January).

Sixty percent of respondents approved of the Russian government’s performance, and 50 percent of the State Duma’s work.

Sixty-three percent of those polled spoke positively of the work of Russian governors, including the Moscow mayor, and 35 percent took the opposite view.
The respondents were also asked to name five or six Russian political figures whom they trust most.

President Putin was mentioned by 59 percent of those polled (55 percent in December 2014), Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu by 24 percent of respondents, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by 20 percent, as compared with 12 percent in January.

They are followed by Prime Minister Medvedev (19 percent), Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov (11 percent), Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky (10 percent), Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia (6 percent), Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko (5 percent), Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov (4 percent), and former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin (3 percent).

Twelve percent of respondents said they do not trust any Russian political figures today, and 13 percent of those polled noted that they are not interested in politics.
Fifty-four percent of respondents believe that Russia is moving in the right direction, 29 percent of those polled expressed the opposite opinion, and 17 percent were unable to answer the question.

The survey was conducted in 46 Russian regions on February 20-23 and involved 1,600 people. The margin of error was 3.4 percent.

What If Ukraine Decides To Stop Fighting?

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Putin’s goal is the destruction of NATO. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an integral part of this strategy, it is only a sideshow to the main event. If Ukraine decides to stop fighting, NATO, Europe and the United States are all on their own. Ukraine’s “friends” must decide: Do we want Ukraine to fight for us or are we prepared to fight for ourselves? To avoid this choice, they must give Ukraine the means to defend itself.

Ukraine’s travails over the past year remind me of Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illich.” Tolstoy tells the wrenching story of the slow death of a wealthy Russian head of family. Near the end, his family and friends wish him dead so as to be spared the sound of his suffering. Similarly, Ukraine’s “friends,” Europe and the U.S., seem to welcome its demise in the form of a “diplomatic solution” that sacrifices its goal of becoming an independent nation oriented to the West. If we could only get Ukraine out of the way like Ivan Illich, we can go back to business as usual and hope that Mr. Putin is satisfied.

This may sound like harsh language, but we now know that Europe’s “diplomatic solution, as enunciated by the Minsk II accord, calls for a Ukraine that gives Moscow’s separatist stooges veto power over the shape of Ukraine’s future, while Ukraine pays the price of propping up the dying Donbass rustbelt, and the border with Russia remains open as far as the eye can see. What has Ukraine gotten in return? A shaky ceasefire that fell apart even before it began. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande still express hope that Minsk II will work even after a full-scale assault by Russian regular forces in a land grab made possible by their failed ceasefire agreement.

If I were Ukraine, I might concede Donbass and Crimea on a de facto but not de jure basis. Russia will not let them go under present circumstances. Let the Donbass (or that part that it presently holds) be a problem for Russia and the separatists to contend with; don’t let its self-appointed leaders dictate Ukrainian policy. When the time is right, the Donbass can come back into the fold. I would maintain a formidable standing army to defend the remaining Ukrainian provinces that have come to hate Putin’s Russia with a vengeance. I imagine that Odessa, Kiev, Zaporozhe and Lviv will make short change of self-appointed Muscovites when they arrive to proclaim new people’s republics. Who knows? If active hostilities ended, maybe even Barack Obama would supply defensive weapons. He’s good at shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

The Ukrainian leadership, which would still control some 80% of Ukraine, could then focus on the reforms the Maidan revolution rightly demanded. Ukraine should listen carefully to reform advisors from the European Union but not hold false hopes of early admission to an EU that fears upsetting Putin. Europe and international institutions should provide the financial backing that Ukraine needs, if anything, as a form of reparations for abandoning Ukraine in the cold.

If Ukraine raises the drawbridge around Ukraine proper, it leaves Putin facing a hostile and armed population that can inflict huge losses on the Russian army, attempting to expand further into Ukraine territory and not backed by the myth of a “civil war” fought by patriotic anti-Kiev militia.

If Ukraine decides to stop fighting, where does this leave Europe and the U.S.? If Putin has any sense of rationality, Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, Southern Europe, and the arctic replace Ukraine as low-hanging fruit. Given Western timidity, indecision, and lack of fighting forces and will, Putin will probe where he sees weakness.

If Europe is lucky, Putin may first turn his attention to Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan, giving Europe a bit of breathing room. If Europe and the U.S. have been paying attention to Putin’s statements and his propaganda, however, they should have noted that Ukraine is not really Russia’s number one enemy. Rather it is Europe, NATO and the U.S. As Putin puts it: Ukraine is just a “foreign legion” for an evil West that humiliated Russia, broke its promises, and is preparing a sneak attack on the Russian homeland.

We do know that Putin is remarkably consistent. NATO, U.S., and European betrayal have been his themes since 2007 in Munich. Why should he change his tone now? If both Europe and the U.S. are the enemy, they are the ones to undermine with or without Ukraine in the picture. With a faltering economy and unprecedented corruption, Putin must have an external enemy to flog and victories to flaunt. Without them, Putin’s regime is in danger.

If European and American pundits think that Russian military ventures against NATO countries are ruled out by NATO’s Article 5, think twice. Russia need only stir up other “civil wars,” say in the Baltic States, taking advantage of their large Russian populations. In the confusion of Russia’s hybrid warfare, which European nation will come to the call of Article 5 when Putin assures the world that this is another unfortunate civil war to which he is a mere bystander?

Ukraine’s betrayal by its European and U.S. allies is their failure to give Ukrainians the means to defend themselves against what is now acknowledged as the full force of the Russian army. Ukraine, after Minsk II, now knows the contours of the inacceptable diplomatic solution that Europe and the U.S. will accept. Why fight a war at enormous cost of life and treasure to battle on behalf of those who abandoned you?

The West’s experience in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa has been a futile quest for reliable allies who are prepared to provide “boots on the ground” we can count on. In the 45 million strong Ukraine, the West has had such an ally, which it paradoxically refuses to give the means to defend itself, while arming questionable allies in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Merkel, Hollande and Obama should consider a world in which Ukraine has left the battlefield, and they are on their own. They will then have two choices: A Finlandized Europe that dances to the Kremlin’s tune or an ill-prepared Europe that tries to fight back with uncertain chances of winning.

Which will it be? We know pacifist Europe’s answer. All Putin needs to do is to saber rattle his tactical nuclear weapons and German, French, Dutch and Italian legs will turn to jelly. Don’t look to the U.S. for help as long as the dithering Obama is in office. You are on your own.

Ukrainian nationalist Bereza looks to Israel as а source of inspiration

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Despite his affiliation with an ultra-nationalist group, parliamentarian Boryslav Bereza looks more like a sophisticated metrosexual than a hardliner.

He sports an earring in his left ear and has a spooky resemblance to his friend Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the Right Sector nationalist group.

Bereza, the group’s 40-year old former spokesman, is of Jewish descent but at the same time espouses Ukrainian nationalism. He represents the community jokingly dubbed the Jewish Banderites – a reference to Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera who came to symbolize Ukrainian nationalism. This community includes, among others, major tycoon and Dnipropetrovsk Governor Ihor Kolomoysky.

Bereza sees no contradiction between being a Jew and a Ukrainian nationalist and says that he supports civic, not ethnic, nationalism.

“You know why I was working with the Right Sector, not with Svoboda?” he said in an interview with the Kyiv Post, referring to a nationalist party whose members have been accused of anti-Semitism. “Because the Right Sector doesn’t do anti-Semitic stuff.”

The Right Sector unites Ukrainians, Belorussians, Russians, Armenians, Jews and other ethnicities. It had started off as an umbrella organization for a handful of other groups. “The melting pot of Maidan has forged all of us into Ukrainians,” Bereza said, referring to the EuroMaidan Revolution in late 2013-early 2014.

Bereza, who speaks Hebrew and goes to the synagogue sometimes, worked and lived in Israel in 1991-1993. He believes that Ukraine has a lot to learn from that country.

Israel is hailed for building a vibrant and prosperous economy despite being surrounded by enemies – which is comparable to Ukraine’s situation – and having few natural resources. “They turned a desert into a garden,” Bereza says.

Instead of yielding to enemies who greatly outnumbered them, the Israelis have created a highly efficient military and security apparatus. “Enemies of Israel don’t go unpunished in any part of the world,” Bereza said.

He believes that Ukraine should emulate by creating a strong, well-functioning state capable of cracking down on crime and corruption and withstanding external aggression. “But now we have a strong society and a weak state,” he says.

In 1993 Bereza returned to Ukraine, intending initially just to visit friends but eventually deciding to come back for good. Subsequently he was involved in book-selling, set up a literary agency and was a host on Ukrainian television shows, including book-related ones.

Speaking of his penchant for books, Bereza said that he had diverse interests ranging from Mikhail Bulgakov’s Days of the Turbins and Spartacus by Rafaella Giovagnolli to J.D. Salinger, a Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin and Niccolo Machiavelli.

Bereza entered politics during the EuroMaidan Revolution, when he got acquainted with Yarosh and became the head of the Right Sector’s information department. “Ukraine was given a second chance and I realized it should be used to change the situation,” he said, implying that Ukraine had lost its first chance after the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Despite being the Right Sector’s spokesman, he did not formally join the organization.

He was subsequently elected to the Verkhovna Rada in the Oct. 26, 2014 parliamentary election, running in a majority constituency in Kyiv’s Troeshchyna, a working class neighborhood. Bereza stepped down as the Right Sector’s spokesman in December – a move that he attributes to his busy schedule in parliament.

Bereza is unhappy with traditional parliamentary politics, with parties united not by ideas but by allegiance to a specific politician – former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, President Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk etc.

At the Verkhovna Rada, Bereza believes himself to be part of the “constructive” and pro-Ukrainian opposition, in contrast with the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc, the political heir of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

Bereza and his allies have created the Ukrop group, which unites lawmakers whose political base stems from the EuroMaidan movement, rather than from traditional elites. The group also includes Yarosh, former Dnipropetrovsk Deputy Governor Borys Filatov and EuroMaidan activist Volodymyr Parasyuk.

It is not clear whether Ukrop has been officially registered. Filatov told the Kyiv Post that it already formally exists but the Verkhovna Rada’s Web site lacked information on the group. “Ukrop is a group of like-minded people of the right-wing opposition,” Filatov said.

The group has initiated bills to recognize all members of volunteer battalions as participants of the war and to facilitate the activities of volunteers who help to supply the army.
Bereza and other Ukrop members are unhappy with the parliamentary majority, which consists of supporters of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk. “The Verkhovna Rada is diverse,” he said. “There are people who want to change something but they’re not in the majority.”

Bereza is also displeased with what he thinks to be Poroshenko’s excessive clout at the parliament. “Not a single law passes without the president’s approval,” he said.

Unlike other pro-European lawmakers, Bereza opposes a bill seeking to strip parliamentarians of immunity in an effort to punish lawmakers involved in corruption. He believes that it could be used by the government to crack down on the opposition.

Bereza also voted against the appointment of Viktor Shokin as prosecutor general earlier in February, arguing that he was part of the old system and would not be able to make progress on high-profile cases. Another measure that he opposed was the hasty adoption of the 2015 budget in December 2014, when lawmakers voted for it without seeing the actual latest figures and allegedly violated parliamentary procedures.

Russian Patriots Want to Rename Their Town ‘Putin’

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Interesting Logic….but I doubt if “Putin” Himself would want anything buy Moscow to be renamed after him…

Activists in the Ural Mountains want to change the name of a local town to “Putin” in honor of the Russian president, arguing that his name alone will be enough to force authorities to address ongoing municipal problems.

Renaming the town of Krasnokamsk in the Perm region would enshrine the name of President Vladimir Putin, “who has done a lot for the country and for the town in particular,” said a petition posted on Russia’s public initiatives website The petition then goes on to list some of the possible benefits of the proposed name change.

“With such a great name, the town [will be more prosperous],” the petition reads. “The authorities will be obliged to solve [our] problems with clean water, roads, parks, kindergartens, infrastructure and other pressing problems.”

Problems with the municipal running-water system have essentially left Krasnokamsk without proper drinking water, reported. But a name change will draw greater attention to this issue, said local activists, who have even come up for a slogan for their campaign: “Give Putin Clean Water.” Their petition notes that the name change would also be a boost for tourism in the town, which lies 35 kilometers from the city of Perm.

Putin visited Krasnokamsk in 2012, attending a hockey game and promising the town’s residents that a new ice rink would be opened the following year. But despite Putin’s pledge to personally attend the opening ceremony, the stadium’s construction was delayed, regional news site reported, blaming local officials for “disrupting” the president’s plans.

The name-change petition needs to gather 3,541 votes by April 11 in order to be reviewed by municipal authorities, according to the community initiatives website. By Thursday morning, it had gathered a total of eight votes, in addition to two people who had voted against it.

The Absurd World of Russian Public Opinion

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Hurray! We are attacking! Thank God! Many are dead and wounded! Thank God!” Thus exclaimed “good soldier Svejk” from the eponymous immortal novel by Jaroslav Hasek. And Russian public opinion today is no less absurd.

The more casualties and destruction in southern and eastern Ukraine, the more blood is spilt there and the more coffins return for burial in Russia’s boundless and snow-laden expanses, the greater grows the support for the authorities’ actions in Ukraine and the higher the ratings for President Vladimir Putin.

Moreover, the sharp rise in prices and the sharp drop in incomes have not only failed to undermine confidence in the authorities, but have actually convinced more Russians than ever before that the country is on the right path.

We are witnessing an unprecedented triumph of Kremlin propaganda. The mass “anti-Maidan” demonstrations in Moscow and other Russian cities were staged in true Orwellian spirit: Retired army officers and Afghan War veterans recruit volunteers to fight with pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass while journalists and politicians cultivate hatred every day for Ukraine and the West, stir up war hysteria by making public calls for the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk to “march on Kiev,” brand Kiev’s government a group of fascist warmongers, and demand immediate peace in Ukraine.

“Peace is war!” they effectively claim. “Truth is a lie!” “Your brother is your enemy!” “The victim is the aggressor!”

The overwhelming majority of Russians believe that the West attacked Russia in Ukraine and not that Russia seized part of Ukraine’s territory and is now actively helping separatists in eastern Ukraine with regular army soldiers, volunteers and heavy weapons.

They believe not that the Ukrainian people ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych because of his unparalleled theft and lies, but that the United States and CIA agents overthrew him by using Maidan as a tool for replacing the pro-Russian regime in Kiev with an anti-Russian “junta.”

Most Russians believe that this country’s economic problems are not the fault of the Russian authorities, their corrupt and monopolistic policies, their seizures of private property and practice of corporate raids or their policy of high and ever-rising costs for business, but stem from the machinations of the West, which dreams only of how it can destroy Russia.

The great majority of Russians now share the paranoid view of the world foisted on it by rulers who began their careers as officers and generals in the Soviet Union’s intelligence agencies.

An acquaintance of mine just returned from a visit of several months in Siberia where he helped some local residents purchase a few sacks of sugar and grain — enough to last them an entire year — after prices had recently doubled. Surprisingly, the people whom he assisted voiced their unqualified support for the policy of the Moscow authorities in Crimea and Ukraine and saw no connection whatsoever between Russia’s foreign policy and the rising price of sugar.

When he asked their opinion about one of President Vladimir Putin’s luxurious “summer cottages” in the nearby mountains, the locals looked at him as if he were an idiot. “You really think that is Putin’s summer house?” they asked incredulously. “That is a command post for military missiles,” they explained.

As in Soviet times, hatred of the United States and the West is forming the basis of national identity. Criticism of the authorities by the opposition and the activities of independent Russian nongovernmental organizations are increasingly portrayed as the subversive work of U.S. intelligence carried out using American money and serving American interests. It is becoming increasingly common to hear opposition members and civil activists labeled as fascists and members of the “fifth column.”

In one kindergarten in the Moscow area, a teacher painted this picture of the world for her five-year-old wards. “The Ukrainians wanted to live with Russia, but the Americans wanted the Ukrainians to live with them. The Americans bomb Ukrainian cities. But don’t be afraid. The Russian army is stronger than everyone and will save us from the Americans. Our president is good. He stands for peace. He sends weapons to the separatists and we will win soon. After that, one little boy cried out, “Hurray! It’s world war! We’ll beat everybody!”

According to Levada Center data from January, the number of Russians who believe that U.S.-Russia relations are hostile has increased to 42 percent. Only 2 percent believe those relations are good. Fully 81 percent feel negatively or very negatively toward the United States, and 71 percent feel that way toward the European Union.

Those are unprecedented numbers for Russia’s entire post-Soviet period. Almost 40 percent of respondents feel that Russia should distance itself from the West, while 80 percent feel positively or very positively about China — also unprecedented levels for Russia.

A record 85 percent of Russians approve of President Putin, while only 15 percent disapprove. A majority of 64 percent approves of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and 58 percent approve of the government. And contrary to all common sense, the measure of general satisfaction with life stands at an unprecedented 76 percent.

A record 68 percent of Russians believe that the country faces a military threat — as compared to 48 percent in 2000 — and 82 percent believe that the army can fend off that threat. Also, a record 55 percent of Russians are willing to send the men in their family to serve in the army.

At the same time, anxiety is growing in Russian society. This is primarily due to the increasing economic problems, but also because of rising international tensions. The Russian people primarily blame the United States and the West for rising prices and the falling ruble, and they are ready to rally around the authorities.

What’s more, the Russian people do not ask for much. As my mother recently remarked to a friend and fellow pensioner, “We’ll manage. After all, they [the authorities] won’t let us starve to death!”

DNR terrorists economize by killing mercenaries

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The Donetsk terrorist gangs are using artillery to execute Russian mercenaries who are owed back pay for several months of “service,” reports, citing the Russian TV journalist Timur Olevsky.

Terrorists at the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) are executing Russian mercenaries to avoid paying them back wages, the well-know Russian journalist Timur Olevsky, a correspondent for the independent Dozhd TV channel, reported on his Facebook page, February 26.

“In Pisky I saw a strange scene. For four hours the DNR artillery pounded a building near the airport where another DNR unit was located. I even did a news report on it. I could not understand what was happening. And the Ukrainian officers could not understand it. They only said that it happened quite often. First they fired on their own and then they opened fire on them,” Olevsky wrote.

Olevsky said the explanation was provided by a journalist who lives in Novosibirsk and who managed to return alive from the Donbas after several months fighting on the side of the DNR terrorists. “He said that this is the way they kill the mercenaries from Russia to avoid paying them the promised wages. They may owe them three months back pay, and before their return they shoot them down with artillery fire if they have managed to survive some useless battle. The Donetsk airport was one of those places. “Written off,” Olevsky concluded.