All posts by Editor

Russia And Ukraine Are At War

From –

Moscow won’t admit it, but Russia is at war with Ukraine.

It’s hard to draw any other conclusion from reports that Russian regular forces have moved into eastern Ukraine and are attacking Ukrainian military units amid a flare-up of violence this past week.

New reports indicate that eight civilians were killed after a mortar shell fell in Donetsk, mere hours after the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France agreed on a “buffer zone” to cut down on the violence.

All the while, Russia continues to insist that separatist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk are independent of Russian control and military support. But Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has made clear how ludicrous this assertion is: “Tanks, GRAD multiple rocket systems, BUK and SMERCH systems, radio electronic intelligence systems are not sold at local Donetsk street markets. Only the Russian army and Defense Ministry have them.”

The BUK system that Yatsenyuk mentions is the missile platform that shot down Malaysian Airlines flight 17 over Ukraine this past July, killing 298 innocent civilians.

So far, Russian assistance to the separatists has mostly taken the form of advanced military equipment and paramilitary forces to advise and assist local rebels.

But now, Russia is reported to have moved two battalions of regular troops across the border, with three more battalions of motorized infantry and an artillery division on the way.

That’s translates into potentially a thousand soldiers.

Russia can continue to feign ignorance, but this constitutes the most dangerous, deeply irresponsible escalation of violence and tensions in Ukraine since a little-observed ceasefire was signed in September.

With his economy in shambles and increasingly politically isolated from West, Putin seems determined to bring Ukraine down with him.

We have a moral obligation, not to mention considerable political interests at stake, in ensuring that this does not happen and that Ukraine is allowed to chart a course of successful, peaceful, and prosperous development as an intact and independent country.

As I have written and spoken about before, Western leaders must continue to present a united and uncompromising front when it comes to Russia’s naked aggression and flagrant disregard for international law in Ukraine.

The current sanctions regime must be strictly maintained, and the list of sanctioned officials updated regularly to reflect the complicity of the Russian governing elite in perpetuating the conflict in Ukraine.

Western leaders such as French President Francois Hollande have suggested that sanctions on Russia should be eased if they agree to participate in constructive talks. Hollande and those who share his views must be reminded that Russia has agreed to sit down at the negotiating table several times, with the resulting agreements having little effect on reality.

It goes without saying that by this point no competent Western leader should take the wily Vladimir Putin at his word.

The movement of Russian forces into Ukraine signals that the Kremlin is invested in this conflict and is willing to devote significant resources, not to mention take great risks, in pursuit of victory.

America and the West must be no less invested in achieving peace, defending sovereignty, and protecting international norms by refusing to allow Russia to achieve its aims in Ukraine.

By sending regular Russian army forces into Ukraine, Putin shows that he understands the importance of this fight.

We must ask the question: do our leaders understand this too?

EU-Russia row: Serbia offers to bang heads together

From –

“I think the presidents should be locked up in a room until they come up with a solution,” says Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolic of the leaders of Russia and the European Union.

Serbia certainly has the credentials to act as honest broker in the dispute that has arisen over the conflict in Ukraine.

It has just completed its first year of formal negotiations to join the EU. But it is maintaining its strong ties with Russia and refusing to implement sanctions, despite pressure from Brussels.

President Nikolic is well-known for his plain-speaking style, occasionally landing in diplomatic hot water as a result.

But this time, in an interview with the BBC, he is offering Serbia’s services in solving a deepening conflict, rather than proposing the detention of some fellow heads of state.

Significantly, Serbia has just taken the chair of the OSCE, the intergovernmental security organisation which is currently monitoring the situation in Ukraine.

Mr Nikolic admits that his country is in an awkward situation, with two of its most important partners at loggerheads, and he sees it as a major challenge.

“It’s like having two children – you can’t disown one of them,” he says.

“We cannot sever our traditional ties with Russia. Our people would never forgive us.”

But he hopes Serbia can help the EU and Russia remember their common interests – not least in terms of energy.

The dispute has led to the cancellation of Russia’s South Stream pipeline, which would have provided Serbia with a major infrastructure project as well as improved energy security.

If a solution to the crisis could be found, it would also reduce the pressure on the government in Belgrade to align its foreign policy with Brussels.

The further Serbia moves towards membership of the EU, the harder it will become to take a diplomatic line out of step with the 28-member bloc’s common policy.

Still, Mr Nikolic believes accession is still some way off.

An initial target of 2020 always seemed optimistic, but so far none of the 35 “chapters” covering what Serbia must do to achieve membership has opened for negotiation.

“I’m happy with Serbia’s pace of meeting the requirements – and how the EU has been treating us,” he says.

“But the pace seems to be slow and it’s not down to Serbia to make it any quicker. That’s up to the EU.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should cause much more than a hiccup in relations

From –

EUROPEAN FOREIGN ministers met Monday to consider proposals for resuming diplomatic contacts and cooperation with Russia in a range of areas — a strategy pressed by several governments that wish to paper over the breach opened by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately for the doves, the discussion came just as Russian forces, after several weeks of relative calm, launched a new offensive in eastern Ukraine.

By Tuesday, the Ukrainian government and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine were reporting that fresh Russian army units were crossing the border and attacking Ukrainian positions north of the city of Luhansk and at the Donetsk airport. “The situation,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told us shortly after arriving in Washington, “is not going in the right direction.” Appropriately, the European ministers concluded there were no grounds for altering the existing sanctions on Russia, some of which will come up for renewal at a summit meeting in March — and the plan for detente came under heavy criticism.

The episode illustrates a pervasive disconnect in Western thinking about the regime of Vladi­mir Putin. As Kadri Liik of the European Council on Foreign Relations pointed out recently , many Western leaders persist in seeing the Ukraine invasion as a hiccup in relations with Russia that can be smoothed over, rather than as a demonstration that Mr. Putin’s agenda is fundamentally at odds with Europe’s security interests and its values. Because of their attachment to the hiccup theory, governments — including the Obama administration — have refused to take steps, such as providing the Ukrainian government with defensive weapons, that could help stop Mr. Putin’s aggression. Instead, they concoct futile schemes for “reengaging” the Russian ruler.

Ms. Mogherini, a former Italian foreign minister often described as a leading advocate of this soft line, told us that she did not foresee “a return to business as usual” with Moscow. She stressed that European ministers were committed to the principle that any alteration of sanctions must be linked to Russia’s full implementation of the Minsk agreement, an accord signed in September that requires the removal of Russian forces from Ukraine and international monitoring of the border. Meeting those terms would require an unprecedented reversal from Mr. Putin, who has never allowed a Russian retreat from occupied territories in Eurasia.

Nevertheless, the renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine underlines the reality that the European Union and the Obama administration need a more coherent strategy for answering Mr. Putin’s actual — as opposed to wished-for — behavior. While sanctions have had an impact on the Russian economy, they clearly have not deterred Mr. Putin from continuing the war. As a start, there must be a stronger commitment to the government in Kiev, which is in worse shape than the Russian regime. Struggling to hold the military line, it may soon be forced to default on its foreign debts because of a lack of Western support. So far, U.S. and E.U. pledges for this year amount to $4 billion against a $15 billion funding gap.”

Rather than debating when they can resume trade discussions with Moscow, Western leaders should be deciding whether they are willing to do what will be necessary to preserve Ukraine’s independence.

Russian Officials Riled by Obama’s State of the Union Address

From –

U.S. President Barack Obama’s claim that Western sanctions have isolated Russia and left its economy “in tatters” at his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday has ruffled feathers among Russia’s political elite.

The United States and its Western allies have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea and its alleged support of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. Russia has reacted with tit-for-tat sanctions, which included an import ban on a series of Western food products.

“We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies,” Obama said.

“Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, as we were reinforcing our presence with frontline states, Mr. Putin’s aggression it was suggested was a masterful display of strategy and strength,” Obama said. “Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters. That’s how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.”

In Russia, the official reaction was swift. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lambasted Obama’s claims about Russia, saying they demonstrated that the United States sees itself as the “number one” country in the world.

“[The speech] shows that the U.S. still wants to dominate, and not even be first among equals,” Lavrov said Wednesday at his annual press conference. “They have a more aggressive foreign policy philosophy.”

Lavrov also expressed the belief that attempts at isolating Russia were pointless and that U.S. foreign policy attitudes would eventually change course.

Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich also moved to debunk Obama’s claim that Russia had been isolated by Western sanctions.

“We are going through a difficult period in our relations with the United States and Europe, but not with the whole world,” Dvorkovich was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency, likely referring to Russia’s enhanced cooperation with other regions, such as Asia and Latin America. “On a practical, working level, we are maintaining contact with our European partners, with national authorities and with Brussels.”

Other Russian officials adopted a more defiant stance against Obama’s assertions, publishing inflammatory statements on their social media pages.

Notorious for his anti-Western tirades, Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Duma’s international affairs committee, tweeted Wednesday that Obama had forgotten about the “4,800 civilians killed by Kiev in eastern Ukraine. The Islamic State has killed fewer people,” his tweet read.

Notably, the United Nations reported that more than 4,800 lives have been lost in east Ukraine since the start of the conflict, but did not distinguish a breakdown in that number of soldier versus civilian casualties, and did not distinguish how many of those casualties were the fault of Kiev-loyal forces, as opposed to separatist forces.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin also chimed in with unflattering words for Obama, saying that he was a “dreamer” for thinking he had shattered the Russian economy.

The Duma’s deputy speaker, Sergei Neverov, told RIA Novosti that Obama’s comments about Russia were being used to distract the American public from issues at home, while Duma lawmaker Frants Klintsevich, of the ruling United Russia party, said they attested to the theory that the United States was displeased that Russia was serving as a counterweight to its ambitions to maintain a unipolar world order.

Russia’s criticism of broader U.S. policy has also proliferated since Obama’s State of the Union address. The Foreign Ministry published a statement Wednesday condemning certain European governments for their complicity in torture allegedly carried out in secret CIA detention centers located on their territory. The statement deplored the fact that claims made in a recent Amnesty International report about Europe’s purported role in supporting CIA torture had not prompted an international investigation.

Putin Says Russia Must Strengthen Army to Defend Itself

From –

NOTE: Im sorry, that robot thing look ridiculous….

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia must strengthen its armed forces to protect its sovereignty against the “challenge” posed by other countries that might threaten Moscow.

Putin’s comments reinforced his commitment to an expensive program to modernize the Armed Forces, which the Finance Ministry has signaled will be excluded from any budget cuts forced on the government by a growing economic crisis.

“We will continue to strengthen our armed forces and military organizations as a whole by making them modern, mobile, well-equipped and capable of performing their main task — to neutralize risks and political, potential threats to the security of our country,” Putin told a meeting of Russia’s industry commission.

Putin identified no specific threats but Russia’s new military doctrine says NATO expansion is a threat.

Putin has also accused the United States of trying to subjugate Russia, has blamed the West for the overthrow of a Moscow-backed president in Ukraine last year and has said Washington stoked protests against him three years ago.

“We see how other countries are open about their geopolitical claims, and do not hesitate to interfere openly in the affairs of independent states while actively expanding and improving their military arsenals,” Putin said.

“They spend many times more than we spend (on arms). We can and must respond to this challenge,” he said.

Donetsk Airport overrun by rebels, say army volunteers

From –

Kremlin-backed insurgents have taken over Donetsk Airport, killing dozens of Ukrainian troops, members of the army’s volunteer support network said today.

Such a loss would mark Ukraine’s most significant and bloodiest tragedy since the battle for Illovaisk in August 2014, in which hundreds of Ukrainian troops were killed. Ukrainian troops’ defense of the airport, besieged since September, had become a symbol of pride for Ukrainians, with its occupants immortalized as ‘the cyborgs’.

George Tuk, who heads the People’s Home Front volunteer group, posted on Facebook that Ukraine’s General Staff had devised a plan to surround the airport and push the insurgents farther away from it, but when Ukrainian troops clashed with rebels in Donetsk itself separatists seized the first and third floors of the airport’s new terminal.

Ukrainian troops remained on the second floor, but when the ceiling above them collapsed all of the soldiers were killed, Tuk said.

“Today 37 heroes were killed at the airport,” Vladimir Sergeyev, another volunteer who helps provide equipment and supplies to the Ukrainian army, wrote on Facebook. “Many of them were finished off by Chechen scumbags. Forgive us, brothers! We did our best! Heroes do not die!”

Social networks were abuzz with news that hundreds of Russian special forces and dozens of Russian military vehicles had been used during the takeover of the airport, but this information could not be independently verified.

The report follows announcements by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council that Russia had sent several battalions of regular troops to Donbas. President Petro Poroshenko announced on Jan. 21 that over 2,000 Russian servicemen had recently crossed the border into Ukraine.

We Don’t Need New Agreements; We Need Russia to Honor the Agreements it has Already Made

From –

I would like to thank the Chairmanship for calling this Special meeting of the Permanent Council at this critical moment, and to thank Ambassador Apakan and Ambassador Tagliavini for their briefings. I would also like to extend our thanks to Ambassador Tagliavini for her tireless efforts to support the signatories of the Minsk Protocol and agreement in the implementation of the commitments they made in September. Ambassador Tagliavini, we commend you for your determination to bring peace in the face of Russian intransigence. Ambassador Apakan, we thank you, and indeed all of those working as part of the Special Monitoring Mission, for your efforts to monitor the ceasefire, despite the dangerous circumstances prevailing in many areas under separatist control in eastern Ukraine.

Colleagues, it is worth spending just a few minutes to review how we got to today. In April of last year, following Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine began seizing and occupying government buildings, as had transpired in Crimea. The Government of Ukraine responded as any sovereign government would; it pressed back against the armed groups illegally operating on its territory. Despite some initial setbacks, the government’s forces made gains against the separatists over the next several months until, in August, it began to look as though the government’s security forces would secure the upper hand against the separatists. Meanwhile, Russia took every opportunity to destabilize the situation both by supporting the separatists with personnel, training, materiel, and financing as well as by deploying a massive build-up of Russia military forces at its border with Ukraine.

At this stage, Russia began to elevate the level of its interference in the conflict by actively deploying Russian military units in Ukraine. Satellite imagery on August 26 showed Russian combat units southeast of Donetsk, on Ukrainian territory. That same day, Ukrainian forces detained regular Russian Army personnel from the 9th brigade near Luhansk. Russia fired Grad rockets from inside Russia at Ukrainian positions in Novoazovsk, and then attacked with two columns of Russian armored vehicles and tanks.

The week after this armed intervention and escalation by Russia, in September, Presidents Poroshenko and Putin agreed to a ceasefire and to address the crisis through the September 5 Minsk Protocol – followed by a plan for implementing certain elements of the ceasefire, as elaborated in the September 19 Minsk Memorandum. The Minsk agreements – signed by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the separatists, and Ambassador Tagliavini – are the best foundation for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The sides made many common commitments in the agreements, including the commitment to respect an immediate ceasefire. The commitment to allow the OSCE to monitor the Russian-Ukrainian border with the creation of security zones in the border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation – a commitment the importance of which recent events have proved. The commitment to immediate release of all hostages. And the September 19 Minsk Memorandum also established an agreed ceasefire line and called for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from within 15 kilometers of that line.

In the months since the sides made these agreements in Minsk, we have consistently seen the Ukrainian side make good faith efforts to implement the agreements and build a peaceful resolution to the crisis. In contrast, Russia and the separatists have stymied every attempt by the Ukrainian side and the international community to resolve this crisis peacefully. There has been near constant shelling in recent days, with hundreds of rockets and other heavy weapons fired. If Russia were not sending heavy weapons across the border this violence would not be happening. Instead of facilitating and implementing the Minsk agreement, Russia and the separatists it backs have pushed to expand their area of control beyond the agreed ceasefire line. For example, some of the heaviest fighting we have seen in recent days has been caused by separatist attempts to wrest control of the village of Pisky from government forces. We have also seen heavy shelling in Debaltseve. It is not a coincidence that, as Ambassador Apakan has related again today, violations of the ceasefire have centered around four points of strategic value held by the Ukrainian government. It is all well and good to call on all sides to observe the ceasefire, but we must all also recognize that when you and I agree to a pact of non-violence, and you try to strangle me, we don’t have equal culpability if I resist your violent attack.

Now that Ukraine is again actively defending its territory, Russia is cynically calling for a new peace plan and a renegotiated ceasefire. The agreed parameters of the ceasefire already exist. What we need is not a new agreement. What we need is serious implementation of the Minsk agreement by Russia and the separatists it backs: to respect the ceasefire that has already been agreed; to allow the OSCE to monitor the entire length of Russia’s border with Ukraine; and to release all hostages and illegally detained persons, including Nadia Savchenko and Oleg Sentsov, who are being held inside Russia. We don’t need any new agreements. We need Russia to honor the agreements it has already made.

Battle for Donetsk Airport dubbed ‘Ukrainian Stalingrad’

From –

The fight to control the ruins of Donetsk International Airport has become the focal point of the bloody confrontation between Ukraine and Russia. When viewed from above, there is little evidence of life in the devastated airport, but on the ground the fighting is more intense than anything witnessed in Europe since the defeat of Nazi Germany. Many have compared the Battle for Donetsk Airport to the Battle of Stalingrad. Like Stalingrad during WWII, Donetsk airport has acquired a symbolic importance for both sides which is above and beyond its strategic value.

Andriy Tsaplienko, reporter: “Every day shellings are routine procedure here, in the village of Pisky. The insurgents cut one of the roads which lead to Donetsk International airport. Now the militants realized that they’re not able to launch a direct assault and capture the Airport, one of the key Ukrainian strongholds, so they have been trying to surround it completely to trap there Ukrainian ‘Cyborg’ soldiers.”

The battle for Donetsk airport has rumbled on for months, but there has been a marked escalation since the end of the New Year holiday period. In mid-January Kremlin-backed militants launched a major offensive using new weapons which the airport’s Ukrainian defenders believe were delivered to the conflict zone from Russia.

In order to secure a new corridor to the airport, Ukrainian forces deployed dozens of tanks, leading to what military analysts have called the biggest tank battle since WWII.

The Ukrainian Stalingrad could yet become a Waterloo for Russia’s imperial ambitions, but many more men on both sides will pay with their lives before this tragic conflict becomes history.