Category Archives: Britain

Putin on Trial in London, Accused of Ordering Nuclear Assassination of Ex-KGB Agent

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Following 34 days of hearings, 62 oral testimonies, a mass of documents, and written evidence from a significant number of further witnesses, the inquiry into one of the UK’s most horrific murders of recent times has drawn to a close.

Russian dissident, ex-KGB agent, and British citizen Alexander Litvinenko died a painful death in 2006, three weeks after consuming a “colossal” amount of the radioactive substance polonium-210. The Russian state, and President Vladimir Putin in particular, stand accused of ordering the 43-year-old’s murder, while current MP Andrei Lugovoi and Russian businessman Dmitry Kovtun are believed to have carried it out.

Litvinenko’s postmortem is thought to have been the most dangerous ever conducted in the UK. Following the suspension of an inquest and Russia’s refusal to extradite either of the men under suspicion, the inquiry’s public hearings began in January.

Evidence introduced in court included an analysis of the levels of polonium found in the Pine Bar in London’s Millennium Hotel, where Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned. Photo via Metropolitan Police

In his closing statement, Ben Emmerson, the lawyer for Alexander’s widow Marina Litvinenko, paid tribute to the UK’s Metropolitan Police over their “painstaking investigation… over what is now almost a decade.” This was one of “the most particular, professional, and most extensive investigations in British criminal history,” he said.

Emmerson said that the “pivotal evidence” that “proved the case against [Lugovoi and Kovtun] beyond reasonable doubt,” was the primary contamination traces left by polonium-210 that were discovered around London in places that only the two Russian men had been. Primary contamination is caused by direct contact with the radioactive substance. Emmerson had previously called this a “Hansel and Gretel” trail.

The five places this was detected were the bedroom at the Best Western hotel where Lugovoi stayed in mid-October, his bedroom at the Sheraton Hotel later that month, Kovtun’s bedroom in the Millennium Hotel, the boardroom at private security company Erinys where Lugovoi met Litvinenko in mid-October, and the table and teapot at Pine Bar, where Litvinenko drank the fatal dose of polonium-210, after it had been mixed with green tea.

Emmerson pointed out that security camera footage shows that Lugovoi and Kovtun visited the bathroom in Pine Bar shortly before Litvinenko arrived on November 1, 2006, leaving polonium-210 traces behind them.

Emmerson also pointed to Lugovoi’s seemingly reckless behavior in the wake of the murder, including the fact that he told a Spanish newspaper in December 2008 that he would have ordered Litvinenko’s assassination if he had had the authority to do so, and the shocking detail that in July 2010 Lugovoi sent a t-shirt to another Putin-critic and friend of Litvinenko, Boris Berezovsky, that was emblazoned with the words: “Polonium 210 — To Be Continued,” and “Nuclear Death Is Knocking Your Door.”

Both Kovtun and Lugovoi have denied involvement, with Kovtun promising to testify in this inquiry before pulling out earlier this week.

Evidence introduced in court included an analysis of the levels of polonium found in the teapot that Alexander Litvinenko drank green tea from in the Pine Bar in London’s Millennium Hotel. Photo via Metropolitan Police

On March 9, as the inquest continued to hear seemingly damning testimony, Putin awarded Lugovoi a medal of honor for services to Russia, in what Emmerson labeled a “menacing gesture of support.”

Emmerson alleged that this was proof that “Putin and his personal cabal are directly involved in organized crime, that they are willing to murder those who stand in their way and Mr Litvinenko was murdered for that reason.” He also said that the enmity between Litvinenko and Putin — who were acquainted — “was of a highly personal nature.”

Emmerson then went on to list the reasons he said the inquiry can be certain that Putin directly ordered the killing.

Firstly, he said, polonium-210 in such a pure form could have only been produced by a nuclear reactor. In 2006, some 97 percent of the world’s polonium was being produced at Russia’s Avangard facility, about 450 miles southeast of Moscow, and could not have been taken without permission.

He then noted that Lugovoi was working closely with KGB officials, and appears to both astonishingly successful and well protected ever since — his current position in the Russian Duma gives him immunity from prosecution. Emmerson also claimed that neither Kovtun nor Lugovoi had a motive to kill Litvinenko, unlike Putin, who was increasingly being exposed and implicated by Litvinenko’s investigations into Russian organized crime.

Litvinenko had been behind an increasingly critical set of reports, including his co-authored 2002 book Blowing Up Russia, which accused the Kremlin of being behind the September 1999 Russian apartment bombings that led the country into the Second Chechen War, and another book The Gang from Lubyanka, which detailed links between the Russian security services, Putin, and organized crime.

In the summer of 2006, Litvinenko began consulting for two companies — RISC Management and Titon International. He brought Lugovoi in as a trusted collaborator on both investigations. Several of the resulting reports — including several co-written with Yuri Shvets, another former KGB agent — contained serious allegations about Putin and other high-up FSB [Russian state security agency] members, and one resulted in former deputy FSB director Viktor Ivanov losing out on a deal worth $10 million. Lugovoi was aware of the details contained in each report.

In the year of his death, Litvinenko was also involved in a corruption investigation in Spain, and was on the payroll of the British intelligence services.

Richard Horwell, lawyer for the London Metropolitan Police, was slightly more cautious about the Russian president’s involvement in the murder, saying in his closing statement on Thursday that — while the “only credible evidence” suggested the Russian state was involved in some form or another — the allegations that Putin had personally ordered the killing “cannot have the force of evidence.”

In February 2006, two changes came into Russian law. The first authorized the use of lethal force against terrorists abroad, and the second widened the definition of extremism to include the “public slander of any person occupying an official position.” The same year, Litvinenko’s picture was being used as target practice for Russian troops.

“Today marks the end of the inquiry into my husband’s death,” Marina told reporters after the inquiry had finished. “I believe that the truth has finally been uncovered. The murderers and their paymasters have been unmasked. My son Anatoly and I would like to thank everyone who has supported us in getting to this day.”

Marina said that her husband had fought to expose corruption in Russia. “His actions were perceived as a danger and he paid the ultimate price,” she said.

She also told reporters: “There is little doubt in my mind that the order for his murder came from the Kremlin.”

Litvinenko Inquiry chairman Robert Owen also thanked those involved in the inquiry, and in particular Marina and Anatoly. He praised Marina’s “demonstration to uncover the truth about her husband’s death,” and the “quiet dignity she had shown throughout the hearings.” Owen’s verdict will be delivered before Christmas.

Meanwhile, Lugovoi told Russian news agency Interfax that the inquiry had been “biased.” “These proceedings have long since stopped being of interest to me, since I understood a long time ago that they are biased and politicized,” he said.

A Kremlin spokesman also responded to the accusations. “Such statements were made without any results from the investigation, and after there were results of some sort of investigation,” he said. “It seems they had to add something, so that their words could seem convincing.”

Litvinenko was born in 1962, and served in the Russian army for eight years before joining the Soviet counterintelligence services in 1988. He rose to become a senior operational officer in the KGB.

Litvinenko and his family left Russia in 2000 and sought asylum in the UK after complaining of persecution. They also changed their names to Maria and Edwin Carter, though Litvinenko continued to use his original name for business purposes.

On October 13, 2006, Litvinenko and his family became British citizens during a ceremony at Haringey Town Hall in London.

The week before their ceremony, on October 7, 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist and friend of Litvinenko, was murdered in Moscow. Politkovskaya had previously received death threats, and had also been reportedly poisoned when an unknown substance was put in her tea in 2004.

Speaking in London’s Frontline Club after Politkovskaya’s death, Litvinenko said he blamed Putin for the shooting, which was widely thought to be a contract killing.

Business links going back centuries give UK-Russian relations resilience

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Through many ups and downs, trade has been the link that has long fostered and maintained relations between Russia and Britain.
The history of mutually beneficial commercial and cultural ties stretches back nearly 500 years since Ivan IV of Russia and Elizabeth I of England agreed to the foundation of the “Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands” in 1551. Renamed the Muscovy Company, the royal charter granted the company’s British owners the right to trade throughout Russia. It enabled the exchange of knowledge, skills, and goods that would benefit both countries for centuries to come.
This relationship continued to bloom. Under the rule of Tsar Boris Godunov half a century later, foreign specialists were invited to raise the level of technology in Russia, and Russian students were sent abroad to study in European schools and universities, including Eton, Winchester, Oxford and Cambridge. The accession of Peter the Great in 1682 ensured that trade and diplomatic relations with Britain continued to be further strengthened.
During the 19th Century and the days of the Great Game, as the British and Russian empires clashed over a struggle for supremacy in Central Asia, trade continued to flourish and the lines of communication remained firmly open. Even after the 1917 Revolution and the ensuing civil war, Britain was one of the first countries in the world to recognise the Soviet Union, in 1924.

Common victory

Close cooperation helped cement victory in WWII, but post war relations swiftly soured in the wasted years of the Cold War. Most of us firmly hoped those days were over and for nearly a quarter of a century there has been a period of seemingly ever-increasing interaction and warmth, and mutual economic benefit. But all this changed last year with frequent references in Britain and the west to a ‘new Cold War’.
Of course it is necessary to report on the economic news emerging from Russia, the fiery political rhetoric emanating from all sides and the undoubtedly challenging geopolitical situation in Ukraine. But this focus risks encouraging a repeat of divisive past experiences, with countries, companies and individuals once again forced to choose sides with much finger-pointing and mutual political accusation. Economically the stakes are higher than ever, with bilateral trade running to billions of dollars a year. So the question arises: what should be done?
Mutual business ties have suffered, set back almost to those distant days before the Muscovy Company.

Frozen out

Russian companies, previously major players in London’s financial markets, have effectively been frozen out. Bilateral trade and business trips such as the Lord Mayor of London’s traditional visit to Moscow have been cancelled. British companies have been encouraged to stay away from Russia and from showcase events like the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Russian companies are being encouraged to stay away from Britain, and instead to look East. A Russian-backed investment vehicle was blocked from buying energy assets in the North Sea by the UK government. The UK’s department of trade removed a web page devoted to promoting trade with Russia as a “worldwide priority”. The list goes on. Is this what we want?
Some say that “business as usual” cannot be allowed to apply. Many readers may feel that Russia must be held to account, and business must come in line. But this is ultimately a misguided view. Wherever one stands on the geopolitical debate, closing the doors to business not only hurts both sides, but also serves to close the doors of engagement, and removes the motivation to solve the wider problem.
Behind the front-page news and headlines, investors and businesses yearn for stability and clear rules that will enable them to make investment decisions and keep trade going. Surveys of business leaders show that Russia is still a viable investment market, if it were not for the current turmoil.
The UK and Russia’s long history of economic cooperation must be the starting point from which we seek to re-establish stability and work our way through the turbulence. It is the business community that must build on this strong vein of common interest. It is the business community that must ensure that 500 years of mutual benefit are not thrown away.
Andrey Yakunin is a London-based investor and co-founder of VIY Management which facilitates investment in the Russian market and the CIS. He is also president of the St Petersburg State University’s alumni association.

Pride Versus Prejudice In The West

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Let me make several remarks about the current political course of the West, which combines strength and weakness, pride and prejudice.

Throughout its history, my country — the Soviet Union — conducted cruel and arbitrary mass purges; participated in international political terrorism; fostered new totalitarian regimes; committed aggression; and violated fundamental principles of law. Russia has returned to that behavior.

Now the West is firmly resisting Russian expansion. This instills in me hope with regard to the most urgent global problems. I have serious concerns, however.

The grounds for my concerns are widespread myths about Russia that have become rather prevalent in the West. These myths have been reinforced by experienced and skilled masters of deception from the special departments of the FSB (the Russian successor to the KGB).

One of the main myths is that Russia (the U.S.S.R.) freed the world from fascism. That is not true. Since the mid-19th century, Russia, the Soviet Union, and the current Russian Federation have never freed anyone. What they have done was enslave people, including their own population.

The Tsar-Liberator Alexander II, who abolished serfdom in 1861, was assassinated by terrorists who brazenly called themselves “The People’s Will.”

It’s true that Hitler’s army was drowned in Soviet blood and buried under Soviet corpses. It’s true that Europe and the United States did less than they could and should have done during World War II. But that is a completely different matter. The definitive motives for the Soviet Union’s major role in the military victory were not at all liberation. The peoples of Eastern Europe and Germany, who were ruled by two successive tyrants — Hitler and Stalin — should remember this.

Another common and dangerous idea is that Russia’s immorality and political barbarism are solely Russia’s internal affair. That isn’t true. In our present interdependent world, serious problems become global and affect everyone. Russian (and not only Russian) totalitarian tendencies are fraught with catastrophic global consequences. No one knows how to deal with this challenge, but many people realize that not to face it is shameful and dangerous.

It’s true that we don’t know how to make universal values enforceable instead of empty slogans, but we should at least know what simply must not be done. You cannot appease an aggressor. You must not buy your safety, especially your gas supply, with other people’s lives and fates. The acceptance of immoral political pragmatism is the shameful legacy of the Munich and Yalta agreements. Overcoming this legacy is long overdue.

Alas, the West’s deficit of political will nullifies its good intentions. Russian expansion in the Caucasus exposed Western “forgetfulness.” Each stage of this expansion was met by the unfeigned outrage of the West. There was the cruel ethnic cleansing of Georgians during the early 1990s in Abkhazia, provoked by Russian “peacekeepers.” In 2008, there was the creation of two Russian satellites on Georgian territory, which caused general indignation. But all such offenses were quickly forgotten.

In the same vein, there were the many years of incoherent, ineffective fussing by the Council of Europe over Russia’s outrages in Chechnya.

Now it is Ukraine’s turn.

The occupation of Crimea has already been almost forgotten by the public. The European Union postponed some important items of the agreement with Ukraine, and the European Parliament did not contest this decision. It is said that the decision will not do any economic harm to Ukraine and will not give Russia any economic preferences. Russia, however, is not looking for any economic preferences; it just doesn’t want to allow Ukraine to join Europe. Russia will interpret and use this postponement for a year and a half as a concession to its pressure. And the industry of a devastated Ukraine will not become competitive in that time.

There was a time when Europe imagined that the Cold War ended with the demolition of the Berlin Wall. It’s not true. Russia only took a breather. Imagine a postwar Germany that left the Gestapo untouchable. Or a Stasi lieutenant colonel chancellor of Germany. That is and will be the Russia with which you seek partnership and mutual understanding. Right now, it will play fair only if forced to do so. It cannot be persuaded to do so. (Note that “forced to make peace” is a concept understood by the United Nations.)

Many are ready to make concessions to Russia, arguing that a cornered rat is dangerous. That’s true. But you must remember: a rat, whether cornered or left in peace, is still a powerful carrier of plague. The plague under discussion has lasted almost a hundred years and has killed millions of people. The choice is limited — you either fight the plague, or, in the words of Pushkin, you “feast in the time of plague.”

Five years ago the European Parliament awarded my colleagues and me the Sakharov Prize, and I would like these notes to be taken as an open letter to the West. I knew Andrei Sakharov well. I am convinced that today, as in the past, he would urge the civilized world to be more resolute in its stand against tyranny. I will not discuss specific steps to support the victims of Russian expansion, but I wish to remind my readers that the American Lend-Lease Act and the Marshall Plan were historical examples of extensive and successful actions to defend democracy.

Effective resistance to the advance of the “evil empire” demands a maximum effort now. The day after tomorrow may be too late.

“A year on from the downing of MH17, this was precisely the moment to establish a tribunal.”

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Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK Mission to the UN at the Security Council Meeting on MH17

Thank you Mr President – Foreign Minister. And I thank the representatives from Malaysia, the Netherlands, Australia and Ukraine for marking this occasion with their presence.

The United Kingdom is deeply saddened, frustrated and disappointed that Russia has vetoed this resolution today. This resolution was about securing justice for the 298 people, including 80 children and 10 British nationals, who lost their lives onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Russia’s veto disrespects the victims and insults their families.

Through resolution 2166, the Security Council unanimously agreed that those responsible for this incident be held to account and demanded that all States cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability. With its veto, Russia is not meeting that demand.

The Security Council had the opportunity today to start a process that would have brought justice and accountability for the families of all those who lost their lives. There are clear precedents for the Council taking this kind of action; securing international support for the Lockerbie trial and establishing the ICTY and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, to name but a few.

A year on from the downing of MH17, this was precisely the moment to establish a tribunal, to send a clear and unambiguous message that this Council will not tolerate impunity; that this Council has a clear responsibility to address violent acts which constitute a threat to international peace and security.

So we reject the Russian allegation that this resolution was an unnecessary and premature move and that the Security Council should have waited for the investigations to conclude. An operational and fully staffed tribunal takes time to set up. Had we started that process today, the tribunal would have been ideally placed to act on the outcome of the investigations.

Mr President,

Despite Russia’s veto, the investigations will continue. The investigators have been exemplary in their professionalism and integrity, working in the most challenging circumstances. We reject any allegations to the contrary.

Russia has been involved in both investigations. The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency has actively participated in the technical investigation. And it has contributed material to the criminal investigation. It is damaging that Russia has chosen to block the best route to establishing a tribunal for that criminal investigation to reach a conclusion. It is through these investigations that we will bring those responsible to account, as resolution 2166 demands. The veto today will not prevent that; the perpetrators of this terrible crime should find no comfort in Russia’s actions today. There must be accountability and the international community now needs to unite to make that happen.

Let me conclude Mr President, by returning to the victims. To them, MH17 was meant to be a routine flight to Kuala Lumpur. A business trip, a holiday, a stop-over before a conference. Instead, all 298 people onboard lost their lives in a remote part of eastern Ukraine, far from home, far from those they loved and far from those who loved them. They, and those that they left behind, deserve justice. Despite Russia’s actions today, we will not give up in our pursuit of that goal.

Thank you.

Russia vetoes Security Council proposal on MH17 tribunal

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Russia on Wednesday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set up an international criminal court to prosecute those responsible for shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine a year ago.

The foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Australia and Ukraine attended a meeting over the downing that killed all 298 people on board Flight MH17. The countries are among the five nations investigating the incident, along with Malaysia and Belgium.

Ukraine and the West suspect the plane, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was hit by a surface-to-air missile fired by Russian soldiers or Russia-backed separatist rebels on July 17, 2014. Russia denies that, and state media have alleged the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian missile or warplane.

“Russia has callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said, adding that the United States was among the 18 countries that lost citizens in the disaster.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of Australia, which lost 39 citizens, said, “The veto only compounds the atrocity.” Three countries abstained from the vote: China, Angola and Venezuela, whose ambassador said victims’ suffering shouldn’t be used politically.

Wednesday’s vote followed a last-minute effort to lobby Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has said setting up a tribunal would not make sense while the investigation continued.

The Dutch ambassador to the U.N., Karel van Oosterom, tweeted a statement saying Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Putin that “it was preferable to make a decision about the tribunal before the facts and charges have been established precisely in order to avoid politicizing the prosecution process.”

But the Kremlin quoted Putin as saying a tribunal would be “inexpedient” because Russia still has “a lot of questions” about the investigation to which it had little access.

Russia had offered its own draft that demanded justice for those responsible for the crash without calling for a tribunal. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after the vote that such a tribunal risked not being impartial and being subject to media “propaganda,” and he called past tribunals for the Rwanda genocide and the violence in the former Yugoslavia “expensive.”

Ministers from the five investigating countries, along with allies in the 15-member council, later stressed that other legal options are available, but some acknowledged that a tribunal established by the council remains the best option. Some indicated they might pursue it again.

“We will very quickly agree on the next step,” Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told reporters. “I assure you we haven’t lost time.”

The foreign ministers also met Wednesday morning with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called for justice and accountability.

A preliminary report released in the Netherlands last year said the plane had no technical problems in the seconds before it broke up in the sky after being struck by multiple objects — a conclusion that experts said likely pointed to a missile strike.

The investigation led by the Dutch Safety Board aims only to determine the crash cause, not to ascribe blame. The probe is being led by The Netherlands because 196 of the victims were Dutch.

A separate probe by the Dutch national prosecutor’s office aims to establishing who was responsible. This investigation includes authorities from Ukraine, Malaysia and other countries whose nationals were among the victims, but Russia is not a participant.

One possibility that wasn’t discussed Wednesday is the International Criminal Court, which takes on cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in states that can’t or won’t take on the matter themselves.

Chilling predictions for what the world will look like in a decade

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Global intelligence firm Stratfor has published a new report featuring some chilling predictions for what the world will look like in the next 10 years.

Check out what possible fates await some of the most powerful countries in the world.

Russia Says U.K. Closes State Media Giant’s Bank Account Over Ukraine Sanctions

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Russia says a London bank account held by its state-owned media behemoth Rossia Segodnya has been “closed” by British authorities in a move it linked to Ukraine-related sanctions imposed by the EU.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on July 13 that the media conglomerate’s account with the bank Barclay’s was closed in connection with EU sanctions against Rossia Segodnya chief Dmitry Kiselyov, who delivers bombastic anti-Western tirades on his nationally televised weekly news program.

Rossia Segodnya’s representatives “were not informed about the fate of the funds,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The situation creates hurdles for the activity of the Russian Federation’s largest information agency on British territory,” the ministry said, adding that Moscow has appealed to the British government with a “demand” to “immediately clarify the situation.”

Western nations have accused Russia’s state-owned media of disseminating “propaganda” in its coverage of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.

More than 6,400 people have been killed in a war between Kyiv’s forces and Russian-backed separatists that erupted in April 2014, and hostilities persist despite a European-brokered cease-fire deal.

Kiselyov is one of numerous Russians — including senior officials and wealthy businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin — sanctioned by the EU in connection with Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict.

He was hit with an EU travel ban and asset freeze in March 2014 in response to the Kremlin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea territory a month before the fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine.

The United States has sanctioned many of the same Russian individuals and companies targeted by the EU but has not imposed these measures on Kiselyov, whom the EU calls a “central figure of the government propaganda machine supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine.”

The Kremlin denies it is backing the rebels despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency cited a Barclay’s representative as confirming that Rossia Segodnya’s account with the bank had been closed. The agency cited an unidentified source with the bank as linking the account’s closure to the sanctions against Kiselyov.

Konstantin Dolgov, the head of the Russian foreign ministry’s human rights commission, denounced the reported closure on Twitter, calling it “the latest example of a crackdown on freedom of speech and the media in Britain, which is so proud of its democracy.”

Rossia Segodnya was established by a Kremlin decree in December 2013 in a move widely seen as a Kremlin bid to establish even greater control over the state-run media’s news coverage.

The media holding integrated RIA Novosti and state radio station Voice of Russia into a single media monolith.

Kiselyov in November announced the launch of Rossia Segodnya’s Sputnik news agency as a bid to counter what he called “aggressive propaganda” that Western media outlets are “feeding the world.”

West Has Changed Its Thinking on Russia

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Discussions are under way in several Western capitals on how to develop a broad strategy to counter the dangers to Europe posed by Moscow’s decision to break out of the security system that it co-authored with the West at the end of the Cold War.

For governments that have tried for nearly 25 years to develop relations based on partnership and cooperation with Russia, the adjustment to a model of confrontation and competition is challenging both intellectually and institutionally, particularly since the expertise of the Cold War generation of analysts and strategists has been largely lost.

The first challenge is to accept that for all the effort expended, the attempt to build relations with Russia based on shared values and interests failed.

While Western countries made many mistakes in their handling of Russia, in particular, the backing of economic reforms that created oligarchic capitalism, the fundamental reason for this outcome was Russia’s relapse into a traditional model of governance and its insistence on the need to undercut the independence of the other post-Soviet countries to ensure its security.

The Russian leadership is seeking a new set of rules that give Russia the right to limit its neighbors’ sovereignty. This is part of a broader effort to reduce the dominance of Western institutions and realign global forces to Russia’s advantage. The objective is to secure and reinforce the existing Russian development model by reducing external competitive pressures.

For all its internal logic, this strategic choice carries enormous risks. Confronting the West deprives Russia of an important balancing force in handling its relations with China and threatens to isolate Russia from the sources of modernization traditionally provided by Europe.

Russia is using a mix of powerful instruments to achieve its goals: for example, political, diplomatic, economic, military and information tools. However, Russia is playing a strong hand from a fragile base. It has clear economic weaknesses and over time, its internal political cohesion could prove brittle in the absence of improved governance and social provision.

The West needs to see the bigger picture and focus on encouraging Russia back on to a reformist course with adapted foreign and security policies that are stabilizing for Russia and Europe.

Rapid Western technological development coinciding with the stagnation of the economy forced the Soviet leadership in the 1980s to reshape the international environment to provide it with a breathing space to reform.

What is striking about Russia’s behavior over the past 15 months is that Moscow has returned seemingly without concern to the policies of confrontation that the Soviet Union abandoned because they were unaffordable.

This has happened at a time when the Russian economy had already begun to stagnate after its impressive successes a decade ago. It clearly lacks the resilience to sustain high levels of military spending over the medium to long term.

The outline of an effective Western strategy is simple. It needs to play for time to apply its strengths against Russia’s weaknesses. The foundations should consist of five elements.

First, making it clear to Moscow that Western countries remain wedded to the principle that countries in Europe, both large and small, have the sovereign right to conduct their own foreign policies and choose their allies as they wish.

Second, reinforcing the integrity of NATO. The alliance’s military capabilities have been hollowed out over the past 25 years in the absence of a perceived threat from Russia.

NATO countries took a firm stance on Russia’s actions at last year’s Wales Summit and they need to continue along this path. Above all, they need to underline their determination to uphold the credibility of collective defense.

Third, signaling to Russia that Ukraine will not be left to fail. This is going to require much larger Western financial assistance as well as the type of technical assistance at which the EU excels.

Western countries will also need to reinforce their current support for Ukraine, particularly in the areas of defense cooperation, energy sector reform, security of gas supplies and broader institutional reform.

Fourth, keeping sanctions in place with the possibility of their expansion as long as Russia continues to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors. For some European countries, the economic losses are going to be harder to bear than for others. Sanctions pain can also be seen as an investment in the EU’s and NATO’s defenses.

Sanctions take time to work and they may already have constrained Russian behavior in Ukraine.

Fifth, educating Western publics about the dangers to Europe from current Russian policies. The Pew Research Center’s recent Global Attitudes survey showed that societies in Europe are well informed about Russia and have drawn certain conclusions about its behavior. However, they have not concluded that their countries need to reinvest in defense.

Western countries are now engaged in a competition with Russia over whose security vision for the continent should prevail.

They should have the confidence that if they apply the right strategy over the medium to longer term, the advantage will lie with them and Russia will be under increasing pressure to abandon its current policies. The critical question is whether they have the will to do so.

British Embassy in Ukraine has decided to help the Kremlin spot its tanks seen in Ukraine

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British Embassy in Ukraine has decided to help the Kremlin spot its tanks that were seen in Ukraine, the presence of which Russians continue to deny.

As reported by Censor.NET citing Ukrainska Pravda, this was announced in the Embassy’s Twitter.
In particular, the British Embassy posted markings of a T-72BM tank, which is not used by Ukrainian army.

In addition, the Embassy published images of the same tanks in eastern Ukraine, along with dates the pictures where taken.

As reported earlier, NATO and the EU have repeatedly said about presence of Russian troops and military equipment on the territory of Ukraine.

In particular, the European Council officially recognized the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine and urged Moscow to withdraw them from the territory of Ukraine.

British Blogger Raises Awkward Questions on Russia’s Role in Ukraine

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It was not an unusual evening for war blogger Eliot Higgins.

As he was rocking his infant son to sleep in his bedroom in the English city of Leicester, Higgins, who has written in-depth reports on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, was engaging in an online war of words with a pro-Kremlin blogger over Twitter.

This time he and his Bellingcat project, funded by fans and supporters, were being accused of taking money from Kiev to produce some of his hardest-hitting work, which has riled pro-Kremlin separatists and those in Moscow who support them.

Multi-tasking while on baby duty, Higgins called his detractor a “deluded idiot” and signed off on that night in late January.

“I was just killing time while I got my [then] two-month-old fast asleep … gotta wait 30 minutes just to be sure at this point, so I just sit around waiting. This kills time nicely,” he said.

Higgins first came to prominence while blogging on Syria’s civil war under the pseudonym “Brown Moses,” an activity he started as a hobby in 2012 about the time he was laid off from work.

Using techniques based on satellite imagery and social networks, he was among the first to identify new foreign weapons, mainly Croatian-made, that were reaching the Syrian rebels. After a chemical weapons attack in Damascus in August 2013, he located footage of the suspected warheads within hours.

More recently Bellingcat, which brings together “seven or eight” volunteers and other contributors, has investigated some of the most sensitive episodes in the Ukraine conflict, where Moscow rejects what NATO says is overwhelming evidence that it has intervened with troops and tanks to back the separatist rebels.

Downed Plane
When a Malaysian airliner was shot down over rebel-held Ukrainian territory on July 17 last year, killing all 298 people on board, Bellingcat used open Internet-based resources to identify what it said was a BUK missile system supplied to the rebels from Russia. It found that after the attack, the launcher returned to Russia, minus one of its missiles.

Russia itself has said the plane was likely shot down by Ukraine’s military. Most of the passengers were from the Netherlands, which is still investigating the incident.

A Bellingcat report published last week analyzed three artillery attacks and the more than 1,300 craters they left behind in eastern Ukraine to come to the conclusion that Ukrainian troops were fired at from inside Russia.

“Every time we did one of these sites, they always pointed back to sites inside Russia with a pretty small margin of error,” said Higgins.

Russia denies being a party to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and Higgins’ controversial findings and methods have made him an object of scorn for pro-Russia commentators. Days after last week’s report came out, the pro-Kremlin Sputnik media outlet suggested he had ties to the CIA.

Taking on Critics
Higgins, 35, enjoys engaging with his detractors online and stands behind his techniques, which rely among other things on satellite imagery of weapons craters and the tracks left by military vehicles, as well as U.S. army manuals on artillery.

He says he is working now on getting his methodology peer-reviewed so it can be taught more widely.

“That’s something we want to teach students. It’s great because it combines satellite mapping, image analysis, geo-location, social media investigation,” he said.

That may help silence some of the online criticism of his lack of military experience or on-the-ground verification.

Vasily Kashin, of the Moscow-based defense think tank CAST, says Higgins’ research may not take account of cluster bombs from which smaller munitions can fall on separate trajectories.

He also casts doubt on images that Bellingcat says are tracks left on the ground by Russian military vehicles and weapons systems, saying some are impossible to distinguish.

Still, Higgins is confident his method is watertight and will continue to be used to study conflict in the future, perhaps even providing a basis for investigating war crimes.

“There’s a huge amount left to explore,” he said.