News from Ukraine on April 19-18, 2014


 APRIL 18, 2014

April 18 – In Donetsk pro-Russian separatists have declared that they do not intend to leave the premises of the Oblast Council despite the demand of central (Kyiv) authorities and new international agreement on Ukraine signed on April 17th in Geneva. The representative of separatists informed that the authorities in Kyiv are “illegal” and thus the separatists intend to remain at their locations until the resignation of these authorities and until Kyiv Maidan is standing. Skepticism expressed by President Obama and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk regarding Russia’s (and its intelligence network) willingness to adhere to international agreements, was sustained to a significant degree.

April 18 – In his blog on “Ekho Moskvy” website, Ilya Ponomarev – the only member of Russia’s State Duma who voted against the annexation of Crimea by Russia – has written about the presence of Russian saboteurs in Ukraine. Putin continues to deny that the separatist revolt in Ukraine is being driven by his servicemen.

April 18 – Small groups of Russian servicemen are infiltrating Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts on boats, travelling from Crimea. Secret Service of Ukraine (SSU) is suspecting that separatist clashes are being planned there.

April 18 – 8 out of 12 inquests on separatism launched by the SSU demonstrate a clear Russian origin.


Luke Harding and Alec Luhn

Occupations of public buildings across eastern Ukraine continue as pro-Russian separatists accuse Kiev of violating Geneva deal

International attempts to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine were floundering on Friday as separatist groups in the east declared that they had no intention of leaving occupied buildings and accused Kiev of violating an agreement reached in Geneva on Thursday.

Russia, Ukraine, the EU and the United States struck a diplomatic deal in the Swiss city, following seven hours of talks, that was supposed to see illegal groups withdraw from municipal buildings and hand in their weapons.

Twenty-four hours later there were no signs that any of the anti-government groups were preparing to budge. Instead, protest leaders said they would continue their occupations until their demands were met. A rebel militia seized an administration building in Seversk, a small town outside the regional capital Donetsk.

At a press conference on FridayDenis Pushilin, the self-styled leader of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”, said his supporters would stay put until a referendum on the region’s future status was held. He dismissed the current pro-western government in Kiev as illegitimate. “We will continue our activity,” he declared.

Pushilin said no meaningful de-escalation was possible while Ukraine’s interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and president Olexsandr Turchynov were still in their jobs. “We understand that everyone has to leave buildings or nobody does. Yatsenyuk and Turchynov should vacate theirs first,” he said.

Moscow’s envoy to the European Union reitereated this position, telling Russian state television that authorities in Kiev had “incorrectly interpreted” the Geneva deal. He said Ukraine’s new leadership mistakenly believed that the deal “only applies to the eastern and southern provinces” when it also applied to “the ongoing occupation of Maidan [Independence Square in Kiev]”.

Pro-Russian separatists grabbed a string of public buildings across eastern Ukraine a week ago. The militia units – some of them similar to the armed “little green men” who appeared in Crimea in February – have occupied them ever since. Nato says the separatists include professionally trained undercover Russian soldiers. Moscow denies this.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s acting foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsia said the next few days would demonstrate whether Russia actually intended to implement the Geneva deal, signed by Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. “I don’t know Russia’s intentions. But minister Lavrov did promise that they want to de-escalate. So we will see in a few days if it was [a] sincere promise and sincere participation.”

The separatists, however, seem in little mood to give ground. Pushilin said Kiev had already violated the Geneva accord by refusing to pull its military units from the east of Ukraine. “They have not withdrawn their forces out from Slavyansk,” he said. Beleaguered Ukrainian troops ccupy a rustic aerodrome close to Slavyansk, north of Donetsk, and neighbouring Kramatorsk. On Wednesday they suffered the ultimate humiliation when armed separatists, seemingly led by Russian officers, seized six armoured vehicles from them and drove off.

Pushilin delivered his anti-Kiev message to Russian state television, which had turned up to interview him. He was speaking from the 11th-floor of Donetsk’s regional administration building, now a sprawling camp of anti-government and anti-western protest.

Pushilin describes himself as the “people’s governor”. He appeared to be reading from a carefully-drafted script. Several media advisers sat nearby. He told Russian television that Kiev was denying the local population access to insulin and withholding desperately needed medical supplies. He asked ordinary Russians to donate money to a numbered account with Russia’s Sberbank to help the cause.

A local businessman, Pushilin and other deputies from the “Donetsk People’s Republic” are entirely self-appointed. Their key demand is a referendum on federalisation by 11 May, two weeks before presidential elections. It is unclear what questions might be included. Their goal is to create an autonomous eastern republic separate from Kiev. After that most want the new republic to join the Russian Federation, in imitation of Crimea annexed by Moscow last month.

Kiev says Pushilin and other separatist leaders are under the control of Russia’s spy agencies.

Visiting Donetsk yesterday, Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko denounced Russian interference and said that Russia’s special forces had been highly active across the east of the country. She said she was in Donetsk to negotiate with pro-Russian protesters, conceding that Ukrainian and Russian speakers now had to make “compromises” if a solution to the crisis was to be found. She said this compromise could be achieved if Russia withdrew its agents from eastern Ukraine but warned of violence if it did not.

Tymoshenko – whose pro-western party dominates the new government – said that she was creating a “resistance movement” militia to fight for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. This would be an armed force made up of volunteers with military experience, she said: “We will do everything to restore harmony and peace in our country and to stop aggression. But if it doesn’t happen we are ready to defend ourselves… with weapons in hand.”

Tymoshenko ruled out holding a regional referendum, saying that it didn’t match constitutional requirements, and adding that Kiev “can’t recognise it”. “We don’t want anyone to demand that Ukrainians vote in a referendum under the barrels of Russian weapons,” she said.

Gen. Philip Breedlove

(Philip Mark Breedlove is a four-star general in the United States Air Force who currently serves as the Commander, U.S. European Command as well as the 17th Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO Allied Command Operations.)

17 Apr 2014

It’s hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities. It’s hard to fathom because it’s simply not true. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.

President Barack Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister David Cameron, President François Hollande, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and many others have publicly stated their belief that Russian forces are behind the events in Ukraine. I would like to provide some observations from our analytical experts to help explain why I strongly agree with these world leaders.

• The pro-Russian “activists” in eastern Ukraine exhibit tell-tale military training and equipment and work together in a way that is consistent with troops who are part of a long-standing unit, not spontaneously stood up from a local militia.

• The weapon handling discipline and professional behavior of these forces is consistent with a trained military force. Rifle muzzles are pointed down, fingers not on triggers, but rather laid across trigger mechanisms.

• Coordinated use of tear gas and stun grenades against targeted buildings indicates a level of training that exceeds a recently formed militia.

• Video of these forces at checkpoints shows they are attentive, on their feet, focused on their security tasks, and under control of an apparent leader. This contrasts with typical militia or mob checkpoints, where it’s common to see people sitting, smoking, and so forth.

• The way these forces target government buildings, hit them in coordinated strikes and quickly secure the surrounding area with roadblocks and barricades is similar to what we’ve seen in Crimea. Again, indicative of a professional military force, acting under direction and leadership, not a spontaneous militia.

• Finally, the weapons and equipment they carry are primarily Russian army issue. This is not the kind of equipment that civilians would be likely to be able to get their hands on in large numbers.

Any one of the points above taken alone would not be enough to come to a conclusion on this issue, but taken in the aggregate, the story is clear.

In my blog last month I spoke about the importance of identifying the Russian troops in Crimea. Today, the Russian president has finally admitted that Russian troops were there after denying it repeatedly early on. Also today he claimed that the idea of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine was “rubbish.” I would ask that you keep this in mind as you consider your answer to the question “Who are the men behind the masks in eastern Ukraine, today?”

APRIL 19, 2014

April 19 – 7 ships of Ukrainian Naval Forces, previously located in Donuzlav Lake in Crimea, have hoisted Ukrainian flags and left for Odesa. Supported by Ukrainian Navy officers, 6 Ukrainian ships have left Crimea for Odesa earlier this week.

April 19 – Approximately 25% of citizens in Southeastern Ukraine support the idea of federation for Ukraine – this is what pro-Russian separatists are demanding. 45,2% of citizens in these regions are for unitary decentralized state, survey results demonstrate (the survey was conducted by Kyiv International Institute of Sociology).

April 19 – Opinions on the deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea have been voiced in Russia’s FSB (Federal Security Service) circles, stated one of the leaders of Crimean Tatars Mustafa Cemilev, referring to his sources in Russian intelligence agencies. First deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea started on May 18th, 1944 during Stalin’s regime. Today, the leader of Crimean Tatars Mustafa Cemilev who is also Member of National Parliament (Supreme Council of Ukraine) and the Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov were stopped at Chongar Peninsula (Kherson oblast) and were able to enter Crimea after a 1,5 holdback.

April 19 – Extra Russian military forces have been deployed near the border with Ukraine, said Dmitry Peskov, spokesman to Russian President.


Timothy Snyder

Ukraine has no future without Europe, but Europe also has no future without Ukraine. Throughout the centuries, the history of Ukraine has revealed the turning points in the history of Europe.

The history of statehood on the territory of Ukraine begins with two archetypically European encounters. Medieval statehood on the territory of today’s Ukraine, like that of France and England, includes an encounter with Vikings. The men from the north sought to establish a trade route between the Baltic and Black Seas, and used Kiev, on the Dnipro River, as a trading post. Their arrival coincided with the collapse of an earlier Khazar state, and their leaders soon intermarried with the local slavic-speaking population. Thus arose the entity known as Kievan Rus. Like all of the states of medieval eastern Europe, Rus was a pagan entity that did not so much convert to Christianity as choose between its western and eastern variants. Like all of its neighbors, it hesitated between Rome and Byzantine before its rulers chose the latter. Rus was seriously weakened by problems of succession before its destruction was ensured by the arrival of the Mongols in the first half of the thirteenth century.

At this point the history of Rus fragments into parts. Most of the lands of Rus were gathered in by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, an enormous warrior state with a capital in Vilnius. Its Grand Dukes styles themselves the inheritors of Rus, and adapted many of the cultural achievements of Rus, such as its slavic court language and legal traditions. Although the grand dukes were pagan Lithuanians most of their subjects were eastern Christians. After the grand dukes of Lithuania became, by personal union, the kings of Poland, most of the lands of Ukraine were part of the largest European state. Constitutional reforms of 1569 established this state as a republic known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In this “republic of two nations” the lands of Ukraine were part of the Polish crown, and the lands of Belarus part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In this way a new division was created within the old lands of Rus.

This was the first epoch of oligarchical pluralism in Ukraine. Ukrainian noblemen took part as equals in the representative institutions of the republic, but the vast majority of the population was colonized in large estates that produced grain for export. Local warlords were joined by Polish noblemen as well as Jews, who helped to establish a feudal order in the country. It was in this era that Jews helped to create the small cities remembered as shtetls.

This political system brought the Cossack rebellion of 1648, in which free men who had escaped the system challenged its logic. Fatefully, the allied with a rival state that had roots in ancient Rus, the Duchy of Muscovy. The city of Moscow had been on the eastern frontier of Rus, and unlike most of the territories of Rus it remained under direct Mongol control. Whereas the territories of today’s Belarus and Ukraine were in contact, through Vilnius and Warsaw, with the renaissance and the reformation, neither of these trends reached Moscow. Its break from Mongol rule is dated conventionally at 1480. The Dukes of Moscow, like the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, styled themselves the inheritors of Kiev Rus. They did not however control Kiev for nearly half a millennium after the destruction of that medieval state. For most of the time Kiev was ruled from Vilnius and Warsaw.


Edward Lucas

Deep in the flat and featureless landscape of eastern Ukraine, it is all too ¬possible that the outline of World War III is taking shape.

Whipped up by the Kremlin ¬propaganda machine and led by Russian ¬military intelligence, armed men are erecting road blocks, storming police stations and ripping down the country’s flag.

They are demolishing not just their own country – bankrupt, ill-run and beleaguered – but also the post-war order that has kept most of Europe and us, here in Britain, safe and free for decades.

Vladimir Putin is striking at the heart of the West.

His target is our inability to work with allies in defence against common threats. The profoundly depressing fact is that the events of the past few months, as Russia has annexed the Crimea and ¬suppressed opposition in Ukraine, have shown the West to be divided, humiliated and powerless in the face of these land grabs.

We are soon to face a bleak choice. We can chose to surrender any responsibility we have to protect Ukraine and the Baltic states – almost certainly Putin’s next target – from further Russian incursion. Or we can mount a last-ditch attempt to deter Russia from furthering its imperial ambitions.

If we do choose to resist Putin, we will risk a terrifying military escalation, which I do not think it an exaggeration to say could bring us to the brink of nuclear war.

Putin knows that. And he believes we will choose surrender. For the real story of recent events in Ukraine is not about whether that country has a free-trade deal with Brussels or gets its gas from Moscow.

It is about brute power. It is about whether Putin’s Russia – a rogue state on Europe’s doorstep – can hold its neighbours to ¬ransom, and whether we have the will to resist him. So far the answer to the first question is yes. And to the second a bleak no.

The Russian leader believes the collapse of the Soviet Union was a ‘geopolitical catastrophe’. He believes Russia was stripped of its empire by the West’s chicanery. And quite simply, he wants it back.

When the Soviet Union was ¬dissolved in 1991, the former captive nations of Eastern Europe scrambled into Nato and the protection it offered as fast as they could.

But the bitter truth is that Russia did not reform its ambitions in 1991. The Kremlin has always retained its imperialist outlook.

While modern Germany has ¬forsworn militarism and empire, and is liked and admired even by countries such as Poland, which suffered horribly at Hitler’s hands, Russia has not.

Putin believes its historic destiny gives Russia the right to seize land, intimidate and blockade its neighbours. The Russian leader sees Ukraine not as a real country, just a territory, and one he is determined to dominate.

First he took ¬Crimea. Now he has launched an operation in the east and south of Ukraine.

Russian troops are prowling the border as the Ukrainian authorities launch a desperate attempt to regain control of government buildings and police stations in key ¬cities that have been seized and occupied in recent days.

Only yesterday it was reported that between four and 11 people had been killed as Ukrainian troops re-took Kramatorsk ¬airfield from pro-Russian forces.

Putin has presented the Ukrainian leaders with an impossible choice. Either they consent to the dismemberment of their country. Or they fight a war they cannot win.

Ukraine’s ill-trained, ill-equipped and ill-led soldiers are quite unsuited to deal with the fraught challenge facing them.

Any bloodshed against a single Russian soldier will give Putin a pretext to use his military might.

For her part, Russia has played a brutally clever game. She has ¬deliberately sought to humiliate and destabilise Ukraine.

Now Putin can claim his soldiers must be allowed to intervene because the very social disorder his outriders have engineered demonstrates that the authorities cannot maintain order.

The hypocrisy is breath-taking. But the Ukraine adventure is ¬stoking a patriotic frenzy at home which ¬distracts the public from his regime’s incompetence and thievery.

But the biggest benefit to the ¬Russian president lies abroad. He makes no secret of his hatred for the West. He is contemptuous of, yet fears, our soft power. He resents the laws, liberty and prosperity that our citizens enjoy. They throw into bleak contrast the dismal life that his own ¬corrupt and incompetent rule offers Russians.

He also despises our weakness. He sees a Europe and America that talk tough but have failed to ¬provide a united response to the growing catastrophe. Yes, we talk a good game – Foreign Secretary William Hague has called for ‘a clear and united international response’ – but our deeds do not match our words, and Putin knows it.

In his bleak world view, only force and money count. He believes we in the West are too weak to defend ourselves when threatened. So far, his assessment looks right. Even Nato – the bulwark of our security since 1949 – is creaking under the strain of the Ukraine crisis.

Nato’s gutsy commander, General Philip Breedlove, wants to share international intelligence with Ukraine and boost Nato’s forces in its most vulnerable member countries: Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

But the House has blocked the first recommendation. And European countries such as ¬Germany are blocking the second.

Vainly, our leaders hope diplomacy will make Putin back down. Surely he can be made to understand that confrontation is not in Russia’s interests? The markets are already punishing the rouble and big ¬Russian companies.

But that approach fundamentally misunderstands a man like Putin. He is prepared to make his people suffer economic pain and risk war for what be believes is their national interest. We in the West are not.

Having taken Ukraine, he will turn his attention to the Baltic states. Members of the EU and Nato, their lawful societies, elections and ¬thriving economies are an implicit rebuke to those who preside over sleaze and brutality in Russia.

Now Putin sees a chance to humiliate them – and the West. He does not need to invade, just to provoke. Using social division and agitation he will raise the pressure – whether economic or political – on one or more of the Baltic states until it becomes unbearable.

Nato and the EU – on current form – will merely appeal for ¬dialogue and threaten sanctions. ¬But nothing will happen. Which means the Baltics will buckle, and Putin will take back lands which he believes are rightly Russia’s.

That will be the end of Nato – and the dawn of a terrifying new world in which international rules count for nothing and the strong dominate the weak. Russia – ruthless and greedy – can play divide and rule for decades to come.

Suppose we do try to resist, with our shrunken armed forces and craven allies? With the latest round of cuts, the British Army is about to become the smallest it’s been since the Napoleonic wars.

Meanwhile, our once ‘special ¬relationship’ with America was tested by our ¬failure to support Obama over intervention in Syria.

What’s worse, the West’s ¬intelligence operations have been severely ¬compromised by the exploits of Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who has taken refuge in Moscow, having stolen tens of thousands of secret state documents.

Deplorably, the complacent and self-indulgent journalists who so damagingly published the West’s intelligence secrets and effectively blinded our spies have been awarded America’s greatest journalistic honour, the Pulitzer Prize.

If the West does stand up to ¬Russia, Putin will put its nuclear forces on alert, all the while decrying our ‘aggressive behaviour’.

As the centenary of the Great War in July approaches, historians are vying to pinpoint the chain of events which started that conflict.

I may be wrong, but in 100 years time, will their successors look back at the events in Ukraine to make sense of the beginnings of the next world conflagration?



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