Ukraine crisis: Crimea announces referendum on joining Russia
As EU leaders meet to decide response to Russia's military occupation, Crimean government announces 16 March vote on region's status
Ian Traynor in Brussels, Paul Lewis in Washington, Kim Willsher in Paris, Patrick Wintour and agencies
theguardian.com, Thursday 6 March 2014 12.06 GMT
As EU leaders huddled in Brussels on Thursday morning for an emergency summit to address the Ukraine crisis, the Crimean regional government took matters into its own hands and announced it would hold a referendum on whether the region should officially join Russia on 16 March.
At a press conference in Sevastopol, Rustam Temirgaliev, the Crimean vice-premier, said the referendum was being held purely to ratify the decision of the Crimean parliament to join the Russian Federation, and the parliament had appealed to Russia to assist with this.
He said Crimea was Russian with immediate effect: "From today, as Crimea is part of the Russian Federation, the only legal forces here are troops of the Russian Federation, and any troops of the third country will be considered to be armed groups with all the associated consequences."
The referendum was immediately denounced as illegitimate by the new government in Kiev.
A referendum had already been scheduled in Crimea on 30 March, but the question to be put to voters was on whether their region should enjoy "state autonomy" within Ukraine.
On Wednesday evening, the new leader of the Crimea region, Sergei Aksyonov, said pro-Russian forces had control of all of the peninsula and had blockaded all Ukrainian military bases yet to surrender.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, had said on Wednesday that EU leaders could impose sanctions on Russia if the situation in Crimea had not defused by the time they met in Brussels on Thursday. While it may not have escalated, the crisis is far from defused.
Ahead of the summit, the European Union froze the assets of Ukraine's ousted Russia-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych and 17 other officials suspected of violations of human rights and misuse of state funds.
David Cameron, François Hollande and Angela Merkel were due to meet on Thursday morning before the summit to discuss a range of possible punitive economic sanctions against Moscow.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has threatened Russia with isolation "diplomatically, politically and economically" to withdraw from the Crimea.
As the EU meets, 40 unarmed military personnel are expected in Crimea on a mission by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to try to defuse tensions in the region.
Later, the 15-member UN security council will hold closed-door talks in New York – the fourth such consultations since Friday.
Speaking on his Call Clegg phone-in show on LBC on Thursday morning, Nick Clegg expressed despair that Vladimir Putin was displaying cold war reflexes and said the Russian president had to realise that Ukraine need not be forced into a binary choice between Russia or the EU.
The deputy prime minister said: "Putin is displaying cold war reflexes which are totally out of step with modern Europe, and his mindset is a throwback to cold war thinking. He regards any closer contact between Ukraine and the EU as all synonymous with the old style conflict between capitalism and communism. It is not. This is where he has got it so very wrong."
He added: "To see always this as a zero sum game, and there are these rigid boundaries on the map that have to be protected, is a throwback to a past which I hoped Europe had gone beyond."
But Putin has so far shown no indiciation that he is ready to bend. The first western attempts to get Moscow to back down over its seizure of Crimea failed on Wednesday evening.
Negotiations in Paris between Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, broke up without agreement on Wednesday. The Americans and the Europeans hoped to persuade Moscow to open a dialogue with the new government in Kiev and to withdraw its forces in Crimea to their bases and allow in international monitors.
But while Lavrov accused the Americans of tabling unacceptable ultimatums, Kerry said there were "a number of ideas" up for discussion. Both men are expected to resume negotiations in Rome on Thursday after consulting their respective presidents, Barack Obama and Putin.
"Things have moved in a good direction," said Fabius.
Lavrov said western countries were proposing "steps that do not help create an atmosphere of dialogue. John Kerry agreed that such an atmosphere needed to be created. It's very hard to make honest agreements that will help the Ukrainian people stabilise the situation in an atmosphere of threats and ultimatums."
Kerry insisted he had not come to the French capital expecting to find an instant answer to the crisis in the Crimea, but was encouraged by signals from the Russians after meeting his Moscow counterpart Lavrov. Kerry also met the Ukrainian foreign minister, Andrij Deshchytsia.
"I believe I have something to take back to President Obama, and I believe Foreign Secretary Lavrov has something to take back to President Putin. All parties agree it's important to resolve this issue through dialogue," Kerry said.
It had been a day of frantic diplomacy in Paris, where Kerry met his Russian counterpart in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to the Ukrainian crisis. "We will not allow the integrity, the sovereignty, of Ukraine to be violated – or for that violation to go unchallenged," Kerry told journalists after the meeting.
"Russia made a choice. We have clearly stated it is the wrong choice to move troops into the Crimea. Ukrainian territorial integrity must be restored and maintained." Kerry added that efforts would continue to allow a "de-escalation" of the situation.
The meeting between Kerry and Lavrov was the first direct US-Russian contact since the Ukrainian crisis acquired alarming dimensions at the weekend with the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia's military occupation of Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
Analysts and diplomats in Brussels had been expecting the Kremlin to make symbolic concessions in order to weaken the case for sanctions against Russia by Europe and America, but those failed to materialise. That put further pressure on Thursday's emergency EU summit, with the Europeans almost obliged to impose punitive measures on Russia.
Early on Thursday the EU said it had targeted Yanukovych and 17 other members of his former Ukrainian hierarchy with an assets freeze.
In Washington, Congress was fine-tuning legislation that would provide Obama with a "sanctions toolbox", including visa bans and asset freezes, similar to those used against Iran. The US is expected to push ahead with sanctions, which at their most extreme would include measures to restrict trade, irrespective of the decisions taken in Europe.
Lavrov said Moscow could not order the forces controlling Crimea back to bases or barracks since they were not under Russian control, but were local "self-defence" units opposed to the new government in Kiev and safeguarding their region. Diplomats in Brussels said this amounted to opposition to the western proposals.
In Crimea, a UN special envoy had to abandon his mission after being stopped by armed men and besieged inside a cafe by a hostile crowd shouting "Russia! Russia!"
The envoy, the Dutch diplomat Robert Serry, agreed to leave Crimea to end the standoff.
Germany has led the push to get Russia to engage diplomatically, resisting calls from Washington to isolate the Kremlin. The German push was reinforced by William Hague, the British foreign secretary, and the European commission, which unveiled an €11bn (£9bn) financial package for Ukraine, the equivalent of the $15bn pledged by Russia to shore up Yanukovych before he was toppled.
The transatlantic gulf opening up over how to respond to Putin appeared to be widening. One senior official from a G7 country spoke of growing unease over the US push for economic sanctions against Russia. "This isn't time for economic sanctions," the official said. "There is no clock ticking and we should be careful not to antagonise the other side."
The senior official said Berlin, rather than Washington, should assume the lead in talks with Russia. "I don't think the US should necessarily be taking the lead on behalf of G7 countries."
Merkel has spoken to Putin six times in the past week and the Germans are keen to engage rather than isolate the Russians.
In Washington, the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said a bipartisan push was under way to pass legislation that would "strengthen the president's hand". He said it would be similar to how the US Congress and White House had dealt with Iran. "We gave the administration what I'll call a toolbox of sanctions [against Tehran] that they had the ability to impose as they saw fit," Boehner said.
Comparisons to the situation with Iran are likely to unnerve the White House, which has been embroiled in a series of bruising battles with hawks in Congress, who have spent months trying to push through sanctions legislation that further squeeze Tehran, a move the Obama administration believes would scupper nuclear negotiations.
But Obama, who last week insisted "there will be costs" for Putin if he intervened in Ukraine, a threat he has repeated several times since, is under pressure to follow through with action.
Officials in Brussels said there was little sign of willingness from the Russians to pursue a political settlement of the crisis, but they did not rule out a last-minute proposal from the Kremlin that would deflect the pressure for sanctions and divide Europeans going into the summit.
"The situation in Crimea needs to be handled through political dialogue in the framework of the Ukrainian constitution and respecting the rights of all Ukrainian citizens and communities," said José Manuel Barroso, the head of the European commission. "I expect no one will oppose a deployment of international observers to Crimea."
Earlier in Paris, Lavrov boycotted a meeting with Kerry, Hague and Deshchytsia. Kerry said that "regrettably" one member – Russia – had failed to appear for a meeting of the so-called Budapest agreement group, which guaranteed Ukraine's borders after it renounced nuclear weapons in the 1990s.
Lavrov repeated the Kremlin's assertion that the 16,000 troops that have seized Crimea were not Russian forces. "If you mean the self-defence units created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we give them no orders, they take no orders from us," he said. "As for the military personnel of the [Russian] Black Sea fleet, they are in their deployment sites."
European officials and diplomats admit that the sanctions being discussed on Thursday were symbolic rather than substantive. The measures include freezing talks on making it easier for Russians to travel to Europe and on a new overall agreement regulating relations between Russia and the EU.
Russian and European officials admit that both sets of talks are unofficially frozen anyway. Nonetheless, Moscow is threatening to retaliate.
Hague said the summit would need to show that there were "costs and consequences for Russia's actions against Ukraine". But the impact was more likely to be long-term rather than immediate.
************** U.S. Imposes Visa Restrictions over Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 March 2014, 15:39
Stepping up the pressure on Russia, the United States on Thursday imposed visa restrictions and set the stage for other potential sanctions over the Russian intervention in Crimea.
U.S. President Barack Obama was ordering visa bans "in response to Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said.
In an executive order, Obama also authorized the blocking of property of officials and individuals implicit in such action.
"This (executive order) is a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate," the administration said.
The move comes after Russian forces took de facto control of strategically important Crimea, home to Kremlin's Black Sea Fleet, following the ouster on February 22 of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.
Washington, in response to the incursion on the peninsula, has already announced it was pulling out of preparatory meetings for the G8 and warned it was prepared to slap sanctions on Moscow. Other steps include suspending bilateral discussions on trade and investment, the White House said.
"Depending on how the situation develops, the United States is prepared to consider additional steps and sanctions as necessary," it said in a statement.
"We call on Russia to take the opportunity before it to resolve this crisis through direct and immediate dialogue with the government of Ukraine," it said.
It also urged the "immediate pull-back of Russia's military forces to their bases, the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, and support for the urgent deployment of international observers and human rights monitors who can assure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians."
Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's top political advisor, said the executive order would "set up a framework for potential sanctions."
***************US and Russia fail to reach Ukraine deal on day of frantic diplomacy
John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov to resume talks on Thursday as pressure grows on EU to pass punitive measures against Moscow
Ian Traynor in Brussels, Paul Lewis in Washington and Kim Willsher in Paris
The Guardian, Wednesday 5 March 2014 21.44 GMT
John Kerry: ‘All parties agreed today that it is important to try to resolve these issues through dialogue’
The first western attempts to get Moscow to back down over its seizure of Crimea failed on Wednesday evening, putting pressure on the EU to resort to punitive action against the Kremlin at an emergency summit on Thursday.
Negotiations in Paris between John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, broke up without agreement on Wednesday. The Americans and the Europeans hoped to persuade Moscow to open a dialogue with the new government in Kiev and also to withdraw its forces in Crimea to their bases and allow in international monitors.
But while Lavrov accused the Americans of tabling unacceptable ultimatums, Kerry said there were “a number of ideas ” up for discussion. Both men are expected to resume negotiations in Rome on Thursday after consulting their respective presidents, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin.
“Things have moved in a good direction,” said Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister.
Lavrov said western countries were proposing “steps that do not help create an atmosphere of dialogue. John Kerry agreed that such atmosphere needed to be created. It’s very hard to make honest agreements that will help the Ukrainian people stabilise the situation in an atmosphere of threats and ultimatums.”
Kerry insisted he had not come to the French capital expecting to find an instant answer to the crisis in the Crimea, but was encouraged by signals from the Russians after meeting his Moscow counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Kerry also met the Ukrainian foreign minister Andrij Deshchytsia.
“I believe I have something to take back to President Obama, and I believe Foreign Secretary Lavrov has something to take back to President Putin. All parties agree it’s important to resolve this issue through dialogue,” Kerry said.
It had been a day of frantic diplomacy in Paris, where Kerry met his Russian counterpart in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to the Ukrainian crisis. “We will not allow the integrity, the sovereignty, of Ukraine to be violated – or for that violation to go unchallenged,” Kerry told journalists after the meeting. “Russia made a choice. We have clearly stated it is the wrong choice to move troops into the Crimea. Ukrainian territorial integrity must be restored and maintained.” Kerry added that efforts would continue to allow a “de-escalation” of the situation.
The meeting between Kerry and Lavrov was the first direct US-Russian contact since the Ukrainian crisis acquired alarming dimensions at the weekend with the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia’s military occupation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
Analysts and diplomats in Brussels had been expecting the Kremlin to make symbolic concessions in order to weaken the case for sanctions against Russia by Europe and America, but those failed to materialise. That put further pressure on Thursday’s emergency EU summit, with the Europeans almost obliged to impose punitive measures on Russia. Early on Thursday the EU said it had targeted Yanukovych and 17 other members of his former Ukrainian hierarchy with an assets freeze.
In Washington, Congress was fine-tuning legislation that would provide Obama with a “sanctions toolbox”, including visa bans and asset freezes, similar to those used against Iran. The US is expected to push ahead with sanctions, which at their most extreme would include measures to restrict trade, irrespective of the decisions taken in Europe.
The Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe announced that it was sending a team of 35 observers to Ukraine. Initial signs of concessions from the Russians were scant.
Lavrov said it was not up to Russia to invite the observers to Crimea as that was not Russian territory. He also said Moscow could not order the forces controlling Crimea back to bases or barracks since they were not under Russian control, but were local “self-defence” units opposed to the new government in Kiev and safeguarding their region. Diplomats in Brussels said this amounted to opposition to the western proposals.
In Crimea, a UN special envoy had to abandon his mission after being stopped by armed men and besieged inside a cafe by a hostile crowd shouting “Russia! Russia!” The envoy, the Dutch diplomat Robert Serry, agreed to leave Crimea to end the standoff.
Germany has led the push to get Russia to engage diplomatically, resisting calls from Washington to isolate the Kremlin. The German push was reinforced by William Hague, the British foreign secretary, and the European Commission, which unveiled an €11bn (£9bn) financial package for Ukraine, the equivalent of the $15bn pledged by Russia to shore up Yanukovych before he was toppled.
The transatlantic gulf opening up over how to respond to Putin appeared to be widening. One senior official from a G7 country told the Guardian of growing unease over the US push for economic sanctions against Russia. “This isn’t time for economic sanctions,” the official said. “There is no clock ticking and the we should be careful not to antagonise the other side.”
The senior official said Berlin, rather than Washington, should assume the lead in talks with Russia. “I don’t think the US should necessarily be taking the lead on behalf of G7 countries.”
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has spoken to Putin six times in the past week and the Germans are keen to engage rather than isolate the Russians.
In Washington, the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said a bipartisan push was under way to pass legislation that would “strengthen the president’s hand”. He said it would be similar to how the US Congress and White House had dealt with Iran. “We gave the administration what I’ll call a toolbox of sanctions [against Tehran] that they had the ability to impose as they saw fit,” Boehner said.
Comparisons to the situation with Iran are likely to unnerve the White House, which has been embroiled in a series of bruising battles with hawks in Congress, who have spent months trying to push through sanctions legislation that further squeeze Tehran, a move the Obama administration believes would scupper nuclear negotiations.
But Obama, who last week insisted “there will be costs” for Putin if he intervened in Ukraine, a threat he has repeated several times since, is under pressure to follow through with action.
Officials in Brussels said there was little sign of willingness from the Russians to pursue a political settlement of the crisis, but they did not rule out a late, last-minute proposal from the Kremlin that would deflect the pressure for sanctions and divide Europeans going into the summit.
“The situation in Crimea needs to be handled through political dialogue in the framework of the Ukrainian constitution and respecting the rights of all Ukrainian citizens and communities,” said Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission. “I expect no one will oppose a deployment of international observers to Crimea.”
Earlier in Paris, Lavrov boycotted a meeting with Kerry, Hague, and the Ukrainian foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia. Kerry said that “regrettably” one member – Russia – had failed to appear for a meeting of the so-called Budapest agreement group, which guaranteed Ukraine’s borders after it renounced nuclear weapons in the 1990s.
Lavrov repeated the Kremlin’s assertion that the 16,000 troops that have seized Crimea were not Russian forces. “If you mean the self-defence units created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we give them no orders, they take no orders from us,” he said. “As for the military personnel of the [Russian] Black Sea fleet, they are in their deployment sites.”
European officials and diplomats admit that the sanctions being discussed on Thursday were symbolic rather than substantive. The measures include freezing talks on making it easier for Russians to travel to Europe and on a new overall agreement regulating relations between Russia and the EU. Russian and European officials admit that both sets of talks are unofficially frozen anyway. Nonetheless, Moscow is threatening to retaliate.
Hague said the summit would need to show that there were “costs and consequences for Russia’s actions against Ukraine”. But the impact was more likely to be long-term rather than immediate.
03/05/2014 03:51 PMUkraine Crisis: EU Concerned about Cost of Sanctions on Russia
By Gregor Peter Schmitz
Russia's aggression in Ukraine has set off plenty of bluster and aggressive rhetoric in Europe. But many EU member states are skittish about the potential dangers of imposing punitive economic measures on Moscow.
Great Britain would very much like to penalize Russia for its encroachment on the Crimean Peninsula. But it should cost the UK as little as possible. That, it would appear, is London's strategy for dealing with Moscow's aggression against Ukraine -- an approach made public through an embarrassing blunder on Monday. A freelance photographer snapped a picture of a classified document held by a government official as he entered Downing Street for consultations. The document outlined the potential punitive actions British Prime Minister David Cameron might take against Russia.
Britain should "be prepared to join other EU countries in imposing 'visa restrictions/travel bans' on Russian officials," the paper advised. It added that Britain should "not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close London's financial center to Russians."
The message is clear: The British economy, which profits immensely from wealthy Russians, should be protected from potential fallout from the ongoing stand-off over Ukraine. Sanctions of some sort, it has become increasingly clear, will almost certainly be imposed, particularly with EU leaders gathering in Brussels on Thursday to develop a joint bloc response.
But the document photographed outside Downing Street reflects the deep wariness in the EU of the potential costs associated with punitive action against Moscow. Brussels wants to send a message, while preventing excessive backlash.
The risks for such a backlash are high. The EU economy is heavily reliant on Russia -- the country represents the EU's third-largest trading partner. The reverse, of course, is true as well: Europe is number one on the Russian list. Economic ties between the EU and Russia continue to be tight despite the turbulence triggered by the global economic crisis and the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict. European exports to Russia primarily include machinery, chemicals and agrarian products whereas imports from the Russians are predominantly made up of raw materials.
The EU was also a major backer of Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization in 2012 and maintains significant influence over Moscow; EU member states are by far the most important source of foreign investment in Russia.
Nevertheless, with tough rhetoric having come out of several European capitals in recent days, and equally pointed retorts emanating from Moscow, it seems likely that some form of tit-for-tat looms. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday said that EU sanctions could come as soon as Thursday. In response, Russian parliament has warned that Moscow would respond in kind, according to a Wednesday report on the Voice of Russia website.
Countermeasures from Russia could prove painful to the EU, particularly when it comes to the energy sector. Germany, for example, imports more than a third of its natural gas and oil from Russia; other European countries are vastly more dependent on Moscow for their energy needs. Theoretically, Europe could compensate by turning to Norway for its natural gas needs, but energy prices would spike as a result.
Thus far, no concrete steps have been taken to impose penalties aside from the suspension of trade talks between the US and Russia. The EU, however, has been openly considering sanctions on individuals and specific companies, so-called targeted measures.
The US is keeping a close eye on Europe's sanctions debate, knowing full well that America alone is unable to exert sufficient pressure on Moscow. The US isn't even among Russia's top 10 trading partners. "The Americans can only exert effective economic pressure on Russia together with Europe," says transatlantic expert Jack Janes of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies in Washington.
Diligence over Speed
It is now up to the Europeans to decide how far they want to go. And given the wildly varying degrees of enthusiasm for sanctions, it seems safe to assume that they won't go far. Several Eastern European countries have emerged as hardliners, but the further the distance from Ukraine, the less the enthusiasm for confronting Russia. The Austrians, too, expressed skepticism of punitive measures on Wednesday, with Finance Minister Michael Spindelegger saying that in the Ukraine crisis, the focus should not be put on sanctions.
Germany is somewhere in the middle, with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressing the creation of a forum for direct Ukraine-Russia talks over sanctions. Gernot Erler, the German government's coordinator for relations with Russia, has also been cautious. "I would warn against imposing sanctions at the current point in time," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Tuesday. "Such a move could ruin chances for achieving a political solution, as small as the window for such a solution might appear."
No matter what happens, though, collateral damage is to be expected, with the New Russia-EU Framework Agreement likely to suffer. Negotiations on the deal have been sluggish recently, primarily due to Russia's focus on creating a customs union with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
On the website of Germany's Foreign Ministry, a blurb about the Framework Agreement reads: "Negotiations have been ongoing since 2008 on this ambitious document, which is to establish a reliable and long-term foundation for relations in the areas of politics, economics, trade, science and culture. The discussions have come a long way. But because of the importance of the agreement to both sides, diligence takes precedence over speed."
Given the current stand-off, that is likely truer now than ever before.
****************Mystery Men at De Facto Crimean Border Help Fuel Suspicion and Dread
By ALISON SMALE
MARCH 5, 2014
ARMYANSK, Ukraine — If anyone wonders if Russia and its supporters in Crimea are serious about holding on to territory that is still formally part of Ukraine, the de facto border checkpoint near this shabby garrison town on the northern edge of the peninsula dispels any doubt.
The mystery men whom everyone takes for armed and masked Russian troops without insignia on their uniforms were here en masse, and they seem to have dug in for the long haul at what is clearly intended as a marker of a new border between the largely Russian-speaking Crimea and the rest of Ukraine.
Facts on the ground like these are driving tensions ever higher in perhaps the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War. And, as in the Georgian-Russian war in 2008, the language of confrontation is roadblocks, territorial claims and swiftly organized shows of popular support: from shadowy self-defense groups to poorly prepared referendums used to legitimize steps already taken.
One big difference from Georgia is that, although Crimea has for centuries been a bitterly contested prize, there has been little history of overt ethnic tension since World War II, when locals battled the Nazis and Stalin deported the Crimean Tatars, a Turkic Muslim people, to Central Asia.
Now, in a strange ghost of a conflict, a previously calm, if impoverished, population of two million has been whipped into anxiety and dread by war talk and mounting suspicion.
People who admit that they would never have done so even two weeks ago now identify to which percentage they are Ukrainian, Russian, Tatar or some other nationality. At military sites across Crimea, Ukrainian forces have been neutralized but not evacuated, forced into a strange bond with the mystery men by a mutual determination — so far — to avoid bloodshed and provocation.
On Wednesday, at least 10 Kamaz trucks of the kind seen transporting Russian soldiers across Crimea in recent days were parked in a large field to the left of the road leading up to the checkpoint here. The uniformed men had pitched the type of large khaki tent that could be used as a field kitchen and canteen or possibly as sleeping quarters.
A few hundred yards beyond the tent and the trucks was what had been a traffic police station, like those that dot roads across the former Soviet Union. This one, firmly on Ukrainian territory, had clearly been taken over by pro-Russia forces, with two large Russian flags flying at its edge. Also visible was the red, blue and green flag of Kuban Cossacks, who traditionally inhabit a Black Sea region to the east of the Crimean Peninsula.
An armored personnel carrier was positioned on the side of the road as reporters drove up from the Crimean side, with a second personnel carrier blocking the road farther up.
Cinder blocks and sandbags were piled around the edge of the traffic post and across the road to slow any vehicles passing in either direction.
Refusing to talk to reporters, six of the men in unmarked uniforms discussed in Russian whether to go for a wash, pulling identical small white towels out of their kits.
In general, no one was willing to talk, or to allow photographers and reporters to get close enough to observe the installation. Reporters who had arrived by late morning saw two men in distinctive Cossack uniforms helping the soldiers keep a careful watch on vehicles coming through from Crimea. One of the soldiers appeared to be writing down license plate numbers, while a couple of others examined documents before allowing vehicles to head north.
Reporters who arrived just two hours later saw at least 20 Kuban Cossacks in combat fatigues and lambskin hats staffing the checkpoint, all equipped with new-looking automatic weapons — a highly unusual sight for a group known more for its skill on horseback.
None of the photographers, television crews or other journalists who arrived during the morning were allowed closer than about 100 yards from the post. The armed men quite firmly, if politely, kept everyone away, even a crew from Russia Today, the 24-hour station funded by the Russian government.
A man introduced to the first group of reporters as the commander made clear there was to be no talking and no approach. The second group of reporters was introduced to a masked man in the uniform of the Berkut secret police — used by the former Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, to attack protesters in Kiev — who the Cossacks said was the commander.
He suggested to that group of reporters that they could take a smaller road out of Crimea. What was unclear was whether reporters would have been allowed back in.
In general, there seemed to be almost no traffic coming in, while perhaps a dozen vehicles — some long-haul trucks, others private vans and cars — crossed in the space of 30 minutes toward the north and the Ukrainian district of Kherson.
The narrow neck leading out of Crimea’s northwest toward Kherson, and territory farther to the east, have for centuries been a battleground. They control access to miles and miles of plains rolling south to the regional capital, Simferopol, and on toward the hills and dramatic coastline of the Black Sea.
It was in this region that the Russians stormed Tatar fortifications during a war with the Turks in the early 18th century, clearing the way for their eventual control over what had been led by a Turkic khan. In 1920, the Bolsheviks triumphed in the region.
Now, conflict seems to have descended once more. To the south of Armyansk, a bus stop in the small town of Ishun bore a token of how this formerly peaceful peninsula had been grabbed and torn in just the past week.
“Putin No to War!” read the sign, spray-painted in Russian.
Farther south, in Simferopol, a United Nations envoy, Robert Serry, got a taste of the enmity now roiling the region on Wednesday evening as an angry local crowd surrounded him. Mr. Serry, a Dutch diplomat, was eventually forced to take refuge in a cafe before agreeing to go straight to the airport.
The message that outsiders are not necessarily welcome has been mounting in recent days, as pro-Russian crowds or self-appointed self-defense forces have rallied around the mystery men outside military bases, and Ukrainians inside have surrendered their weapons while declining to leave territory they feel a duty to protect.
In Yevpatoriya, a resort town northeast of Simferopol, the Ukrainian commander, Col. Andrei Matvienko, a career officer stationed there since 1997, has allowed 40 armed men, whom he identified as Russians, to take up shared supervision of his missile defense unit.
His 200 men have surrendered their arms, he said, in the name of avoiding a clash. Though tucked into a residential complex, the base has been the scene of confrontations for days.
“The truth will be with us,” was what he offered as an eventual outcome. As for which side has right on its side, Colonel Matvienko said as a soldier with a grenade launcher walked past, “Draw your own conclusions.”
***************Russia Today news anchor Liz Wahl resigns live on air over Ukraine crisis
US-based Wahl said she could not work for a network that 'whitewashed' the actions of Russian leader Vladimir Putin
Rory Carroll in Los Angeles
theguardian.com, Thursday 6 March 2014 00.29 GMT
Link to video: RT journalist resigns on airhttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/mar/06/rt-journalist-resigns-on-air
An American anchor for the Kremlin-funded news channel RT has quit on air and accused the network of "whitewashing" Moscow's military intervention in Crimea.
Liz Wahl, a Washington-based correspondent for RT-America, part of the network formerly known as Russia Today, told viewers on Wednesday she was resigning because of its coverage of President Vladimir Putin's actions in the Ukrainian region.
Veerng off script, Wahl said: "I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I'm proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I'm resigning."
As the daughter of a military veteran and the wife of a military base physician the network's coverage of a potentially explosive crisis presented ethical and moral dilemmas, she said.
Wahl cited another RT host, Abby Martin, who made headlines on Tuesday when she declared: "Russian intervention in the Crimea is wrong." In a tweet she later called Martin "my girl" and commended her for going "spectacularly off-message".
Wahl, a self-described "Filipina-Hungarian-American", also alluded to Moscow's bloody intervention in Hungary in 1956. "Just spoke to grandparents who came to US as refugees escaping Soviets during Hungarian revolution. Amazing to hear amid new Cold War fears," she tweeted.
RT, a predominantly English-language network aimed at a global audience, broadcasts news, documentaries and talk shows with a distinctly pro-Russian slant. RT-America provides several hours of US-produced content a day, including a show hosted by former CNN star Larry King.
Unlike other international broadcasters who have reported the presence of Russian troops in Crimea the station has echoed the Kremlin line about the troops being local self-defence forces.
In a statement, RT denounced Wahl's actions as a "self-promotional" stunt. It drew a distinciton between her role as a newscaster and Martin's position as an opinion host.
"When a journalist disagrees with the editorial position of his or her organization, the usual course of action is to address those grievances with the editor, and, if they cannot be resolved, to quit like a professional. But when someone makes a big public show of a personal decision, it is nothing more than a self-promotional stunt," it said.
"It actually makes me feel sick that I worked there," Wahl told the Daily Beast.
She had planned the move for some time, she said. "When I came on board from the beginning I knew what I was getting into, but I think I was more cautious and tried to stay as objective as I could.
"*************U.S. Hopes Boom in Natural Gas Can Curb Putin
By CORAL DAVENPORT and STEVEN ERLANGER
MARCH 5, 2014
A look at natural gas in Ukraine, Russia’s and Ukraine’s points of leverage, and the United States’ role in the situation.
WASHINGTON — The crisis in Crimea is heralding the rise of a new era of American energy diplomacy, as the Obama administration tries to deploy the vast new supply of natural gas in the United States as a weapon to undercut the influence of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, over Ukraine and Europe.
The crisis has escalated a State Department initiative to use a new boom in American natural gas supplies as a lever against Russia, which supplies 60 percent of Ukraine’s natural gas and has a history of cutting off the supply during conflicts. This week, Gazprom, Russia’s state-run natural gas company, said it would no longer provide gas at a discount rate to Ukraine, a move reminiscent of more serious Russian cutoffs of natural gas to Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
The administration’s strategy is to move aggressively to deploy the advantages of its new resources to undercut Russian natural gas sales to Ukraine and Europe, weakening such moves by Mr. Putin in future years. Although Russia is still the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas, the United States recently surpassed it to become the world’s largest natural gas producer, largely because of breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing technology, known as fracking.
“We’re engaging from a different position because we’re a much larger energy producer,” said Jason Bordoff, a former senior director for energy and climate change on the White House’s National Security Council.
Over the past week, Congressional Republicans have joined major oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil in urging the administration to speed up oil and natural gas exports. Although environmentalists, some Democrats and American manufacturing companies that depend on the competitive advantage of cheap domestic natural gas oppose the effort, they have fallen to the sidelines in the rush.
For Russia, energy supplies are as important to keeping a hold on Ukraine and the other former countries of the Soviet Union as is the Russian Army itself. Ukraine would freeze without Russian gas, and its flow has been a considerable source of wealth and corruption in both countries. But Russia is also obligated by contract to provide natural gas to Western Europe, and Moscow remains highly dependent on Ukrainian pipelines to get it there.
David Dalton, the editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit, said: “Russia has always used gas as an instrument of influence. The more you owe Gazprom, the more they think they can turn the screws.”
But this time, there is a major difference. As recently as 2007, American natural gas supplies were believed to be dwindling, and the George W. Bush administration was considering importing natural gas from Russia. Since then, fracking, which environmentalists say could contaminate America’s water supplies, has transformed the strategic landscape.
The United States does not yet export its natural gas. But the Energy Department has begun to issue permits to American companies to export natural gas starting in 2015. American companies have submitted 21 applications to build port facilities in the United States to export liquefied natural gas by tanker. The agency has approved six of the applications.
About 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe pass through Ukraine. Europe, in turn, depends on Russia for 40 percent of its imported fuel. According to Mikhail Korchemkin, head of East European Gas Analysis, a consulting firm in Pennsylvania, the most important pipelines that run through Ukraine are the ones leading to Slovakia. They will eventually take gas to Germany, Austria and Italy. Ukraine Crisis in
However, even if the Energy Department approves all the pending permits from companies seeking to export natural gas, the fuel could not begin flowing overseas for at least a few years. Most American natural gas export terminals are in the early stages of construction. While one, in Sabine Pass, La., is tentatively scheduled to open in late 2015, most others will not start operating until 2017 or later.
At the helm of the new energy diplomacy effort is Carlos Pascual, a former American ambassador to Ukraine, who leads the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources. The 85-person bureau was created in late 2011 by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state at the time, for the purpose of channeling the domestic energy boom into a geopolitical tool to advance American interests around the world.
In an interview, Mr. Pascual asserted that his team’s efforts had already weakened Mr. Putin’s hand, and had helped lower Ukraine’s dependence on Russia for natural gas supplies to 60 percent, down from 90 percent.
Mr. Pascual said that his team had worked to help Ukraine and other European countries break away from dependence on Russian gas by finding supplies elsewhere, including Africa, and assisting the Europeans to build up their natural gas storage. The team, he said, is working with Ukraine and the European Union on completing a European energy charter, which already allows natural gas to move more quickly through Europe and permits countries to negotiate lower rates with Gazprom.
In addition, he said, the team is helping countries develop their own natural gas resources, including in partnership with American energy giants. Halliburton has started fracking for natural gas in Poland, while Shell last year signed a contract to explore for natural gas in Ukraine.
Mr. Pascual said that although the prospective American exports would not immediately solve the problems in Europe, “it sends a clear signal that the global gas market is changing, that there is the prospect of much greater supply coming from other parts of the world.”
“This is a radically changed market,” he added. “Our challenge is to look at U.S. production in the global context and understand how we can influence what happens.”
Energy is always a big component of politics and international affair. Now that the U.S. has the leverage, she should use it judiciously for...
In the coming years, Gazprom’s influence will be further weakened as American supplies are shipped onto the global market, Mr. Pascual said.
This week, Republicans escalated their calls for the administration to speed those exports.
On Tuesday, Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said: “One immediate step the president can and should take is to dramatically expedite the approval of U.S. exports of natural gas. The United States has abundant supplies of natural gas — an energy source that is in demand by many of our allies — and the U.S. Department of Energy’s excruciatingly slow approval process amounts to a de facto ban on American natural gas exports that Vladimir Putin has happily exploited to finance his geopolitical goals.
“We should not force our allies to remain dependent on Putin for their energy needs,” he said.
The efforts this week are not the first time that the State Department has used newfound energy resources to gain geopolitical advantage.
In 2012, in response to Iran’s nuclear program, the United States urged the Europeans to impose financial sanctions that greatly limited Iran’s ability to sell oil on the world market. Other countries feared that the move would raise prices, but officials assured other nations that a surge in American oil production would keep prices stable.
Earlier this year, the United States worked to broker a sale of Israeli natural gas to Jordan, in an effort to stabilize relations in the Middle East.
“In World War II, we were the arsenal of democracy,” said Robert McNally, who was the senior director for international energy issues on the National Security Council during the Bush administration. “I think we’re going to become the arsenal of energy.”
*************Putin, Flashing Disdain, Defends Action in Crimea
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
MARCH 4, 2014
MOSCOW — He sat alone in an armchair, alternately slouching, his legs spread wide in confidence, and squirming uncomfortably. He displayed flashes of sardonic wit, anger and palpable disdain, especially toward the Americans and Europeans but also toward the leaders of a country, Ukraine, he made clear was a political neophyte, unable to govern itself.
He demonstrated his characteristically uncanny grasp of detail in such matters as natural-gas pricing, but contradicted himself at times and wandered off into obscure historical digressions. He made assertions that were clearly exaggerated or, less charitably, clearly not true.
President Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s paramount leader for more than 14 years, at last broke his studied silence on the political upheaval in Ukraine on Tuesday during a 66-minute news conference that sought to justify Russia’s actions and policies. In the process he offered an unvarnished glimpse into the thinking of the man who, by all accounts, singularly controls those actions.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in his first comments since the Ukrainian crisis escalated, said on Tuesday that Russia reserves the right to use all means necessary in Ukraine.
“The only thing we had to do, and we did it, was to enhance the defense of our military facilities because they were constantly receiving threats and we were aware of the armed nationalists moving in,” Mr. Putin said, referring to Russia’s longstanding bases affiliated with the Black Sea Fleet, which has its headquarters in the port of Sevastopol in the Crimea region of Ukraine.
He delivered a version of the crisis that was fundamentally at odds with the view held by most officials in the United States, Europe and Ukraine. “Is this some manifestation of democracy?” Mr. Putin asked, rhetorically, of course. He went on to recount one grisly story on the mob violence that in his view has dragged Ukraine into nightmarish chaos: the humiliation of the recently appointed governor of the western region of the Volyn region, Oleksandr Bashkalenko. On the night of Feb. 20, he was handcuffed by protesters, doused with water, “locked up in a cellar and tortured.”
“He was actually only recently appointed to this position, in December, I believe,” Mr. Putin explained. “Even if we accept that they are all corrupt there, he barely had time to steal anything.”
His remarks were his first in public on the crisis. They were aimed at both international and domestic audiences, defending Russia from the fury of the global criticism for the furtive occupation of Crimea and rallying support at home.
He seemed eager to assure a wary population in Russia — as well as nervous markets that plunged on Monday — that he did not intend to go to war with Ukraine, a country with deep historical, cultural, social and familial ties with many Russians.
But he offered no clear prescription for ending the crisis, appearing content, as his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said later, to wait to see what develops next.
Russia did not want a war against our “brothers in arms” in Ukraine, he said, only days after Russian special operation troops spread across the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine and effectively seized control. At the same time, he fiercely challenged the version of events in Ukraine that had been presented by European and, especially, American leaders, whom he accused not only of abetting but orchestrating an “unconstitutional coup.”
His remarks were the closest any Russian official has come to acknowledging the deployment of troops in what Ukrainian and other foreign leaders have said was the de facto invasion of Crimea by 6,000 to 15,000 additional Russian troops. The forces, according to reports, continue to arrive by ferry and helicopter across the Kerch Strait, at the peninsula’s closest point to southern Russia.
“We did this, and it was the right thing to do, and very timely,” he said.
Mr. Putin defended Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a justified and measured response to an “orgy” of violence by nationalists, fascists, reactionaries and anti-Semites who are now in control of an illegitimate government. He described the former leader, President Viktor F. Yanukovych, as the legitimate president of Ukraine, despite the Parliament’s impeachment-like vote to strip him of his powers after he fled Kiev last month.
At the same time, Mr. Putin, whose relations with Mr. Yanukovych have always been rocky, said the former leader had no political future and that he had personally told him so.
He later added that while Russia’s upper house of Parliament had granted him the legal authority to use force in Ukraine, he believed it was not necessary to do so in eastern Ukraine and other parts of the country. At least not yet. Ethnic Russians in that region have been seizing government buildings and appealing for Russian intervention in a pattern very much like that in Crimea over the last week.
“Such a measure,” he said of a larger incursion into Ukrainian territory, “would certainly be the very last resort.”
Mr. Putin’s remarks were made before the Kremlin’s selected pool of journalists at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow, and they were broadcast live on state television networks repeatedly through the afternoon and evening, giving the country and the world the outlines of a strategy that at the end remained unclear.
His larger annual news conferences are highly choreographed and planned weeks in advance, but on this occasion Mr. Putin’s appearance appeared hastily organized, and he coyly evaded some of the most direct questions. They included one about the Russian soldiers arrayed outside Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, which he deflected by saying that the uniforms they wore were common through the post-Soviet region. “Go to our stores, and you can buy any uniform,” he said.
Gleb Pavlovksy, a political consultant who worked with the Kremlin in the past, described the news conference as “eclectic.” He said: “I expected him to prepare a message, a thesis, ideological or strategic, but it was more explanatory and defensive. It contained contradictions, which spoke to the fact it was not prepared. It explained something about his motives, but they were various.”
Above all, Mr. Putin appeared defiant, evidently frustrated by what he described as false promises by foreign diplomats and double standards that justify American or NATO military operations in the name of protecting human rights or democracy but disregard Russian concerns.
“We are often accused of illegitimacy in our actions, and when I ask the question, ‘Do you think everything you do is legitimate?’ they say yes,” he said, and then went on.
“It’s necessary to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, where they acted either without any sanction from the U.N. Security Council or distorted the content of these resolutions, as it happened in Libya,” he said. “There, as you know, only the right to create a no-fly zone for government aircraft was authorized, and it all ended in the bombing and participation of special forces in ground operations. Our partners, especially the United States, always formulate their geopolitical and state interests, and then drag the rest of the world with them, guided by the well-known phrase ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us.’ ”
He brushed aside concerns about President Obama’s threat of sanctions and dismissed the suspension of preparations for the Group of 8 summit meeting scheduled in Sochi, where Mr. Putin hosted the Olympics after a reconstruction effort that cost more than $50 billion.
“As for the Group of 8, I don’t know,” he said with an indifferent shrug. “We are preparing for the Group of 8, and we will be ready for them to accept our colleagues. If they don’t want to come, well, they don’t need to.”
Mr. Putin refused to recognize Oleksandr V. Turchynov, who had been named acting president of Ukraine, and said he would not recognize a new round of elections “if they were held under the same terror which we are now seeing in Kiev.”
At the same time he suggested that Ukraine hold a referendum to adopt a new constitution, presumably addressing the status of Crimea and other regions with large Russian populations, and then hold elections for a new president and Parliament.
He said that the people of Crimea, a mixture of Russians, Ukrainians and Tatars, should be allowed to “determine their own future,” comparing them pointedly to Kosovars, who, after a NATO air war, ultimately declared Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008.
Mr. Putin has viewed similar calls for self-determination among Russia’s ethnic republics as treasonous and presided over a prolonged war in Chechnya that begin in 1999 to crush its separatist movement.
Mr. Putin, surprisingly, expressed some understanding for the protesters who massed on Independence Square in Kiev with a pointed rebuke of Ukraine’s political system as an immature, corrupted one. He said they wanted “radical change rather than some cosmetic remodeling of power.”
“Why are they demanding this?” he said. “Because they have grown used to seeing one set of thieves being replaced by another. Moreover, the people in the regions do not even participate in forming their own regional governments.” Mr. Putin nonetheless denounced the methods of the protests and their political supporters in Parliament, particularly the eruption of violence in Kiev on Feb. 18 and 19.
He suggested at one point that it was provocateurs from the opposition posing as snipers — and not government forces — who shot and killed many of those who died, a statement inconsistent with numerous witness accounts.
Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Kiev, sharply disputed Mr. Putin’s version of events in Ukraine, saying there was “not a single piece of credible evidence” for his claims.
**************Point by Point, State Department Rebuts Putin on Ukraine
By PETER BAKER
MARCH 5, 2014
WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials watched President Vladimir V. Putin’s defiant news conference on Tuesday with barely concealed scorn. Time after time, they argued, Mr. Putin had distorted reality.
So on Wednesday, the administration put its argument in writing. In a rare, in-your-face statement more reminiscent of a political campaign than the rarefied world of diplomacy, the State Department issued a “fact sheet” rebutting what it called “10 False Claims About Ukraine” made by the Russian president.
“As Russia spins a false narrative to justify its illegal actions in Ukraine,” the department’s statement said, “the world has not seen such startling Russian fiction since Dostoyevsky wrote, ‘The formula “two plus two equals five” is not without its attractions.’ ”
Among other things, the statement rejected assertions by Mr. Putin that Ukraine’s new government is illegitimate, that its Parliament is under the influence of extremists or terrorists and that Russian forces were acting to protect Russian military assets. Contrary to what Mr. Putin contended, “there have been no incidents of attacks on churches” and “absolutely no evidence of a humanitarian crisis” prompting Ukrainian refugees to seek Russian asylum, the statement said.
The most salient claim that Mr. Putin has made to justify the military intervention in Crimea is that ethnic Russians were targeted for violence, requiring rescue. “Outside of Russian press and Russian state television, there are no credible reports of any ethnic Russians being under threat,” the statement said.
It added, “Ethnic Russians and Russian speakers have filed petitions attesting that their communities have not experienced threats.”
Referring to the Ukrainian capital, it said: “Furthermore, since the new government was established, calm has returned to Kyiv. There has been no surge in crime, no looting, and no retribution against political opponents.”
*************One Goal in Hand, Kiev’s Demonstrators Vow to Stay ‘Until the End’
By C. J. CHIVERS
MARCH 6, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine — Vasil V. Puhalskyi, a farmer scarred about the face and ringed by veterans of the lethal street clashes here last month, offered an explanation for why, even after chasing President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power, he and his friends had fortified their barricades anew.
Those who stood up to Ukraine’s ousted authorities trust neither their interim government nor Russia, he said, and so will remain in place at least through elections in late spring. Only then will they decide if they are satisfied enough to leave their fighting positions in the capital’s central square.
“We will stand until the end,” Mr. Puhalskyi said.
The end for Ukraine’s fighters and demonstrators has proved elusive, and it is nowhere near in sight.
Even after the opposition’s surprise victory late last month, and after threats of a large-scale military invasion from Russia have appeared to subside in recent days, Independence Square, or Maidan, and its surrounding streets remain a nationalist encampment, at once grieving, proud and preparing for another fight, should it come.
Its volunteer street fighters have donned new camouflage uniforms and patrol on foot with batons. Barricades have been rebuilt and hardened with stones and bricks that might stop bullets. Firewood and food are stacked high, as if the camp were still besieged. Firebombs and tires that can serve as fuel for a flaming wall remain within reach, although no foe masses on the streets.
Activists have continued to organize as if nothing gained is yet secure.
Aware of the failures of the Orange Revolution — peaceful demonstrations in 2004 that overturned a rigged election but served to install a government that itself was soon sapped by incompetence and corruption — the opposition of 2014 says its battle-hardened ranks must serve as a check against another political betrayal.
“Now we have a period of transition, from old times of the regime to a new government,” said Vasyl Rozhko, a young architect who is a coordinator for Maidan Self-Defense, the umbrella group of fighters whose tents fill the avenues here. “Many people are afraid of the same developments that came after 2004. They are afraid of being disappointed like last time.”
At the center of this sustained street presence are the sotni, the midsize and seemingly well-organized groups of fighters who resisted the Yanukovych government’s attempts to clear the square by force, and who remain in place on their battlefield.
There are more than 45 sotni now, organizers say. Many have roots outside Kiev, mostly in Ukraine’s west.
Mr. Puhalskyi is a member of Sotnya No. 17, from Chernivtsi. Tents along the streets are adorned with each unit’s banner, often declaring their origins.
In front of Parliament, young men of Sotnya No.