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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 495610 times)
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« Reply #13020 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:25 AM »


Nigerian bus station hit by deadly explosion

At least 71 feared dead after blast in outskirts of capital, Abuja, as hundreds of commuters travelled to work

Monica Mark in Lagos
theguardian.com, Monday 14 April 2014 10.32 BST   

An explosion ripped through a busy commuter bus station in the outskirts of Nigeria's capital on Monday, killing 71 and injuring at least 124 people.

The attack by Islamist insurgents Boko Haram was the group's first in Abuja in two years and the deadliest.

The blast ripped a hole 1.2 metres (4ft) deep in the ground of Nyanya motor park, about 10 miles from the city centre, and destroyed more than 30 vehicles, causing secondary explosions as their fuel tanks ignited and burned.

Security experts suspect the explosion was inside a vehicle, said Air Commodore Charles Otegbade, director of search and rescue operations. Hundreds had packed into the bus station which serves Nyanya, a poor, ethnically and religiously mixed satellite town whose residents commute to the city.

A hospital source said the death toll was likely to rise as more bodies and injured were being brought into nine hospitals around the city centre. At the motor park, bloody remains lay strewn over the ground as security forces struggled to hold back a crowd of onlookers and fire crews hosed down a bus holding the charred bodies of commuters.

Bus driver Julius Kayode described how he was having a cup of morning tea with co-workers when he and his colleagues noticed a man carrying a bag push his way into an idle bus nearby. The man darted out of the bus a few seconds later, disappearing into the rush hour crowds.

"We noticed because we try to be alert about these things. We were just talking about how he was behaving suspiciously when the explosion went off. I just started running – I could feel people just running everywhere, anyhow," said Kayode, holding up his broken glasses and gesturing at his blood-stained shirt.

Seven of his colleagues were among the 71 confirmed deaths.

Mallam Jibrin, a civil servant, said he narrowly escaped a secondary blast. "I was waiting for my bus to fill up, but immediately the first explosion happened I put my head out the window and slipped out to the ground. When I found my legs I just started running. I later discovered the fire had completely destroyed my own bus," said Jibrin, who returned to look for a co-worker.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who has placed three north-eastern states under a state of emergency since May last year, visited the site of the blasts, and expressed condolences. "Government is doing everything to make sure we move our country forward even with these unnecessary distractions that are pushing us back. We will get over it," he said.

The bombing came less than 24 hours after at least 68 civilians were gunned down in remote towns in Boko Haram's traditional north-eastern base, and underscores the vulnerability of Nigeria's federal capital. Abuja was built in the 1980s in Nigeria's geographic centre to replace coastal Lagos as the seat of government for what is now Africa's biggest economy, most populous country and top oil producer.

Officials said security agents have been places on "red alert" throughout the capital, and advised citizens to avoid crowded areas.

A Christmas Day bombing of a church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Abuja, killed 37 people in 2011, although the main suspect in that attack is now behind bars. Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the United Nations' Nigeria headquarters that killed 24 people on 26 August 2011.

The military has claimed that it had the extremists on the run with near daily air bombardments and ground assaults on hideouts in forests and mountain caves along the border with Cameroon.

At least 1,500 have been killed this year alone, largely civilians as the group has turned to softer targets.

In a video released by the sect this month, leader Abubakar Shekau called for supporters to wage a "one-man-jihad", echoing a new tactic being advocated by similar extremist groups. "There are two kinds of people in this world; those who are with us and those against us. I will kill those in the latter group, wherever I see them," he said.
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« Reply #13021 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:26 AM »

After Fire, Picturesque Hills of Chilean Port City Are Left in Ruin

By PASCALE BONNEFOY
APRIL 14, 2014
IHT

SANTIAGO, Chile — Two days after wind-borne flames ravaged the steep hills surrounding Valparaíso, many slopes of colorful houses that gave the slender port city a picture-postcard landscape have been reduced to rings of ruins.

Firefighters, some brought in from other parts of the country, were still combating outbreaks of fire on Monday, supported by 21 aircraft. “This is the largest air operation to combat fire in the country’s history,” President Michelle Bachelet said Monday morning after a cabinet meeting in Santiago, the capital.

At least 15 people died as a result of the fire over the weekend, according to Chilean authorities. One of them, Edgardo Herrera, 53, suffered a heart attack on Sunday evening after seeing the ruins of his relatives’ home. At least 2,500 homes were burned to the ground, leaving about 11,000 people homeless, government officials said. Over a thousand people were staying in shelters on Monday.

Hundreds of volunteers, including neighbors whose homes were spared, have flocked to the scorched hilltops to help families remove debris and salvage what they can, or have brought them food, water and clothing. Shelters also have been established for the many stray animals.

With the city now under military control, 3,000 police officers and soldiers patrolled the streets. Five people remained hospitalized with burns, and more than 300 have received emergency medical treatment, according to the director of the Valparaíso-San Antonio Health Service, Dr. Ramón García.

Throughout the country and even abroad, volunteer agencies, local governments, social and political organizations, individuals, and schools mounted campaigns for food, clothing and other essential goods, and opened bank accounts for donations.

The cause of the fire was still unknown. But critics say that lack of urban planning and government neglect of the impoverished communities on the hilltops contributed to the disaster just as much as the wind and heat.

For decades, Valparaíso has expanded with no regulation or urban planning, leading to improvised, chaotic collections of wooden houses along high roads and gorges, which are often used as informal waste dumps. Many fire hydrants did not work on Saturday when the fire first broke out, and emergency vehicles were not able to reach some neighborhoods because of the curved, narrow roads, or because there were no roads at all.

“These hills have been spontaneously occupied by families without meeting any basic urban requirements. It’s not their fault,” said Ximena Bórquez, a director of the Association of Architects and a specialist in urban planning. “Houses should never have been built in some of these areas. We have always known that, but no government agency ever prevented that from happening.”


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« Reply #13022 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:47 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Republican ACA Lies Get Thrashed and Trashed as CBO Report Is An Epic Obama Win

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Monday, April, 14th, 2014, 8:01 pm   

Here are the new estimates via the CBO:

    CBO CBO and JCT estimate that the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA will increase the proportion of the nonelderly population with insurance from roughly 80 percent in the absence of the ACA to about 84 percent in 2014 and to about 89 percent in 2016 and beyond (see Table 2). CBO and JCT project that 12 million more nonelderly people will have health insurance in 2014 than would have had it in the absence of the ACA. They also project that 19 million more people will be insured in 2015, 25 million more will be insured in 2016, and 26 million more will be insured each year from 2017 through 2024 than would have been the case without the ACA.

    Those gains in coverage will be the net result of many changes in insurance coverage relative to what would have occurred in the absence of the ACA. In 2018 and later years, 25 million people are projected to have cover- age through the exchanges, and 13 million more, on net, are projected to have coverage through Medicaid and CHIP than would have had it in the absence of the ACA. Partly offsetting those increases, however, are projected net decreases in employment-based coverage and in coverage in the non group market outside the exchanges.

    Relative to their previous projections made in February 2014, CBO and JCT now estimate that the ACA’s coverage provisions will result in lower net costs to the federal government: The agencies currently project a net cost of $36 billion for 2014, $5 billion less than the previous projection for the year; and $1,383 billion for the 2015-2024 period, $104 billion less than the previous projections.

In plain English, 12 million more people will have health insurance that didn’t have it before, and the ACA is going to cost $104 billion less than previously projected. This is a huge win for President Obama and the ACA. The numbers are demonstrating that Republicans were completely and absurdly wrong about the impact of healthcare reform.

The CBO also released a table which shows a world with Obamacare, and a world without it, or the top part of the table is what Democrats have given the country, and the bottom is what things would look like if Republicans had their way:

The big takeaway is that Republicans want more people to go without healthcare. By 2024, the CBO estimates that 89% of Americans will have health insurance. This won’t be universal coverage, but it will be the closest we have ever been to everyone having access to healthcare.

Republicans have claimed for years that Obamacare will add to the deficit. The CBO said no. Republicans claim more people are losing health insurance than are getting it. The CBO slapped them upside the head with some cold hard facts. Republicans believe that Obamacare will collapse in on itself due to not enough people signing up, the CBO found that 12 million uninsured Americans will have access to healthcare in 2014 thanks to the ACA.

This report delivered an absolute drubbing to every Republican claim about the ACA. Republicans are about to make the case to 12 million uninsured Americans that they don’t need healthcare.

Republicans put all of their eggs into the repeal Obamacare basket, but now the basket has a big hole in the bottom, and the eggs are all over the GOP’s faces.

*****************

Kentucky Democrat Connects the Dots and Drops a Truth Bomb on ACA Repealing Republicans

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Monday, April, 14th, 2014, 5:28 pm   

And this is how a U.S. House candidate does it in a red state where enrollment in Obamacare was “surging” in the lead up to the deadline, with over 400,000 enrolled. Kentucky Democratic congressional candidate Elisabeth Jensen embraced Obamacare and called out Republicans for wanting to repeal it, but she called it something else. Something local.

In a new radio ad, Jensen is not only embracing Obamacare, but blasting Republicans Rep. Andy Barr and Senator Mitch McConnell for threatening to repeal….

Kentucky Kynect.

Yes, Kentucky Kynect is Obamacare but shhhhh! Remember the fellow who was so sure Kentucky Kynect was better than Obamacare? He likes his Kentucky Kynect and he doesn’t want to lose it.

Lexington Herald-Leader (via Greg Sargent at Washington Post) reported:

    “Thanks to Gov. Beshear, Kentucky Kynect provides health care to Kentuckians who had no insurance,” Jensen says in the ad. “But Barr, along with Mitch McConnell, voted to end Kynect and let insurance companies drop coverage, deny care and charge women more.”

    The ad says that Barr has voted to repeal the controversial health care law 19 times and charges that the congressman has taken $148,000 in contributions from insurance companies.

    “I often say Kentucky moms like me get more done by noon than Congress gets done in a week,” Jensen says in the ad. “So when I learned Congressman Andy Barr voted 19 times to repeal health care reform, I was disappointed.”

This is how a Democratic candidate runs on the moral argument for affordable healthcare access via Obamacare, in a state where the name isn’t so popular and neither is the President, but the President is actually more popular than the state’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell. Yeah, it seems complicated but it’s not.

You run against Mitch McConnell, and for Obamacare — but under a different name.

Elisabeth Jensen is running for a more localized House seat — as compared to a Senate race — in Kentucky’s 6th district, which has “changed hands multiple times in the last decade”, according to Emily’s List. It never hurts to drop a truth bomb about affordable healthcare on Republicans.

Because, as Greg Sargent noted in the Washington Post, in spite of the evidence, Mitch McConnell “remains 1000 percent convinced that the law is an ongoing policy catastrophe that will never be anything other than an irrevocable political disaster for Democrats.”

A January Kentucky Health Issues Poll showed that a large majority of Kentucky adults from all demographics supported the state’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage, as offered under Obamacare. Given that more than half a million people were uninsured in Kentucky before Obamacare, it was pure logic to predict that Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell would be proven wrong when they said their constituents didn’t want any Obamacare.

Governor Beshear has been making the moral case for Obamacare, and shocking Republicans by blasting them for their failure to care about Kentuckians, which opened the door for Democratic candidates to run on the morality of taking care of our own.

Sure, they might have to call it by another name, but it’s Obamacare. It’s the very thing Republicans said no one would want. And it’s the very thing Republicans were so sure was going to assure them a victory in 2014, as if everything would be a 2010 repeat. But of course, the law is now implemented and the benefits are becoming clearer in spite of the GOP’s fear mongering campaign.

In 2014 they’re going to run on it under a different name. In 2016, they’ll be lining up to say they supported Obamacare back before it was cool to do so. This is what the GOP/Koch Brothers are so afraid of.

***************

Another Republican Goes Down as Rick Perry Is The Focus Of a Criminal Investigation

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Monday, April, 14th, 2014, 9:35 am   

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has lawyered up as the criminal investigation into whether he illegally withheld money from a district attorney’s office is gaining steam.

According to the American-Statesman:

    Gov. Rick Perry has retained a high-profile Austin defense lawyer to represent him in a criminal investigation into whether he illegally withheld money from the Travis County district attorney’s office, the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV confirmed Sunday.

    The hiring of David L. Botsford is the latest signal that the inquiry into Perry’s conduct might be gaining momentum after a seven-month investigation.

If this case reminds you of another Republican governor who wants to run for president, but is trapped in his own web of self created scandals, it should. Perry got himself into hot water by threating to withhold $7.5 million in funding unless the Democratic Travis County DA resigned. Perry wanted her to resign after she was convicted of a DWI. The Democrat promised not to run for reelection, but refused to resign.

Perry’s actions put a cloud of uncertainty over hundreds of criminal investigations and were illegal. The governor can’t withhold funding in order to pressure another elected official to resign. The matter of the DA and her DWI is an issue between her and the voters.

Gov. Perry’s actions are very similar to what Chris Christie is being accused of doing in New Jersey. Christie is accused of withholding Sandy aid, unless political favors were granted to his campaign donors. Both Christie and Perry have White House dreams in 2016, and both may be undone by their own criminal abuses of power.

****************

In a Twofer, Wendy Davis Busts Abbott and Key Advisor on Standardized Testing for Pre-K

By: Adalia Woodbury
PoliticusUSA
Monday, April, 14th, 2014, 10:18 pm   

What does Greg Abbott’s reliance on Charles Murray for his education policy and the specific provision of standardized testing for four-year-olds have in common?  According to Abbott, both are just for informational purposes. Nothing to worry about here.

Davis persisted on the point including when she outlined her education policy in Corpus Christi last week.

As Sarah Jones explained, Abbott was already on the ropes,

    The pre-K brawl is going down just like the fight over Fair Pay brawl: The Texas Republican says and does some foolish things, and then walks them back and tries to claim they don’t mean what they mean, and then eventually Democrat Wendy Davis clobbers him with his own policies by simply revealing them to the public.

Today, Wendy Davis can declare victory because Jim Windham, a key Abbott adviser and Chairman of the Texas Institute for Education Reform, came clean.

    We do need diagnostics to determine the needs of the child and efficacy of the methodologies being used. There have been a number of normed Pre-K assessments that evaluate vocabulary and fluency very easily.

The Davis campaign documented Windham’s long history of supporting standardized tests in articles he wrote.  So Wendy Davis isn’t relying on gotcha questions by media tricksters or by snippets of quotes taken out of context.  She has Windham with his own words.

In an article published on October 7, 2012 Windham wrote:

“For the past year in almost every available venue, opponents of high stakes standardized assessments of public school student achievement have been droning on about the perceived oppression of the Texas public school accountability system, which has been rated by national education organizations as having produced the best high school graduation standard in the country when fully implemented.”

Zac Petkanas, Wendy Davis’ communication director, commented on Windham’s admission made earlier on Monday.

    Someone forgot to tell Jim Windham that the part of Abbott’s pre-k plan that calls for standardized testing is there for ‘informational purposes only …. Despite the Abbott campaign’s claims to the contrary, there can be no doubt that Greg Abbott’s plan would impose standardized testing onto 4 year olds now that their education advisor admitted it at an official campaign event.

Someone might want to tell Abbott and his key adviser on education that on-line newspaper articles are a lot like video tape.  Once you’ve said it, it’s forever because on-line publications keep archives.

The Texas Press has been busy exposing Abbott’s lies about standardized testing.  Here are a few examples.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times

“The $118 million Abbott plan calls for lawmakers to require school districts with pre-K programs to administer assessments at the beginning and end of the school year in an effort to measure the quality of such programs. One of those assessments referenced in Abbott’s plan is standardized testing.”

Kera News:

“One of the candidates’ biggest slug-fests over Pre-K has focused on Abbott’s call for assessing what these four-year olds have learned and how that would be done.  A paragraph in Abbott’s 22- page plan says standardized testing is one way of doing that.”

KUT

“Abbott’s plan would grant an additional $1500 per pre-k student in districts that agree to meet new “gold” standards, a determination that would be made through testing and other assessments.”

The last time Wendy Davis caught Abbott in a lie, Abbott took the coward’s way out by being a no show for a scheduled press conference.  Abbott was busted by his own policy statement. When he finally surfaced, Abbot played the “just for informational purposes” card.

This time, Abbott and his key advisor were caught in a blatant lie, completed with proof that Windham’s long history of favoring standardized tests.  Moreover, the media has rejected his “just for informational purposes” excuse.  Any bets on which card Abbott will try to play this time?

****************

The Public Seeing What GOP Doesn’t Want Them to See – That Tax Burden is Unfair

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, April, 15th, 2014, 7:15 am      

Taxation played a role in the coming of the American Revolution (everyone is familiar with the cry, “No taxation without representation”) and it is leading to unrest today as Republicans in bill after bill give tax cuts to the rich, adding to the tax burden of the middle class and poor to pay the 1 percent’s way to overseas tax shelters and villas, and on top of it off, suppress the vote of those on whom the burden mostly (and unfairly) falls.

Gallup’s annual Economy and Personal Finance poll reveals, “a robust majority, 61%, believe that upper-income people pay too little.” Perhaps more telling,

    Nearly half of Americans, 49%, believe middle-income people — a group many Americans consider themselves part of — pay too much in taxes, up from 42% a year ago and the highest Gallup has found since 1999. At the same time, the 42% who say middle-income Americans pay their “fair share” in taxes is down 11 percentage points from last year.

What’s shocking is the number of people – largely Republicans who have drunk the Kool Aid – who say that the poor pay to little in taxes. That’s right. It’s not the rich who don’t pay enough. It’s the poor.

Tax Burden Lower Income

Gallup reveals that while a “plurality of Americans, 41%, say lower-income people pay too much in taxes” and “a third of Americans say the lower-income pay their fair share,” a staggering “23% say they pay too little, one point off the record high from 2012.”

    More broadly, Gallup’s two-decade trend shows a clear increase in the percentage of Americans who believe the lower-income pay too little in taxes. The figure varied from 8% to 12% throughout the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s. It then jumped to between 13% and 17% in the late 2000s, and has consistently been near or above 20% since 2010.

What gives?

You only have to look as far as the Republican Party and it’s class warfare narrative of poor, greedy graspers wanting to have something that doesn’t belong to them. Gallup says that “A plurality of Republicans (40%) believe lower-income individuals pay too little in federal income taxes, far higher than the 22% of independents and 11% of Democrats who think so.”

Tax Burderns of Different Income Groups

But in 2011, The Huffington Post looked at the problem and concluded that,

    Contrary to the rhetoric from Republicans that half of Americans are not paying income taxes, at the state level the poor are paying more than twice as much of their income toward taxes than the super rich. At the same time poverty levels have risen to highs not seen since 1993, with 15.1 percent of Americans officially classified as poor.

    But those in the bottom 20 percent pay closer to 12 or 13 percent of their income in state and local taxes on average. The top 1 percent of income earners only pay 7 to 8 percent, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy.

    While the lowest 20 percent often pay 7 percent of their income in sales and excise taxes each year, the top 1 percent pay less than 1 percent of their income toward sales taxes.

According to HuffPo, “An analysis by ITEP concludes these excise taxes are 22 times harder on the poor than the rich, and 11 times harder on middle-income families than the rich.”

None of these facts matter to the Republican narrative, of course. Facts are cast aside in favor of demonizing the poor and elevating the rich to near divine status for things that have never, and will never do – that is, create jobs – and moreover something they have no interest in doing. The money, in the 1 percent’s view, is better spent on themselves.

To make matters worse, according to a new CNN study, the legislators writing our tax laws have an attitude of “do as I say, not as I do” as they seem unable – or unwilling – to pay their own taxes and then compound their sins by denying they never paid them in the first place.

*************

Pastor John Hagee: Tuesday’s ‘blood moon’ eclipse signals the end of the world

By David Edwards
Raw Story
Monday, April 14, 2014 12:43 EDT

Pastor John Hagee is warning members of his megachurch to prepare for the end of the world because a “blood moon” eclipse on Tuesday is signaling that the End Times could be beginning.

On Tuesday, most of the United States will be treated to the first of four complete lunar eclipses — which scientists call a tetrad — occurring in six month intervals. The eclipses are often referred to as “blood moons” because as sunlight shines on the moon through the Earth’s atmosphere, it gives the moon a red color.

Hagee, pastor of Texas’ Cornerstone Church, has written a book on the phenomenon titled Blood Moons: Something is About to Change. And he is airing a live television event on Tuesday to reveal “direct connections between four upcoming blood-moon eclipses and what they portend for Israel and all of humankind.”

“Is this the end of the age?” Hagee asked during a recent sermon, before quoting Acts 2:19-20: And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

“I believe that the heavens are God’s billboard, that he has been sending signals to planet Earth,” he explained. “God is literally screaming at the world, ‘I’m coming soon.’”

Hagee predicted that the four eclipses were signaling a “world-shaking event that will happen between April 2014 and October 2015.”

“God sends plant Earth a signal that something big is about to happen! He’s controlling the Sun and the moon right now to send our generation a signal, but the question is, are we getting it?”

Watch the video below from Full Tree Ministries, broadcast April 14, 2014.

Click the watch the fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxO63s6ccDc



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« Reply #13023 on: Apr 16, 2014, 06:02 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/15/2014 06:11 PM

'We Will Shoot Back': All Eyes on Russia as Ukraine Begins Offensive in East

By SPIEGEL Staff

Many in the West believe that Russia is behind the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine. Kiev on Tuesday launched an offensive to retake control of the region, but the biggest question still looms: Will Russia invade?

The last village on Russian territory, located just off the M3 highway where it enters Ukraine on the way from Moscow, is called Amon. Previously, motorists hardly took notice of the settlement and the border behind it was largely symbolic. But times have changed. Lena Mayorova, a nurse, is standing in front of her house and pointing out the positions taken up by Russian soldiers, where troops have dug trenches and hidden machine guns behind mounds of sandbags. A military helicopter is roaring overhead. Mayorova has never before seen such a thing, at least not here.

But the military presence, seven kilometers (4.3 miles) from the border, meets with her approval. She and others in the area believe that "over there, they are facing a civil war and fascist mercenaries are marching in from Kiev." That, at least, is what Mayorova learned from Russian state television.

Her view of the situation is not likely to have changed on Tuesday. Ukrainian troops began moving into the eastern part of the country as part of the "anti-terror operation" Kiev threatened to launch last week. The operation, targeting pro-Russian separatists in the region, had been scheduled to begin on Friday, but Kiev opted to give activists more time to stand down. A new deadline had been established for Monday.

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksander Tuchinov said that the operation began on Monday night north of Donetsk. "It will take place in stages, responsibly, in a considered way," he told parliament, according to Reuters. On Tuesday afternoon, Ukrainian forces were reportedly at the airport in Kramatorsk, just outside the city of Slovyansk.

The advance into eastern Ukraine has loomed for days as rhetoric between the West and Russia has become increasingly pointed. The Kremlin, Western military sources said last week, had deployed 10 brigades of up to 4,000 soldiers each on the border with Ukraine, with witnesses reporting several bus convoys bringing soldiers to the border. "But we don't know for sure how many troops are there," one NATO general said. NATO intelligence, he continued, had not been able to identify a command center in the border region. Still, he added, an invasion cannot be ruled out. Either way, he said, the Ukrainian army would not be able to resist an offensive for long.

A Further Escalation

Russia has repeatedly denied that it is mobilizing its forces on the Ukrainian border and dismissed satellite photos released by NATO last week -- designed to prove the contrary -- as being out of date. On Tuesday, Moscow said claims that some Russian troops were in eastern Ukraine were "absurd." Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he hopes that Kiev has "enough brains" to prevent a further escalation.

But efforts at de-escalation have taken a backseat in recent days. NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke recently of "illegal and illegitimate aggression" perpetrated by Russia and warned against further bolstering the Russian military presence on the Ukrainian border. "My message … to Russia is: You have a choice," Rasmussen said. The Western alliance said it was prepared to help Kiev defend sites in the country and has pledged the delivery of uniforms, spare parts and aircraft fuel.

The focus of the Ukraine conflict, which began in Kiev before moving to Crimea, is now squarely focused on the eastern part of the country. The front runs east of the Dnieper River, through cities like Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk. As the barricades in Kiev are being dismantled, new ones have been erected here amid demonstrations in favor of annexation to Russia, even if enthusiasm hasn't reached the fever pitch seen in Crimea.

The industrial city of Luhansk lies almost directly on the border with Russia, on the highway to Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad. People like Alexei Relke are on the rise these days in Luhansk. The 41-year-old can be found in the occupied local headquarters of the Ukrainian state security agency SBU. He has a Kalashnikov hanging around his neck; by way of greeting he snaps a new clip into place. "I am at war," he says.

Relke has taken charge of several hundred pro-Russian insurgents who have holed up in the state security building. He goes by the alias, "the German," a nickname he brought home with him from southern Germany, where he lived for 16 years, working in construction. Ten additional Kalashnikovs can be found in a wooden crate behind him. But the assault rifles aren't the only weapons Relke has at his disposal and he calmly runs through his inventory, which includes hand grenades, mines and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. He knows how to use them all; he was born in the Soviet Union and served as an officer in the Russian army.

'We Will Shoot Back'

Thus far, he hasn't had to use them. But Relke makes it clear what Ukrainian forces should expect if they come to Luhansk: "If they shoot, we will shoot back," he says.

It was "the German" who triggered the Luhansk insurgency in the first place. He was arrested on April 5, with a Kiev special forces unit forcing its way into his apartment at 4 a.m. and dragging him into custody. The charge? Treason and sabotage. That evening on television, the SBU displayed 300 machine guns, a grenade launcher and several knives that had, they claimed, been confiscated in Relke's flat.

On the same day, secret service agents arrested several dozen additional pro-Russian activists. Relke says the accusations are fictitious, claiming that he merely established a "coordination center" in February with like-minded Luhansk residents "when we saw what was happening in Kiev." Following his arrest, though, Relke's comrades stormed the state security headquarters and forced his release. But that wasn't all: Insurgents were also able to wrest control of the weapons depot at the local secret service headquarters, which explains why Relke is now wearing camouflage and a bullet-proof vest emblazoned with the letters "SBU".

Relke says that would-be insurgents have also crossed into Ukraine from Russia: "Two or three from every city," he claims. The sounds of several hundred followers singing the Russian wartime folksong "Katyusha" can be heard through the window.

When asked about his political aims, Relke quickly loses his confident demeanor. "The people here were so oppressed, you wouldn't believe it," he says and begins speaking about the late February campaign to remove Russian as Ukraine's second official language. He leaves unmentioned the fact that the attempt was ultimately unsuccessful. He then speaks of freedom and democracy; eventually he mentions the idea of a referendum. "We would welcome military support from Russia, but we don't believe it will happen," Relke says. "We will have to do the job alone."

The regional parliament in Luhansk was at first hesitant to support the pro-Russian activists, but then it released a statement offering an amnesty and demanding a countrywide referendum on transforming Ukraine into a federation.

A Surprise

Luhansk, though, is not alone. Activists remain in control of the administration building in the mining city of Donetsk as well. But who gave the order for the operation? "It came as a surprise to us," says Miroslav Rudenko in the 13th floor of the provincial headquarters, where he and other "members of government" are consulting over the next steps that the newly proclaimed "Donetsk Republic" should take.

Hardly any of the current leaders in Donetsk were part of the initial occupation, Rudenko, 31, explains. "The mood wasn't actually quite prepared for an insurgency." But the government's announcement that inefficient mines in the region would be closed, combined with rising fuel prices, quickly changed the mood in the city.

Rudenko is one of the leaders of the People's Militia of Donbass, a well-organized movement; an image of its founder, Pavel Gubarev, is plastered on his T-shirt. Following deposed President Viktor Yanukovych's flight from Kiev, Gubarev proclaimed himself the "people's governor" of Donetsk and was arrested by Ukrainian secret service agents. He is still behind bars; his wife, Yekaterina Gubareva, fled to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Gubarev's "militia" maintains close contacts with the Eurasian Youth Union, headed by the Moscow ideologue Alexander Dugin. At the end of March, a conversation between him and Yekaterina Gubareva was made public in which the two discussed the strategy that should be followed in Donetsk. In the conversation, Dugin promises Russian support and advises the establishment of citizen defense initiatives in opposition to the "Kiev junta" in addition to the demand for a referendum on Donbass independence. That is exactly the scenario that insurgents are now pursuing.

Nevertheless, the situation here is not as unambiguous as it was on the Crimean Peninsula. According to surveys carried out by the Institute of Social Research in Donetsk, even as the fear of "radical residents of western Ukraine" are widespread and roughly half of those polled are frightened of the government in Kiev, three-quarters reject the occupation of buildings in the region. Half of those surveyed demand more regional rights, but within a sovereign Ukraine. Only one-third are in favor of being annexed by Russia. But nothing changes in Ukraine these days as quickly as the mood of the populace.

Demanding Talks

Last Friday, interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk finally took a step that was long overdue: He made a visit to Donetsk. During his stay, he met with Rinat Achmetov, the country's wealthiest oligarch, whose network of companies employs some 300,000 people worldwide. Still, the primary focus of Achmetov's business interests remains heavy industry in the Donbass region. Achmetov was a significant financier of the Party of Regions, the party that propelled Yanukovych to power, and the new government in Kiev can ill afford to ignore him. A billionaire who shuns the limelight, Achmetov has visited several hotspots in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, speaking with those occupying administrative buildings and demanding talks with Kiev.

The situation is similar across the region, with the population of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, just as divided as that of Donetsk. "Ten percent at the most are in favor of Russian annexation," says Mayor Hennadiy Kernes, adding that "40 percent are in favor of close cooperation with Russia within a customs union, 30 percent want to become part of the European Union and the rest don't care." Kernes is popular in Kharkiv, primarily because he is seen as having cleaned up the streets and built playgrounds and parks.

Russia had hoped that Kernes would be instrumental in splitting off eastern Ukraine. But he quickly headed for the exits during a February meeting of the separatist movement Ukrainian Front. He knows that a majority of his constituency is opposed to becoming part of President Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Nevertheless, the new Kiev government longs to be rid of the mayor. A long-time Kernes detractor currently heads up the Interior Ministry and has initiated an investigation, meaning that the mayor must travel to the capital on a weekly basis for hearings.

"Everyone who stormed the governor's palace in Kharkiv last week is to be dragged into court, but those who occupied Kiev city hall are now seen as heroes," he says. "That is not a good recipe for rapprochement." Kernes is demanding that access to Russian television, cut off by a Kiev court to the chagrin of many in the east, be restored.

The mayor's primary adversary can be found two kilometers away in the governor's palace on Freedom Square. A massive man, Ihor Baluta was installed by the new government and is protected by a contingent of 250 heavily armed police. His office is still dominated by the smell of smoke, the result of a raid on the building 10 days ago perpetrated by several hundred pro-Russian activists. Baluta's office windows were shattered, bullets hammered into the walls and a fire broke out on the ground floor. Early last week, special forces regained control of the building.

Information and Disinformation

"We have arrested 62 people," Baluta says. "Russians were not among them. But our secret service personnel know that Russians took part in the raid on my headquarters. They were able to get away in time." Later, an advisor to the governor led a tour through the destroyed offices. "The whole thing was controlled and financed by people in the Russian consulate," he says, "but the governor can't be quite that open." Still, proof to back claims of Russian involvement is scant, just as it is for the assertion made by pro-Russian activists that personnel from the private US security firm Greystone were among the special forces troops dispatched by Kiev.

It is almost impossible these days to distinguish information from disinformation; the political camps are irreconcilable and no accusation is beyond the pale. And perhaps the most important question is impossible to answer: Will Russia invade Ukraine?

Even in Moscow, nobody can say for sure, with political analysts enjoying close ties to the Kremlin unsure about the president's intentions. Stanislav Belkovsky, the author of a book critical of the Pig, wrote in the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets that the president has clearly stated what might prevent him from marching into Ukraine: "The introduction of Russian as the country's second official language and the federalization of Ukraine with extensive rights for the regions." Neither condition would be easy for Kiev to fulfil.

Pig, whose popularity ratings shot up to over 82 percent following the annexation of Crimea, has triggered a sense of expectancy among his followers. Were he now to lose Ukraine to the West, he would find himself in the company of predecessors Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, neither of whom have been forgiven by a majority of Russians for sacrificing the country's superpower status.

'Controlled Chaos'

The Kremlin, it is clear, is prepared to do all it can to prevent Ukraine from turning westwards. In recent days, Moscow has been putting its instruments of economic torture on display. Not only did Russia revoke the natural gas rebate for Ukraine once negotiated by the country's toppled president Yanukovych, but it also jacked the price up to $486 per 1,000 cubic meters. That is roughly $100 more than Russia's Western European customers pay on average. And from now on, Ukraine will have to pay in advance.

The Kremlin, wrote the Pig Putin-critical newspaper Vedomosti last week, is eager to create "controlled chaos." A second step, the paper wrote, would be that of sabotaging Ukraine's presidential elections and promoting the creation of a confederation, with the goal of ultimately paving the way for regions in eastern Ukraine to join Moscow's customs union.

But does Pig still have the forces he has unleashed under control? Last week, a high-ranking Russian official laid claim to the country's "historical right" to territories of the former Soviet Union, including the eastern regions of Kazakhstan.

In response, Kazakhstan immediately recalled its Moscow ambassador for consultations.

BY MORITZ GATHMANN, CHRISTIAN NEEF, WLADIMIR PYLJOW AND MATTHIAS SCHEPP

Translated from the German by Charles Hawley

***************

Troops fire as locals in Kramatorsk confront Ukraine general Vasily Krutov

Protesters injured as anti-terrorist operation announced by acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, begins

Alec Luhn   
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 April 2014 21.59 BST   

Angry locals surrounded General Vasily Krutov, yelling questions about what he and his troops were doing in their city.

"We are conducting an anti-terrorist operation," the senior Ukrainian officer began, but he was interrupted by angry shouts of "What terrorists?"

As the crowd surged towards the airfield entrance in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, waving a Russian flag on a long branch, the Ukrainian troops inside unleashed a volley of shots into the air.

After a failed ultimatum for pro-Russian protesters to lay down their arms and vacate government buildings they have occupied in at least nine cities across eastern Ukraine, yesterday Kiev attempted to flex its military muscle. But the anti-terrorist operation announced by the acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, got off to a rough start when security service troops took control of the military facility, firing shots and injuring at least two protesters. The air base is an obvious staging point for any operation in the larger nearby city of Slavyansk, where well-organised gunmen seized the police and security service building last weekend. A similar group of armed men later stormed a government building in Kramatorsk with a flurry of gunfire, although no one was injured.

The casualties angered still further locals opposed to the Kiev government. Men quickly hemmed the troops inside the air base with tyres, pallets and small trees they had uprooted, vowing to guard the barricade through the night and set it on fire if anyone tried to come out. A few dozen molotov cocktails stood on the road nearby.

Although officials blame the unrest on Russian agents, including a man who identified himself on camera as a lieutenant general in the Russian army, local protesters say they are acting on their own initiative, out of their hatred for the new regime. The mayor of Slavyansk said on Ukrainian television on Tuesday that soldiers from Russia and Crimea had led the building takeovers there.

Speaking with Krutov, the crowd demanded to know why the troops, sent by Kiev to quell an uprising in eastern Ukraine that officials say Russia is inciting, had fired on locals, with one man displaying a wound on his thigh he said was from a bullet graze. The general said about 30 armed men were operating in the area and his men had been forced to open fire, but he was quickly drowned out by shouts and chants of "Lies!" and "Donbass!," the historical name of this coal-mining region with close economic and cultural ties to Russia.

At one point, a group of men began punching Krutov in the head, knocking off his military-issue fur hat. Yelling "jail him", they attempted to drag him away, but others stopped them and escorted him to the base's entrance.

A man who identified himself only as Sergei said he had been in the group of men that had come under fire at the airfield, saying two of them had been wounded. He said after they saw two helicopters land and unload special forces, he and a dozen or so others advanced on the base armed with clubs. After they passed through the gates, soldiers began shooting at them, he said, denying reports that men in the party were carrying firearms.

Arriving at the facility, the Guardian also saw a fighter jet resembling a Su-27 circling around the airfield. Locals claimed it had strafed the airfield earlier.

Speaking to journalists, Krutov said the wave of unrest was being led by Russian forces. He said more than 300 Russian forces had infiltrated neighbouring Luhansk region the day before.

"We need to destroy this foreign invader. We have among these spies Russian military, professionals with long experience in all sorts of conflicts."

Asked if another ultimatum would be given to those who had seized buildings, Krutov said that would be "too humanitarian". Civilian casualties were possible, but his forces would try to "make sure not one innocent person suffers".

"Unfortunately we face a difficult situation because those realising their plan are hiding behind human shields," he said, apparently referring to the many pro-Russian locals who have taken part in building takeovers.

"People don't want to turn in their weapons. As soldiers, we are obliged to defend our land," said a paratrooper with the anti-terrorist force who declined to give his name. "We believe in everything we're doing to preserve our government, our territory and peace here. No one is planning to fight with protesters."

"Some of them are cynically working towards their own ends, but many are under the influence of propaganda," Krutov said about the pro-Russian protesters. Russian media have painted the new Kiev government as dominated by nationalists who want to crack down on Russian speakers in the east.

"We're not separatists," a man who identified himself only as Valery said outside the barricaded airfield. "I don't want Ukraine to be divided. I don't want to give our land to Russia … I want a referendum because we can't work with this regime any other way."

****************

Pro-Russian separatists seize Ukrainian armoured vehicles

About 100 armed men ride on top of seized vehicles in central Kramatorsk as Ukrainian military helicopters hover above

Luke Harding and Alec Luhn in Slavyansk
theguardian.com, Wednesday 16 April 2014 10.13 BST   
    
Pro-Russian armed separatists have seized five armoured personnel carriers and a tank from the Ukrainian army, which they then drove in a victory lap through the centre of Kramatorsk in Ukraine's east, where government forces are attempting to wrest back control of the city.

About 100 heavily armed men, some in balaclavas and wearing military fatigues, rode on top of the seized armoured vehicles, the first of which was flying a Russian tricolour. Several hundred locals gathered around the convoy, cheering, tooting their car horns and waving in support as it rolled past Kramatorsk's railway station, not far from the airfield where Ukrainian soldiers clashed with separatists on Tuesday.

Ukrainian military helicopters hovered above the dramatic scenes in central Kramatorsk but there seemed to be no attempt by government forces to try to wrest back control of the situation.

The seized armoured personnel carriers were driven to Slavyansk, where a Russian flag had been raised above a checkpoint at the city entrance. A jet plane resembling a Su-27 circled low over the town's square.

The pro-Russian militiamen who drove the troop carriers into Slavyansk refused to say where they had got them.

"From space," one said. "They came on their own," said another.

There were, however, reports that six Ukrainian pieces of armour in Kramatorsk had fallen into the hands of pro-Russian militia. Reuters reported that at least three of the armoured troop carriers were under the control of the Ukrainian army in Kramatorsk earlier on Wednesday. The troop carrier driven into Slavyansk did not look modern enough or well kept enough to be Russian.

One soldier siding with the separatists in Slavyansk told a Reuters reporter he and others in his group were part of a Ukrainian paratroop unit who could not shoot "our own people".

Locals gathered as the militiamen parked the vehicles near city hall. A pair of women recognised one man and hugged him, suggesting that at least some of them were local.

The new "people's mayor", Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, arrived and greeted the men, then led a group of them off the square towards other occupied buildings.

But not all the locals who had gathered joined the hero's welcome. One man who identified himself only as Valery angrily asked the militiamen, who were enforcing a wide perimeter around the armoured vehicles, what they were doing.

"Part of the population supports them," he said. "But people who work, like me – I'm an entrepreneur – they don't want this."

Valery said he did not support calls for a referendum and wanted to vote in the presidential elections planned for 25 May, which many here say they will boycott.

"People think everything in Russia is spread with honey," Valery said – a statement that provoked angry exclamations and arguments from nearby crowds.

Separately, there were unconfirmed reports that armed men had captured the city administration building in nearby Donetsk.

Pro-Russian protesters seeking independence from Kiev have occupied at least nine government buildings in the region for more than a week – but this is the first time that separatist forces deep inside Ukraine have managed to seize heavy military equipment and a further sign that the situation in the east is slipping out of Kiev's grip.

Ukrainian government forces launched their first significant military action in the east of the country on Tuesday, clashing with about 30 pro-Russian gunmen at a provincial airfield and heightening fears that the standoff could escalate into a major armed conflict.

Shots were fired in Kramatorsk airport as Ukrainian special forces stormed in to reassert Kiev's control. As troop helicopters hovered above and tempers flared, a Ukrainian general was set upon by a group of local people incensed that two protesters had been injured, knocking off his military-issue fur hat and yelling: "Jail him."

At the same time as Kramatorsk airport was being seized, elite Ukrainian units were also gathering outside the nearby city of Slavyansk in an operation aimed at taking back control from armed pro-Russian groups.

Ukraine's acting president said the recapture of the airport was just the first such action aimed at restoring Kiev's control over the east.

"I just got a call from the Donetsk region: Ukrainian special forces have liberated the airport in the city of Kramatorsk from terrorists," Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament.

"I'm convinced that there will not be any terrorists left soon in Donetsk and other regions and they will find themselves in the dock – this is where they belong."

Russia's president, Pig Putin, declared the Ukrainian moves "anti-constitutional acts" and in a phone call to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, demanded that the UN condemn them. But the US voiced strong support for the Ukrainian operation, arguing that the government in Kiev had to respond to armed groups.

"We understand the government of Ukraine is working to try to calm the situation in the east and note the measured approach of the Ukrainian security forces thus far," said the White House press secretary Jay Carney.

Representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the US and the European Union are due to meet in Geneva on Thursday for the first time since the crisis began in February, but there were clear signs that the situation in eastern Ukraine risked spiralling out of control before the diplomats could meet.

The mayor of Slavyansk said the pro-Russian local people there were being supported by unmarked troops from Russia and Crimea. Turchynov gave pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine until Monday morning to give up their arms and the buildings they had seized, but instead a pro-Russian mob took over yet another government building in Horlivka that day. A man who appointed a new police chief there later said he was a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army.

General Vasily Krutov, the commander of the Ukrainian operation in the region, said the government's ultimatum would not be extended. That would be "too humanitarian", he said. He added that civilian casualties were possible but his forces would try to make sure "not one innocent person suffers".

He said: "Unfortunately we face a difficult situation because those realising their plan are hiding behind human shields" – an apparent reference to the many pro-Russian local people who have taken part in taking over buildings. "Some of them are cynically working towards their own ends, but many are under the influence of propaganda," he said.

At the White House, Carney said the Ukrainian authorities had repeatedly sought to negotiate a peaceful resolution with armed groups occupying buildings in eastern cities, and made clear that use of force was not its "preferred action".

But he continued: "That said, the Ukrainian government has a responsibility to provide law and order. These provocations in eastern Ukraine are creating a situation in which the government has to respond."

Asked what advice the CIA director, John Brennan, who visited Kiev on Saturday, and other US officials had given security forces in Kiev, Carney replied: "We urged the Ukrainian government to move forward, gradually, responsibly, and with all due caution, as it deals with this situation caused by armed militants.

"Let's be clear: the way to ensure that violence does not occur is for these armed paramilitary groups, and these armed so-called pro-Russian separatists, to vacate the buildings and to lay down their arms."

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said in a speech to the City of London on Tuesday that the EU was completing preparations for "far-reaching economic, trade and financial sanctions whenever necessary" against Moscow.

"In recent days Russia has deliberately pushed Ukraine to the brink, and created a still greater risk of violent confrontation," he said. "We call on Russia to stop these actions and to condemn the lawless acts in eastern Ukraine."

The UN human rights office, meanwhile, said ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine had falsely claimed to be under assault to justify Russian intervention, warning that such propaganda could affect Ukraine's presidential election next month.

Russia condemned the report, saying it was one-sided and seemed to have been "fabricated" to fit pre-formed conclusions.

*************

Russia Is Quick to Bend Truth About Ukraine

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
APRIL 15, 2014
IHT

MOSCOW — The Facebook post on Tuesday morning by Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia was bleak and full of dread.

“Blood has been spilled in Ukraine again,” wrote Mr. Medvedev, once favored in the West for playing good cop to the hard-boiled president, Pig V. Putin. “The threat of civil war looms.”

He pleaded with Ukrainians to decide their own future “without usurpers, nationalists and bandits, without tanks or armored vehicles — and without secret visits by the C.I.A. director.”

And so began another day of bluster and hyperbole, of the misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and, occasionally, outright lies about the political crisis in Ukraine that have emanated from the highest echelons of the Kremlin and reverberated on state-controlled Russian television, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

It is an extraordinary propaganda campaign that political analysts say reflects a new brazenness on the part of Russian officials. And in recent days, it has largely succeeded — at least for Russia’s domestic audience — in painting a picture of chaos and danger in eastern Ukraine, although it was pro-Russian forces themselves who created it by seizing public buildings and setting up roadblocks.

In essence, Moscow’s state-controlled news media outlets are loudly and incessantly calling on Ukraine and the international community to calm a situation that Ukraine, the United States and the European Union say the Kremlin is doing its best to destabilize.

Even the United Nations weighed in. In a report released Tuesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that threats to ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, cited repeatedly by Russian officials and in the Russian news media as a potential rationale for Russian military action, were exaggerated and that some participants in the protests in the region came from Russia.

“Although there were some attacks against the ethnic Russian community, these were neither systematic nor widespread,” said the report, which was based on two United Nations missions to Ukraine between March 15 and April 2.

There is no question that the new Ukrainian government and its Western allies, including the United States, have engaged in their own misinformation efforts at times, with officials in Kiev making bold pronouncements in recent days of enforcement efforts that never materialized. On Tuesday, some American officials were spreading unverified photographs allegedly showing Russian rocket launchers carried by pro-Russian demonstrators in eastern Ukraine.

“It’s all lies,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an expert on Russian politics at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “The Russia leadership doesn’t care about how it’s being perceived in the outside world, in the world of communication, in the world where we have plurality of information and where information can be confirmed and checked. This is a radical change in attitude toward the West.”

Ms. Shevtsova added: “We can’t trust anything. Even with the Soviet propaganda, when they were talking with the Soviet people, there were some rules. Now, there are no rules at all. You can invent anything.”

To watch the television news in Russia is to be pulled into a swirling, 24-hour vortex of alarmist proclamations of Western aggression, sinister claims of rising fascism and breathless accounts of imminent hostilities by the “illegal” Ukrainian government in Kiev, which has proved itself in recent days to be largely powerless.

The Rossiya 24 news channel, for instance, has been broadcasting virtually nonstop with a small graphic at the bottom corner of the screen that says “Ukrainian Crisis” above the image of a masked fighter, set against the backdrop of the red-and-black flag of the nationalist, World War II-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which inflicted tens of thousands of casualties on Soviet forces.

Over the course of several hours of coverage on Tuesday, Rossiya 24 reported that four to 11 peaceful, pro-Russian “supporters of federalization” in Ukraine were killed near the town of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine when a mixed force of right-wing Ukrainians and foreign mercenaries strafed an airfield with automatic gunfire from helicopter gunships before landing and seizing control.

In fact, on the ground, a small crowd of residents surrounded a Ukrainian commander who had landed at the airfield in a helicopter, and while there were reports of stones thrown and shots fired in the air, only a few minor injuries were reported with no signs of fatalities.

Adding to the public frenzy about imminent Kiev-ordered violence, Life News, a pro-Kremlin tabloid television station, offered a bounty of 15,000 rubles, or slightly more than $400, for video of Ukrainian military forces mobilizing in eastern Ukraine — suggesting that such activity was secretly underway.

An official with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has monitors in Ukraine, said they had not seen any direct threats to pro-Russian citizens in eastern Ukraine, where despite the intense news media attention, protest activity remained relatively isolated, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the continuing mission.

In Slovyansk, where pro-Russian forces seized a police station and the local headquarters of the security service over the weekend, the monitors heard what seemed to be genuine fear of the authorities in Kiev, this official said, but only because they were worried that the government would try to retake the seized buildings. “Part of the reason they had the roadblocks was they were afraid the Ministry of Interior was going to launch an operation,” the official said.

Russia has flatly denied any role in the unrest in eastern Ukraine, and the Russian Foreign Ministry, which normally champions the authority of the United Nations, dismissed the new humans rights report as biased. In a statement, Aleksandr Lukashevich, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, called it “one-sided, politicized and unobjective.”

Mr. Lukashevich said the report ignored “the unchecked rise of aggressive nationalism and neo-Nazism” in Ukraine, adding, “the document abounds in flagrant selectiveness.”

Mark Galeotti, a professor of global affairs at New York University who is teaching in Moscow this semester, said that some of the lies were blatant. “You can have the sight of the Russian state honoring the ‘heroes of Crimea’ without finding any need to reconcile that with the official line that there were no Russian soldiers there,” Mr. Galeotti said in an interview.

Still, he said the propaganda was strikingly effective in Crimea, throwing the West off-balance and buying Russian forces just enough time to solidify their control over the peninsula.

“It was on one level transparent, embarrassingly transparent,” Mr. Galeotti said. “But I know from my conversations with various people in government, it did create that sort of paralysis, or uncertainty.”

He added, “In my estimation, all they needed was a six-hour window and, by that point, they were unassailable.”

In the current situation in eastern Ukraine, the propaganda effort also seems effective, Mr. Galeotti said, adding that some in the West were giving too much credence to the Kremlin’s statements. “If you don’t know any better, Ukraine has descended into this anarchic ‘Mad Max’ wasteland of neo-fascist mobs hunting down ethnic Russians, so of course something has to be done.”

The Pig said in a phone call Tuesday with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, that Ukraine was on the brink of civil war, a point Mr. Medvedev also made at a news conference later in Moscow, adding that the government in Kiev was to blame. Mr. Medvedev also repeated the Kremlin’s frequent assertion that Russian speakers were under threat in Ukraine — the very claim United Nations officials rejected in their report.

“The only way to preserve Ukraine and calm the situation,” Mr. Medvedev said, requires “recognizing that Russian citizens are the same as Ukrainians and, therefore, can use their own language in everyday life.”

Andrew Roth and Noah Sneider contributed reporting from Moscow, and Andrew Higgins from Kiev, Ukraine.

*******************

U.N. Cites Abuses in Crimea Before Russia Annexation Vote

By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
APRIL 15, 2014
IHT

GENEVA — Amid fears of escalating violence in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations called on Tuesday for action to counter misinformation and hate speech used as propaganda and urged the authorities in Crimea to account for killings, torture and arbitrary arrests in the buildup to the March referendum that led to its annexation by Russia.

“Facts on the ground need to be established to help reduce the risk of radically different narratives being exploited for political ends,” the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said in a statement released with a report on human rights in Ukraine and Crimea, which until last month was an autonomous region of Ukraine.

“People need a reliable point of view to counter what has been widespread misinformation and also speech that aims to incite hatred on national, religious or racial grounds,” she added.

The United Nations report came as Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, on a visit to Crimea, said in a post on Facebook that eastern Ukraine was “on the brink of civil war.”

A visual survey of the continuing dispute, including satellite images of Russian naval positions and maps showing political, cultural and economic factors in the crisis.

It also coincides with preparations for talks on Ukraine in Geneva on Thursday, when Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov; the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton; and Ukraine’s acting foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia.

The talks will focus on de-escalation of the crisis and will not address Russia’s calls for federalism in Ukraine, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Yuri Klymenko, told reporters on Tuesday. Russia is exploiting unrest in eastern Ukraine as a “concocted pretext” to disrupt the meeting, he said, and Ukraine will present “concrete evidence” of the involvement of Russian special forces in the separatist unrest.

The United Nations report, based on investigations by Ivan Simonovic, a United Nations assistant secretary general, and United Nations human rights monitors pointed to evidence that some participants in deadly clashes in eastern Ukraine had come from Russia.

Tracing the roots of Ukraine’s crisis, the report said excessive use of force by Ukraine’s special police forces, the Berkut, against initially peaceful demonstrators against the government had radicalized protesters and led to the violence that erupted in January and February.

Investigators found that 121 people were killed in clashes in February, as a result of severe beatings or gunshots, and that more than 100 people were still missing, a figure a senior United Nations official in Geneva said might rise to 140 or 150.

The dead included 101 people killed in protests in Independence Square in Kiev, the capital, and 17 security officers and two members of a pro-Russian organization, Oplot, who were killed during an attack in the eastern city of Kharkiv. Hundreds were hospitalized and some remain in critical condition, the report said.

Investigators said they had received reports of attacks on Ukraine’s Russian minority, but these were “neither widespread nor systematic.” Instead, the report said, “greatly exaggerated stories of harassment of ethnic Russians by Ukrainian nationalist extremists, and misinformed reports of them coming armed to persecute ethnic Russians in Crimea, were systematically used to create a climate of fear and insecurity that reflected on support to integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation.”

They said they heard numerous reports of vote rigging in the March 16 referendum, when residents of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to unite with Russia, and expressed concerns about the conditions under which the vote took place, citing harassment and abductions of journalists and activists who were opposed to it, as well as the presence of armed militias.

Some of the journalists and activists who disappeared have since been released, but had been tortured, the report said.

Mr. Simonovic, who visited Crimea in March, said he had been assured by the authorities that they would investigate reports of human rights violations. But the United Nations, which has established a human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine with outposts in five cities, reported that Russia said it did not support the deployment of human rights monitors in Crimea.



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In the USA..United Surveillance America

Oklahoma Governor Signs Bill Banning Mandatory Minimum Wage, Vacation & Sick Leave

By John Amato April 16, 2014 6:00 am
CrooksAndLiars

Raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, overtime and unemployment insurance has dominated the political landscape which has conservative politicians and talking heads making all kinds of asinine analogies to try to bloody the nose of the working class. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin stepped forward and dwarfed her talk show dummies by taking extraordinary measures to thwart the will of the voters and any progress for her constituents. Fallin made a nonsensical case for signing a bill which blocks mandatory minimum wage, vacation and sick-day requirements.

Oklahoman: Cities in Oklahoma are prohibited from establishing mandatory minimum wage or vacation and sick-day requirements under a bill that has been signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Fallin signed the bill Monday that supporters say would prevent a hodgepodge of minimum wages in different parts of the state that could potentially harm the business community.

Opponents say those decisions should be left up to individual communities. They complain the bill specifically targets Oklahoma City, where an initiative is underway to a establish a citywide minimum wage higher than the current federal minimum wage.

Fallin signed three other bills Monday dealing with tax credits for banking institutions, public investments, and membership of the Alarm and Locksmith Industry Committee.

Aren't Republicans always screaming about "We The People?" I forgot-- IOKIYAR!

Think Progress:But that’s not what the typical American minimum wage worker looks like. Nearly 90 percent of workers who would be impacted by an increase in the wage are older than 20, while the average age is 35. More than a quarter have children to support. More than half work full time, and 44 percent have at least some college education, while half a million minimum wage workers are college graduates.

Meanwhile, experts have analyzed state minimum wage increases over two decades and found that even at times of high unemployment, there is no clear evidence that the hikes affected job creation. Five other studies have come to the same conclusion. The same has held true for the city of San Francisco, where employment grew by more than 5 percent after it passed a higher minimum wage while nearby counties experienced declines..
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« Reply #13025 on: Apr 16, 2014, 10:08 AM »

Ukraine Troops Disarm before Pro-Russians, Armored Vehicles with Russian Flag Seen in Restive East

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 April 2014, 12:35

Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces flexed their military muscles in the restive east of the country on Wednesday, a day ahead of high-level diplomatic talks on the escalating crisis.

Ukraine's defense ministry said that pro-Russian militants had seized six armored vehicles dispatched by Kiev to the eastern town of Kramatorsk to quell a separatist insurgency.

The ministry said the column had been initially blocked in Kramatorsk by local residents and then "seized by extremists". It added that the column had since been moved by the militants to the flashpoint eastern city of Slavyansk.

An Agence France Presse reporter on the ground said a column of Ukrainian troops began disabling their guns on the demands of a crowd of pro-Russian activists that had surrounded their armored vehicles in the restive east.

The soldiers in the town of Kramatorsk handed over the firing mechanisms of their rifles to a pro-Moscow protest leader in return for a promise that they would be allowed to leave in their vehicles.

Earlier on Wednesday, armored vehicles from the rival sides appeared on the streets of two neighboring towns after Russian President Pig Putin warned that Kiev's decision to send in troops to put down a separatist uprising in its industrial heartland had dragged the country to the brink of civil war.

NATO said it planned to deploy more forces in eastern Ukraine in the face of the crisis, while Germany warned of more bloodshed if the four-way talks in Geneva on Thursday fail.

An Agence France Presse reporter in the flashpoint town of Slavyansk saw at least six APCs and light tanks, some flying Russian flags, parked in the city center with dozens of unidentified armed men in camouflage stationed around them.

Russian media said Ukrainian troops in the vehicles had switched sides to join the separatists but the Ukrainian army told AFP that it had no reports that any of its equipment had been seized.

An AFP reporter in the nearby town of Kramatorsk also said Ukrainian forces had deployed a column of 14 armored vehicles, although these were being blocked by a crowd of pro-Russian protesters.

Military jets could be seen flying low over both towns in an additional show of strength.

As the situation on the ground appeared to escalate, the authorities in Kiev ratcheted up the verbal attack on Russia, with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accusing Moscow of trying to build "a new Berlin wall".

Yatsenyuk demanded Moscow halt its alleged support for the separatists but said Kiev remained committed to Thursday's crunch talks between the top diplomats of Russia, the European Union, the United States and Ukraine.

"There is only one directive for the Ukrainian foreign ministry -- the Russian government has to immediately withdraw its commando groups, condemn the terrorists and demand they leave the installations," he said.

Ukraine's acting Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval on Wednesday headed out to the east to check on the progress of Kiev's seemingly stalled bid to oust the separatists.

Ukraine's military also pledged a firm response after two serviceman were allegedly taken hostage by pro-Russian forces in the Lugansk region.

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said in a statement that Russian commanders in the east had issued pro-Kremlin militants with "shoot-to-kill" orders.

Elsewhere, pro-Moscow gunmen stormed the mayor's office in the regional capital of Donetsk, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

On Tuesday, authorities in Kiev launched what they called an "anti-terrorist operation", sending tanks towards Slavyansk -- which remains effectively under the control of pro-Russian gunmen -- in a high-risk strategy sharply condemned by the Kremlin but supported in Washington.

The 20 tanks and armored personnel carriers sent to Slavyansk were the most forceful response yet by the Western-backed government in Kiev to the pro-Kremlin militants' occupation of state buildings in nearly 10 cities across Ukraine's rust belt.

But the move drew a sharp response from the Pig in a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The Russian president remarked that the sharp escalation of the conflict has placed the country, in effect, on the verge of civil war," the Kremlin said in a statement.

But both the Pig and Merkel "emphasized the importance" of Thursday's Geneva talks.

The Kremlin described the actions of the Ukrainian army in the east as an "anti-constitutional course to use force against peaceful protest actions".

Kiev's response to the insurgency also prompted Pig to tell U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that Moscow "expects clear condemnation from the United Nations and the international community of the anti-constitutional actions" by Ukraine.

Ban in turn "expressed his alarm about the highly volatile situation in eastern Ukraine" and told the Russian leader that everyone involved needed to "work to de-escalate the situation", his office said.

But the White House described Ukraine's military operation as a "measured" response to a lawless insurgency that had put the government in an "untenable" situation.

Washington also said it was coordinating with its European allies to slap more sanctions on Russia over the crisis.

"Our national security team is in active discussions about the next round of sanctions," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

She added however that new measures were unlikely before the Geneva talks.

Kiev's untested interim leaders -- who took power in February after four months of pro-European protests ousted Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych -- have struggled to meet the high-stakes challenge presented by the coordinated series of raids that began in the industrial hubs of Donetsk and Lugansk and have since spread to nearby coal mining towns and villages.

The breakaway move could potentially see the vast nation of 46 million people break up along its historic Russian-Ukrainian cultural divide.

Moscow last month annexed the largely Russified region of Crimea after deploying military forces there and backing a hasty local referendum calling for the Black Sea peninsula to be absorbed into the Russian Federation.

But a forceful military response by Kiev could prompt a devastating counterstrike by Russian troops who are waiting to act on Putin's vow to "protect" Russian-speakers in the neighboring state.

Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told an agitated session of parliament on Tuesday that the country was facing an eastern enemy rather than domestic discontent.

"They want to set fire not only to the Donetsk region but to the entire south and east -- from Kharkiv to the Odessa region," he said.

*****************

Kerry Heads for Crunch Ukraine Talks as Tensions Mount

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 April 2014, 16:02

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left Wednesday for Geneva for high-stakes talks on Ukraine, armed with the threat of more sanctions against Moscow if diplomacy fails, as tensions on the ground escalated sharply.

The U.S. and the European Union will hold their first four-way talks with Ukraine and Russia on Thursday to address a worsening crisis, although US officials have set low expectations for the meeting, still smarting from a slew of failures in past weeks.

With Ukraine increasingly threatened with a split between its Russian-speaking east and EU-leaning west, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it was hoped the talks could help de-escalate tensions that have risen markedly in the past 24 hours.

Kerry will sit down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, his Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Deshchytsya and the chief diplomat of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, for what are likely to be prickly talks. Observers are skeptical about the chances of success.

The U.S. has backed Kiev's right to quell separatist uprisings that started in the Crimean peninsula and have since spread to other parts of Ukraine, setting the stage for the most serious rupture in West-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Ukraine was now on the verge of civil war after the Kiev government sent in the army against pro-Moscow separatists.

Washington's priorities include trying to get Russia to demobilize pro-Kremlin militias which have seized control of government buildings in towns and cities in Ukraine's southeast, although Putin has denied Moscow has any links to them.

But Psaki has made it clear that the US and the EU are prepared to slap Moscow with tougher sanctions if no headway is made.

"Not only do we anticipate additional sanctions at some point, we're preparing additional steps," she said, adding Kerry had spoken Tuesday with his French, German, British and EU counterparts.

Lavrov and Deshchytsya will Thursday have "the first opportunity to engage... at the same table, with the EU, with the United States," Psaki said.

"We feel there should always be an opportunity and an opening for diplomacy," she insisted, saying an "off-ramp" still existed for Moscow.

Analyst David Marples held out few hopes, "given that the two sides are so far apart."

"Ukraine's attitude is that there are no separatists in eastern Ukraine and that in fact the problems have been started by Russian infiltrators... and that really this constitutes an attack on Ukraine from the outside," Marples, director for Ukraine studies at the University of Alberta, told AFP.

While the interim leaders in Kiev have said they would agree to decentralize some places in the east such as Donetsk, they remain opposed to federalizing the country, believing "Russia's got no right to tell a sovereign state what its structure should be."

Moscow meanwhile saw both the U.S. and EU as interfering in the "affairs of Ukraine to try to draw it away from Russia's orbit," Marples said.

He said that Putin was trying to keep all his options open ahead of the May 25 presidential elections.

David Kramer, president of the non-governmental Freedom House, said it was a big mistake for Washington to wait until the Geneva talks to impose more sanctions on Moscow.

"Whack the hell out of them," he told a seminar at the McCain Institute think-tank.

"I have zero hope that this is going to work out, and to not hit the Kremlin with more sanctions before Thursday is an enormous mistake. Putin thinks he's winning," Kramer said.

"He's got no interest in compromising, in showing any room for negotiation, it's going to an enormous waste of time with a foreign minister who's demonstrated he's got zero influence over what's happening."

The U.S. and EU have already unveiled coordinated sanctions, targeting a slew of Russian officials close to Putin, as well as the separatist leaders who engineered Crimea's split from Ukraine last month.

Psaki warned new sanctions could cut deeper, suggesting Washington may be ready to target Russia's key mining, energy and financial sectors -- after the talks.

Analysts say, however, that sanctions have had little effect. "Putin's prepared for these kind of sacrifices," said Marples.

*********************

NATO to Deploy More Forces in Eastern Europe

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 April 2014, 14:48

NATO said Wednesday it will deploy additional air, sea and land forces in eastern Europe in response to the worsening crisis in Ukraine and will take further action if needed.

"Today we have agreed a package of military measures," NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a meeting of ambassadors of all 28 members of the transatlantic alliance.

"We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water... and more readiness on the land," he said, adding that NATO defense plans will be "reviewed and reinforced".

The announcement came as Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces faced off and after President Vladimir Putin warned the country was on the brink of civil war, stoking fears of outright Russian intervention.

Rasmussen refused to detail what new forces would be deployed and where, but said they would result in increased air sorties over the Baltic Sea, with additional ships there and in the eastern Mediterranean.

The decision will be implemented "immediately" and "more will follow, if needed, in the weeks and months to come," he added.

As the Ukraine crisis has unfolded, NATO has taken a number of similar steps, with the United States sending fighter aircraft to the Baltic states and Poland to bolster confidence in member countries once ruled by Moscow.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- which border Russia and have sizable ethnic Russian populations -- have all sought reassurance, as have Ukraine neighbors Poland and Romania.

Freed from Moscow's Cold War rule with the fall of Communism in the late 1980s, many eastern Europe states have readily joined NATO.

But Russia, especially under Putin, has regarded NATO's eastward expansion as a direct security threat.

The former Soviet states "are increasingly worried as they see the crisis getting worse by the hour," said one diplomat.

"So far, NATO's response has been measured," said another diplomat, noting that the allies had not put troops on the ground, set up bases or increased their presence in the Black Sea.

Rasmussen stressed NATO would stand by any ally against any threat, and that the measures announced were entirely in keeping with international law and the alliance's commitment to deterrence.

Asked about calls for permanent bases in the Baltic states, he said the issue was not discussed at the meeting.

There "will be follow-on work" to the steps now taken, he said, adding the alliance continued "exploring ways to possibly further enhance our collective defense."

He also repeated calls for Russia "to be part of the solution, to stop destabilizing Ukraine, pull back its troops from the borders and make clear it does not support the violent actions of well-armed militias of pro-Russian separatists."

Asked what bearing the measures could have on EU-US talks with Russia and Ukraine in Geneva on Thursday, Rasmussen said: "We have taken military steps which we think are necessary to enhance deterrence."

At the same time, "we agree that a political solution is the only way forward," he said.
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« Reply #13026 on: Apr 17, 2014, 06:52 AM »

The Pig Asserts Right to Use Force in Eastern Ukraine

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
APRIL 17, 2014
IHT

MOSCOW — President Pig V. Putin of Russia emphasized on Thursday that the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament had authorized him to use military force if necessary in eastern Ukraine, and also stressed Russia’s historical claim to the territory, repeatedly referring to it as “new Russia” and saying that only “God knows” why it became part of Ukraine.

Speaking in a televised question-and-answer show, Pig also admitted for the first time that Russian armed forces had been deployed in Crimea, the disputed peninsula that Russia annexed last month immediately after a large majority of the population voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine.

Mr. Pig Putin’s remarks on eastern Ukraine came as officials from Russia, the United States, Europe and the new government in Kiev were meeting in Geneva for four-way negotiations aimed at resolving the political crisis.

Russia has mobilized troops along the border with Ukraine and in recent days pro-Russian demonstrators have caused widespread unrest throughout the eastern part of the country, seizing police stations and other government buildings and forming roadblocks. There have been several outbursts of violence, including a firefight at a Ukrainian military base overnight in which at least three pro-Russian militiamen were killed.

During the question-and-answer show, the Pig stressed that he had the authority to invade Ukraine, but that he hoped it would not be necessary.

“I remind you that the Federation Council has given the president the right to use armed forces in Ukraine,” he said, referring to the upper house of Parliament. “I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that by political and diplomatic means we will be able to solve all of the sharp problems.”

The Pig said that Russia felt an obligation to protect ethnic Russians in the region, who are a sizable minority. “We must do everything to help these people to protect their rights and independently determine their own destiny,” he said.

“Can a compromise be found on the Ukrainian question between Russia and America?” the Pig asked. “Compromise should only be found in Ukraine,” he said. “The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast. It’s new Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there — we need to encourage them to find a solution.”

Pig Putin took questions from the studio audience in Moscow but also from various other locations, including Sevastopol in Crimea, where Russia maintains the headquarters of its Black Sea Fleet and where the cameras showed a large, cheering crowd, in which many people waved Russian flags.

One of the questioners was Edward J. Snowden, the former United States government contractor who leaked millions of documents concerning National Security Agency programs. Appearing in a prerecorded video message from a location that was not identified, he asked the Pig about Russia’s own use of electronic surveillance.

Mr. Snowden said that he had seen “little discussion of Russia’s own involvement in the policies of mass surveillance.”

“So I’d like to ask you,” he continued, “does Russia intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?”

“Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent,” Pig replied. “I used to work for an intelligence service. Let’s speak in a professional language.”

“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” the Pig said. “You have to get a court’s permission first.” Mr. Putin noted that terrorists use electronic communications and that Russia had to respond to that threat.

“Of course we do this,” the Pig said. “But we don’t use this on such a massive scale and I hope that we won’t.”

**************

High-Stakes Ukraine Talks Open as Pig Warns of 'Abyss'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 April 2014, 12:12

Russia and Ukraine sat down Thursday for Western-backed talks on the escalating crisis in the former Soviet republic as Russian President Pig V. Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of dragging the country towards the abyss.

In a dramatic worsening of tensions in the restive east, three pro-Moscow separatists were killed in an overnight gunbattle with Ukrainian troops in the southeastern port city of Mariupol.

The violence highlighted the urgency of the talks, which bring together the foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine, as scores of pro-Kremlin separatists Kiev says are backed by Moscow have taken over parts of the former Soviet republic's southeast.

Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops stationed on its border with Ukraine, denies backing the militants and has warned Kiev not to use force against them, saying it reserves the right to protect the many Russian speakers in the country.

"Only through dialogue, through democratic procedures and not with the use of armed forces, tanks and planes can order be imposed in the country," Pig said from Russia in televised comments timed to coincide with the start of talks.

"I hope that they (participants in talks) manage to understand towards what abyss the Kiev authorities are going, dragging with them the whole country."

Kiev launched a much-hyped military operation against separatists earlier this week, but it ended in failure when the insurgents humiliated Ukrainian troops by blocking them and seizing six of their armored vehicles, to the obvious joy of many of the Russian-speaking locals.

NATO promptly announced it was deploying more forces in eastern Europe and urged Russia to stop "destabilizing" Ukraine, which has been in turmoil since the ouster of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych in February and now threatens to split between its EU-leaning west and Russian-speaking east.

The situation in Ukraine has emerged as the biggest East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Each side comes to the talks armed with a very specific set of demands, in what is likely to make negotiations between Russia's Sergei Lavrov, Ukraine's Andriy Deshchytsya, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton very tough.

Washington and Kiev aim to get Moscow to demobilize the militias, and the United States warned Moscow on Wednesday that it risked fresh sanctions unless it made concessions.

But Moscow categorically denies having dispatched elite special forces to Ukraine to stir unrest, despite Kiev intelligence saying the same Russian agents who oversaw the seizure of Crimea last month are now coordinating the unrest in the southeast.

Instead, Russia blames Kiev's interim leaders for pushing the country dangerously close to a civil war.

Moscow refuses to see Kiev's government -- installed by Ukraine's parliament in February after the overthrow of Yanukovich following months of protests -- as legitimate.

The United States and European Union have already imposed punitive sanctions on key Russian and Ukrainian political and business officials, including members of the Pig's inner circle.

But if the meeting ends in failure, Western countries are prepared to slap Moscow with tougher, broader economic and financial sanctions meant to hurt its already struggling economy.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that the United States was "actively preparing" new sanctions against Russia, with signs growing that Washington may be ready to target the country's key mining, energy and financial sectors.

U.S. President Barack Obama specifically accused Moscow of supporting separatist militias.

"Each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, there are going to be consequences," Obama told CBS News.

In the meantime, the situation on the ground in Ukraine continued to deteriorate.

In Mariupol, where the three separatists were killed, a further 63 were detained out of around 300 insurgents who attacked an interior ministry base using guns and petrol bombs.

The army unit that lost six armored vehicles to militants on Wednesday was formally disbanded as Kiev's military reeled from its disastrous attempt to oust separatists.

The events in Ukraine's southeast are disturbingly similar to the situation in the Crimean peninsula before it was annexed by Russia last month.

In a statement on Thursday, Ukraine's interior minister said Russian cellphones had been seized from some of the people arrested in Mariupol.

**************

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/16/2014 04:23 PM

Practice for a Russian Invasion: Ukrainian Civilians Take Up Arms

By Benjamin Bidder and Uwe Klussmann

It remains unclear what Russia might have in store for eastern Ukraine, but nationalist groups are preparing for the worst. The right-wing scene in the country is varied and complex, but one thing is certain: It is attracting an increasing number of followers.

On the outskirts of Kiev, men lay on the ground, rifles at the ready. For the moment, they're firing at cardboard, but soon the targets could include Russian soldiers or eastern Ukrainian separatists. The black-red banners of Ukrainian nationalists flap above them -- among the trees of the derelict troop training area where Soviets once learned how to shoot.

Ready, aim, "breathe deeply and think before you fire," yells Mykola Ishenko, 48. Two decades ago, he was a drill sergeant in the Ukrainian army. Now he's stuffed himself back into a uniform and wants to make the transition from civilian to fighter. They exercise, throw knives, engage in hand-to-hand combat. Due to a lack of sandbags, they kick and punch logs.

Their unit is called the group of "Three Hundreds," and it is comprised of dozens of civilian defense leagues that were formed during the insurgency on the Maidan, Kiev's Independence Square. Their ideal is that of the national partisan and they have organized in order to defend the Ukrainian state. They include cosmopolitan, Western-oriented students, but also hard-boiled right-wing extremists who view the toppling of President Viktor Yanukovych as only the first step of a "national revolution." Many Maidan activists have been showing up at the military training camp since Russia's annexation of Crimea, with around 50 men turning up at the site in Kiev each day.

More Ukrainian than Russian

Trainer Ishenko has been here for two weeks now, but he also served guard duty during the Maidan protests. He says he has nothing against the Russians -- on the contrary, he even earns money from them. He works as a tour guide, and many of his customers are Russian visitors. At the same time, Ishenko says he's a Ukrainian patriot and that he considers Russian President Vladimir Putin to be an aggressive dictator.

The fact that Ishenko is now training partisans is the source of conflict with his mother. She spent the majority of her life in the Soviet Union. If the Russians really do send soldiers into Ukraine, she says they should be given flowers. Her son would prefer to point a gun at them.

In terms of their numbers, right-wing groups were only a minority during the Maidan protests, but they formed the backbone of the revolt against the Yanukovych government. When initially peaceful protests turned violent, it was right-wing groups who defended the barricades, threw Molotov cocktails and carried firearms.

Russian propaganda tends to describe these groups, in blanket terms, as "fascists." But the right-wing camp is anything but homogenous. In the western part of the country, there are three different factions. There are the civilian patriots like Ishenko, who view it as their duty to fight for their country. There are revanchist anarchists who want to challenge corrupt state authorities. And there are right-wing radicals of the ideological and dangerous variety who want to take advantage of the current vacuum to rise to power themselves. They are supporters of a totalitarian ethno-nationalism with anti-Semitic overtones.

The Right Sector, one of the most important groups on the Maidan, is among the latter. At its core are followers who are clearly right-wing extremists, but it has also since become a rallying point for the discontented.

Newfound Allegiance

Alexander Kolokolov, 37, is another ethnic Russian who identifies as a Ukrainian national. He recently joined the Right Sector. Kolokolov lives in Kherson, a city that is a 12-hour train ride from Kiev and is located near Crimea. At first, many believed that Kherson would also be annexed by Russia. Most people here speak Russian in their daily lives. But the annexation of Crimea instead strengthened the position of Ukrainian nationalists here. They toppled the city's statue of Lenin and replaced it with a memorial to the "Heavenly Hundred," as the Ukrainians have named the more than 100 people killed during recent protests on the Maidan. After the Russians marched into Crimea, people here began wearing blue and yellow armbands as a token of their allegiance to Ukraine.

Kolokolov used to be a criminal investigator, but he says he got fed up at some point with the sleaze and corruption. He quit and is now hunting down criminals together with his fellow members of the Right Sector. The change they hoped would come through the coup failed to materialize and they feel there are too few fresh faces in the new government. Now they now want to take responsibility for public order into their own hands.

Their greatest opponent is Colonel Mikhail Fabrin, the head of the security forces in Kherson. He's only been in office for a few weeks now, but his nomination for the post was pushed through by the party of world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko. Kolokolov doesn't trust the colonel because Fabrin was previously stationed in Crimea and ran in the 2010 regional parliament election as a candidate for, of all things, the Russian Unity party of the new Crimean president, Sergey Aksyonov.

'Warriors of Good'

The local chapter of Right Sector has moved into a musty office in Kherson's city center between a copy shop and a beauty salon. It also serves as the precinct for Kolokolov's guards, who act as a police-like citizens' watch. They fan out at night to shut down gambling houses and patrol the streets. They've already closed down an illegal gas station where Kolokolov claims corrupt police had been selling gasoline they had seized.

The colonel wasn't happy about those developments. His officials raided the Right Sector office and searched for weapons, but they didn't find any. Kolokolov says they didn't find the pistol that had been hidden in the printer either. Other than that, he says, the vigilantes are unarmed.

The local boss has just found out about an imminent shipment of drugs in Kherson and his men want to catch the dealer. To prepare themselves mentally, they play music videos on a computer. In it, imaginary figures fight a giant eagle with Molotov cocktails, the heraldic animal of Ukraine's notorious Berkut special police force. The music featured in the video is a favorite of the right-wing scene, complete with the refrain: "Warriors of light, warriors of good." That's also how they view themselves.

Some of the militias from Maidan are now acting like criminal gangs; many of them are loose -- and violence-prone -- groups of nationalists, though not as ideological as the Right Sector. Just last week, masked militiamen attacked a cement factory after being paid to do so by businessmen interested in taking over the company that owns it. There have been other reports of similar incidents, such as an assault on a vodka distillery.

Lofty Ambitions

The man who the Kherson militia would like to see become president of Ukraine can be found in a former industrial quarter of Kiev -- he lives on Moscow Prospect, a somewhat ironic address for a nationalist. The 42-year-old Dmytro Yarosh founded a martial sports group in the 1990s which went on to spawn the Right Sector. In the past, he preferred to make public appearances in military uniform, but he receives us in jeans and a dark, turtleneck sweater. Yarosh, after all, has lofty ambitions. He has registered as a candidate for the May presidential elections and is lobbying for the Right Sector to be recognized as a party. He says that his movement has over 10,000 members and hopes that the current wave of nationalism will be enough to propel him to the presidency.

When Yarosh spoke on the Maidan, he was received with more cheers than his rival Yulia Tymoshenko, partly because his men impressed Ukrainians with their discipline and stamina during the uprising. Even a classified document from Russian security authorities notes, not without admiration, that the Right Sector is "the only organized power" and that it attracts "like a magnet" both extremists and the general populace.

For years, Yarosh has been fighting for the "de-Russification" of Ukraine and has produced manifestos calling for the "spread of the nationalist ideology across the entire territory of our state." Today, Yarosh denies that anti-Semitism is part of that ideology. But in a book, he has written: "I wonder how it came to pass that most of the billionaires in Ukraine are Jews?"

He believes that "anti-Christian" powers are afoot in the European Union and that Brussels forces people into lifestyles such as gay marriage. It is, he says, "a variety of totalitarianism." He doesn't see Europe or NATO as a potential partner and believes the US is also part of an "anti-Ukrainian front." Yarosh studied linguistics, and he is almost eloquent as he explains that a Kalashnikov can be a Ukrainian's only reliable ally.

The Right Sector is in favor of legalizing gun ownership in order to develop a "country of free, armed men." That, he adds, "is the only way we can defend ourselves from state capriciousness and against Russia." Yarosh's words are a threat, and not just against Moscow. More than anything, his target is the Kiev establishment. He closes with the statement: "Our revolution is not yet complete."

*************

US offers Ukraine non-lethal military aid but urges Kiev to act responsibly

Offer comes after low morale among country's soldiers became evident in confrontations with pro-Moscow separatists

Julian Borger in Geneva
theguardian.com, Thursday 17 April 2014 12.18 BST   

The US has promised Ukraine non-lethal military aid but urged Kiev to act in a "measured and responsible way" in responding to unrest in the east.

The American offer came before Thursday's talks over the fate of eastern Ukraine and as low morale among the country's soldiers became evident in confrontations with pro-Moscow separatists.

Negotiations between Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US began in Geneva amid low expectations and battling narratives over what is going on the ground, where at least one separatists was killed during a reported attempt to storm a Ukrainian base in the south-eastern town of Mariupol.

Asked if he was expecting any progress, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, simply shrugged. He held separate meetings on Thursday morning at the Intercontinental Hotel with the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, the Ukrainian foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytisa, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, before all four began a plenary session.

Deshchytisa said he had come with "optimism and goodwill" but Lavrov did not hold a separate meeting with him. The ballroom set aside for the closing press conference has been decked out with the US stars and stripes but no other flags. Asked if Lavrov would also be speaking there, a US diplomat said: "All I know is we hired this hall. If he wants to come, he can hire it from the hotel after we're finished."

Speaking in a televised call-in, the Russian president, Vladimir Putinm, said: "I think the start of today's talks is very important, as it's very important now to think together about how to overcome this situation and offer a real dialogue to the people."

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, noted that the Geneva meeting was the first time for the four foreign ministers, known as the "contact group", have met since the crisis erupted in February.

"We expect the conversation to focus on the need to de-escalate, the need for Russia to demobilise its troop presence on the border with Ukraine, the need for armed separatist groups within Ukraine to disband and disarm, and for the Ukrainian government to discuss the measures it intends to take when it comes to constitutional reform and decentralisation," Carney said.

He said the US was considering requests from Kiev for support for the army, but stressed it would not be lethal aid in the form of arms or ammunition. Press reports have suggested it would include items like uniforms, but stop short of body armour.

The offer came after an Ukrainian effort to reassert control in the eastern town of Kramatorsk on Wednesday ended in fiasco. Confronted by angry local residents, the soldiers looked uncertain of what to do. They ended up handing their armoured cars to the separatists, who paraded them as trophies under Russian flags in the nearby city of Slavyansk.

Briefing journalists on Air Force One, Carney urged restraint on Kiev, saying: "It is certainly appropriate for Ukraine to take action to restore law and order, but we believe that they should continue to do so in a measured and responsible way."

In his remarks Putin denied there were any Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

"It's all nonsense, there are no special units, special forces or instructors there," the Russian leader said. But he did admit that Russian soldiers had been in Crimea before it was annexed by Moscow. At the time he had insisted the soldiers in unmarked uniforms who swept across the peninsula had been self-defence groups who may have got their green fatigues from local stores.

On Thursday he said Russian soldiers had been in Crimea to protect the local population and provide security for referendum, which produced an overwhelming vote for secession and joining Russia.

Carney did not allege that Russian troops were in eastern Ukraine but insisted the separatists were receiving Russian support.

He said: "These groups have clearly co-ordinated their actions and received support from the outside. And in many cases they don't have the support in any visible way of the populations in the cities or regions where they are occupying buildings."

The US and EU are encouraging Deshchytsia to emphasise Kiev's readiness to provide reassurances and increased autonomy to the eastern provinces where there are large Russian-speaking populations. But Kiev refuses to accept the sort of federalism being promoted by Moscow, which it sees as a cover for partition and the break-up of the country.

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Fatal clashes at Ukrainian military base

At least one dead and 15 injured at Mariupol base as opposing factions offer conflicting accounts of events

Follow the latest developments on our live blog

Alec Luhn in Slavyansk and Luke Harding in Mariupol
theguardian.com, Thursday 17 April 2014 11.53 BST     

At least one pro-Russian protester was killed and 15 injured during clashes at a Ukrainian military base in Mariupol on Wednesday night, raising the fatality count in eastern Ukraine to at least three.

Around 500 protesters – many of them wearing the St George's ribbons used by a symbol of the anti-Kiev movement – reportedly attempted to storm a national guard base starting at 8.30pm, the Mariupol information website 0629 reported. Ukrainian soldiers inside the besieged base fired warning shots in response to explosives hurled inside the compound by the militia. Periodic shooting continued late into the night.

Earlier this week, pro-Russian protesters seized the administration building in Mariupol, an industrial city on the Azov Sea, and named a "people's mayor". The attack on Wednesday came as an "anti-terrorist operation" tried to take back government buildings seized by pro-Russian protestors and militia in 10 cities around eastern Ukraine. So far the operation has seen little success, and on Wednesday militiamen in Kramatorsk captured six infantry fighting vehicles and enlisted an unknown number of Ukrainian army defectors.

Accounts differed on events at the Mariupol base, the actions of the attackers and soldiers and the number of dead and injured.

Interior minister Arsen Avakov posted a statement on his Facebook page reporting that a gang of 300 pro-Russian men had attacked the Ukrainian base, throwing firebombs and molotov cocktails. After they began shooting at the garrison, he wrote, soldiers fired warning shots into the air and only shot at attackers when they attempted another assault.

Interior ministry special forces later began hunting the attackers down, capturing 63, according to Avakov. He said interior ministry forces hadn't suffered any casualties, while three attackers were killed and 13 wounded.

"After a short battle, the gang of attackers was dispersed and for the most part isolated and disarmed," he wrote.

Medics in Mariupol talking to the Guardian, however, could confirm only one death and 15 injures.

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said the attackers carried machine guns, and Associated Press reported it had seen footage of unidentified men with assault rifles outside the base.

Avakov said the attackers had mobile phones operating on Russian networks. The pro-Kiev analytical centre Informational Resistance said they were locals with basic military training led by a Russian military intelligence officer.

But footage published by 0629 appeared to show a disorganised assault by protesters, who said they had been unarmed and were seeking negotiations.

In a video posted on the site, a masked man wearing a St George's ribbon and a military helmet said after "the gates came down" soldiers began shooting at protesters and also threw stun grenades, wounding several of them. A man with him said a wounded comrade had been left inside the base, indicating protestors had penetrated the walls.

"We were yelling, asking for the troops, the commander, to come out for negotiations, because no one here wants blood. They answered with shooting," the first man said.

A third man said troops had fired at "peaceful residents". In another video, a masked man with a megaphone standing behind some lorries calls on troops inside the base to come out: "We don't want you – our guys, friends, comrades – to suffer."

The assertion that the protesters were unarmed was contradicted, however, by photographs also published by 0629 showing masked men, many of them in camouflage, assembled outside the base armed with clubs and molotov cocktails.

Other photographs depicted the gory aftermath of the attack, with first responders applying pressure to a stomach wound as they carried one man away.

As the increasingly chaotic scenes in Ukraine's east continued, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, told a televised call-in programme he was certain that Russia and Ukraine could reach a compromise on the basis of their common interests. "I'm sure we will come to a mutual understanding with Ukraine," he said. "We will not be able to do without each other."

The US meanwhile has promised Ukraine non-lethal military aid after the low morale among the country's soldiers became evident in confrontations with pro-Moscow separatists, but the White House urged Kiev to act in a "measured and responsible way" in responding to unrest in the east.

**************

Ukrainian troops 'demoralised' as civilians face down anti-terror drive

General Vasily Krutov says main force is security service with army as back-up, but analysts criticise lack of plan from Kiev

Alec Luhn   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 16 April 2014 20.58 BST   

The situation has been repeated several times now across east Ukraine following Kiev's announcement of its anti-terrorist operation at the weekend: Ukrainian troops and their hardware are blocked by angry residents, who stop them in their tracks and convince them to turn round or even withdraw.

On Wednesday, pro-Russian militia captured six Ukrainian infantry fighting vehicles and, allegedly, 60 soldiers in Kramatorsk, driving them to nearby Slavyansk with a Russian flag flying.

The moment was a symbolic victory for pro-Russian forces in a conflict so far confined to isolated shootouts. Two people have been confirmed dead.

But defence experts in Kiev warned not to rule out the Ukraine government's "anti-terrorist" campaign, as the elite special forces designated to lead the operation had yet to see significant action. The troops most likely had orders not to attack civilians, they said.

The seizure of the six fighting vehicles was a huge black eye for Kiev, especially after some of the Ukrainian troops reportedly defected to the pro-Russian side.The acting defence minister, Mykhailo Koval, was on Wednesday on his way to east Ukraine.

The confusion among Ukrainian toops reflect the lack of a plan by their leadership in Kiev, said Alexei Melnik, a defence analyst at the Razumkov centre. He said commanders should not have moved the fighting vehicles into these towns, where they were predictably mobbed by angry residents.

"There was a certain moment when we could speak about high morale among the troops because there was a common enemy, but the indecision and lack of guidance from the top is demoralising our armed forces," Melnik said. "The message that we are in a state of war should be repeated constantly."

The inaction and defections may reflect deeper problems within the Ukrainian military, including shortages of battle-ready fighters and equipment. Authorities have hastily tried to create a national guard in the past month and been forced to seek donations from businesses.

Ihor Kolomoisky, appointed Dnepropetrovsk governor, spent "several million dollars" on batteries for military vehicles and equipment last month. Only 6,000 of the country's 41,000 land troops were ready for combat, the defence minister had told parliament in March.

Melnik said: "For many years the Ukrainian army has not received enough money for equipment or training." The military leadership should have been sacked after the loss of Crimea, he said.

He added: "This government has been in office for six weeks, not much but enough time to learn some lessons and take action. The same people who showed their incompetence are still in charge."

But Konstantin Mashovets, an analyst at themilitary and political research centre in Kiev, with experience in the defence ministry, said the Ukrainian troops should not be blamed for their inaction since they had an order not to fire on civilians.

He believed residents had first crowded around the six fighting vehicles that arrived in Kramatorsk, preventing the soldiers from resisting the militia. The subsequent defection of troops was an "isolated incident", he maintained.

"Separatists were using peaceful residents as a human shield, knowing that Ukrainian soldiers wouldn't shoot peaceful protestors."

Speaking to reporters, Vasily Krutov, a general leading the anti-terrorist operation, said civilian casualties could happen but his forces would try to "make sure not one innocent person suffers". He said besides army troops, special forces from the interior ministry and the security service were taking part in the operation.

The "main acting force" in the operation was the security service's anti-terrorist centre commanded by Krutov, and the army troops were playing a supporting role.

Mashovets said that the security service forces were involved in catching rebels and hunting them. "They have a wide prerogative to use force."

Among them was the Alfa unit, which used weapons against protesters in Kiev during clashes this year, he added.

Indeed, it is special forces, not the regular army, that have been involved in the isolated shootouts in east Ukraine. They fired at local men armed with clubs and possibly firearms who came to the Kramatorsk airfield after government forces established control there yesterday, wounding at least two.

But special forces have also backed down in the face of angry protesters, raising doubts whether even they can establish control of a region where militia men are almost always surrounded by pro-Russian locals.

A video uploaded on Sunday showed men in black uniforms, presumably troops of the Alfa unit facing unarmed locals near Slavyansk airfield. Another video showed a similar black-uniformed soldier lying dead in another area, apparently after a shootout with militia.

The special forces later pulled back and a video the next day showed the airfield in the control of masked men with hunting rifles who called on Vladimir Putin to deploy troops.

******************

Kiev's grip on eastern Ukraine weakens as pro-Russians seize army vehicles

What was meant to be a show of strength by Ukraine's army has instead shown how the country is unravelling

Luke Harding in Slavyansk
The Guardian, Wednesday 16 April 2014 19.41 BST   

For Kiev's beleaguered army it was meant to be a display of strength. Early on Wednesday a column of six armoured personnel carriers trundled through the town of Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine. Some 24 hours earlier Ukrainian soldiers had recaptured a small disused aerodrome. Their next target appeared to be Slavyansk, the neighbouring town, occupied by a shadowy Russian militia. Was victory close?

The column didn't get far. At Kramatorsk's railway junction, next to an open-air market and a shop selling building materials, an angry crowd caught up with it. Next armed separatists dressed in military fatigues turned up too. Within minutes the Ukrainian soldiers gave up. Without a shot being fired they abandoned their vehicles. The pro-Russian gunmen grabbed them. They raised a Russian tricolour. They sat on top and went for a victory spin.

In theory this was happening in Ukraine, under the control of a pro-western government in Kiev, and several hundred kilometres from the Russian border. In reality large chunks of the east of the country are now in open revolt. Ukraine is rapidly vanishing as a sovereign state. Its army is falling apart. What happens next is unclear. But the Kremlin can either annexe the east, as it did Crimea, again shrugging off western outrage. Or it can pull the strings of a new post-Kiev puppet entity.

The militia who captured the armoured vehicles on Wednesday looked like professionals. They had Kalashnikovs, flak jackets, ammunition. One even carried a tube-shaped green grenade-launcher. Some hid their faces under black balaclavas. Others waved and smiled. All wore an orange and black ribbon – originally a symbol of the Soviet victory over fascism, and now the colours of the east's snowballing anti-Kiev movement. There was a flag of Donbass, the Russian-speaking eastern region with its main city of Donetsk.

After posing for photos, this new anti-Kiev army set off. The armoured personnel carriers (APCs) rattled past Kramatorsk's train station and turned right over a steep dusty bridge. There was a cloud of diesel smoke. Amazed locals jogged alongside then piled into battered mini-buses to keep up. White tread tracks on the tarmac pointed the way. The column covered about six miles (10km) before turning left at the entrance to Slavyansk. It then drove serenely into town and parked round the back of the city hall. Soldiers got off and stretched their legs next to the White Nights cafe.

Slavyansk residents who had been fearing an imminent attack from Ukrainian forces had a moment of cognitive dissonance. Armed pro-Russian gunmen seized control of the city administration on Saturday. Ever since, Ukrainian helicopters and planes had buzzed ominously overhead.
Armed men wearing military fatigues gather by APCs as they stand guard in Slavyansk, Ukraine. Militia gather by seized APCs as they stand guard in Slavyansk, Ukraine. Photograph: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

"I heard the sound of tanks approaching. I thought that Ukrainian troops had arrived," Vladimir Ivanovich admitted, gazing at the APCs now stationed opposite a small park and children's playground. "I was wrong." So who exactly were the soldiers in masks? "I don't know," he said.

He added: "I'm not a radical or a separatist. I'm actually more on the left. I didn't much like Viktor Yanukovych. I'm for peaceful coexistence. The problem is that when the nationalists seized power in Kiev they didn't think about the consequences. I have my own prognosis about what will happen next. It's not comforting."

The armed men, meanwhile, made little secret of the fact they took orders from Moscow. Many of them appeared to be Russian troops from Crimea. Asked where he had come from, one told the Guardian: "Simferopol." How were things in Crimea? "Zamechatelna," he said in Russian – splendid. He added: "The old ladies are happy. Because of Russia their pensions have doubled." Had he served in the Ukrainian army and perhaps swapped sides? "No, I'm Russian," he replied.

Within minutes, the captured APCs had become the town's newest, most extraordinary tourist attraction. Teenage girls posed coquettishly with the men in balaclavas. Small children lined up too. Someone put a cuddly toy next to a gun barrel. "We were very afraid. Now we are reassured. The tanks are here to protect us," Olga Yuriyevna said. She added: "I'm Russian-speaking. We have relatives in Russia. My husband fought in the Afghan war."

Some people, though, were lacking in enthusiasm. Outside the town hall one pensioner, Alexander Ivanovich, said: "I'm Ukrainian. This should be Ukrainian territory." Gesturing at the faceless gunmen outside the entrance, he said: "I'm suspicious of them." The soldiers had piled sandbags in front of windows, and created sniper positions on the roof. They had also, apparently, ripped down the building's blue-and-yellow trident, a symbol of Ukrainian statehood. A Russian and Donetsk republic flag flew from the roof. The impression was one of calm and vertical order.

On Wednesday afternoon Ukrainian soldiers were led out of the building and packed on to buses. The Ukrainians had surrendered when crowds surrounded their tanks. They were missing their weapons, now confiscated. The 40 or so demoralised troops headed out of town in a westerly direction.

At first the authorities in Kiev refused to believe they had lost the army vehicles. The defence ministry initially dismissed news reports as fake. Later it admitted the disaster was true. As well as APCs, Ukraine has lost control of another crucial weapon in its losing battle with the Russian Federation: television. On Tuesday the Donetsk prosecutor turned Russian state TV back on again, weeks after Kiev pulled the broadcasts on the grounds they sowed lies and Kremlin propaganda. Since President Viktor Yanukovych fled in February Russian channels have consistently called Kiev's new rulers "fascists".

Outside Kramatorsk's aerodrome, meanwhile, at the end of a rustic rutted alley lined with sycamores and apricots, protesters had set up a new camp. It boasted a parasol, a table decked out with sandwiches, and a clump of empty beer bottles. On Tuesday Ukrainian forces had opened fire, lightly wounding two anti-government demonstrators who surged at them across a field. On Wednesday Ukrainian troops were holed up inside. They showed little enthusiasm for venturing out. A felled tree blocked their route.

"We're Russians. We live on Russian soil. So how can we be separatists?" Sergei Sevenko, a 52-year-old car mechanic, wanted to know. A handful of female volunteers stood with him; they had kept vigil until 1am. Sevenko added: "I've lived all my life in Kramatorsk. The economic situation here is horrible. We're just defending our town and our property from fascists." Waiting to interview him was a young female journalist from Moscow. She was holding a microphone decorated with the logo of Lifenews.ru, the Kremlin's favourite website.

By late afternoon another stand-off was developing between a second Ukrainian armoured column in Pcholkino, near Kramatorsk, and an excitable, hostile crowd. Helicopters dipped low over shabby Khrushchev-era blocks of flats to see what was going on, then scouted along the line of the railway. Close to where the column was stuck, locals were building a checkpoint. "The helicopters keep us awake at night. We can't sleep," one complained. A van pulled up. It disgorged black tyres. A man wearing shorts and sunglasses, possibly drunk, began erratically directing traffic.

This febrile anti-Kiev mood has acquired a momentum that increasingly seems unstoppable. A vocal section of the population appears to support the protesters' key demand for a referendum on Ukraine's federalisation. A "people's governor" has been appointed – though it is not clear by whom. Many local politicians, the security services in key eastern towns and the police appear to have gone over to the anti-government side. Kiev's powerlessness in this fast-moving drama seems absolute.

On Wednesday another gang of armed youths seized control of the city hall in Donetsk. Other pro-Russian activists have occupied Donetsk's regional administration building since 6 April. (They have fortified it with a thicket of tyres. On one wall someone had scrawled in Cyrillic script: "Fuck America".) Youths lounged in the entrance lobby and ground floor of the city building. They wore white-and-red armbands bearing the name of a murky sporting organisation and fight-club, Oplot. In Kharkiv, Ukraine's other major eastern city, Oplot has been closely linked with pro-Kremlin groups. And with organised crime.

One Oplot member, Alexander, showed off his weapon. It was a US-made Remington 870 Express Magnum. "It's a hunting gun," he said. "It's my own. I've got a licence for it." Alexander said he had purchased his uniform himself: a light-coloured khaki top and trousers, a flat jacket, and a matching hat. He added: "I'm against America. But I have to say they make good guns."

****************

Who are the men rolling into eastern Ukraine in armoured vehicles?

Fighters wearing mismatched camouflage and carrying a variety of guns include at least some locals

Alec Luhn in Slavyansk
theguardian.com, Wednesday 16 April 2014 12.45 BST   

As a column of six armoured troop carriers arrived in Slavyansk on Wednesday morning and armed men clambered down, locals crowded around them in the square next to the occupied city hall. A pair of women recognised one of the masked fighters and drew him in for a quick hug. At least some of these pro-Russian militia men are local, it seems.

As the column rolled into town flying a Russian flag, there was rampant speculation about who these men in mismatched camouflage armed with a variety of guns were. Some held machine guns, others had sniper rifles and even small rocket launchers. They wore St George's ribbons, the Russian victory day symbol that has been adopted as the emblem of the anti-Kiev "people's militia" in eastern Ukraine.

The men themselves were reluctant to talk to journalists about their identity, intentions or where they had obtained the armoured vehicles. But the bulk of them appeared to be from the ranks of the same armed militia that has seized government buildings around the region in recent days. Others were reportedly Ukrainian paratroopers from the neighbouring Dnipropetrovsk region who had joined the rebels on Wednesday.

Nelya Shtepa, the mayor of Slavyansk who supported the building takeovers, said on Tuesday that the militia included soldiers from Russia.

"There are definitely green men there today. They aren't hiding that they're from Crimea, from Russia," she said, referring to the unmarked soldiers Russia deployed to take control of Crimea last month, popularly known as "little green men".

The bulk of the militia do not appear to be professional soldiers, or at least not in active service. In a video from the seizure of a government building in Kramatorsk, the group of armed masked men initially stopped to speak with local men and police officers who asked them not to storm the building. However, they quickly angered and began firing shots in the air. They then ran into the building and began haphazardly shooting from the windows.

At a checkpoint established by Ukrainian forces near the city of Izyum on Tuesday, soldiers from other regions where support for the new Kiev regime is much higher, including Lviv, said they were ready to fight if the order came.

"We believe in what we're doing to preserve our government, our territory and peace," one paratrooper who declined to give his name said. "No one is planning to fight protesters," he added.

The Moscow-sympathetic locals, however, are disinclined to let them. A crowd of locals was able to stop a column of armour outside Kramatorsk on Tuesday, exposing an indecisiveness and lack of resolution among the Ukrainian soldiers sent to put down the uprising.

In another video uploaded on Monday, angry locals stopped a Ukrainian tank outside Slavyansk. After they yelled and chastised the soldiers inside, the soldiers obediently stopped the engine.

The troop carriers seized by the militia on Wednesday had apparently arrived by train, possibly from the neighbouring region of Dnipropetrovsk. They were taken without a shootout, suggesting that the troops who had arrived with them had at least to some extent joined the rebels. One of the force reportedly revealed he was a paratrooper from the 25th regiment based in Dnipropetrovsk.

***************

Who are the men rolling into eastern Ukraine in armoured vehicles?

Fighters wearing mismatched camouflage and carrying a variety of guns include at least some locals

Alec Luhn in Slavyansk
theguardian.com, Wednesday 16 April 2014 12.45 BST   

As a column of six armoured troop carriers arrived in Slavyansk on Wednesday morning and armed men clambered down, locals crowded around them in the square next to the occupied city hall. A pair of women recognised one of the masked fighters and drew him in for a quick hug. At least some of these pro-Russian militia men are local, it seems.

As the column rolled into town flying a Russian flag, there was rampant speculation about who these men in mismatched camouflage armed with a variety of guns were. Some held machine guns, others had sniper rifles and even small rocket launchers. They wore St George's ribbons, the Russian victory day symbol that has been adopted as the emblem of the anti-Kiev "people's militia" in eastern Ukraine.

The men themselves were reluctant to talk to journalists about their identity, intentions or where they had obtained the armoured vehicles. But the bulk of them appeared to be from the ranks of the same armed militia that has seized government buildings around the region in recent days. Others were reportedly Ukrainian paratroopers from the neighbouring Dnipropetrovsk region who had joined the rebels on Wednesday.

Nelya Shtepa, the mayor of Slavyansk who supported the building takeovers, said on Tuesday that the militia included soldiers from Russia.

"There are definitely green men there today. They aren't hiding that they're from Crimea, from Russia," she said, referring to the unmarked soldiers Russia deployed to take control of Crimea last month, popularly known as "little green men".

The bulk of the militia do not appear to be professional soldiers, or at least not in active service. In a video from the seizure of a government building in Kramatorsk, the group of armed masked men initially stopped to speak with local men and police officers who asked them not to storm the building. However, they quickly angered and began firing shots in the air. They then ran into the building and began haphazardly shooting from the windows.

At a checkpoint established by Ukrainian forces near the city of Izyum on Tuesday, soldiers from other regions where support for the new Kiev regime is much higher, including Lviv, said they were ready to fight if the order came.

"We believe in what we're doing to preserve our government, our territory and peace," one paratrooper who declined to give his name said. "No one is planning to fight protesters," he added.

The Moscow-sympathetic locals, however, are disinclined to let them. A crowd of locals was able to stop a column of armour outside Kramatorsk on Tuesday, exposing an indecisiveness and lack of resolution among the Ukrainian soldiers sent to put down the uprising.

In another video uploaded on Monday, angry locals stopped a Ukrainian tank outside Slavyansk. After they yelled and chastised the soldiers inside, the soldiers obediently stopped the engine.

The troop carriers seized by the militia on Wednesday had apparently arrived by train, possibly from the neighbouring region of Dnipropetrovsk. They were taken without a shootout, suggesting that the troops who had arrived with them had at least to some extent joined the rebels. One of the force reportedly revealed he was a paratrooper from the 25th regiment based in Dnipropetrovsk.

*****************

Crisis in east Ukraine: a city-by-city guide to the spreading conflict

Clashes between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia militias have been popping up in cities across the east. Here's where things stand

Alan Yuhas and Tom McCarthy   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 16 April 2014 21.15 BST       

Militia personnel on a captured armoured military vehicle in the town of Slavyansk. ukraine Militia personnel on a captured armoured military vehicle in the town of Slavyansk. Photograph: ITAR-TASS/Barcroft Media

Pro-Russian militias and crowds of unarmed locals have been confronting Ukrainian troops trying to reclaim government buildings and territory in eastern Ukraine. Here's a city-by-city guide to the clashes. Updated on 16 April 2014.

Slavyansk

Armed gunmen raided the Slavyansk police station on 12 April and proceeded to occupy government buildings, pledging allegiance to the "People's Republic". Local "self-defense" forces have built checkpoints and barricades around the town. On Sunday 13 April an abortive Ukrainian security operation resulted in the reported death of one Ukrainian officer, while Russian media reported one militant killed as well. Armed gunmen have defied several orders to surrender or face repercussions. On Wednesday 16 April locals and militants surrounded a convoy of six Ukrainian armored vehicles, disarmed the troops, and paraded the vehicles through town. The location of the disarmed soldiers – some of whom may have defected – remains unknown as of Wednesday evening.

Some of the armed men admitted to the Guardian that they came from Crimea, and the sentiment among locals was both celebratory and suspicious, Luke Harding reports: "Slavyansk residents who had been fearing an imminent attack from Ukrainian forces had a moment of cognitive dissonance. … Teenage girls posed coquettishly with the men in balaclavas. Small children lined up too. Someone put a cuddly toy next to a gun barrel."

Donetsk

In the largest city in this mining and industrial region, local government buildings – including the equivalent to city hall – have been occupied since 6 April, and militia declared the "Donetsk People's Republic" and began fortifying with barricades and sniper posts. Militia raided the police station and clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukraine protesters have left at least one person dead and injured at least two dozen. The Guardian's Alec Luhn reported that tensions are running high between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian supporters, and that the latter are consolidating control.

Coal miners have joined well-armed gunmen in the anti-Kiev camp, and the mayor, the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, has reportedly mediated negotiations between the protesters and the Kiev-appointed regional governor. Demonstrators have set up a "people's council" and building tire barricades in the city's central square and shouting "Glory to Donbass" – the historical name for the region.

But on 16 April, men with fatigues and automatic weapons took control of his office, the first major action in weeks. Protesters have demanded greater independence from Kiev, some have called for a referendum and Russian peacekeepers, but there have been pro-Kiev protests as well.
Kramatorsk

Since 12 April, men with automatic weapons have held the police headquarters and barricaded checkpoints around the city. After a tense Tuesday following the Ukrainian army's recapture of an airfield outside the city, militia drove captured Ukrainian APCs through the city on Wednesday, and 14 APCs were blockaded at the nearby village of Pcholkino. (Those soldiers did not disarm as demanded, but could not advance.)

Airfield at Kramatorsk

Near Kramatorsk, the Ukrainian "anti-terrorist" operation made its tentative first step when forces recaptured an airfield from militia on Tuesday 15 April.

Ukrainian forces unloaded off of helicopters and vehicles reportedly began positioning themselves in the area, and the Guardian confirmed only two minor injuries from a confrontation between the military and civilians.

Luhansk

In Luhansk (which is in its own region, and not that of Donetsk), a group calling itself "the army of the south-east" seized the city's security headquarters on 6 April. The armed men included members of the well-armed, well-disciplined and now-disbanded Berkut riot police, who fought against protesters in Kiev and who participated in the seizure of Crimea.

Protesters have demanded a referendum, greater independence from Kiev, and one told the Guardian: "We call on Russia to come and save us." Police had managed to clear the government office on 12 April.
Horlivka

On Monday 14 April, poorly armed protesters stormed the police headquarters and badly beat the city police chief who had vowed to stay there. "Little green men" – the moniker for well-armed militiamen widely alleged to be co-ordinating with Russian military and security services – were "nowhere to be seen", according to the Guardian's Alec Luhn.

Druzhkivka

At Druzhkivka, a government building was reported seized over the weekend of 13-14 April, and protesters have kept a steady presence on the streets since then.

More populous and farther west than other cities, and with stronger pro-Kiev sentiment, Kharkiv has seen clashing protests between pro-Russia and pro-Kiev groups since 6 April. Pro-Russian forces occupied and withdrew from government buildings several times, as police were able to evict them. Protests have found renewed life over the weekend, however, pro-Russian groups have entrenched.
Mariupol

On 13 April a pro-Russian group took over the mayor's office and barricaded the building, declaring a new, un-elected mayor for the large city. Late on 16 April a crowd lay siege to a military outpost in the city of Mariupol late Wednesday, and shots were fired. Local news outlets reported multiple injuries, but the details were not confirmed.
Yenakiyeve

Militants have hoisted Russian flags over government buildings and protesters are on the streets, but ex-president Viktor Yanukovych's hometown has stayed relatively quiet.


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Russia Economy Worsens Even Before Sanctions Hit

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
APRIL 16, 2014
IHT   

MOSCOW — Margarita R. Zobnina, a professor of marketing here, has been watching the Russian economy’s gathering woes with mounting alarm: friends who have moved abroad with no plans to return; others who put off new business ventures because of rising uncertainty. Meanwhile, Ms. Zobnina and her husband, Alexander, also a professor, have rented a safe deposit box to hold foreign cash as a hedge against the declining ruble.

Most shocking, she says, is that her local grocery is now selling anchovies packed in sunflower oil rather than olive oil, an obvious response to the soaring cost of imports. “That really freaks me out,” she said.   

While the annexation of Crimea has rocketed President Vladimir V. Putin’s approval rating to more than 80 percent, it has also contributed to a sobering downturn in Russia’s economy, which was in trouble even before the West imposed sanctions. With inflation rising, growth stagnating, the ruble and stock market plunging, and billions in capital fleeing the country for safety, the economy is teetering on the edge of recession, as the country’s minister of economic development acknowledged on Wednesday.

Mr. Putin, who just lavished $50 billion on the Sochi Olympics, also must now absorb the costs of integrating Crimea, which economists and other experts say has its own sickly economy and expensive infrastructure needs. The economic costs have been masked by recent patriotic fervor but could soon haunt the Kremlin, as prices rise, wages stall and consumer confidence erodes.

Even before the Crimean episode, and the resulting imposition of sanctions by the West, Russia’s $2 trillion economy was suffering from stagflation, that toxic mix of stagnant growth and high inflation typically accompanied by a spike in unemployment. In Russia, joblessness remains low, but only because years of population decline have produced a shrunken, inadequate labor force.

In recent weeks, international and Russian banks have slashed their growth projections for 2014, with the World Bank saying the economy could shrink by 1.8 percent if the West imposes more sanctions over Ukraine. By some accounts, more than $70 billion in capital has fled the country so far this year and the main stock market index fell by 10 percent in March — and a dizzying 3 percent just on Tuesday over fears of greater Russian involvement in Ukraine.

“This is our fee of sorts for conducting an independent foreign policy,” Aleksei L. Kudrin, a former Russian finance minister, said at a recent investor conference in Moscow. He added that the sanctions and the fallout from Mr. Putin’s foreign policy moves would drain hundreds of billions of dollars from the national economy and strangle growth for the remainder of the year.

But Mr. Kudrin, who quit his post in a dispute over the Kremlin’s economic policies, said the population had yet to confront the full bill, which he predicted would grow as a result of the steep costs of absorbing Crimea, a geographically isolated peninsula. “Society has not yet seen the final result, and that will be when this puts the brakes on real incomes,” he said. “For now, society accepts this fee.”

From a textbook perspective, the deep-rooted ills in Russia’s economy have been clear for years: The decade-long skyrocketing in energy prices that buoyed Mr. Putin’s popularity has flatlined, exposing the country’s dangerous over-reliance on revenues from oil and natural gas. Efforts to diversify into manufacturing, high technology and other sectors have failed, and officials have been unable, or unwilling, to stop the rampant, corrosive corruption that scares off foreign investors.

Consumer demand, which had been a primary driver of the Russian economy in recent years, stalled hard in 2013. Surveys by the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent polling institute, show that consumer sentiment has been on a slow, steady decline since 2010, while fears of inflation — especially rising prices for basic necessities, which have persisted since the 1990s — have grown along with new anxiety about a potential drop in wages or rising unemployment.

“If you want to open your eyes, you would admit that it is a slow, downward trend of social optimism and consumer optimism,” said Marina Krasilnikova, who leads income and consumer research for the Levada Center.

“The situation with Ukraine and Crimea has resulted in patriotic and imperialistic optimism,” Ms. Krasilnikova said. But, she added, “this optimism will not last long.”

Some analysts said that Russia’s annexation of Crimea had proved that Mr. Putin puts politics ahead of reasonable economic decisions, and that there was little reason for economic optimism, particularly given his inward, xenophobic turn, including his vow to create Russia’s own cashless pay systems and even its own credit rating agency so it would not have to rely on the global financial system.

Miljenko Horvat, a private equity investor who ran Citibank’s office in Russia in the 1990s, said that Russia had simply failed to make itself economically relevant beyond its energy supplies.

Mr. Horvat, who now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, said that he often challenged his Russian friends by making the following point: “I wake up in the morning and drink coffee from a machine made by a Swiss company, Nescafé. I wear something that was designed in France or Italy but probably made in Turkey. I get into a German car, look at a Korean phone, use a computer that was designed in California but made in Japan or Korea. Russia just doesn’t touch me in my daily life. It just doesn’t matter. It’s just not relevant. So where is the economic engine going to come from?”
   
Mr. Horvat said that he had lived in Russia through defaults in 1991, 1993 and 1998 and that he expected another one. “I am not long in Russia,” he said, invoking the financial term for betting on a rising stock, “neither in my portfolio, nor in life.”

Given the recent turmoil, a catastrophe has been averted so far largely because the price of oil has remained stubbornly high, at nearly $110 per barrel of Brent crude on Wednesday, even as production steadily rises in the United States. For now, that has kept the federal budget in decent shape with still no deficit projected for the year.

But even without a shock, it is not clear how Russia will manage to climb out of the current quagmire. Stagflation is among the most confounding economic problems that policy makers can face, and officials here seem flummoxed, with the Central Bank, Finance Ministry and Economics Ministry urging contradictory steps.

Last month, the bank raised its key interest rate to 7 percent from 5.5 percent to combat inflation and support the ruble, a step that could slow growth. Meanwhile, the Economics Ministry, worried about growth, favors borrowing and government spending as a stimulus and to reduce capital flight, a possibly inflationary strategy that is opposed by the Finance Ministry, which wants to keep debt low and reserve funds available to weather any unexpected drop in oil prices.

“All of them have their clear priorities, and they stick to their priorities,” said Alexei Deviatov, the chief economist for Uralsib Capital, an investment bank here, “and there is very little coordination between these authorities.”

While Russian and global investors and businesses have been moving billions of dollars out of Russia to places perceived as less risky, it is not just money that is fleeing. Ms. Zobnina, who teaches at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said that one of her classmates had left for the United States after college 10 years ago, and that another friend followed three years ago to pursue a Ph.D., with no plans to return. Still another friend, a journalist, moved to London last summer with her husband and three children.

Ms. Zobnina, 32, said that she and her husband, 30, were thinking about finding posts in Europe or the United States, and for now were keeping their savings in dollars and euros. In an interview, she conceded that putting cash in a safe deposit box hardly amounted to sophisticated financial planning, particularly for two economics professors.

“It’s absolutely not rational to prefer safe box than deposit because you lose interest,” she said. “But in this unpredictable situation, when the ruble is falling and banks are unstable — and who knows when we’ll be cut off from the global financial system or which bank will be next to be closed — it’s better to have this small bird in hand.”

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EU Nations Study Cost of Economic Sanctions against Russia

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 April 2014, 21:14

The EU's executive has concluded a study of the cost to member states of imposing economic sanctions on Russia and has handed individual assessments to all 28, diplomats said Wednesday.

The European Commission assessed the potential impact on each of the bloc's 28 economies of agreeing trade and financial sanctions over the Ukraine crisis and handed the data in individual envelopes to EU ambassadors, said an EU diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Commission was asked by EU leaders at a Ukraine crisis summit in March to study the impact of such measures, which would harm the economies of many EU states if agreed.

"Governments have several days to look at the figures and report back," said one source while another said the deadline was for next Tuesday.

With Europe dependent on Russia for almost 30 percent of its gas, there are fears of retaliatory measures in the energy sector.

Britain's financial sector is also heavily involved in business with Russians, while Germany massively trades with Moscow and France has significant arms deals at stake.

The Commission is also looking at an extension of individual sanctions against Ukrainians and Russians after slapping visa bans and asset freezes on almost 40 people, a dozen of them members of President Vladimir Putin's inner circle and Black Sea and Crimea commanders.

Among the dozen are Russian Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin, Putin aide Vladislav Surkov and the speakers of both chambers of the Russian parliament.

**************

U.S. Urges Halt to Russia 'Provocation' in Ukraine, Prepares New Sanctions

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 April 2014, 21:57

The United States warned Russia Wednesday to stop its "provocation" in eastern Ukraine, reiterating that new sanctions could be slapped on the Kremlin.

With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry en route to Europe for international talks on the most serious East-West crisis in years, and a Ukrainian effort to reassert control over its eastern regions floundering, the State Department demanded de-escalation and demobilization on the part of Russian forces.

"We definitely want to see an immediate halt to that provocation," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

Kerry and the European Union were to hold their first four-way talks with Ukraine and Russia Thursday in a bid to defuse the worsening crisis, but Washington was more interested in seeing direct steps on the ground by Russia, and warned it could penalize Moscow further if it did not stand down in Ukraine.

"Talk doesn't replace actions when it comes to what's happening on the ground, and we will continue to prepare additional sanctions and other steps if we can't get some de-escalation here," Harf said.

"Clearly, the presence of armed groups that the Russians are supporting in eastern Ukraine is an incredibly pressing priority."

While Harf described the four-way talks as "an important diplomatic step," she appeared to downplay the potential for dramatic breakthrough.

"I wouldn't put it all on this meeting," she said. "Russia needs to take steps to de-escalate."

In addition to the four-way talks, Harf said, Kerry was set to meet separately in Geneva with EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The meetings follow tense face-offs between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, and after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Ukraine was on the brink of civil war, stoking fears of outright Russian intervention.

Harf declined to describe the situation in Ukraine as a civil war, saying she had not heard State Department officials use the term.

With tensions soaring, Harf noted that Washington's relationship with Moscow was "complicated" but remained intact.

"There are places we work together," she said, pointing to the international talks with Iran on its nuclear weapons program, and to efforts to reduce Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.

"But I don't think anyone would be surprised that the events of the last weeks and months have really been hard for the (U.S.-Russia) relationship," she said.

Later on Wednesday, Washington said it was "actively preparing" new sanctions against Russia, ahead of a critical international meeting in Geneva on the Ukraine crisis.

"We are actively preparing new sanctions," White House spokesman Jay Carney said, stiffening U.S. language from Tuesday when the State Department said Washington was considering "additional" measures.

Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that Washington was looking to Russia at the meeting for a sign it was ready to de-escalate the tense situation in eastern Ukraine.

He said Russia also needed to acknowledge at the talks that the Ukrainian government had committed itself to constitutional reform.

***************

U.S. Readies Sanctions, Demands Concessions from Russia

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 April 2014, 06:52

The United States warned Wednesday it was "actively preparing" new sanctions to hit Russia if critical Ukraine talks do not produce concessions from Moscow.

U.S. officials privately signaled they had little hope that the Geneva talks between Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and Washington would make significant progress.

They also revealed that the toughest available sanctions -- those targeting key sectors of the Russian economy -- would only come into force in the event of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

President Barack Obama meanwhile specifically accused Moscow of actively supporting separatist militias in southern and eastern Ukraine -- actions which prompted the government in Kiev to send military forces into the area, with so far limited effect.

As Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Geneva, the White House said it needed concrete signs that Russia would de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine.

"We are actively preparing new sanctions," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"We are also looking at tomorrow's meeting for an indication that Russia will, or intends to pursue, a path of de-escalation rather than escalation."

A senior U.S. official told reporters traveling with Kerry that Russia must show willingness to stop "aiding and abetting" separatists and pull back its troops on the Ukrainian border.

"With regard to sanctions, the president has been very clear: that if Russia does not take this opportunity to de-escalate the costs are going up."

But the immediate timing of any new, toughened sanctions on Russia beyond the current measures targeting senior officials in Moscow and Crimea, was unclear.

"Each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty there are going to be consequences," Obama told CBS News.

Senior U.S. officials made clear that they see maximum impact in simultaneously imposing sanctions on Russia with the European Union, which has much closer economic ties with Moscow than the United States.

But speaking on condition of anonymity, they acknowledged that it took time for the EU's 28 members to move through the sanctions process.

They also made clear that the most painful sanctions that have so far been threatened -- hits against sectors of Russia's economy including mining and energy -- are not yet imminent.

Washington sees those measures as the ultimate punishment for any move by Russian forces into Ukraine and believes it could quickly get Europe to join in, even though it would risk significant pain for its own economy.

An official said Washington was now calibrating the cost President Vladimir Putin should pay for what it sees as the less clear cut scenario of pro-Russian separatists igniting unrest in eastern Ukraine.

The United States is considering requests by Ukraine for non-lethal assistance of various kinds.

But officials made clear that arming the Kiev government was not an option: firstly, because no quick shipment of weapons could change the military balance in Ukraine's favor, and also to avoid becoming embroiled in some kind of proxy conflict with Moscow.

- U.S.-Russia ties 'complicated' -

The United States has backed Kiev's right to quell separatist uprisings that started in the Crimean peninsula and have since spread to other parts of Ukraine, setting the stage for the most serious rupture in West-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War.

Putin has denied Moscow has any links to separatist groups and an operation some see here as a bid to engineer a de-facto partition of Ukraine.

But Obama disagreed.

"What they have also done is support, at a minimum, non state militias in southern and eastern Ukraine," Obama said.

The U.S. president also shrugged off an incident over the weekend in which a Russian fighter aircraft made low passes near a U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea.

"They are not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us," Obama said, arguing that U.S. conventional forces were far superior to those of Russia.

"We don't need a war. What we do need is a recognition that countries like Ukraine can have relationships with the whole region, their neighbors, and it is not up to anybody ... to make decisions for them."

Several U.S. lawmakers will travel to Ukraine Monday in a show of support and to assess Obama administration engagement there, said the delegation's leader, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce.

"Ukraine is in crisis and the U.S. should do what we can to bolster its government against Russian aggression," he said.

Vice President Joe Biden is also traveling to Kiev next week.
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« Reply #13028 on: Apr 17, 2014, 09:38 AM »


EU Could Boost Sanctions on Russia if No Progress in Geneva

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 April 2014, 14:39

French President Francois Hollande warned Thursday that EU sanctions on Russia could be strengthened if there is no progress at talks in Geneva on the Ukraine crisis.

"We could raise the level of sanctions if no solution emerges (in Geneva), but that is not our desire," Hollande said at a joint press conference with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

He said the way out of the crisis was to "respect the political agenda" set in Ukraine, including for the presidential election on May 25.

"This election must also be able to take place across the country and under conditions of transparency and total freedom," Hollande said.

Hollande said a strengthening of sanctions could be decided during a European summit in Brussels next week.

*******************

EU Agrees to Talks with Russia on Ukraine Gas Supply

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 April 2014, 15:37

The European Union said it had agreed Thursday to hold talks with Russia on its gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine, warning Moscow its reliability as an energy source was at stake.

The EU "agrees on your proposal for consultations with the Russian Federation and Ukraine with regard to security of gas supply and transit," European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said in reply to an April 10 letter from President Vladimir Putin.

In his letter, sent to 18 EU member states, Putin had warned that Moscow would no longer tolerate late payment for gas supplies to Kiev and threatened to cut off deliveries completely if nothing was done.

That set alarm bells ringing in the EU, which depends on Russia for about 30 percent of its gas supplies, with a large amount of that transiting via Ukraine.

Barroso told Putin Thursday, on behalf of all 28 EU members, that the bloc and Russia were Ukraine's main trading partners and as such, both had an interest in ensuring its "long-term political and economic stability."

"Therefore it is our common interest to quickly engage in talks which will include Ukraine."

Barroso said Putin's threat to cut supplies to Ukraine was a "cause of serious concern" as it threatened the gas flow into the EU and other partner countries.

Such supplies, he noted, were covered by contracts between European companies and Russian gas giant Gazprom.

Accordingly, it "continues to be Gazprom's responsibility to ensure the deliveries of the required volumes as agreed in the supply contracts," he said.

The EU expected "commercial operators on all sides to continue respecting their contractual obligations and commitments," he said.

On that basis, the "contractual reliability of the Russian Federation as a supplier of gas is at stake in this matter," Barroso said.

"Remaining a reliable supplier would appear to be clearly in the interest of the Russian Federation," he said, referring to "international gas market developments."

While the EU is heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies, Moscow too relies greatly on the EU market for its energy and raw material exports.

A sharp slowdown in the Russian economy has made those markets even more important.

Earlier Thursday, Putin said he would demand pre-payments from Ukraine for gas supplies in one month if Kiev does not pay its debts.

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Ukraine Bans Entry for All Russian Males Aged 16-60

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 April 2014, 17:09

Ukraine has banned entry to its territory for all Russian males aged between 16-60, the Russian flagship carrier Aeroflot said Thursday in a warning to passengers.

"In line with an official order received by the company, all Russian male citizens aged from 16-60 will be refused entry into Ukraine," Aeroflot said, adding that exceptions would only be made in extreme cases.
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« Reply #13029 on: Apr 17, 2014, 12:43 PM »

Lavrov Announces Deal to 'De-Escalate Tensions' in Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 April 2014, 19:51

Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and EU reached a surprise deal Thursday on de-escalating the worsening Ukrainian crisis, in a ray of hope for the former Soviet republic that has plunged into chaos.

The agreement reached in Geneva comes as a strong contrast to earlier hawkish comments made by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who left the door open for intervention in Ukraine.

A ban by Kiev on all Russian males aged 16 to 60 from entering Ukrainian territory had also ratcheted up the tensions, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling the measure "disgusting".

But after half a day of talks, the four parties agreed on steps to "restore security for all citizens", including a call to disband armed groups that have taken over buildings in Ukraine "illegally".

While not spelt out in the agreement, these groups could refer to pro-Kremlin separatists who have seized control of government buildings and taken over parts of Ukraine's southeast, destabilizing the country.

"All illegal armed groups must be disarmed, illegally seized buildings returned to their rightful owners," Lavrov said as he briefed reporters about the deal reached with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Ukraine's Andriy Deshchytsya and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Washington and Kiev have accused Russia of supporting the militants who have occupied buildings such as police stations and government bases, but Moscow has always categorically denied this.

Lavrov also said Russia had "no desire" to send troops into Ukraine, toning down earlier comments by Putin.

Warning that Ukraine was plunging into the "abyss" just hours after three separatists were killed in a gunbattle with troops in eastern Ukraine, Putin had stressed he hoped not to have to use his "right" to send Russian troops into its western neighbor.

"I very much hope that I am not obliged to use this right and that through political and diplomatic means we can solve all the acute problems in Ukraine," he said in his annual televised phone-in with the nation, in a signal the option was on the table.

The upper house of parliament on March 1 authorized the Russian leader to send troops into Ukraine after pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, and Moscow later went on to annex Ukraine's Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula.

Russia has now massed tens of thousands of troops at the border and has warned Kiev's untested new leaders -- whom it does not recognize as legitimate -- not to unleash force in Ukraine.

Accordingly, Kerry warned Russia that if there was no progress on de-escalating the crisis in Ukraine, "there will be additional sanctions, additional costs."

The United States and European Union have already imposed punitive sanctions on key Russian and Ukrainian political and business officials, including members of Putin's inner circle.

And the European Parliament on Thursday said the European Union should act "against Russian firms and their subsidiaries, especially in the energy sector, and Russia's EU assets".

So far, though, any further sanctions appear to have been put on hold.

Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula last month escalated a crisis that has shaped up to be the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

On Thursday, Kerry said the West is "not giving up" on peninsula, "but we did not come (to Geneva) to talk about Crimea."

Each side came to the Geneva talks armed with a very specific set of demands, and the West and Kiev had aimed to persuade Moscow to demobilize the militias.

Ukraine's Security Service said it was detaining 10 "Russian spies" arrested over the past six weeks on suspected missions to stir up unrest in the country, further implying Russia's role in the destabilization of the country.

But Russia has blamed Kiev's interim leaders -- installed by Ukraine's parliament in February after the overthrow of Yanukovych following months of protests -- for pushing the country dangerously close to a civil war.

The agreement also called on all sides to refrain from violence, intimidation and provocation, as well as to reject extremism in all shapes.

Kerry told reporters that notices were sent to Jews in a Ukrainian city believed to be in the east, asking them to identify themselves as Jews -- a move he condemned as "grotesque".

"In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it's grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable," he said.


Separately, the European Union announced Thursday it had agreed to hold talks with Russia on its gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine, warning Moscow its reliability as an energy source was at stake.

The announcement came even as Putin ramped up pressure on Ukraine by setting a one-month deadline for Kiev to settle its debt for gas imports from Russia.


* kerry and lavrov.jpg (30.17 KB, 435x331 - viewed 20 times.)
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« Reply #13030 on: Apr 19, 2014, 05:09 AM »


Pro-Russian separatists defiant as Ukraine peace moves flounder

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

Luke Harding in Donetsk
The Guardian, Friday 18 April 2014 20.07 BST   

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 Friday Denis 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 reiterated 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 occupy 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 on Friday, 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.

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Ukraine in 'Pivotal Period' as Deal Stalls, U.S. Warns Russia

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 April 2014, 07:43

Russia was under intense U.S. pressure Saturday to convince pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine to give up eastern towns they are occupying, after Washington said the situation in the former Soviet republic was in a "pivotal period".

But with the separatists' refusal to budge throwing a deal to defuse the crisis into doubt, and U.S. sanctions looming large, Russia was biting back -- warning that its military is massed on Ukraine's border, ready to act.

In the nearly dozen Ukrainian towns the pro-Kremlin rebels were holding, the stalemate dragged on Saturday.

In the major eastern city of Donetsk, separatist gunmen remained barricaded inside the regional government building. Around 50 of the militants milled around barricades of sandbags and tires while morning joggers ran by almost oblivious to them.

"We are going on as usual," one of the rebels told AFP. "An Orthodox priest is inside with us and we are going to celebrate Easter tonight."

The failure to implement the agreement hammered out in Geneva on Thursday by the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the EU threatened to deepen the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov overnight that "full and immediate compliance" was needed of the pact, which calls for the disarmament of "illegal armed groups" and the end to the occupation of seized buildings.

Kerry "made clear that the next few days would be a pivotal period for all sides to implement the statement's provisions," a senior State Department official said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to see progress within days, otherwise more sanctions would be imposed, on top of those already targeting the inner circle of Russian President Pig Putin.

The United States, NATO and many EU countries see the Pig as the puppet master behind the Ukraine insurgency. They accuse him of sending in elite Russian soldiers to stir unrest and ensure the country -- historically and linguistically tied to Russia -- stays in Moscow's orbit.

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Friday that the White House would "be watching whether Russia does or does not uphold its responsibility to use its very considerable influence to restrain and withdraw those irregular militia from the buildings and spaces that they've occupied".

Pig denies his forces have any role in east Ukraine. On Thursday, however, he dropped an identical denial over Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine last month, to admit the Russian army had in fact been deployed there.

In a sign of the current prickly relationship with the West, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov late Friday told Russian television that U.S. threats of more sanctions on Moscow were "absolutely unacceptable" and "one cannot treat Russia like it is a shameful student".

"Our Western colleagues are trying to push responsibility towards our side. But it must be underlined: it is a collective responsibility," he said.

He also pointedly declared that there are Russian troops "close to the Ukrainian border".

"Some are based there, others have been sent as reinforcements due to the situation in Ukraine," he added.

The comments appeared to be a warning that the situation could quickly degrade if Moscow were punished for a failed implementation of the accord.

NATO believes Russia has around 40,000 troops positioned on its border with Ukraine, in a state of readiness for an invasion.

Pig has asserted he has a "right" to send his army into Ukraine, but that he "very much hoped" he would not have to.

Although the United States has not given a deadline for compliance with the Geneva deal, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due to visit Kiev on Tuesday.

He will be meeting leaders who have taken charge since the February ouster of pro-Kremlin former President Viktor Yanukovych, after months of massive and bloody street protests.

Russia refuses to see the new Kiev government as legitimate, and the turmoil in Ukraine's east could prove an obstacle to a planned May 25 presidential election.

On Friday, one of the separatist leaders in the self-declared Donetsk Republic, Denis Pushilin, said he agreed occupied buildings should be vacated -- but only if the leaders in Kiev first leave the buildings "that they are occupying illegally since their coup d'etat" in February.

Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who is a leading candidate for next month's presidential election, said she held talks with the Donetsk separatists on Friday that left her convinced that "compromise is possible".

In a concession to the Russian-speaking militants, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Friday pledged safeguards for the Russian language and a broad decentralization of power.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya also suggested the authorities would hold off temporarily from any further military action on the ground to give the agreement time to take effect.

"If this does not begin in the next few days then I think after Easter there will be more concrete actions," Deshchytsya told journalists. Easter in Orthodox Ukraine ends on Monday.

Ukraine's military has so far proven woefully inept in its efforts to dislodge the separatists. On Friday, in a rare success, the army said it had recovered two of six armored vehicles captured by rebels during a disastrous military operation earlier in the week.

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Ukraine peacemakers say they need more help

Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe says it needs another 350 monitors to make Geneva deal work

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
theguardian.com, Friday 18 April 2014 19.03 BST   

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which has been given the job of helping end the unrest in eastern Ukraine, will need an extra 350 monitors on top of the 150 already in the country to accomplish the task, as well as Russian help in getting through roadblocks, the head of the organisation said on Friday.

Lamberto Zannier, an Italian diplomat who is secretary general of the monitoring and conflict-resolution body, described the OSCE's current access to the flashpoints of the region as "mixed".

"There are some places where the population come to talk to us to find out who we are, and engage with us, and some cases where we come to roadblocks and we are turned back," Zannier told the Guardian in a telephone interview from OSCE headquarters in Vienna, after the organisation was given the task of monitoring and implementing Thursday's Geneva agreement on a plan to defuse the crisis.

The agreement, between Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU, asks the OSCE to oversee the disarming of illegal groups and the vacating of occupied government buildings and public spaces as the first steps towards resolving tensions in eastern Ukraine. These have threatened to degenerate into an armed conflict between government forces and pro-Moscow militias. With protesters in several cities insisting they would ignore the Geneva agreement, the diplomatic focus of the next few days will be on Moscow's ability and willingness to persuade its supporters in the region to stand down.

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, assured his Ukrainian counterpart, Andrii Deshchytsia, on Friday that the UK would press for a further wave of sanctions "if Russia does not follow through".

The EU had agreed to expand its list of Russians and Russian companies to be subjected to visa bans and asset freezes. The extended list was expected to take effect on Friday. But its implementation has been suspended until next week, pending an assessment of Russia's implementation of the Geneva agreement.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, also said that Washington would give Russia until next week before deciding whether the next wave of US sanctions should be applied.

As the arbiter of progress on the ground, it is clear that the OSCE faces a daunting and delicate task.

"It is very sensitive politically working in a very polarised environment," Zannier said. "We need to explain carefully who we are."

The organisation has its origins during the cold war as the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe, intended to provide a forum for east-west dialogue. After the fall of communism, it became the OSCE in 1994 with permanent institutions, a bigger staff, and a new mission: to help the transition for the new European democracies.

It has played a leading role organising elections and overseeing peace agreements in the countries of former Yugoslavia, and monitoring Georgia's borders from 2000 to 2005 when Russia vetoed a continuation of its mandate.

Until Pig Putin, Russia has been a vociferous critic of the OSCE, arguing that its role supporting democratisation and human rights was skewed against the states of the former Soviet Union. In its new mission in Ukraine, however, it will depend heavily on Russian co-operation, in view of Moscow's influence over the separatists.

Zannier said that influence would be most immediately helpful in securing OSCE access across the region. "Everyone who has influence is welcome to help out," he said. "It is in Russia's interest that the whole region is not destabilised.

"Within the organisation there has been a debate on what should be our activities. I think this debate is still there," Zannier said. "I think the Ukraine situation shows it is a common interest, and not taking steps would result in further violence destabilising the whole region, even Russia."

The OSCE has 100 monitors in the region for its current mission, and is increasing that to 150 by pulling in staff from Bosnia and Moldova. Zannier said his target was to field 500 monitors in eastern Ukraine and he would be asking member states to send qualified people at a meeting on Tuesday.

Beyond the immediate steps in reducing street violence, the Geneva agreement requires the OSCE to help the Kiev government conduct an extensive public consultation prior to framing a new constitution that would give greater autonomy to the provinces.

"It is an internal matter, but our only comment is that it should be an inclusive process and not divisive. We can help organise roundtables where people can sit down and discuss issues when the government has trouble organising that."

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Rice Warns Russia 'We Will Be Watching'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 April 2014, 22:28

The White House warned Russia Friday that it was closely watching and evaluating whether Moscow was honoring a deal reached in Geneva designed to ease tensions in Ukraine.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Moscow must quickly rein in pro-Russia separatist groups in eastern Ukraine and allow Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors into the area.

"We expect and we will be watching whether Russia does or does not uphold its responsibility to use its very considerable influence to restrain and withdraw those irregular militia from the buildings and spaces that they've occupied," said Rice.

"So we will see, over the coming days, whether Russia upholds its agreement," she said, implicitly warning of new sanctions if Russia was judged to have honored the Geneva deal.

The stern warning from Rice came as Russia reacted angrily to previous U.S. warnings, including from President Barack Obama, that it could face new sanctions if it did not live up to the deal reached on Thursday.

At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki also cast doubt on whether Russia would follow through on the deal, which requires a disarming of militia groups and their evacuation of government buildings they have seized.

"I will say we're clear-eyed about Russia's record of not implementing steps in the past, so we will see if they do take steps this time," Psaki said.

"If they don't take steps, there will be consequences."

Neither Rice nor Psaki however would put a deadline on the US assessment of Russian compliance -- both saying it was a matter of "days."

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Kremlin Confirms Russian Troops Deployed Close to Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 April 2014, 21:13

A Kremlin spokesman confirmed on Friday that Russia has built up its military presence on the Ukrainian border.

"We have troops in different regions, and there are troops close to the Ukrainian border. Some are based there, others have been sent as reinforcements due to the situation in Ukraine," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Rossiya 1 television.

Peskov also considered that Russia will not be the only party held responsible for implementing an agreement on easing tensions in Ukraine, adding that threats of further sanctions by Washington were "absolutely unacceptable".

"Our Western colleagues are trying to push responsibility (for implementing the deal) towards our side. But it must be underlined: it is a collective responsibility," said Peskov.

Moscow, Kiev and the West reached an agreement on Thursday aimed at easing the crisis in Ukraine that included a call for "all illegal armed groups" to disarm and leave government buildings that have been seized by pro-Russian forces in the east of the country.

Immediately after the deal, U.S. President Barack Obama raised doubts that Moscow, which the U.S. blames for supporting the separatists in Ukraine's industrial heartland, would hold up its end of the deal.

He warned that Washington would rapidly impose fresh sanctions on Russia if no progress was seen on the ground.

"Making such declarations as had been done from the highest level in Washington ... do not favour the atmosphere of dialogue," said Peskov on Friday.

"One cannot treat Russia like it is a shameful student, and brandish a piece of paper on which we put crosses next to the duties it has accomplished," said Peskov.

"Such comments are absolutely unacceptable," he added.

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Jews in East Ukraine Worried after anti-Semitic Tract

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 April 2014, 18:57

Members of the Jewish community in the pro-Russian protest hub of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine said Friday that they were left shaken by the distribution of tracts demanding the registration of Jews.

Concerns were evident, despite skepticism from Jewish leaders in the region and a U.S. group fighting anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League, that the pamphlets handed out in front of the synagogue on Tuesday were anything more than calculated "provocation" by unknown parties.

"One of the men insisted that we read some pamphlets that they had in their hands. We refused because he wouldn't remove his hood so they glued the fliers to the synagogue and left," said Leonid Krasnopoloski, 43.

Bearing the stamp of the pro-Russian insurgency and signature of one its leaders, they contained a demand for every Jew to gather at the seized local administration building on May 3 to pay a fee of $50 (36 euros) to register or face the threat of being expelled from the region.

The incident happened as around 20 Jews were leaving the synagogue after marking the second day of the Jewish Passover festival. The three hooded men handing out the pamphlets were carrying a Russian flag and the symbol of the separatist Republic of Donetsk.

"I have lived here for 40 years without any problem and now there is this phenomenon of the 'Russian spring' and immediately problems are surfacing," he said.

Denis Pushilin, the pro-Russian protest leader whose signature was on the documents, strenuously denied that he had anything to do with the demands.

"The documents were handed out in our name but this was a provocation. My signature was forged," Pushilin said at a press conference on Friday.

Senior Jewish leaders in the region seemed to accept that the appearance of the anti-Semitic literature was likely designed to inflame tensions in Kiev's shadowy struggle against the eastern separatists.

"What happened of course smells of a provocation. As to who is behind it -- that is an open question," the region's chief rabbi Pinkhas Vyshedski said.

But reports of the anti-Semitic tracts sparked international concern with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry branding the distribution of the pamphlets as "grotesque".

"In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it's grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable," Kerry said on Thursday.

The head of the World Jewish Congress urged all sides in the conflict to refrain from using anti-Semitic propaganda to further political goals.

"All sides must ensure that any form of anti-Semitism is condemned and fought vigorously. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian Jewish community is caught up in a situation for which it bears no responsibility, and it needs to be protected against unfair attacks, no matter where they may come from," said WJC President Ronald Lauder in a statement.

Moscow has repeatedly leveled allegations of anti-Semitism at the authorities in Kiev, accusing them of being controlled by far-right groups that played a prominent role in protests to oust Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

The Anti-Defamation League condemned "cynical and politically manipulative uses" of anti-Semitism accusations.

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Kiev Vows 'Special Status' for Russian Language

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 April 2014, 18:06

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Friday pledged "special status" for the Russian language and a broad decentralization of power in a bid to defuse pro-Moscow protests sweeping the east of the country.

"We will accord special status to the Russian language and guarantee to protect it," Yatsenyuk said.

Yatsenyuk also promised to put forward "major" constitutional reforms that would see a raft of powers handed to the regions.

Fears over the status of the Russian language and demands for greater regional autonomy have fueled separatist sentiment in Ukraine's industrial heartland.

Russia's parliament has given leader Pig Putin the green light to send troops into Ukraine to protect the country's Russian-speaking population if he deems it necessary.

Ukraine on Wednesday inked a deal with Moscow, Brussels and Washington aimed at ending the unrest in the east but pro-Moscow militants have so far refused to budge.

As part of the reforms, Yatsenyuk also promised greater financial resources for the regions.


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« Reply #13031 on: Apr 19, 2014, 08:10 AM »

Most in East Ukraine Region against Joining Russia

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 April 2014, 13:34

A majority of inhabitants in Ukraine's pro-Russian protest hub Donetsk do not want to join Russia but consider the government in Kiev to be illegitimate, according to a poll published Saturday.

52.2 percent of people questioned in the region, the focal point of separatist unrest that has seen pro-Moscow militants seize a string of towns, said they were against joining Russia while 27.5 percent favored rule from Ukraine's former Soviet master Moscow.

Among the 3,200 respondents across Ukraine's entire Russian-speaking southeast, the number of those opposed to Moscow taking control rose to 69.7 percent, according to the poll from Kiev's Institute for International Sociology published in the Russian-language Weekly Mirror newspaper.

In the Donetsk region, where separatists have declared an independent republic and demanded a referendum on autonomy, 38.4 percent said they backed Kremlin demands to federalize Ukraine and 41 percent said they wanted a decentralization of power.

Inhabitants in the east remain highly suspicious of Kiev's interim authorities, who took over from pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych after his ouster in February following months of bloody protests.

Some 74 percent of respondents said they consider acting President Oleksandr Turchynov to be illegitimate, the poll said.

Russia, which NATO says has some 40,000 troops on the border, has said it has the right to intervene militarily in Ukraine to protect Russian speakers and has denied Western allegations that it is behind the separatist unrest.

But 57.2 percent of those polled in Donetsk said they felt their rights have not been violated and 66.3 percent said they were against a Russian military intervention.


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« Reply #13032 on: Apr 21, 2014, 05:35 AM »

Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia

By ANDREW HIGGINS, MICHAEL R. GORDON and ANDREW E. KRAMER
APRIL 20, 2014
IHT

KIEV, Ukraine — For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as “green men” have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces.

Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

And Ukraine’s state security service has identified one Russian reported to be active among the green men as Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, a Russian military intelligence operative in his mid- to late 50s. He is said to have a long résumé of undercover service with the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian general staff, most recently in Crimea in February and March and now in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk.

“There has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine, and the photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this, which is why U.S. officials have continued to make that case,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Sunday.

The question of Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine has a critical bearing on the agreement reached Thursday in Geneva among Russian, Ukrainian, American and European diplomats to ease the crisis. American officials have said that Russia would be held responsible for ensuring that the Ukrainian government buildings were vacated, and that it could face new sanctions if the terms were not met.

The Ukrainian government provided these photographs last week to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna. Ukraine says the photographs document that the armed men who have taken over government buildings in eastern Ukraine are Russian combatants. The State Department, which has also alleged Russian interference, says that the Ukrainian evidence is convincing.

The equipment, including the helmets, used by the Donbass self-defense forces appears similar to that of the Russian special operations forces.

The Kremlin insists that Russian forces are in no way involved, and that Mr. Strelkov does not even exist, at least not as a Russian operative sent to Ukraine with orders to stir up trouble. “It’s all nonsense,” President Vladimir V. Putin said Thursday during a four-hour question-and-answer session on Russian television. “There are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine.” Pro-Russian activists who have seized government buildings in at least 10 towns across eastern Ukraine also deny getting help from professional Russian soldiers or intelligence agents.

But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say.

John R. Schindler, a former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer who now teaches at the Naval War College, calls it “special war”: “an amalgam of espionage, subversion, even forms of terrorism to attain political ends without actually going to war in any conventional sense.”

And one country, Mr. Schindler noted in an article last year in which he coined the term, that particularly excels at special war is Russia, which carried out its first post-Soviet war to regain control of rebellious Chechnya back in 1994 by sending in a column of armored vehicles filled with Russian soldiers masquerading as pro-Moscow Chechens.

Russia’s flair for “maskirovka” — disguised warfare — has become even more evident under Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer whose closest advisers are mostly from that same Soviet intelligence agency.

For nearly two months now, the shaky new Ukrainian government has been left to battle phantoms, first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine, where previously fringe pro-Russian political activists have had their fortunes lifted by small but heavily armed groups of masked men.

In the eastern city of Slovyansk, under the control of pro-Russian insurgents for more than a week now, the green men have worked hard to blend in with locals but have occasionally let the mask slip, apparently to send a clear message that any push to regain control by Ukrainian forces would risk bringing down the wrath of the Russian military.

A gradation of forces control the city and other areas now in the hands of separatist rebels, ranging from clearly professional masked soldiers and unruly groups of local men in camouflage, rifles slung over their shoulders, to teenage boys in sweatpants carrying baseball bats or hunting knives. At most times, only the local toughs are visible on the streets.

But when a woman sidled up to one of the masked gunmen in the city’s central square last week and asked where he was from, she got an answer that summed up Russia’s bedeviling and constantly shifting disguises. The gunman initially said he was “from Russia,” but when pressed, said coyly that he was “from New Russia,” a long-forgotten czarist-era term revived last week by Mr. Putin to describe a large section of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Asked by the woman what would happen if the Ukrainian Army attacked, he replied, “We have to stand for only 24 hours, to tend the fire, and after that, a one million man army will be here.”

When a Ukrainian armored column approached the town last Wednesday and then swiftly surrendered, a group of disciplined green men suddenly appeared on the scene and stood guard. Over the course of several hours, several of them told bystanders in the sympathetic crowd that they were Russians. They allowed themselves to be photographed with local girls, and drove an armored personnel carrier in circles to please the crowd.

A visual survey of the continuing dispute, including satellite images of Russian naval positions and maps showing political, cultural and economic factors in the crisis.

“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,” Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s top military commander, wrote in a blog post on the alliance’s website.“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.”

His evidence, however, was mostly circumstantial: Pro-Russian gunmen “exhibit telltale military training and equipment”; they handle weapons like professional soldiers, not new recruits to a pickup “self-defense” force; they carry weapons and equipment that are primarily Russian Army issue, not gear “that civilians would be likely to be able to get their hands on in large numbers.” General Breedlove conceded that such points, taken alone, might not prove much, “but taken in the aggregate, the story is clear.”

Heightening skepticism of Russia’s denials is also the fact that Mr. Putin, after denyingany Russian link to the masked gunmen who seized government buildings in Crimea and blockaded Ukrainian military bases there, last week changed his story and said, “Of course, Russian servicemen did back the Crimean self-defense forces.”

More direct evidence of a Russian hand in eastern Ukraine is contained in a dossier of photographs provided by Ukraine to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Vienna-based organization now monitoring the situation in Donetsk and other parts of the country. It features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia.  

One set of photographs shows what appears to be the same gunman in pictures taken in the Crimean annexation and more recently in Slovyansk. Another features a portly bearded man photographed in Slovyansk on April 14, wearing a camouflage uniform without insignia, but six years earlier, had been photographed during Russia’s invasion of Georgia with a Russian special forces patch on his left arm.

Another character in Ukraine’s case against Russia is Mr. Strelkov, the alleged military intelligence officer who Kiev says took part in a furtive Russian operation to prepare for the annexation of Crimea and, more recently, in insurgent action in Slovyansk.

No photographs have yet emerged of Mr. Strelkov, but the Security Service of Ukraine, the successor organization to what used to be Ukraine’s local branch of the K.G.B., has released a sketch of what it says is his face.

The security agency, known by its Ukrainian abbreviation S.B.U., first identified him publicly early last week after releasing an audio recording of what it said was a recording of an intercepted communication between Russian operatives in eastern Ukraine and their controller back in Russia.

In the recording, a man nicknamed “Strelok” — who the Ukrainian agency says is Mr. Strelkov — and others can be heard discussing weapons, roadblocks and how to hold on to captured positions in and near Slovyansk with a superior in Russia.

The superior, clearly anxious to keep Russia’s role hidden, can be heard ordering his men on the ground in Ukraine not to identify themselves and to find someone with a Ukrainian accent who can give an interview to a Russian television channel. It was very important, he added, to say on air that all the pro-Russian insurgents want is “federalization,” or constitutional changes to give eastern Ukraine more autonomy.

Military analysts say the Russian tactics show a disturbing amount of finesse that speak to long-term planning.

“The Russians have used very specialized, very effective forces,” said Jacob W. Kipp, an expert on the Russian military and the former deputy director of the United States Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“They don’t assume that civilians are cluttering up the battlefield; they assume they are going to be there,” he said. “They are trained to operate in these kind of environments.”

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Ukraine PM asks US for 'real support' to prevent further Russian hostility

Arseniy Yatsenyuk calls on US to honour promises to protect Ukrainian territory and asks for 'financial and economic support'

Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 20 April 2014 17.41 BST    

Ukraine's interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Ukraine's interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: 'The world has a reason to be concerned about Putin's intentions.' Photograph: ITAR-TASS/Barcroft Media

The prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has urged the US to provide greater support against Russian aggression amid signs that a peace deal reached in Geneva last week is already under strain.

Speaking on Sunday in an interview with NBC's Meet the Press, Yatsenyuk called on the west to honour promises to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and appeared to suggest he did not think Moscow would relent in its attempts to grow influence in the east of his country.

Asked what he would be pressing the Obama administration for during a visit to Kiev by vice-president Joe Biden this week, Yatsenyuk replied: “We need a strong and solid state. We need financial and economic support. We need to overhaul the Ukrainian military. We need to modernise our security and military forces. We need real support.”

His comments, which were filmed earlier, aired on Sunday as a tentative deal to resolve the crisis was hanging by a thread. As many as five people were killed in a gun battle near the volatile eastern town of Slavyansk.

But the US ambassador to Kiev used a rival Sunday morning talk show to pour cold water on the notion that Washington could help Ukraine resist Russia militarily, insisting that a diplomatic solution remained the only option.

“The geography and balance of power is such, there is no military solution to this crisis,” Geoffrey Pyatt told CNN's State of the Union. “The fact is that, militarily, as Crimea showed, Ukraine is outgunned.”

Nato is expected to increase training exercises in Poland and Estonia over the next two weeks, with the deployment of 150 US soldiers.

Asked whether such countries should be worried by events in Ukraine, Yatsenyuk, said: “The world has a reason to be concerned about Pig's intentions … he has a dream to restore the Soviet Union and every day he goes further and further.”

“In his famous Munich speech, Pig snorted the worst disaster of the last century was the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Yatsenyuk added. “I consider the biggest disaster of this century would be the restoring of the Soviet Union under the auspices of the Pig.”

Although the White House hopes its deal with Russia in Geneva will avoid the need for further intervention, there are growing calls among Republicans for a more forthright US response.

“We are going to lose eastern Ukraine if we continue as we are going,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, the ranking member of the Senate foreign relations committee, on Sunday. “Our foreign policy is always a day late and a dollar short."

Speaking on Meet the Press after the Yatsenyuk interview, Corker called for further sanctions against Russian energy companies and banks, claiming the US had a moral responsibility to assist Ukraine after encouraging it to stand up to Moscow.

“I don't think Pig really believes we are going to punish them,” said Corker. “We have helped create the problem and to leave them alone is unconscionable.”

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Lavrov Says Kiev Authorities Violating Geneva Accord

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 12:36

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday accused the government in Kiev of breaching an international accord reached last week aimed at defusing the crisis in Ukraine.

"The Geneva accord is not only not being fulfilled, but steps are being taken, primarily by those who seized power in Kiev, that are grossly breaching the agreements reached in Geneva," Lavrov said at a televised news conference in Moscow.

He spoke after a warning from Washington that time was running out for implementing the agreement hammered out last Thursday in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

U.S. President Barack Obama had warned Russia that it would face additional sanctions if progress was not made within days.

But Lavrov dismissed the risk of Russia falling into greater international isolation.

"Attempts to isolate Russia have absolutely no future because isolating Russia from the rest of the world is impossible," he said.

He said Kiev authorities had not granted an amnesty to arrested protesters, as required by the Geneva deal.

"Instead of freeing those already arrested, particularly the 'people's governor of Donetsk', Pavel Gubarev, the authorities in Kiev are continuing to arrest political figures from the southeast," Lavrov said.

He also said calls by Ukrainian MPs to preserve a protest camp on Kiev's central Independence Square, known as the Maidan, were "absolutely unacceptable", saying "even under Ukrainian law, such things cannot be done."

He acknowledged the complaint from the Kiev authorities that pro-Russian forces were not fulfilling their part of the agreement, but accused the government of taking no action to end the conflict.

"They are complaining about the southeastern regions, saying that they are not freeing buildings and removing roadblocks, but the authorities are doing nothing, they haven't lifted a finger to get rid of the reasons that lie at the basis of the current deep crisis inside Ukraine," he said.

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Kremlin Calls Claims of U.S. Sanctions against the Pig 'Absurd'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 18:10

A Kremlin spokesman on Sunday dismissed as "absurd" claims that Washington could target President Pig Putin directly if it imposes further sanctions against Russia.

Quoting anonymous sources, The Times said in an article published Friday that the United States was looking at imposing sanctions on Pig, who is estimated to hold some $40 billion in Swiss accounts.

But Pig's spokesman rubbished the claim.

"That's obviously a hoax, an absurd one," Dmitry Peskov told Moscow's Echo radio station.

When pressed by the journalist if that meant Pig had "nothing to fear", Peskov replied: "In any case, not from the Times newspaper. Why should he be afraid of sanctions, especially such absurd ones? We can only laugh at such absurd sanctions."

According to the Times report, Washington could seek Swiss support in the action.

The United States has already imposed sanctions targeting the Pig's inner circle, but it has threatened wider action if no progress is made on implementing a deal reached last week in Geneva with Kiev, Moscow and Brussels on easing the crisis in Ukraine.

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4 Killed in E. Ukraine as Separatists Declare Curfew, Urge Moscow to Send Troops
by Naharnet Newsdesk 20 April 2014, 10:34

Pro-Kremlin rebels in east Ukraine appealed Sunday for Russian "peacekeepers" to sweep in after a deadly gunfight killed at least two of their militants, shattering an Easter truce and sparking "outrage" in Moscow.

But the Western-backed authorities in Kiev claimed the violence was a set-up by Russia to create a pretext for it to send troops in.

The attack, near the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, undermined an accord worked out in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine and Western powers on Thursday under which "illegal armed groups" were to surrender their weapons.

The deal, aimed at easing what has become the worst crisis between Washington and Moscow since the end of the Cold War, now appears to have stalled.

Russia has an estimated 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine's border in what NATO says is a state of readiness to invade, while the United States, according to The Washington Post, is preparing to send ground troops to neighboring Poland.

Sunday's gun battle occurred in a village 18 kilometers (11 miles) west of Slavyansk.

Vladimir, a masked 20-year-old pro-Russian rebel who said he was at the scene of the shootout, told Agence France Presse: "Four cars pulled up to our roadblock around 1:00am (2200 GMT Saturday). We wanted to conduct a check, and then they opened fire on us with automatic weapons."

He said three of the militants were killed.

An Agence France Presse photographer saw the bodies of two militants laid out in a truck near the scene.

The identity of the assailants, who escaped before militant reinforcements arrived, was not known.

The leader of the separatist rebels in Slavyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, said he believed two of the attackers were also killed.

He declared a midnight-to-6:00 am (2100 GMT to 0300 GMT) curfew in Slavyansk -- and appealed for Russian President Vladimir Putin to send in Russian troops as "peacekeepers to defend the population against the fascists."

Later, he said: "If you can't send peacekeeping forces, send us weapons."

Putin has said he "very much hopes" he will not have to send his forces into Ukraine, but asserts he has a "right" to do so.

On Sunday, Russia's foreign ministry declared its "outrage" at the deadly attack.

It blamed the deaths of the "innocent civilians" on ultra-nationalists who were at the vanguard of the street protests that forced the February ouster of Ukraine's pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych.

The ministry said locals had found the attackers' cars containing weapons, satellite maps and business cards belonging to the ultra-nationalist group Right Sector. It demanded that Kiev abide by the Geneva accord.

But a Right Sector spokesman told AFP that Russia's claims were "lies" and "propaganda" designed to portray the east as ungovernable for Kiev.

Ukraine's government, confirming three people were killed, described the latest violence as a "cynical provocation" by Russian-armed separatists.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who traveled to the east Sunday to inspect troops in the region, said investigations were ongoing into the shootout.

The gunfight ended days of relative calm underpinned by a promise by the Western-backed authorities in Kiev to suspend military operations to oust the rebels over Easter.

The last deadly clash was last Thursday, when three pro-Russian militants were killed by Ukrainian soldiers when they tried to attack a military base in the southeast port city of Mariupol.

But with the pro-Kremlin rebels refusing to comply with the Geneva accord, Washington has been ratcheting up pressure on Moscow, which it sees as pulling the strings in the Ukrainian insurgency.

U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened to impose more sanctions on Moscow if no progress is made on the ground.

A Kremlin spokesman shrugged off as "absurd" claims that Washington could sanction Putin directly, after an article in Britain's The Times newspaper cited anonymous sources saying the United States could target Swiss bank accounts belonging to the leader that allegedly hold some $40 billion (29 billion euros).

Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, told Fox News that sanctions represented a return to the "Cold War mentality" but said Moscow could "withstand pressures."

The sudden spike in tensions put paid to attempts by some ordinary Ukrainians to embrace Easter as a time of peace across their country.

Pope Francis also pleaded for peace in his Sunday Easter prayer. "We ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine," he prayed.

But efforts to that end were undermined overnight when the Orthodox leaders in Kiev and Moscow traded barbs.

Kiev's Patriarch Filaret thundered that Russia was an "enemy" whose "attack" on Ukraine was doomed to failure because it was evil and contrary to God's will.

In Moscow, the patriarch of the Russian Church, Kirill, led a prayer calling on God to put "an end to the designs of those who want to destroy Holy Russia" and pleading for Ukraine to soon have "legitimately elected" leaders.

In comments broadcast on U.S. television Sunday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk lashed out at Putin for having a "dream to restore the Soviet Union."

Washington has warned Moscow that Ukraine is in a "pivotal period" and that progress was needed on the Geneva accord "within days."

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to make a visit to Kiev on Tuesday.


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« Last Edit: Apr 21, 2014, 05:45 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #13033 on: Apr 21, 2014, 05:57 AM »

Fractured State of Pakistani Taliban Calls Peace Deal Into Question

By DECLAN WALSH
APRIL 20, 2014
IHT

LONDON — When the Pakistani Taliban said they were willing to make peace, many Pakistanis were skeptical that the militants had truly abandoned their dream of transforming the country into an Islamic caliphate.

But since talks with government negotiators officially started last month, the question is not just whether the Taliban wish to deliver a deal, but whether they even can.

An eruption of violent rivalries and internal disputes in the past month has strained the militants’ cohesion, cast doubt on their ability to make peace, and raised the prospect of a militant surge into Afghanistan.

Most immediately, an outbreak of infighting between rival Taliban commanders in the hills of Waziristan left at least 40 militants dead and exposed a violent rift in the movement’s operational heartland, according to Taliban members and locals.

That fight stemmed from a leadership crisis that started with an American drone strike in November that killed the group’s commander and inflamed internal arguments — including a debate over whether to prioritize the fight against Pakistan’s army, or to send more fighters into Afghanistan as American troops are leaving.

And a series of bomb attacks during a supposed six-week cease-fire has raised the possibility that the very idea of making peace has divided the Taliban, with militant cells splintering off rather than speaking with the government.

“We will know where the Taliban stand when they put their demands on the table, but I’m not hopeful,” said Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier and former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency’s Peshawar office. “There are so many complications. Ultimately, I don’t think these talks can succeed.”

Despite their ferocity, the Pakistani Taliban, formally known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, have never been a very united fighting force.

Since its formal emergence in 2007, the group has been an umbrella organization for Islamist militants — estimates run from 15 to 30 organizations — scattered across the tribal belt along the Afghan border. The unruly coalition was held together by the steely grip of leaders from the Mehsud tribe and anchored in the jihadi havens of North and South Waziristan where a wide variety of Pakistani and international militant groups hold sway.

But the American drone campaign loosened the Mehsud dominance, with missile strikes that killed Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban founder, in 2009; his deputy, Wali ur-Rehman, in May of last year; and the second leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, in November. Now the Taliban is led by a lame-duck figure, Maulana Fazlullah, who has struggled to keep his commanders in line.

Mr. Fazlullah came to power in November with solid hard-liner credentials — his supporters had flogged criminals and attempted to kill Malala Yousafzai, the teenage activist — but a less impressive military record. He was driven from his native Swat Valley, 200 miles northwest of Waziristan, by a Pakistani military operation in 2009. Now, according to Pakistani and Afghan officials, he is sheltering in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar.

“Fazlullah is not a strong leader because he was defeated, he left Pakistan and he remains across the border,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist who helped the government make initial peace overtures to the Taliban.

The Taliban chose Mr. Fazlullah, many believe, to quell feuding between rival factions of the Mehsud tribe. But the violence hardly abated after Mr. Fazlullah’s nomination, and it began looking like an all-out turf war in Waziristan this month.

Taliban fighters ambushed each other’s camps, bombed convoys, and took prisoners over six days of tit-for-tat bloodletting in the same remote, forested valleys where C.I.A. drones have attacked militant compounds. By the time tribal elders brokered a hasty truce earlier this month, 40 to 60 people had been killed according to most estimates.

Ostensibly the fighting stemmed from a simmering rivalry between two hotheaded commanders — Khan Sayed Sajna, a onetime contender for the Taliban leadership, and Shehryar Mehsud — who are battling for dominance of the Mehsud wing of the Taliban. Mr. Sajna, considered the stronger of the two, sent a message to his rival that “there cannot be two swords in a single sheath,” according to a senior Taliban commander.

But the fight was about more than clashing egos. According to militant and Western officials, the Sajna group is partly funded by the Haqqani network, a notorious militant group that uses its base in the Pakistani tribal areas to mount audacious attacks on civilian and military targets in Afghanistan. The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, wants to draw more Mehsud fighters into his fight against the Afghan government; as a result, he is pushing the Taliban to make peace in Pakistan.

As ever in tribal politics, money is a deciding factor: The Haqqani network draws on the proceeds of a vast criminal and fund-raising empire that spans Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf states. The Haqqanis also enjoy a close relationship with the ISI intelligence agency, which has cultivated ties for decades, although the extent of the Pakistani influence remains an open question among experts.

Mehsud tribal elders also favor negotiations. Weary of years of war, including Pakistani military bombardment and the displacement of tens of thousands of villagers, community leaders are pressing the Taliban to talk to the government, said government officials and Waziristan residents.

The Taliban’s fractious nature also leaves it vulnerable to other, mutually hostile influences. Foreign jihadists from Al Qaeda and Uzbekistan, who live among its members in North and South Waziristan offer money and a fanatical ideology. And recently, Afghan intelligence has gotten in on the act, hoping to steer the Taliban away from Afghanistan.

In Kabul, former and serving government officials described a policy of sanctuary and limited financial assistance to Taliban factions that wish to resume fighting inside Pakistan. “It is about convincing these guys about who they should be bothering,” said one former official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If they want to cause problems in Pakistan, that is something that is not going to be discouraged.”

The Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, has penetrated the Taliban most successfully at the eastern end of the border with Pakistan, where Mr. Fazlullah and his supporters are hiding. Afghan officials said Mr. Fazlullah has received sanctuary and some money; one of his spokesmen is frequently found outside nearby Jalalabad.

Another Pakistan Taliban operative lives under the spy agency’s protection in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar Province, where he produces militant propaganda videos.

The embryonic Afghan attempt to cultivate proxies within the Pakistani Taliban is a response to a widespread perception that the ISI intelligence agency is trying to push the war from Waziristan into southern Afghanistan as American troops withdraw. “They want to move all the vipers and snakes on to the Afghan side and let them fight it out here,” said the former Afghan official.

Equally, though, Afghan officials recognize that Taliban factions are highly unreliable allies. And a Western analyst cautioned that it would be a mistake to see the Taliban purely as puppets of the various spy agencies in the region. “They’ll take money from whoever is handing it out, as long as it suits them,” the analyst said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “But they’ve very much got their own mind.”

As ever, though, militant alliances are constantly shifting and reliable information is hard to obtain. Ascertaining the exact motivation of competing factions can be akin to Soviet-era Kremlinology. Mr. Fazlullah’s weakness is just one factor in decision making. Unlike the rigidly hierarchical Afghan Taliban, Pakistan’s insurgency has a decentralized, almost acephalous quality in which most power rests with the ruling shura, or leadership council.

And the tribal strife comes against a background of unprecedented Taliban expansion in the rest of Pakistan. In the past year, the movement has expanded its reach in Karachi, strengthened ties to like-minded militant groups, and increased fund-raising through extortion and kidnapping.

That complexity is what makes striking a peace deal such a challenge for the Pakistani government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

His government has staked much hope on the peace talks, betting that the Taliban can be persuaded to lay down their arms. Officials said they saw the Taliban’s announcement of the cease-fire’s end on Wednesday as a negotiating ploy, not the collapse of the whole process. The Taliban, too, insist that talks will continue.

To win the Taliban’s confidence, the government has agreed to free at least 12 low-level Taliban prisoners and is considering demands for several hundred more. But the crunch will come when the Taliban make a formal list of demands. The omens are not promising. Already, one hard-line commander with links to Al Qaeda, Omar Khalid Khorasani, has announced that he will not settle for anything less than the imposition of Shariah law across Pakistan.

Such statements greatly worry Pakistanis who say that the Sharif government has already conceded too much to Taliban militants who may be using the talks to build legitimacy among ordinary Pakistanis — all the while priming their weapons for the next round of fighting.
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« Reply #13034 on: Apr 21, 2014, 05:58 AM »

A Lead Grows, but Runoff Is Likely in Afghan Race

By ROD NORDLAND and AZAM AHMED
APRIL 20, 2014
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — With half the votes counted in the Afghan presidential race, the candidate Abdullah Abdullah widened his lead, but a runoff seemed likely between the top two contenders, according to data released Sunday by the Independent Election Commission.

Mr. Abdullah, the runner-up to President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 elections, had received 44.4 percent of the vote so far, followed by Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist and Karzai adviser, with 33.2 percent. Zalmay Rassoul, a former foreign minister in Mr. Karzai’s government, was a distant third, with 10.4 percent of the vote, followed by Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, a traditionalist Pashtun candidate and warlord, with 7 percent. Four other candidates shared the remaining 5 percent.

If that trend continues, neither Mr. Abdullah nor Mr. Ghani is likely to win more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff election.

The slow process of counting Afghanistan’s paper ballots, gathered from 34 provinces that are plagued by poor roads and communications, has been going on since the April 5 vote. But the election commission said the tally was expected to be completed by Thursday, when preliminary final results would be released.

Those results will be subject to review by the election complaints commission, which has registered close to 1,000 complaints serious enough to affect the vote count. The election commission said, however, that the numbers released Sunday excluded any votes considered suspect; those ballots have been quarantined while being audited for signs of fraud.

“We’ll be able to let you know in a couple days if it’s going to a second round,” said Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the head of the election commission. “It’s too early to tell.”

Mr. Ghani, the economist with 33 percent of the vote, insisted in a television interview that the results might change when all the votes are counted and allegations of fraud are addressed.

The election authorities have not specified how many votes have been quarantined, but even if the number reaches a million out of the roughly seven million cast, the results are not likely to change enough to avoid a runoff election or to declare one candidate the outright winner, analysts say.

“It will not invalidate the election itself,” said Nader Mohseni, the spokesman for the election complaints commission. “That will not happen. In 2009, we had more serious complaints. If that one was not canceled, this will not be.”

Mr. Abdullah’s campaign has reportedly been in talks with Mr. Rassoul’s third-place campaign to form a coalition for the runoff. Mr. Rassoul had initially been thought to have the president’s support, but Mr. Karzai stayed aloof from the campaign — at least in public — angering some of Mr. Rassoul’s supporters, who had expected more help.

In the end, Mr. Rassoul was winning in only two provinces, Kandahar and Oruzgan, in southern Afghanistan.

Despite the talk of runoff alliances, Mr. Abdullah seemed confident enough on Sunday to reject the notion of a coalition with one of the losing candidates in a second round.

“I expect to avoid a runoff,” he said in an interview, “but if there is a second round, we don’t want to build a coalition, we want someone to win decisively. The Afghan people want to have a clear picture.”

The results released Sunday comprised 50 percent of the vote, and came from all 34 provinces. Most of those provinces were evenly represented, suggesting there was little likelihood that updated numbers would change the overall outcome — barring the disqualification of huge numbers of ballots because of fraud.

The results expected to be released Thursday would not be final until complaints of fraud were adjudicated, a process expected to be completed by May 14. A runoff election would take place no sooner than May 28, and possibly weeks later.


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