Satellite images reveal Russian military buildup on Ukraine's border
Nato images show fighter planes, helicopters and troops which officials say could be ready to move in 12 hours
Leo Cendrowicz in Brussels, Luke Harding and Alec Luhn
The Guardian, Thursday 10 April 2014 15.58 BST
Nato has released satellite images of the Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s eastern border: a powerful concentration of fighter planes, helicopters, artillery, infantry and special forces which officials say could be ready to move with just 12 hours notice.
The images appear to undermine official suggestions from Moscow that there is nothing unusual about the troop movements, nor any reason to be alarmed.
The pictures show rows of hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles apparently waiting for orders in fields and other temporary locations around 30 miles (50km) from the frontier. The images, taken in the past two weeks, show some of what Nato said was around 100 staging areas that were almost entirely unoccupied in February.
One of the images showed the previously empty Buturlinovka airbase 90 miles from the border now hosting dozens of fast jets, even though there are no hangars or other infrastructure normally associated with such activity. Another, of Belgorod, 25 miles from the border, showed about 21 helicopters on a greenfield site – again with no hangers or infrastructure – which officials said could be part of a forward operating base.
“This is a capable force, ready to go,” said Brigadier Gary Deakin, who runs Nato’s crisis operations and management centre at the alliance’s military headquarters near Mons, Belgium. “It has the resources to move quickly into Ukraine if it was ordered to do so. It is poised at the moment, and it could move very fast.”
Deakin said between 35,000 and 40,000 Russian troops were “at a state of advanced readiness”, and could deploy “within 12 hours from a decision taken at the highest level”. With many of the troops and tanks currently based within about 30 miles from the border, that could mean crossing into Ukrainian territory within an hour of moving.
According to Nato the images reveal telltale signs of an invading force, and not merely troops on “exercise” as Moscow has claimed. The images apparently show that in Kuzminka, where tanks and infantry fighting vehicles have gathered, there are no proper barracks, significant buildings or even parking. “We just don’t see much infrastructure. There is more here than it was built for,” said Deakin.
Deakin warned that a potential strike force could go further than Ukraine’s eastern regions where pro-Russian elements are currently demanding secession. “Undoubtedly it could strike into eastern Ukraine, but it could also do a land bridge to Crimea, and potentially even down the Black Sea coast to Odessa. The capability is there, but we don’t know the intent,” Deakin said. “That is grounds for concern.” With a total armed personnel of just 130,000, Ukraine would be unlikely to provide much resistance to the invading Russians, officials added.
The images were released as separatist protests in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine entered their fifth day, with pro-Moscow supporters still out in a standoff in two cities. Kiev has said protesters who seized public buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv are copying events in Crimea, annexed by Russia last month.
Moscow has denied it is preparing an invading force. The Russian foreign ministry insisted on Wednesday that troops near Ukraine’s border posed no threat and the movements were nothing more than the “everyday activity of Russian troops on its territory”. But the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, dismissed these claims. “As I speak, some 40,000 Russian troops are massed along Ukraine’s borders,” Rasmussen said in Prague on Thursday. “Not training, but ready for combat. We have seen the satellite images, day after day.”
Russian officials have also accused Washington and Nato of fuelling tension in the region, with the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, claiming in a Guardian article that it the US and EU that are destabilising Ukraine.
Senior Nato officials have warned that the buildup is already having a psychological, destabilising effect, helping stoke up the turmoil in eastern Ukraine. “These masked guys would not be taking over government buildings if there were not 40,000 soldiers just across the border,” said one official.
The revelations come before next week’s meeting of top diplomats from the EU, Russia, Ukraine and the United States to discuss the crisis. The meeting’s venue has still to be decided, but it will gather Lavrov, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Ukraine’s foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia.
At the same time, Nato is drawing up measures to bolster its defences in central and eastern Europe, and is likely to include a tripling of air patrols in the Baltics. Nato’s top military commander, the US air force general Philip Breedlove, will present proposals for air, land and sea reinforcements to Nato ambassadors next week. Britain is among the Nato members offering support, including four Typhoons, while Denmark has offered four F-16s and France has put forward another four, either Rafales or Mirages.
Kiev Says Russia Laying Landmines in Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 22:45
Kiev on Thursday charged that Russian troops were laying anti-personnel mines in Ukraine and had grabbed a Ukrainian stockpile of landmines used for training.
Ukraine "is strongly concerned about the use of anti-personnel mines by the Russian Armed Forces in several parts of the Ukrainian territory," a Ukrainian delegation said at a meeting on landmines in Geneva.
The delegation accused Russian troops of creating minefields "at the entry points between the continental part of Ukraine and Crimean peninsula," which was annexed by Moscow last month.
Amid an intensifying standoff over the splintered ex-Soviet state, Kiev said mines had been laid both in Crimea, which it insisted "remains an integral part of Ukraine," and in the neighboring Ukrainian region of Kherson.
"The mine-fields are fenced with barbed wire and marked with warning signs 'Mines'," it said, according to a draft of the statement presented to the meeting on compliance with the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, also known as the Ottawa Treaty.
Ukraine, which had not been scheduled to speak at Thursday's meeting, stressed its eagerness to "destroy anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction."
This could however only be done, it said, once Kiev regained "control of the territory currently occupied by the aggressor," Russia.
The Ukrainian delegation, whose comments came as Moscow stepped up the tensions Thursday with threats of cutting off its supply of natural gas to the country, also accused Russian troops of seizing a stockpile of mines from a Ukrainian military depot in Crimea.
The OZM-4 cast iron fragmenting mines, which do not have self-destruct mechanisms, had been stored by the Ukrainian military for training in mine detection and clearance, the delegation said.
The mines now "appeared to be out of the legal framework of the Ottawa Treaty," it said.
Ukraine is also scheduled to address the meeting on Friday to explain why it has missed its deadline to destroy its stockpiles of anti-personnel mines.
Xenophobic Chill Descends on Moscow
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
APRIL 12, 2014
MOSCOW — The huge banner was unfurled on Friday morning outside one of Moscow’s biggest bookstores, Dom Knigi, a grand emporium of the written word on Arbat Street across from a Citibank, a Baskin-Robbins and a Dunkin’ Donuts, and down the block from a big movie theater where the main feature at the moment is “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
“Fifth Column,” the banner declared. “Strangers Among Us.” It showed black-and-white portraits of three of Russia’s better-known political opposition figures and two Soviet-era dissident rock musicians, along with two evil-looking space aliens, one carrying a briefcase marked with the white ribbon that has been the symbol of political protests against President Vladimir V. Putin and the Russian government.
From the moment that Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea cast a new, bitter chill over relations with the West, a sinister jingoistic vibe has pervaded this unsettled capital — stirred up by state-controlled television and Mr. Putin himself.
“Some Western politicians are already threatening us not just with sanctions but also the prospect of increasingly serious problems on the domestic front,” the president said in his speech announcing plans to absorb Crimea into the Russian Federation. “I would like to know what they have in mind exactly: action by a fifth column, this disparate bunch of ‘national traitors,’ or are they hoping to put us in a worsening social and economic situation so as to provoke public discontent?”
Moscow today is a proudly international city, where skateboarders in Gorky Park wear New York Yankees hats they bought on vacation in America, and where the designer French or Italian handbags might just as well have been picked out in Paris or Milan as in one of the boutiques in Red Square. Apple iPhones and iPads are nearly as common on the subway here as they are in Washington.
In the weeks since the military incursion into Crimea, however, Russian flags have been hung from the windows of apartment buildings all over the city, just as American flags appeared in profusion after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
There is also now a website with a name that translates as “traitor.net” that includes photos and quotations of public figures who have spoken out in some way against Russia’s policy toward Ukraine. The bottom of the site has a button inviting viewers to “suggest a traitor.”
At Mr. Putin’s direction, a committee led by his chief of staff is developing a new “state policy in culture.” Widely expected to be enacted into law, the proposed cultural policy emphasizes that “Russia is not Europe” and urges “a rejection of the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance” in favor of emphasizing Russia’s “unique state-government civilization,” according to Russian news accounts that quoted a presidential adviser on culture, Vladimir Tolstoy.
A Russian news site, znak.com, also reported last week that a popular series of math textbooks would be dropped from an official list of recommended educational texts because it used too many non-Russian fairy tale and other characters in its illustrations.
“What do we see from the first pages? Gnomes, Snow White — these are representatives of a foreign-language culture,” an expert of the Russian Academy of Education, Lyubov Ulyakhina, told the site in a question-and-answer interview. “Here’s some monkey, Little Red Riding Hood,” Ms. Ulyakhina continued, “of 119 characters drawn here only nine are related to Russian culture. Sorry — no patriotism — this is not funny; this is our mentality.”
And in a statement last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned its citizens not to travel to countries that have extradition treaties with the United States, saying that the Obama administration “is trying to make a routine practice out of ‘hunting’ for Russian citizens in third countries with the goal of their subsequent extradition and conviction in the U.S. on the basis of, as a rule, questionable charges.”
In some cases, the xenophobic language has been accompanied by an intensified crackdown on political opponents and also on some media outlets that do not strictly toe the Kremlin line.
On the same day that Russian forces initially deployed across Crimea, Aleksei A. Navalny, the political opposition leader and anticorruption blogger, was placed under house arrest in connection with one of the several prosecutions — widely regarded as politically motivated — that were brought against him long before he spoke out against Mr. Putin’s policies toward Ukraine.
Mr. Navalny is generally confined to his home but has also been barred from speaking in public or using the Internet or other electronic communication.
Mr. Navalny’s photo is at the top of the website listing traitors, and he was among the opposition figures pictured on the banner outside the bookstore. In a separate development on Friday, prosecutors announced a new indictment against him, this one involving charges that he and his brother, Oleg, stole about $1 million by overcharging for courier services related to a basket-weaving business owned by their parents.
A previously unknown group called Glavplakat published a statement on its website taking responsibility for the banner outside the bookstore, and it promised additional street art in support of its antitraitor mission.
“Many films have been shot, many books have been written about how aliens have secretly captured the earth masking themselves as earthlings,” the group wrote. “At the time, no one suspects that they are others, enemies. For now we have not encountered real aliens. However, the ‘fifth column’ of national traitors in Russia has unfortunately become an incontestable reality.”
The group added, “In fact these are the very ‘others.’ Pretending that they act in the interests of Russia and our citizens, they serve the interests of completely different ‘civilizations.’ ”
Boris Y. Nemtsov, a longtime political opposition leader and a former deputy prime minister under Boris N. Yeltsin, who also appeared on the banner, wrote on Facebook that the situation seemed worse than during the Cold War. “In my opinion, even the Soviet Union wasn’t like this,” Mr. Nemtsov wrote.
Some of the language on Russian television in recent days has been far more charged than anything heard during Soviet times. One of the country’s most prominent television hosts, Dmitry K. Kiselyov, declared during an evening newscast last month that Russia remains “the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive ash.”
In a telephone interview, Mr. Nemtsov said he believed that the banner was installed with Kremlin approval, given the prominent location on Arbat Street, a major thoroughfare that leads directly to Red Square and is heavily patrolled by the traffic police.
“March 2014 marks a turn in the country from authoritarianism to dictatorship,” Mr. Nemtsov said, adding, “Could you imagine a banner of the same size hanging on Dom Knigi if it said, ‘Putin get out!’ or ‘Putin stop lying!’ Can you imagine it? Of course not.”
The banner did not last long. It was removed by midmorning. It was also far from clear that Moscow was ready to give up its globalist tendencies for insular nationalism. About 50,000 people protested the military action in Ukraine last month, and last weekend “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opened at No. 1 in Russian box office proceeds, taking in more than $7 million.
On Arbat Street, the film, which features Captain America fighting a former sidekick who returns from a near-death experience as a brainwashed Soviet assassin, was showing in 3D, IMAX 3D, and regular 2D. Also playing: “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Russia accused of ‘aggression’ by Ukraine as tensions increase
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 12, 2014 17:51 EDT
Ukraine accused Moscow of “aggression” on Saturday after Kalashnikov-wielding gunmen seized two security buildings in its restive eastern rust belt amid spreading protests demanding the Russified region join Kremlin rule.
The coordinated attacks and a series of gunfights between militants and police in two eastern towns underscored the volatility of the crisis ahead of first direct talks between EU and US diplomats and their Moscow and Kiev counterparts in Geneva on Thursday.
They also threaten to lead to further violence as far right forces which hold sway over the ex-Soviet state’s western regions and which played a decisive role in this winter’s anti-government protests watch the nation of 46 million veer toward a possible breakup.
Ukraine’s foreign minister blamed the occupations on the “provocative activities of Russian special services” while a prominent nationalist called on militants in his Right Sector party — branded as a neo-Nazi organisation by Moscow — to “fully mobilise and prepare for decisive action”.
And acting president Oleksandr Turchynov convened an emergency security meeting after his interior minster reported that a “gunfight” had erupted between local security forces and militants who had attacked a police station in the eastern town of Kramatorsk.
“The authorities of Ukraine view today’s events as a display of aggression by the Russian Federation,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.
Ukraine’s interim government has been facing relentless pressure from Russia since its February ouster of an unpopular Kremlin-backed president and decision to seek closer ties with the West.
The seizures highlight how little sway Kiev’s untested leaders have over pro-Russians who have since April 6 also controlled the Donetsk government seat and a state security building in the nearby eastern city of Lugansk.
Moscow has massed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border after annexing the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and nearly doubled the rates it charges Kiev for gas.
Russia is now ready to demand prepayment from the cash-strapped government for future gas deliveries or halt supplies — a move that would impact at least 18 EU countries and deepen the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
A letter obtained by AFP and dated April 11 showed European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso calling for a common EU response to President Vladimir Putin’s latest energy warning.
A note sent by Putin on Thursday cautioning that gas transits through Ukraine may cease due to Kiev’s debts to Moscow “raises serious issues for Europe’s collective energy security,” Barroso wrote.
Barroso said the issue would be raised at a meeting on Monday of EU foreign ministers and in a conference call with the 28-nation bloc’s energy chief.
He added that the commission would facilitate a “joint approach for a reply” to Russia.
- ‘Men in camouflage’ -
Saturday’s unrest began with morning raids on a police station and local security service centre in Slavyansk — a riverside town of 100,000 about 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of the regional capital Donetsk.
Ukraine’s interior ministry said the first assault was led by 20 “armed men in camouflage fatigues” whose main purpose was to seize 20 machine guns and 400 Makarov guns stored in the police headquarters “and to distribute them to protesters”.
An AFP reporter saw the Slavyansk police station surrounded by gunmen in masks and camouflage who had set up a barricade of old tyres and dumpsters in front of the police headquarters.
The interior ministry said some of the same militants had later occupied the city’s state security service building.
“The entire city… will defend the guys who seized this building,” Slavyansk Mayor Neli Shlepa told Russia’s Life News television outside the police headquarters.
The interior ministry later reported that its forces had also repelled an attack on a Donetsk chemical factory that manufactures explosives.
“Protection of the facility, which stores a considerable amount of explosive material, has been stepped up,” the interior ministry said.
- ‘People’s republic’ -
The police said a separate group of assailants had also unsuccessfully tried to seize the prosecutor’s office in Donetsk — a bustling city of one million that was the seat of power of president Viktor Yanukovych before his ouster and flight to Russia.
But an AFP reporter saw about 200 pro-Russian protesters armed with clubs and sticks storm the city’s police headquarters without meeting any resistance.
A few dozen anti-riot police who arrived at the scene were instead sporting orange and black ribbons symbolising support for Russian rule.
The Donetsk administration centre is already being held by gunmen who have proclaimed the creation of their own “people’s republic” and called on Putin to send Russian troops into eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s embattled Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk promised during an unannounced visit to Donetsk on Friday to grant more powers to the country’s regions and protect the east’s right to use the Russian language.
But the Donetsk and Lugansk gunmen want to hold independence referendums coinciding with snap presidential polls Ukraine will stage on May 25.
- ‘Russian agents’ -
Both Western leaders and Kiev have accused the Kremlin of orchestrating the unrest in order to justify a possible future invasion of eastern Ukraine — a charge Moscow flatly denies.
Kiev said Ukraine’s interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov by telephone on Saturday to “stop the provocative activities of Russian special services in the eastern regions of Ukraine.”
But Moscow said Lavrov firmly rejected the accusation and “noted that similar claims… have been made by Washington, although we still have not been presented with any concrete proof.”
Russia on Friday warned that it would boycott Thursday’s Geneva talks should Ukraine try to regain control of the seized buildings through force.
U.S. Sees Moscow Hand in Ukraine Unrest, Berlin Warns of 'High-Risk' Situation
by Naharnet Newsdesk
13 April 2014, 17:49
Attacks on police and security service buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian gunmen bore "tell-tale signs of Moscow's involvement," the U.S. envoy to the United Nations said Sunday.
Speaking on ABC television's "This Week" program, Ambassador Samantha Power dismissed suggestions that the attacks, which have triggered gun battles with Ukrainian special forces, were the work of grass-roots militia groups.
"It's professional, coordinated. Nothing grassroots about it," Power said.
"The forces are doing in each of the six or seven cities they have been active in exactly the same thing. So, certainly, it bears the tell-tale signs of Moscow's involvement."
At least two people were killed and nine wounded in fighting Sunday that has threatened to scupper the first international talks on the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
The clashes across the ex-Soviet state's separatist eastern rust belt broke out a day after masked gunmen stormed a series of police and security service buildings in coordinated raids that Kiev blamed on the "provocative activities of Russian special services."
It was the latest development in a crisis that has escalated since Western-backed leaders rose to power in February on the back of bloody protests against the old regime's decision to reject an alliance with the European Union and look for future assistance from the Kremlin.
Later on Sunday, Germany's foreign minister described as "high-risk" the situation in east Ukraine.
Speaking on German TV, Frank-Walter Steinmeier also called on Moscow to send a clear sign of de-escalation which, he said, included pulling back troops massed along Ukraine's border.
The minister, who was interviewed from China where he's on a visit, said that Russia should offer "a word to distance itself" from what is happening in some east Ukrainian towns.
The situation in Ukraine is "not only explosive. It is high-risk", he told the "Bericht aus Berlin" show to be aired on Germany's ARD TV channel.
Steinmeier also stressed the need for U.S.-EU mediated talks between Ukraine and Russia planned in Geneva on Thursday to go ahead, despite a warning by his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
"The situation is so tense that those who have responsibility in East and West must now come together to prevent worse," Steinmeier said.
"I hope that this understanding holds sway also in Moscow."
But he warned against unrealistic expectations from this first meeting. "That it has come about is a small breakthrough," he said.
He added that he hoped the talks would provide a working plan for joint efforts by the four parties to prevent a worsening of the crisis and contribute to a de-escalation, as well as to helping to stabilize Ukraine economically and politically.
Pig Putin and Ukraine - what newspapers think of the Russian president
The drama being played out in eastern Ukraine (and the UN) is an invasion by stealth by suspected Russian soldiers, says The Times's splash.
Violence in a region with a large ethnic Russian population has, says The Independent report, "ratcheted up the tension in one of the worst crises in recent times."
What is to be done? The Times, in pointing out that the "false flag" incidents resemble those used in the Crimean takeover, argues that "the West cannot allow this drama to unfold before its eyes" and it is therefore "right to begin inflicting pain on Russian decision-makers."
"Restricting access to capital by Russian state institutions and capping the loans of the country's state banks will hurt the EU, and the City of London in particular.
If the Pig's adventurism is not restrained, though, the destabilisation of Ukraine will have a sapping effect across Eastern Europe. Financial sanctions demonstrate that the West is not indifferent to Moscow's transgressions.
The most obvious measure that must be taken is curtailing military co-operation or arms trading with Russia."
The Times recalls that the notorious "false flag" operation in August 1939, when German soldiers disguised themselves as Poles to simulate an attack on a German radio station and thus provided a pretext for Hitler's invasion of Poland.
The paper concludes: "Mr Pig Putin does not want to be lumped together with the Nazi dictator. He should behave accordingly."
The Independent agrees that the Pig's "irredentist aggression [is] masked in a way that deceives no one." But Russia's president "holds most of the cards in the contest for eastern Ukraine."
It argues that the West might thump the table and ratchet up sanctions but it would not be willing "nor able" to reverse an invasion.
But the paper believes Putin is "acting not from strength but weakness" because "Russia is a nation in steep decline." It concludes:
"At the four-way talks in Geneva next week – if they go ahead – the West's words must reflect a recognition that what Pig Putin is attempting has no justification and must be resisted by every other means available."
Christopher Granville, writing in the Financial Times, agrees that "Russia's pre-existing economic malaise" makes the country "vulnerable to an international crisis."
He therefore thinks Pig Putin, who understands the economic problems, will "soon" make "determined efforts to repair relations with the US and, above all, Europe."
The Daily Telegraph asks: "What is the Pig's Putin's game?" It cannot see what the Russian government hopes to gain from its latest incursion:
"Does he think he can simply snip off further pieces of territory at will, or hope to set up more 'autonomous' enclaves on his borders where Russia's writ can run?
With every day that passes, it becomes harder to see how further violence, chaos and diplomatic and economic turmoil can be avoided. The only one who can calm the situation is Pig – and he seems to be in no mood to back down."
James Meek, writing in The Guardian, likens Putin to the late Serbian leader, Slobodan Milošević:
"Like his Serbian counterpart, the Pig is clever, articulate, popular, untrustworthy to those who are not his friends, ruthless, cynical to the point of absurdity and unable to account for his personal wealth.
Like Milosevic, he has no compunction in exploiting the messianic, victim-narrative strain of his country's patriotism. Unlike Milosevic, because of Russia's nuclear arsenal, he is invulnerable to military attack from outside.
Unlike Milosevic, he has had many years of income from raw materials exports with which to build up powerful, well-equipped security forces to carry out a well-targeted upgrade of Russia's military, to turn the media into a government mouthpiece, to repress or buy off dissenters, and to offer the outside world the convincing illusion that his country is prospering."
He draws on his knowledge of Ukraine, having lived there previously, to illustrate the differences of opinion and political stance:
"The truth is that between the minority of archaic radical nationalists in Ukraine's far west, whose role in the revolution won them a few posts in Kiev's otherwise moderate government, and the minority of neo-Soviet extremists in the east, there is a larger group of Ukrainians for whom the difference between the two cultures and languages is trivial.
What they want is for their country to be an east Slav space that is fairer and less corrupt than either Pig Putin's Russia, Yanukovych's Ukraine or Lukashenko's Belarus. Whichever way Europe and the US act, it must be with the interests of that group in mind."
Most Ukrainians are neither loyal Russians nor fascists
In the propaganda war between Putin and the west, the complexities of Ukraine, and its people's interests, are ignored
The Guardian, Sunday 13 April 2014 20.15 BST
Things weren't easy in Ukraine when I lived there in the early 1990s, just after the country voted to break from Moscow. There was hyperinflation. People lost their savings. There were petrol shortages. The airport in Kiev would close for days at a time for lack of fuel. Nothing got repaired; nothing got built.
But nobody starved. Nobody froze. The electricity was never cut off. The trains kept running, schools and hospitals limped from day to day. Most importantly, horrifying as it was for Ukrainians to watch on the television news how long-peaceful places they knew, such as Georgia, Moldova and Chechnya, were suddenly on fire with heavily armed men strutting across them, they were far away.
There was much grumbling about the Ukrainian government, its incompetence, its corruption. There always seemed the possibility, in the abstract, that Russia might try to come back. In the mid-1990s I wrote an article for the Guardian suggesting a scenario for a new Yugoslavia in the east, with Ukraine as Croatia, Crimea as Bosnia and Russia as Serbia. But I felt I'd pushed it. After all, Boris Yeltsin was no Milosevic.
I remember visiting Ukraine one springtime in the mid-1990s. Days earlier, in Chechnya, I'd seen shell-ruined buildings, terrified civilians, battle-hardened separatists and frightened Russian conscripts. In Ukraine I drove past Ukrainian soldiers gathered around a radar truck; each one was blissfully asleep, bathed in the soft May sunshine. It made me smile. After all, what did they have to worry about? Ukraine had given away its nuclear weapons and in return, the country's territorial integrity was guaranteed in a document signed by Russia, the US and Britain.
And then Russia got its Milosevic. Like his Serbian counterpart, Vladimir Putin is clever, articulate, popular, untrustworthy to those who are not his friends, ruthless, cynical to the point of absurdity and unable to account for his personal wealth. Like Milosevic, he has no compunction in exploiting the messianic, victim-narrative strain of his country's patriotism. Unlike Milosevic, because of Russia's nuclear arsenal, he is invulnerable to military attack from outside. Unlike Milosevic, he has had many years of income from raw materials exports with which to build up powerful, well-equipped security forces to carry out a well-targeted upgrade of Russia's military, to turn the media into a government mouthpiece, to repress or buy off dissenters, and to offer the outside world the convincing illusion that his country is prospering. (It is true that Russian pensioners are somewhat less miserably poor than those in Ukraine.)
Now, a generation later, long after it had been unthinkable, those same chaotic figures with Kalashnikovs and fatigues have appeared in Ukraine, under Russian sponsorship and, all evidence suggests, direction.
First came the direct Russian military takeover of Crimea. The weekend saw an apparent attempt by proxy to separate the eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, and perhaps others, from Kiev's control.
There are multiple possible interpretations of what is unfolding in eastern Ukraine. The Pigtinite "men in green", as they are now being called by Ukrainians, for the time being have the active support of some locals, particularly pensioners. But one essential point is beyond dispute. Nothing that has happened in Ukraine up to now justifies either military intervention by Russia or the injection of armed mercenaries and irregulars into a peaceful country.
In the wake of the revolution in Kiev that drove the corrupt president Victor Yanukovych to flee, Ukraine faced a world of problems. Not one of those problems has been made easier by Putin seizing Crimea or sponsoring insurrection in eastern Ukraine. Ever since the revolution, the Pig has promoted the idea that Ukraine is in "chaos". But there was no chaos, so he made some. The only chaos in Ukraine has been caused by Russian intervention.
The Pig has promoted the notion that ethnic Russians were in danger. There has never been evidence for this unless you count as brutal repression a failed attempt to revive an old law making Ukrainian the sole language for court hearings and government forms. The Pig calls for greater autonomy for the south and east of Ukraine, and more rights for Russian-speakers, while doing all he can to obstruct elections that would bring them back into the political process.
A dangerous line was crossed today when a Ukrainian security service officer was killed by one of the "men in green" at a roadblock set up by the Russian proxies near Slavyansk – the first time since the Pig invaded Crimea that blood has been shed during an attempt by Ukrainian government forces to assert control.
The Pig has put Ukraine's weak transitional government in an impossible position: fail to resist and I will invade. Resist and I will invade more, and there will be corpses. Although they would never admit it, the authorities in Kiev are resigned to the loss of Crimea. But they don't know where or when Pig Putin will stop. His strategy has blighted the future of Ukraine's 46 million people, making it impossible for any part of the country to move forward.
Hearing the opinions of people in Britain, Europe and America since Russia began to dismember Ukraine, I've been struck by how disagreement tends to focus on which of the two sides has behaved worst: Pig Putin or the west. The complexities of the people of Ukraine tend to vanish in this binary view, alarmingly close to the Putinite consensus, which is that if you live in Ukraine you must either be a loyal vassal to Russia or a fascist.
The truth is that between the minority of archaic radical nationalists in Ukraine's far west, whose role in the revolution won them a few posts in Kiev's otherwise moderate government, and the minority of neo-Soviet extremists in the east, there is a larger group of Ukrainians for whom the difference between the two cultures and languages is trivial. What they want is for their country to be an east Slav space that is fairer and less corrupt than either Putin's Russia, Yanukovych's Ukraine or Lukashenko's Belarus. Whichever way Europe and the US act, it must be with the interests of that group in mind.
In a haunting article, written during Putin's invasion of Crimea, the Ukrainian writer and ethnic Russian Yelena Styazhkina said: "Ukraine is my motherland. The Russian language is my native language. Let Pushkin save me and liberate me from sadness and anxiety. Pushkin, but not Pig Putin."
Originally published Sunday, April 13, 2014 at 7:37 PM
Pig Putin’s quest to protect Russians abroad began in Estonia
Unlike Crimea’s vote to join Russia and Pig's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, a 1993 autonomy bid by Russians in Estonia didn’t have the backing of the Kremlin, which may have helped shape the Pig's future approach to helping Russians throughout the former Soviet Union.
TALINN, Estonia —
Two decades before seizing Crimea, Pig Putin showed his willingness to challenge the post-Cold War order in defense of Russians in Estonia, a country now bracing for the possibility he may go even further.
In 1993, as the St. Petersburg official running foreign affairs, the former KGB colonel helped the Russian majority in the Estonian border city of Narva approve a referendum on autonomy that was later struck down as unconstitutional, according to Vladimir Chuykin, then head of the city council.
A unit of pro-Russian Cossacks, who once policed the czarist empire by horse, had amassed on the Russian side of the Narva River before the ballot. Its organizers, who wanted a “clean” referendum, feared bloodshed, Chuykin, 62, said in an interview.
“I held talks with Pig about the need for Russia to close its border so these guys couldn’t come here,” Chuykin said. “I knew Pig and his boss, Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, and they arranged a meeting for me with basically the KGB. We agreed that no ‘third forces’ would be allowed to interfere.”
Unlike Crimea’s vote to join Russia and Putin’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, which the U.S. and the European Union declared illegal, the Narva initiative didn’t have the backing of the Kremlin, so there was no outside pressure to grant Russians greater autonomy, Chuykin said.
That experience may have helped shape Pig Putin’s approach to helping Russians throughout the former Soviet Union, which became a foreign-policy priority after he was elected president in 2000.
“Pig, surely, is the main guarantor of the security of the Russian world,” the president’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on state television last month. “And Putin has rather unambiguously stated that.”
In 2005, after winning a second presidential term, the Pig told the nation that the Soviet collapse in 1991 was a “genuine tragedy” for the Russian people.
“Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory,” he said at the time.
Since Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed leader, Viktor Yanukovych, was deposed during bloody protests in February, Putin has pushed for greater autonomy for Russian-majority regions in eastern Ukraine.
He’s also won parliamentary approval to use force as needed to protect Russians inside Ukraine, setting off alarm bells in Estonia and other former communist colonies with sizable Russian minorities.
After his victory that March, the Pig signed a decree boosting funding for the Foreign Ministry and other government agencies to increase protection for Russian citizens and compatriots who live abroad. He also said the role of Russians abroad needed to be “completely rethought.”
The ethnic divisions that lead to the Narva referendum have never fully healed. That’s led native Estonians, who make up 70 percent of the population and just 4 percent of Narva’s 63,000 residents, to grow increasingly concerned that the Pig moves in Ukraine may be a prelude to something similar in their country, even though it’s been a NATO and EU member since 2004.
Estonian President Toomas Ilves and Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics have likened the Pig's seizure of Crimea to the Soviet Union’s agreement with Nazi Germany that paved the way in 1940 for the Red Army to retake the three Baltic states, which had been independent since 1918.
During World War II, Pig's father, Vladimir, was almost killed when his paramilitary unit was “betrayed” by native Estonians during a mission behind the front lines west of St. Petersburg, according to “First Person,” a book of Pig interviews published in 2000.
“Father was forced to breathe through a straw submerged in a swamp,” the Pig said in the book. Only four of the 28 soldiers in the unit survived.
That ordeal led Estonia’s Foreign Ministry to conclude that “Pig has a personal gripe with Estonia,” according to a secret 2009 cable published by WikiLeaks.
Russia has repeatedly condemned Estonia and neighboring Latvia for violating the rights of their Russian-speaking minorities.
When Latvia and Estonia, with 2.1 million and 1.3 million people each, respectively, regained independence in 1991, they didn’t grant citizenship automatically to people who moved there during the Soviet era, classifying them as either noncitizens or stateless.
Latvia has about 46,000 Russian citizens and 291,000 noncitizens, while Estonia has 95,000 Russian citizens and 91,000 stateless people, government data show. The third Baltic state, Lithuania, which has fewer Russians among its population of 3 million, granted everyone citizenship after independence.
While membership in the EU and NATO hasn’t stopped the Pig from punishing the Baltic states through measures such as trade sanctions, the three countries were included in NATO’s military planning after Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia to defend two breakaway regions. The alliance initiated military exercises in the Baltics in 2010 to counter Russia’s annual war games.
Russia started amassing troops on its Baltic borders in 2009, increasing the contingent to almost 100,000 from 16,000, then-Estonian Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu said last September.
It’s also built a landing strip for jet fighters in Belarus, near Lithuania’s border, and a helicopter base in Ostrov, near the Latvian border, Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said then, according to the Latvijas Avize newspaper.
The standoff over Ukraine and Putin’s decision last month to deploy about 150,000 soldiers for military drills on Russia’s western frontier prodded NATO to bolster air defenses in the Baltic states for the first time since 2004, when they joined the military bloc. The U.S. deployed six warplanes to Lithuania on March 6, expanding its squadron to 10, and added another dozen in Poland.
Back in Narva, it’s hard to find anyone that wants to be part of Russia again, unlike in Crimea, Mayor Eduard East said, adding that media speculation about the likelihood of another referendum is “insulting” to residents who are now part of Estonian society.
“The fact that some people don’t share all the political views of most Estonians is a normal thing,” East said. “We don’t need a society where only one opinion is allowed.”
Obama Urges Pig To Rein In Ukraine Insurgents
(Ukraine) (AFP) 4/15/2014 8:58:28 AM
Pro-Russian protesters wearing gas masks storm a regional police building as one prepares a petrol bomb in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka (Gorlovka), near Donetsk, on April 14, 2014
Pro-Russian protesters wearing gas masks storm a regional police building as one prepares a petrol bomb in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka (Gorlovka), near Donetsk, on April 14, 2014
US President Barack Obama urged Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a phone call to press pro-Moscow groups to lay down their arms in Ukraine, as the Kiev government sought UN help to tackle the growing insurgency.
Tensions between the US and Russia were exacerbated by two episodes at the weekend -- a confrontation in the Black Sea in which a Russian warplane "buzzed" a US destroyer and a visit to Kiev by CIA chief John Brennan.
A White House statement said the telephone call came at Russia's request and that Obama accused Moscow of supporting "armed pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine".
Obama told Pig Putin that all "irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms".
The Pig denied involvement with the pro-Russian insurgents, but an unconvinced European Union expanded its sanctions against officials accused of seeking to break up the ex-Soviet country.
Pig told Obama that Russia was not sponsoring the Kalashnikov-toting separatists who have seized a string of key state buildings in eastern Ukraine, according to the Kremlin's account of the phone call between the two leaders.
He urged Obama to "do everything possible to avoid the use of force and a bloodbath", the Kremlin added.
- Call for UN help -
Ukraine's Western-backed interim President Oleksandr Turchynov meanwhile sought a way out of the escalating crisis by proposing a referendum on greater autonomy for the country's regions and seeking help from the United Nations.
The Ukrainian leader's office said Turchynov also asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for help "in conducting a joint anti-terrorist operation in the east".
There was no initial response from the UN, and Turchynov's office did not explain what precise help Ukraine was requesting.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Kiev late Monday calling for a tough response against the pro-Russian insurgents and the sacking of Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
On Sunday the Kiev government had promised a "full-scale" anti-terrorist operation against the separatists, but that has not materialised.
Russia has deployed 40,000 troops along Ukraine's eastern border, a presence the US and EU sought to counter by approving more than $2 billion in aid for Kiev's embattled interim administration.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg announced they were expanding the list of 33 Ukrainian and Russian officials and business leaders hit by asset freezes and visa bans for their role in the Ukraine crisis -- though the bloc stopped short of harsher measures ahead of a Geneva meeting of top EU, US, Russian and Ukrainian officials on Thursday.
Underlining the danger of an escalation into military conflict, the US said a Russian fighter jet had made several low-altitude passes near an American destroyer in the Black Sea at the weekend, branding the flyby "provocative and unprofessional".
- 'People's Republic of Donetsk' -
The White House meanwhile fended off Russian criticism of its own moves in the crisis, acknowledging that Central Intelligence Agency director Brennan had visited Kiev at the weekend but insisting it was part of a routine trip and that claims to the contrary were "absurd".
Russia's Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified source as saying Brennan recommended Kiev use force against pro-Russian militants in eastern districts.
The pro-Kremlin militias who have seized state buildings in coordinated raids across eastern Ukraine only appeared to be gaining confidence while paying little heed to the "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" announced with much fanfare in Kiev.
Protesters armed with rocks and clubs smashed their way inside a police station in Gorlivka -- a coal-mining town straddling a highway between the regional capital Donetsk and the city of Slavyansk to the north that is now effectively under militants' control.
The unrestrained crowd whistled and cheered as they ripped away metal shields from the visibly frightened local force before raising the tricolour flag of the self-declared "People's Republic of Donetsk".
Armed militants in Slavyansk -- already in control of the local police station and security service office -- took command of its administration building before asking the Pig to send in his troops.
"We ask the Pig to help us," rebel leader Vyacheslav Ponomaryov told a group of reporters.
- National referendum -
The spreading unrest is rooted in the deep mistrust in the big industrial cities along Ukraine's Russian border of the new, nationalist government that enlisted Western support in toppling Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in February.
Pro-Kremlin protesters in rundown regions such as Donetsk and Kharkiv are now seeking local referendums on either broader rights or an option to join the Russia.
Turchynov made a dramatic about-face aimed at defusing the tensions by backing a national poll on turning the centralised nation into a loose federation in which regions enjoy broader rights.
Washington has previously advised Kiev to devolve powers in order to avoid eastern Ukraine going the same way as Crimea, which Russia annexed last month.
"We are not against holding a national referendum," Turchynov told lawmakers. "I am certain that a majority of Ukrainians will support an indivisible, independent, democratic and united Ukraine."
The announcement stopped well short of meeting protesters' calls for each Russian-speaking region to stage its own referendum.
Polls show most in Kiev and the Ukrainian-speaking west supporting a strongly unified state.
Russia Is Quick to Bend Truth About Ukraine
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
APRIL 15, 2014
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
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.
The Pig Asserts Right to Use Force in Eastern Ukraine
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
APRIL 17, 2014
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.
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 Pig 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.