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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 297850 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, 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

APRIL 14, 2014

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
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
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
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
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.”


“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
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:

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« Reply #13023 on: Today at 06:02 AM »

04/15/2014 06:11 PM

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


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.


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, 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, 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

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

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.

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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

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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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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