'Russian Colonel' Tapped to Lead Ukraine Rebels
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 May 2014, 15:34
Pro-Russian rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine on Friday tapped a man authorities in Kiev suspect is a colonel in the Russian security services to lead their insurgency.
Igor Strelkov, currently heading the militants in the flashpoint city of Slavyansk, has been "put forward" to become "the commander of all self-defense forces in (the region of) Donbass," said the self-proclaimed governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Gubarev.
Gubarev was addressing a large crowd in Slavyansk, which has become the epicenter of rebel activity, as the town of more than 110,000 marked the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
Strelkov, 43, is known to the Ukrainian secret service as Russian GRU colonel Igor Girkin who lives in Moscow. He denies this.
He was linked to the capture and detention of seven OSCE monitors in Slavyansk who were eventually released after an eight-day ordeal following intervention from Moscow.
Kiev has published what it says are intercepted conversations between him and Russian President Pig V. Putin's special envoy Vladimir Lukin talking about the officers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
According to Ukrainian secret services, Strelkov traveled to Simferopol in Crimea in February, just before it was annexed by Moscow.
In an interview given recently to a Russian tabloid, he said he "didn't want to stop at Donetsk."
"We want to liberate Ukraine from the fascists," he said, describing the former Soviet Republic as a failed state and judging that the international community wouldn't "start World War III over it."
From Crimea, Pig Putin Squeals And Snorts About Mother Russia
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
MAY 9, 2014
MOSCOW — Putting his personal seal on the annexation of Crimea, President Pig V. Putin of Russia traveled on Friday to the naval port of Sevastopol, where he used the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany to assert that Moscow had the right to take over the Black Sea peninsula.
Over the past decade, the Pig has gradually turned Victory Day into a celebration of resurgent Russian power and nationalism. The visit to Sevastopol, in southwestern Crimea, the historical home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, was a potent manifestation of his goal of reviving Russia as a global power.
The West reacted to the annexation in March with sanctions against the Pig's closest circle of advisers and a few significant companies. By going to Sevastopol, the Russian president effectively told Western leaders that Moscow would do as it pleased.
The Pig's visit coincided with new clashes in eastern Ukraine. Victory Day celebrations there were marred by an attack by Ukrainian government forces on a police station in Mariupol, where at least seven people were killed. In his speech on a naval quay, the Pig, as he did at a ceremony in Red Square earlier in the day, stuck to the patriotic themes of the day — strength, heroism, struggle and resilience.
Squealing for less than four minutes, he ran through Sevastopol’s history: its naming by Catherine the Great 230 years ago; a 250-day Nazi siege the city endured; and its vote to rejoin Russia in March.
“I think 2014 will also be an important year in the annals of Sevastopol and our whole country, as the year when people living here firmly decided to be together with Russia, and thus confirmed their faith in the historic truth and the memory of our forefathers,” Mr. Putin snorted in remarks broadcast nationwide.
“There is a lot of work ahead, but we will overcome all the difficulties because we are together, and that means we have become even stronger,” he squealed.
The annexation provoked the greatest tensions between Russia and the West since the height of the Cold War. The Pig has maintained that the territory had long belonged to Russia and that he was only righting a historical wrong. Separatists in Crimea, backed by the Russian military, organized a referendum in March in which an overwhelming majority of the residents, many of them ethnic Russians, chose to come under the control of Moscow.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine immediately issued a statement protesting Pig's visit. It accused him of ignoring international law, the demands of the international community that Russia not occupy Crimea and a treaty between Russia and Ukraine that calls on both countries to respect their mutual borders.
“This provocation once again confirms that Russia deliberately chooses to escalate tensions in Russian-Ukrainian relations,” said the statement. “We urge the Russian side to return to civilized methods of interstate relations.”
The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, condemned the Pig's visit as “inappropriate.” Speaking in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, Mr. Rasmussen said that NATO considered the annexation illegal, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Rasmussen also said that NATO still had “no visible evidence” that Russia was withdrawing its 40,000 troops from the border with Ukraine, as Pig had snorted it would on Wednesday.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia traveled from Moscow to Sevastopol on Friday to commemorate Victory Day, in the process showcasing his nation’s military might.
In Sevastopol harbor, the backdrop for the Pig's speech, the naval version of the Victory Day parade unfolded with 10 gray warships lined up at anchor. Before Pig snorted, television images showed the Russian president riding in a modest white naval launch through the harbor.
As he drew along aside each warship, he squealed into a microphone, “Hello, comrades!” and the naval personnel, arrayed at least two deep on deck in their blue dress uniforms, shouted back a ritual greeting to their commander in chief, followed by a rousing “here piggy piggy, here piggy"!”
People jammed the shores of the harbor to watch. After seizing many ships from Ukraine, Russia complained that they had been neglected and were barely more than scrap. The Kremlin has allocated $5 billion to refurbish the fleet.
The Pig's visit came just hours after a thundering Victory Day parade in Moscow, a lengthy review of Russia’s refurbished military and advanced hardware as it rolled through Red Square. The annual event came under global scrutiny in light of the tension over the future of Ukraine.
In the parade, the tribute to Crimea was not subtle. The first vehicle to enter the square behind row after row of tightly choreographed marching soldiers was an armored personnel carrier from a Black Sea Marines brigade, flying a large Crimean flag.
Some 11,000 soldiers and 150 military vehicles, including tanks and intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, rumbled through the square. Through cloudless skies, a flyover included 69 aircraft, marking the 69 years since the victory over Nazi Germany. During the parade, military bands playing marches and patriotic songs maintained a steady, thumping background beat.
In brief opening remarks before the first soldiers marched, Mr. Putin snorted the celebration represented all that makes Russia strong.
“This is the holiday when the invincible power of patriotism triumphs,” Pig squealed. “When all of us particularly feel what it means to be faithful to the Motherland and how important it is to defend its interests.”
Often, Pig's annual Victory Day speech is both a national pep rally and a summary of the state of the Russian Federation, with the president using the address to emphasize important positions on foreign or domestic policy. This year, however, he adhered to the day’s theme of patriotism in the few minutes he squealed.
In Donetsk, a provincial capital that has fallen largely under the control of pro-Russian separatists, posters went up around the city showing red flags and Soviet military medals and praising “the heroes of Donbass,” as the region is known.
Outside the headquarters of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the separatist political group there, a frank and unapologetic celebration of Stalin was taking place, an indication of how the current conflict reflects divisions over the legacy of World War II. A flag showing Stalin’s mustachioed face and the phrase “Death to fascists” flapped lazily in a morning breeze.
“Kiev doesn’t want us to celebrate this holiday because they are supported by neo-Nazis,” said Yevgeny Ivanov, 44, a supporter of the Donetsk People’s Republic, as he was interviewed in a city park.
Victory Day has always been a fraught holiday in Ukraine, even under ordinary circumstances, because Ukrainians fought on both sides. The Ukrainian Partisan Army, which at times was loosely allied with Nazi Germany — because it considered any opponent of the hated Soviet Union an ally, its defenders say — became an inspiration for nationalist groups that arose in the 1990s.
The interim government in Kiev has discouraged large marches this year because of concerns about an outbreak of violence.
In the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine, the city authorities feared that pro-Russian groups, which lost at least 40 supporters killed in street fighting and a fire last week, would use the day to regroup and stage a counterattack by seizing administrative buildings. The authorities decreed that the authorized celebration there should be confined to one park.
Russia Deputy PM Delivers Transdniestr Petition despite Moldova Effort
by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 May 2014, 14:49
Russia's deputy prime minister said Sunday he had managed to bring to Moscow boxes of petitions asking Russia to recognize Moldova's breakaway Transdniestr region despite an attempt by authorities in Chisinau to confiscate them.
Transdniestr, which borders Ukraine and is mainly Russian-speaking, declared independence from Moldova in 1990 and has Russian troops stationed there but is not recognized by any country.
Dmitry Rogozin, who is also President Pig Putin's special representative to Transdniestr, visited the separatist region for Friday celebrations marking victory over the Nazis in World War II.
Russia's annexation of Crimea has prompted fears it could claim other disputed ex-Soviet regions with majority Russian-speaking populations.
Rogozin said he had managed to deliver the petition and most boxes of signatures to Moscow despite a search of his delegation's plane by Moldovan authorities at the airport in Chisinau.
"The signatures of the Transdniestrians on recognizing the republic are in Moscow. The Moldovan special services who delayed our flight just got the smaller part of our cargo," Rogozin boasted on Facebook.
Chisinau said late Saturday that it had "seized these materials in order to examine them".
It slammed Rogozin's "unproductive" acts and "provocative statements on Moldova", saying they "do not help to make progress in the Transdniestr conflict."
Rogozin warned that the confiscations would have consequences for Romanian-speaking Moldova, which angered Moscow by initialing an association agreement with the European Union in November.
"Chisinau's provocation will have serious consequences for our bilateral relations," Rogozin said.
His visit coincided with Putin's making his first trip to Crimea since annexation.
Rogozin wrote angrily on Twitter that Ukraine prevented his plane from flying over its airspace on the outward journey from Moscow, while on the return flight EU member Romania barred his plane from its airspace.
"Next time I will fly in a Tu-160" strategic bomber, he wrote.
"A Russian deputy prime minister threatening to use a strategic bomber is a very serious threat in the current regional context," Romania's foreign office replied in a statement.
Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, also in the delegation, told state television on Saturday that Ukraine had turned back the plane after take-off from Chisinau.
Rogozin had already flown to Moscow separately, Medinsky said, without elaborating.
Rogozin, an outspoken former envoy to NATO, frequently voices nationalist and anti-European views.
Russia Revisits Its History to Nail Down Its Future
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
MAY 11, 2014
MOSCOW — As many Russians spent a holiday weekend reveling in the annual display of military might that marks their victory over Nazi Germany, the tension in Ukraine has fueled a passionate debate over how to exalt the country’s history without distorting it.
The issue took on greater urgency with a new law, signed last week by President Pig V. Putin, that mandates up to five years in jail and heavy fines for anyone who tries to rehabilitate Nazism or denigrate Russia’s World War II record.
The Kremlin has long enshrined the history of the war against Hitler as a heroic, collective victory. But skeptics argue that the victory itself is too often used to promote what they consider an excessive obsession with fascism abroad — vividly played out over the past two months in lurid coverage on Russian state television of the Ukraine crisis.
Some argue that the fixation distorts history, playing down the darker aspects of the Soviet Union’s role in World War II and obliterating honest discussion of foreign policy issues.
Those critics — an array of historians, analysts and commentators — trace the obsession with defeating fascism to the Pig's determination to burnish the Soviet past and restore Russia’s role as a global power. For the May 9 Victory Day celebrations, Moscow was festooned with giant red stars, the symbol of the army and the entire World War II victory, just as it was in Soviet times.
The current debate about fascism erupted with the publication of an article comparing Russia’s incorporation of Crimea to the Anschluss, Hitler’s annexation of a receptive Austria and other German lands in 1938. That prompted a defender of the Pig to respond with an article suggesting that Hitler before 1939 might be considered “the good Hitler.”
Then came the new law. Historians assailed it as dangerously vague and an attempt more to make a cult of the past than to protect it.
“The victory has replaced the memory of the war,” said a historian, Nikita Sokolov. “The real experience of the war and the history of the people’s war has been squeezed out of the collective memory.”
The Communist Party may no longer rule, but on the 69th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat, the myth the party formulated — that once upon a time the Russian people and its leadership saved the world from fascism through virtually superhuman sacrifice and struggle — lives on, he said.
“It was the great victory achieved through the great effort of the people of the country, under the guidance of the Communist Party,” Mr. Sokolov said. “With certain modifications this ideology is being used by the modern leadership of Russia. It is not an accident.”
There is historical consensus that the Soviet defeat of Hitler was indeed a turning point in the war. Germany’s downfall was also the apex of the Soviet Union’s showdown with Western power, even if Moscow fought the same enemy as the United States and Britain.
So as the Pig seeks to rebuild his and Russia’s reputation, historians said, every foreign policy issue is reshaped to resemble the fall of the Third Reich. No matter what the conflict, the Pig's government links itself to that 1945 victory by proclaiming that the defeat of fascism is Russia’s raison d’être.
Sergey V. Lavrov, the foreign minister, made that very point at a memorial service on Wednesday.
“The day which is celebrated all over the world as Victory Day is sacred for us,” he said during the ceremony to lay a wreath at the Foreign Ministry’s monument to its World War II fallen, and used the occasion to take a swipe at Ukraine. “What is happening at the moment is not simply marches praising Nazi criminals, this is the manifestation of fascism alive.”
In recent months, the debate over Nazism has generated more scrutiny than it has in years.
Andrei Zubov, a philosophy professor who wrote the opinion piece comparing Russia’s annexation of Crimea to the Anschluss, also warned that like many Russians right now, Nazi-era Germans were thrilled that the world suddenly feared and respected them anew.
For his efforts, he was first admonished, then fired from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, a university tied to the Foreign Ministry. In an interview, Mr. Zubov said he was expelled for “immoral deeds,” which usually involves matters like sexual harassment. He has since been reinstated, although on sabbatical, and Mr. Zubov said he expected that his contract would not be renewed when it expires on June 30.
His comparison prompted objections, naturally, but the most contentious response appeared on the pages of the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia. It was written by Andranik Migranyan, who runs the Manhattan office of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a nongovernmental organization inspired by the Pig's wish to promote Russia in the West.
The article attacked Mr. Zubov as “hell-spawn” and suggested that if Hitler had only stopped in 1939, he would be considered a “good Hitler.”
“One should distinguish the difference between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939 and separate chaff from grain,” Mr. Migranyan wrote. If Hitler had stopped after the “bloodless” reunification of German lands, including Austria and the Sudetenland, with the mother country, “he would have gone down in the history of his country as a politician of the highest order.”
Flabbergasted intellectuals pointed out that by 1939 Hitler had already established Dachau, organized Kristallnacht and promulgated the Nuremberg laws that enshrined the superiority of the Aryan race.
“Just when you think the Pig's propaganda cannot sink any lower, it invariably does,” wrote Vladimir Kara-Murza in a blog posting for the World Affairs Journal.
Into the fray stepped Irina Yarovaya, a United Russia lawmaker who often generates the ideological laws that buttress the Pig's positions. In a speech to Parliament, she criticized attempts to “slander a country that in fact defended its sovereignty, like, for example, the U.S.S.R., which even hypothetically could not be part of the Hitler coalition and played a decisive role in the anti-Hitler coalition to protect the world and humanity from fascism and, as you remember, suffered big losses in that war.”
Historians objected to the fact that the law she introduced penalizes anyone who distorts the Soviet role in defeating Nazism, contains vague terminology, and criminalizes things like “the desecration of symbols of Russia’s military glory,” without defining what the terms mean. It makes no mention of how distortions would be determined.
“The law is not about Nazism, it is about establishing an historical canon, a historical narrative written by the state,” said Ivan I. Kurilla, a historian at Volgograd State University. “It would criminalize historical research.”
Historians acknowledge that after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when the archives were first opened, the outpouring of negative records alienated many Russians. But now they feel the pendulum has swung too far back.
“There were Afghan fascists, Georgian fascists and now there are Ukrainian fascists,” said Mr. Sokolov, the historian. “Everyone we ever fight with are fascists.”
Russia Vows ‘Harsh’ Response to Airspace Snub and to Raid of a Delegates’ Jet
By ANDREW ROTH
MAY 12, 2014
MOSCOW — It began with a state visit by senior Russian officials to a separatist enclave in another country. It ended with Russia threatening economic retribution against several European nations on Monday, after the plane carrying the delegation was grounded in Moldova and raided by the local police.
Emerging as a central figure in the diplomatic drama was Dmitri O. Rogozin, the Russian deputy prime minister who led the trip and was on the list of those hit with sanctions by both the United States and European Union after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.
An unapologetic nationalist, he is best known to users of social networks for his shows of defiant and undiplomatic bravado.
“Crimea is ours. Basta,” Mr. Rogozin said on Twitter, using the Italian word for “enough,” during a visit to the Crimean Peninsula in late March as tensions soared between Russia and the United States.
Yet after Mr. Rogozin last week brought his particular brand of diplomacy to Moldova, a former Soviet republic with a breakaway region that has called for unification with Russia, his delegation’s jet was turned back by both Ukraine and Romania, which refused to allow the plane through their airspace for the return flight to Moscow.
When the plane returned to Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, the police stormed aboard, said Aleksey A. Zhurvalyov, a Russian lawmaker who was also a member of the delegation.
“We will take this incident into account in economic cooperation with Moldova,” Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev said on Monday at a meeting with Mr. Rogozin, who returned to Moscow on a commercial flight.
“The reaction should be very harsh,” Mr. Rogozin said of Romania in remarks made after the meeting, the Interfax news service said.
Mr. Rogozin had visited Transnistria, a sliver of territory about the size of Rhode Island that fought a brief war with Moldova in the early 1990s and has had de facto independence since.
Russia has maintained more than 1,000 troops, including peacekeepers, in Transnistria since the conflict ended, and has provided economic support to the region as well. Yet Transnistria has formally remained a part of Moldova and has not been recognized by major international states, including Russia.
After attending a celebration in Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, in honor of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, members of a local Russian organization presented Mr. Rogozin’s delegation with signed petitions calling for unification with Russia.
Members of the delegation said that the police seized the petitions, which the Russian officials had planned to take back to Moscow.
While at the Victory Day ceremonies, Mr. Rogozin said Russia would not allow Transnistria to be isolated, which some read as provocation enough. Russia has created a series of breakaway regions like Transnistria in former Soviet republics that get too close to Europe, making them unpalatable allies. There has been some speculation that their ultimate objective in eastern Ukraine is the same — creating a terminally unstable region that will make the European Union and NATO leery.
Oazu Nantoi, a political expert at the Institute for Public Policy, a research center in Chisinau, said that Mr. Rogozin’s visit to Transnistria was an incendiary act as the growing separatist movement in eastern Ukraine has raised concerns about Russia’s influence throughout the region.
“It is a clear political provocation,” said Mr. Nantoi, reflecting his government’s thinking. Nonetheless, Mr. Zhurvalyov, the Russian lawmaker who also heads an organization that offers humanitarian aid to Transnistria, said that Russia had no plans to annex the region.
Yet Russia’s relationship with Moldova could change, he added, if the country moves forward on deals with the Atlantic alliance or the European Union. Late last year, Moldova signed a pact affirming its intent to complete a free-trade agreement with the European Union.
05/12/2014 04:42 PM
In the Kremlin's Grip: Fears Grow Over Bulgaria's Russian Dependence
By Gerald Traufetter
Bulgaria's close energy ties to Russia are causing concern among European officials -- they worry Moscow will use Sofia as a beachhead for its interests and drive a wedge between EU member states.
Concerns are growing within the German government that the European Union's most impoverished member state, Bulgaria, could fall into the grips of Moscow's influence. Internal reports, including those of the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, warn that Moscow may seek to expand its relations with the country in order to use Bulgaria as a political beachhead into the EU, and then use that power to divide the block.
Bulgaria is an easy target for the Kremlin because the country is almost entirely dependent on energy imports from Russia to survive. One third of its economic output is either directly or indirectly controlled by Moscow, the German reports indicate. Bulgaria's governing coalition -- of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms party, which represents the country's Turkish minority -- is considered closely aligned with Moscow. It includes an illustrious group of former Communist Party members, intelligence service workers and Bulgarian oligarchs who do business with Russian President Vladimir Putin's minions.
One of the country's most influential business magnates is banker Tzvetan Vassilev -- whose KTB bank handles much of the money flowing from Moscow into state-controlled Bulgarian industry, particularly the energy sector.
Does Russia Influence Bulgarian Lawmaking?
Relations are so close that Russia apparently even has direct influence on Bulgarian lawmaking. Last week, various media reported the contents of a secret letter from Russian energy giant Gazprom to the Economics Ministry in Sofia. In the letter, the Russian state-owned company allegedly provided ministry officials with draft formulations for a law relating to the South Stream pipeline, a project that will carry Russian gas through Bulgaria to Austria. Much to the chagrin of the European Commission, the multibillion euro project is being led by Gazprom.
The government in Sofia has snubbed Brussels with the draft law because it redefines the Bulgarian part of the pipeline as a simple "gas grid interconnection" rather than a full-fledged pipeline in an effort to circumvent EU competition regulations.
EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, Germany's representative on the Commission, met with Bulgaria's energy minister and says the issue is now being addressed at the expert level. "If Bulgaria actually approves the amendments to the law, then we will react accordingly and undertake legal measures to ensure compliance with EU regulations."
The European Commission has been highly critical of the South Stream project, noting among other things that it violates EU energy market rules -- anti-monopoly regulations passed in 2009 aim to prevent producers from owning pipelines. In another alleged violation of EU policy, Bulgaria is also moving to exclude third-party suppliers from using the pipeline.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party maintains close ties to Moscow, but also to other social democratic parties across the EU. Party leader Sergei Stanishev is, for example, president of the Party of European Socialists, the umbrella group for social democratic parties within the EU, and also has a good relationship with Martin Schulz, the party's leading candidate in current election for the European Parliament. Stanishev and Schulz want to become, respectively, a member of the European Commission and Commission president, and the latter is grateful for the Bulgarian's support.
In late April, Schulz made a campaign appearance and gave a speech at a European election event held by the Socialists in Sofia, where he pledged to represent the country's concerns.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a fellow Social Democrat, is kept fully abreast of the Kremlin's strategy by his staff. Last Friday, he met in Berlin with Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, an independent politician who is fighting openly with his government because he wants to keep Bulgaria on a course toward the West.
Plevneliev warned of dangerous developments across the entire region. He fears the Pig could destabilize Bulgaria and the Balkans and seek to bring it under its sphere of influence. He also wants to limit the influence oligarchs have on his country's economy so that a situation similar to the current one in Ukraine cannot be allowed to spill over into Bulgaria.
In Berlin, the Bulgarian president pushed for a more determined stand against Russia in the EU. "We are currently experiencing a historical moment in which Europe should not be using calculators to add up the consequences of sanctions," Plevneliev said. "This is about defending European values and freedom and peace on our continent."
It's a message likely to have spurred mixed feelings in Steinmeier. His fellow party colleague Gerhard Schröder, who is currently employed by a Gazprom subsidiary, is planning a trip to Sofia next week to provide support for the Bulgarian Socialists in the European election.
NATO Chief 'Can No Longer Trust' Russia after Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 16:45
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday he could no longer trust Russia's assurances on the territorial integrity of countries in the region after its annexation of Crimea.
"After what we have seen in Ukraine, no one can trust Russia's so-called guarantees on other countries' sovereignty and territorial integrity," Rasmussen told a press conference during a visit to Romania.
NATO's secretary-general was referring to remarks by Russian officials saying Moscow would observe Moldova's territorial integrity provided the former Soviet republic remained neutral and offered a special status to the breakaway region of Transdniester.
In an interview with Romanian website HotNews.ro Thursday, Rasmussen said he expected Moscow to increase pressure on Moldova and Georgia, as the two ex-Soviet satellites prepare to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union on June 27, a move angering Russia and Russian-speaking Transdniester.
He said Russia aimed to prevent its former satellites having closer ties with the EU and NATO.
"In 1994 Russia guaranteed the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and what we have seen recently is ... a grab of land by force, an illegal annexation of Crimea," Rasmussen said in Bucharest.
He added that every nation has a right to decide its alliances, and urged Russia "to live up to its international obligations and not try to destabilize the situation, neither in Moldova nor in Ukraine."
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's recent warning of a third world war breaking out were "a bit dramatic", Rasmussen said.
NATO had already reinforced the collective defense of its members and "will not hesitate to take further steps" in that respect if needed, he added.
The Pig snorts to the Crimea's Tatars their future lies with Russia
UN warns Muslim minority has suffered harassment and persecution since peninsula was annexed from Ukraine
Alec Luhn in Simferopol
theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014 16.48 BST
Pig Putin has snorted Crimea's Tatars that they must accept that their future lies with Russia, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of their mass deportation from their ancestral homeland.
Pig Putin's squeals came as the UN warned that the Tatars have been the subject of harassment and persecution since the Black Sea peninsula was annexed from Ukraine in March.
Speaking after meeting Tatar representatives, Pig snorted: "Today we must all realise that the interests of the Crimean Tatars today are tied to Russia."
He said: "We are ready to work with all people" but added: "None of us can allow the Crimean Tatar people to become a bargaining chip in disputes … especially in disputes between Russia and Ukraine."
Meanwhile, Crimea's prime minister issued a decree forbidding all public demonstrations until 6 June, in an apparent attempt to prevent the annual rally on Sunday commemorating Stalin's deportation of the Tatars in 1944.
Sergei Aksyonov said the ban was necessary to avoid "provocations by extremists" and "disruption to the resort season".
But thousands of Tatars are expected to gather for an event that experts say will determine the course of the burgeoning conflict between the Tatars and the pro-Russia regional government.
Tensions between the Tatars and Crimea's ethnic Russians have grown steadily since the independence referendum in March. Most Russian speakers supported the move to join Russia; the Tatars – a Muslim minority who make up about 12% of the population – largely boycotted the vote and wanted to remain in Ukraine.
On the day of the referendum, the body of Reshat Ametov, a Tatar who had protested against the seizure of the peninsula by Russian troops, was found with signs he had been tortured.
He had last seen alive in video footage showing unmarked men in camouflage leading him away from a protest in Simferopol's Lenin Square.
"It's like when we came in the 1990s, they looked at us askance. It's the same way now," said his wife, Zarina Ametova. "They look at us like an enemy."
Aksyonov has denied that local militias had anything to do with Ametov's murder, which remains unsolved. But many fear the murder was the start of a campaign of violence and political persecution against the Tatars.
The US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland, told Congress this month: "We are extremely concerned about the human rights situation for all Crimeans but notably for Tatars."
In a report released on Friday, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said the Tatars faced numerous problems including physical harassment, fear of religious persecution and internal displacement.
The report warned of an "alarming deterioration" of human rights in eastern Ukraine, where it said insurgent groups had carried out "targeted killings, torture and beatings, abductions, intimidation and some cases of sexual harassment".
The UN highlighted the case of the Crimean Tatars' unofficial leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev, a Ukrainian MP and former Soviet dissident, who was banned from the peninsula after he left for meetings in Kiev and was not allowed back in.
Dzhemilev has set the tone for the Tatar people and their self-governing Mejlis council by refusing to recognise the new pro-Russia government and the referendum to join Russia, even telling the Russian president, the Pig, to withdraw Russian troops in a phone call before the vote.
"They want to make us all Russian citizens, but there's no democracy in Russia," Dzhemilev said. "We're used to living more freely."
After Dzhemilev was denied entry to Crimea for the second time on 3 May, more than 1,000 Tatars closed roads around the peninsula in protest.
In response, Crimea's chief prosecutor, Natalia Poklonskaya, said last week that members of the Mejlis were suspected of "extremist activity" and that the council could be "liquidated".
Sahri Mustafayev, one of those who closed roads, said he had been fined 15,000 rubles (£260) last week along with at least 10 others, adding that 200 others also faced fines. But he plans to appeal against the decision, and the harsh measures seem to have only hardened protesters' resolve.
"I'm a Crimean Tatar, why can't I say what I want?" Mustafayev said. "This is our homeland. We have nowhere else to go. I would rather die here than listen to this new government.
"We're waiting for what the Mejlis will say to us. If they say rise up, we will," he said, but added that Tatars were also waiting for the results of the Ukrainian presidential election on 25 May, in which many of them hope to vote.
Dzhemilev said the Mejlis was split on whether to refuse to cooperate with the new government, but he thought it would have to compromise.
The political tension has been exacerbated by incidents such as one in which a 14-year-old Crimean Tatar was beaten by unknown men who reportedly said Tatars should be kicked off the peninsula.
Russia's Vladimir Putin with his envoy to Crimea Oleg Belaventsev and Crimea's PM Sergei Aksyonov Russian president Vladimir Putin, his envoy to Crimea Oleg Belaventsev and Crimean PM Sergei Aksyonov meet Tatar representatives in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/AP
A member of the Mejlis, Abduraman Egiz, was beaten on camera last week by men who he said identified themselves as members of a pro-Russia self-defence unit and demanded to check his documents.
Tatar leaders are calling for the liquidation of self-defence forces, which have been a major issue of contention for the community.
"They say they ensure law and order. We think that they don't ensure it, they start conflicts," Egiz said, adding that beatings were on the rise. "They're dangerous in Crimea. They destabilise the situation."
Local police did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the independent Crimean political analyst Sergei Kostinsky, the Kiev government had previously kept discrimination against Tatars by the Crimean government in check.
Despite a promise by Pig last month to deal with issues including housing for Crimean Tatars, Kostinsky said Moscow has yet to take serious steps to rein in "Crimean chauvinism". Russians are beginning to express old biases in everyday life, he said.
Kostinsky attributed the pressure on Tatar political leaders to the Kremlin's attempt to crush opposition to its rule in Crimea and eventually divide the Tatars politically.
"Today Crimea is supposed to be a window exhibit for Russia, the world community, Ukraine," he said. "There's supposed to be mass support for Russia here, and if there is 12% to 20% of the population that considers itself to be Ukrainian it will ruin the picture and negatively affect the image of Russia, which says that the Crimeans invited it to invade."
About 1,500 Crimean Tatars have fled to western Ukraine, most of them fearing religious persecution, according to Rustem Ablyatifov, a Crimean Tatar who heads the pro-European integration NGO Institute for a Civil Society.
Dzhemilev has said a total of 5,000 Crimean Tatars have had to leave since the Russian takeover. Ablyatifov fled to Lviv because he was afraid of retaliation for his active support of the Euromaidan protests in Kiev after security services followed him and tried to arrest him, he said.
"When they detained us they shouted: 'We'll deal with you Muslims, we'll show you!'" he said.
About 30 Crimean Tatars have received political asylum in Poland, according to Ismail Ismailov, a pro-Euromaidan activist who has himself fled to Azerbaijan.
"The chauvinists have more government posts now. They feel more confident, and they will constantly put pressure on Crimean Tatars," Ismailov said.
For now, the conflict has yet to affect the daily lives of most Tatars. At the Khan's Palace in Bakhchysarai, the historical capital of the Crimean Tatars, tourists and a Russian wedding party posed for photographs on Sunday as Tatars sat outside the mosque.
At the city bazaar, where Russians and Tatars hawk their wares side by side, a Russian, Viktoria Bayeva, said that "everything seems friendly" for now.
"Of course we're worried, we're worried about the future of our children, but we hope it will be OK," said a Tatar woman named Sabina, who was sitting with her two daughters outside the mosque.
"For now the conflict isn't touching these peaceful women, but it could touch their husbands and brothers," said Nadzhie Femi, a local journalist who writes for Radio Free Europe.
"When they forbid a Tatar, especially one of such status as Dzhemilev, to enter Crimea … it's interpreted as the start of bigger repressions".
Russia toughens up punishment for separatist ideas – despite Ukraine
Government crackdown on independent media has been accompanied by stricter regulations on the internet
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Saturday 24 May 2014 00.38 BST
According to president Pig Putin, those in Crimea who voted to secede from Ukraine were simply exercising their right to self-determination, and the Kremlin continues to condemn Kiev's military operation against separatists in eastern Ukraine. But that hasn't stopped Russia's parliament from toughening punishments for separatist ideas in its own country.
New legislation introduced by Andrei Klishas, head of the Federation Council's committee on constitutional legislation, seeks to increase the maximum punishment from three to four years imprisonment for "public calls for actions violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation." The bill also adds lesser punishments including arrest for up to six months and compulsory work for up to three years.
The existing law stipulates up to five years' imprisonment if the calls for separatism are made through mass media outlets, including online outlets, but Klishas's proposed amendments would expand it to cover "all internet resources". In other words, any internet user leaving a comment on a forum or social network could be held liable for separatist agitation, the business newspaper Vedomosti reported. The bill seems likely to pass, since it was submitted with favourable reviews of the legislation by the executive branch and the supreme court.
"This legislation was written with Crimea in mind, to exclude the possibility for any discussions on this topic," blogger and analyst Oleg Kozyrev told Vedomosti. Russia's parliament added article 280.1 against "public calls for actions violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation" to the criminal codex in December 2013, and it came into force this month. No one has been charged under this article so far.
A government crackdown on independent media has been accompanied by stricter regulations on the internet in recent months. The Pig signed a controversial law earlier this month forcing popular bloggers to register with the government's internet watchdog.
Meanwhile, the government was discussing on Friday the creation of an "internet ombudsman" position, according to the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The newspaper reported that one of the candidates for the position was conservative MP Sergei Zheleznyak, who has authored a variety of moralistic legislation, as well as initiatives to increase the authorities' access to internet users' information.
05/30/2014 04:07 PM
The Opinion-Makers: How Russia Is Winning the Propaganda War
By SPIEGEL Staff
With the help of news services like RT and Ruptly, the Kremlin is seeking to reshape the way the world thinks about Russia. And it has been highly successful: Pig Putin has won the propaganda war over Ukraine and the West is divided.
Ivan Rodionov sits in his office at Berlin's Postdamer Platz and seems to relish his role as the bad guy. He rails in almost accent-free German, with a quiet, but sharp voice, on the German media, which, he claims, have been walking in "lockstep" when it comes to their coverage of the Ukraine crisis. During recent appearances on two major German talk shows, Rodionov disputed allegations that Russian soldiers had infiltrated Crimea prior to the controversial referendum and its annexation by Russia. He says it's the "radical right-wing views" of the Kiev government, and not Russia, that poses the threat. "Western politicians," he says, "are either helping directly or are at least looking on."
Rodionov defends President Pig Putin so vehemently that one could be forgiven for confusing him with a Kremlin spokesperson. But Rodionov views himself as a journalist. The 49-year-old is the head of the video news agency Ruptly, founded one year ago and financed by the Russian government. The eighth floor of the office building has a grand view of Germany's house of parliament, the Reichstag. It's a posh location and the Kremlin doesn't seem to mind spending quite a bit of money to disseminate its view of the world from here. Around 110 people from Spain, Britain, Russia and Poland work day and night in the three-floor office space on videos that are then syndicated to the international media.
At first glance, it's not obvious that Ruptly is actually Kremlin TV. In addition to Pig Putin snorts, there are also numerous other video clips available in its archive, ranging from Pussy Riot to arrests of members of the Russian opposition. When it comes to eastern Ukraine, however, the agency offers almost exclusively videos that are favorable towards pro-Russian supporters of the "People's Republic of Donetsk," which was founded by separatists. You'll also find right-wing radicals like Britain's Nick Griffin or German far-right extremist Olaf Rose, an ideologist with the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), stirring up hatred towards the European Union and its Ukraine policies.
Propagating the Kremlin's Position
Rodionov says that, since its founding, Ruptly has attracted 14 subscribers and over 200 customers, including German broadcasters "both public and private." Subsidies from Moscow enable Ruptly to offer professionally produced videos at prices cheaper than those of the private competition.
The battle over Ukraine is being fought with diverse means -- with harsh words and soft diplomacy, with natural gas, weapons and intelligence services. But perhaps the most important instruments being deployed by Moscow are the Internet, newspapers and television, including allegedly neutral journalists and pundits dispatched around the world to propagate the Kremlin position.
"We're in the middle of a relentless propaganda war," says Andrew Weiss, vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an influential Washington think tank. Weiss describes this propaganda as a crucial tool used by Russia to conduct its foreign policy.
Moscow is looking beyond the short-term, seeking to influence opinion in the long-run to create "an alternative discourse in Western countries as well," says Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of Kremlin foreign broadcaster RT, formerly known as Russia Today, which owns Ruptly.
The Kremlin invests around €100 million ($136 million) a year in Russian media abroad in order to influence public opinion in the West. This effort also helps explain why Pig Putin addressed Germans directly in his speech on the annexation of Crimea. Noting the Kremlin had supported Germany's reunification process, he called on Germans to back Russia's reunification with Crimea. The Pig's popularity in Germany has declined steadily over the years, but his worldview remains quite popular.
A Triumphant Media Advance
Sources within the Kremlin express satisfaction these days when talking about Moscow's information policies. "We may have won the war in Georgia in 2008, but we lost the propaganda battle against America and the West by a mile," says one. "Thanks to RT and the Internet, though, we are now closing the gap."
Whereas Ruptly is seeking to establish itself as an alternative to Reuters and the Associated Press in providing video footage, RT has already successfully established itself in the nine years since its creation, recently surpassing even CNN when it comes to clips viewed on YouTube. With close to 1.2 billion views, the BBC is the only media outlet ahead of RT. In Britain, RT has more viewers than the Europe-wide news station Euronews and in some major US cities, the channel is the most-viewed of all foreign broadcasters. RT's 2,500 employees report and broadcast in Russian, English, Spanish and Arabic with German to be added soon.
The triumphant advance of the Pig's broadcaster began in a former factory in northeast Moscow. Founding RT editor Simonyan was just 25 at the time the Pig appointed her in 2005. Her assignment from the Russian president: to "break the monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon mass media."
It's a mandate she has been pursuing successfully ever since. "There's large demand for media that doesn't just parrot the uniform pulp from the Western press," says Simonyan. "Even in Western countries." RT gives pro-Russian representatives from Eastern Ukraine far more air time than supporters of the government in Kiev, and not even Simonyan disputes this fact. "We're something along the lines of Russia's Information Defense Ministry," her co-workers say, not without pride.
Ruptly and RT are only the most visible instruments being used by the Kremlin. Other propaganda methods being exploited can be less obvious.
For example, when German talk shows invite Russian journalists to speak about the Ukraine crisis, they are almost always pundits who could have been taken directly out of the Kremlin propaganda department. Programmers, of course, like to book these guests because they generate heated and provocative discussion. But it's also a function of the fact that experts critical of the government either don't want to talk or are kept from doing so. Take the example of Sergej Sumlenny, who served until January as the German correspondent for the Russian business magazine Expert. Early on, he appeared often on German talk shows, intelligently and pointedly criticizing Putin's policies. He has since been driven out at the magazine.
In his stead, the Russian perspective is now represented on German talk shows by people like Anna Rose, who is generally introduced as a correspondent for Rossiyskaya Gazeta, or Russian Gazette. The name sounds innocuous enough, but eyebrows should be raised immediately when this "serious" Russian journalist begins claiming that the Ukrainian army could be shooting "at women and children" and that Russian soldiers need to provide them with protection. Her positions suddenly become more understandable with the knowledge that Rossiyskaya Gazeta is the Russian government's official newspaper.
Manipulating Comments and Social Media
Those who read comments posted under articles about Ukraine on news websites will have noticed in recent months that they have been filled with missives that always seem to follow the same line of argumentation. Moscow's independent business daily Vedomosti reported recently that, since the start of the Ukraine crisis, the presidential administration in Moscow has been testing how public opinion in the United States and Europe can be manipulated using the Internet and social networks. The paper reported that most of the professional comment posters active in Germany are Russian immigrants who submit their pro-Russian comments on Facebook and on news websites.
In addition, journalists and editors at German websites and publications report receiving letters and emails offering "explosive information about the Ukraine crisis" on an almost daily basis. The "sources" often mention they have evidence about the right-wing nature of the Kiev government that they would like to supply to journalists. The letters are written in German, but appear to include direct translations of Russian phrases. They would seem to have been written by mother-tongue Russian speakers.
Other forms of propaganda have also been deployed in recent months. For example, there have been frequent incidences of intercepted conversations of Western diplomats or Kiev politicians getting published in ways that serve Russia's interests. From the "Fuck the EU" statement by Victoria Nuland, the top US diplomat to Europe, right up to statements made by Estonia's foreign minister that were apparently supposed to prove who was responsible for the deaths of protesters on Maidan Square. The Russian media also seemed to take pleasure in reporting in mid-April that CIA head John Brennan had traveled to Kiev.
There's a high likelihood that this confidential information and the content of intercepted communications is being strewn by Russian intelligence. Officials at Western intelligence agencies assume that even communications encrypted by the Ukrainian army are being intercepted by the Russians.
'The West Has Never Gotten over the Pig's Return'
The Kremlin also deftly exploits the anti-American sentiment of many Western Europeans, by claiming, for example, that American mercenaries and consultants have been deployed in eastern Ukraine. Even today, there is still no evidence to back any of these allegations. But America's credibility isn't helped by the fact that Washington also disseminates its own anti-Russian propaganda.
Backed by the drumbeat of conservative Fox News, Republic Senator John McCain has been loudly calling on the US government to provide pro-Western forces with active aid, including weapons. Meanwhile, Forbes magazine has asked: "Is Pig Putin a new Hitler?" In addition, Washington's development agency, USAID, announced at the start of May it would provide $1.25 million in support to Ukrainian media organizations as they prepared for presidential elections. Washington has long provided support for a network of opposition groups who were active during the Orange Revolution and are now mobilizing against Moscow.
A media center established by the new government in Kiev's Hotel Ukraina has been partly financed by George Soros' International Renaissance Foundation. Day in and day out, reporters are airing interviews with ministers and loyal political scientists who interpret events in eastern Ukraine the way the Kiev government would like to see them portrayed.
Still, Moscow's efforts present a stark contrast to the activities of independent European media companies. Many newspapers and broadcasters have scaled back their bureaus in Moscow or closed them altogether in recent years. This has created a shortage of experts who can penetrate the propaganda coming from all sides and provide honest analysis of what is actually happening.
The fact that the brainwashing seems to be working could be evidenced last Monday when German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made an appearance in the run-up to elections for the European Parliament on Berlin's Alexanderplatz square. Left-wing activists shouted and booed at the foreign minister and held up signs stating, "Stop the Nazis in Ukraine!" Moscow registered the protest with satisfaction and the Kremlin-aligned media reported on it extensively.
Russia's Greatest Propaganda Success
The purpose of this global battle to shape opinion isn't merely to transform Europeans and Americans into fans of the Pig. The Russian president is also targeting his own people, seeking to make himself unassailable within Russia.
The Pig's greatest propaganda success is the fact that the majority of Russians now believe that Kiev is ruled by fascists. Evoking World War II in this way has proven very effective with Russians. One member of Russia's parliament, the Duma, even went so far as to call the fire in Odessa that killed 30 pro-Russia activists a "new Auschwitz." Meanwhile, the head of parliament spoke of genocide in Ukraine. With the spin machine at full steam, it is perhaps of little surprise that a radio poll recently found that 89 percent of listeners agreed with the idea that the "participants of the mass murder in Odessa should be found and executed without trial."
Journalists with the Russian state media often like to quote German politicians and experts. Unfortunately, they always seem to pick from the same pack of pundits. One is the Pig's biographer Alexander Rahr, formerly a Russia specialist at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and today a consultant with the gas firm Wintershall, which has deep ties with Russia." The West has never gotten over the Pig's return," Rahr says in explaining Germany's position toward the Kremlin. He also claims that German politicians' private beliefs are different from their public statements. They are, he says, only able to express themselves openly about Russia once they have left office.
The Kremlin Seizes Control
A critical analysis of such statements has been lacking. One reason is that in recent months, the Kremlin has begun tightening control over Russian-language Internet media in order to keep the home front from wavering. Russian investigative journalist and security services expert Andrei Soldatov says that Kremlin-aligned youth organizations are assisting the government in posting blogs and attacking Moscow's critics.
Most broadcasters and newspapers are already under the Kremlin's control. Some 94 percent of Russians obtain their information primarily from state television. The problem is that state TV has no qualms about blatantly fabricating the news. Two weeks ago, for example, the evening news showed video allegedly depicting the murder of a pro-Russian fighter in eastern Ukraine by nationalists. In fact, the video used was actually one and a half years old and showed fighters in the north Caucasus.
Few have studied the effects of that kind of propaganda as much as Lev Gudkov, the head of independent Moscow pollster Levada. The institution recently had to undergo yet another government review. "The public prosecutor openly admitted to us that the only reason we haven't been closed yet is that the Kremlin hasn't given the final order to shut us down," says Gudkov. "But we are certainly being harassed."
The 67-year-old research pulls out one poll after another from a stack of papers. They show that when the mass protests against President Viktor Yanukovych broke out, only 30 percent of Russians believed that Ukraine's Association Agreement with the EU was a "betrayal of Slavic unity." In February, at the peak of the Maidan protests, 73 percent still considered the issue to be an internal one for Ukrainians. In the time that has transpired since, some 58 percent of Russians now support the annexation of eastern Ukraine by Russia.
"The successful propaganda campaign we are witnessing here surrounding the Ukraine crisis is unique and highly sophisticated, even compared to Soviet standards," says Gudkov. "The Kremlin has succeeded in stirring up sentiments deeply rooted in the Russian psyche: the yearning for an imperial grandness, a sense of anti-Americanism and pride over Russia's victory over Hitler's Germany."
Ultimately, it was the annexation of Crimea that silenced Putin's critics. Prior to the development, dissatisfaction with Putin had been growing continuously. Polls showed an increasing number of Russians wanted to vote the president out of office. In November 2013, 53 percent said they would vote for a different candidate during the next election. But the Pig experienced a meteoric rise in popularity after the annexation, with 86 percent of Russians now saying they would re-elect him.
By Moritz Gathmann, Christian Neef, Matthias Schepp and Holger Stark
Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey
In Ukraine War, Kremlin Leaves No Fingerprints
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
MAY 31, 2014
While Russian tanks never crossed the border with Ukraine, many of its civilians did, bolstering a pro-Russian agenda that has destabilized the divided east.
DONETSK, Ukraine — Not long ago, Alexander Borodai, a fast-talking Muscovite with a stylish goatee, worked as a consultant for an investment fund in Moscow. Today he is prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, zipping around town in a black S.U.V. with tinted windows and armed guards and commanding what he says are hundreds of fighters from Russia.
Mr. Borodai is Russian, but says he has come to eastern Ukraine out of a surge of patriotism and a desire to help Russian speakers here protect their rights. As for the Kremlin, he says, there’s no connection.
“I’m an ordinary citizen of Russia, not a government worker,” said Mr. Borodai, 41, whose face crinkles easily into a smile. “A lot of people from Russia are coming to help these people. I am one of them.”
The Cold War-style standoff over Ukraine may have subsided for now. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has drawn his troops back from the border and has promised to work with Ukraine’s new government. But the shifting reality here in eastern Ukraine suggests the crisis has simply entered a new phase. In contrast to Crimea, which was seized by Russian troops in unmarked uniforms this spring, eastern Ukraine is evolving into a subtle game in which Russian freelancers shape events and the Kremlin plausibly denies involvement.
Here in the green flatlands of eastern Ukraine, reminders of Russia are everywhere. Outside a former Ukrainian National Guard base, now occupied by a rebel militia, a jovial fighter from Ossetia in southern Russia, who goes by the nickname Mamai, said he crossed the border about a month ago with other volunteers.
The central government building that Mr. Borodai’s forces now control, after sweeping out the ragtag local separatists who occupied it weeks ago, is festooned with a slick, Hollywood-style banner featuring Mr. Borodai’s friend, Igor Strelkov, a Russian citizen who is a rebel leader in the stronghold of Slovyansk. And on Thursday, rebel leaders shipped 33 coffins back to Russia through a remarkably porous border, announcing that the overwhelming majority of those killed in Monday’s battle with the Ukrainian Army were Russian citizens.
The Pig may not be directing these events, but he is certainly their principal beneficiary. Instability in Ukraine’s east makes the country less palatable to the European Union and more vulnerable to Russian demands, forming a kind of insurance policy for future influence by Russia, which, at least so far, has avoided further sanctions from the West. Leaders of the Group of 7 countries will meet in Brussels on Wednesday, including President Obama, and Russia’s role in Ukraine is at the top of the agenda.
“They are creating facts on the ground,” said Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “The goal is clear: build structural guarantees against Ukraine’s potential NATO accession. Plausible deniability is key.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday expressed “deep concern in connection with the further escalation of the situation in eastern Ukraine,” but did not address the Russian deaths. A request for comment on the Russian bodies and on Mr. Borodai went unanswered.
Reality in Ukraine seems constantly in flux, and the fact that the country has a new president-elect after careening headless for months could shift the kaleidoscope again. Petro O. Poroshenko, who was elected in a landslide last Sunday, is expected to meet the Pig this summer, and if the two men are able to strike a deal, then Russian support for the separatists may wane, some experts said, though that will not necessarily stop them.
“Russia will keep supporting separatists below the radar as insurance to make sure Poroshenko agrees to a deal,” said Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist for the CNA Corporation, a nonprofit research group in Washington. “Once the deal is done, I think the Pig will drop them.”
But much has changed between Ukraine and its giant neighbor in recent months and it is not clear how much their interests will overlap. Nor is Kiev entirely without cards to play. On Monday its military inflicted serious damage on the largely Russian separatist force, killing more than 40 fighters and raising the possibility that the military has at least some chance of succeeding.
What Russia would do if that started to happen is an open question. But for now, at least, the strategy seems to be to destabilize Ukraine as much as possible without leaving conclusive evidence that would trigger more sanctions.
“I don’t think he has blinked,” said Matthew Rojansky, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, referring to the Pig not invading eastern Ukraine. “He has eased up because he sees a situation that he likes better.”
That leaves Mr. Borodai as a central figure in Ukraine’s immediate future. He may seem to have come out of nowhere, but in Russia he is a known quantity. He comes from a group of ultranationalists who were part of the far-right Zavtra newspaper in the 1990s. Their Pan-Slavic ideas, aiming for the unity of Slavic peoples, were considered marginal at the time. But they have now moved into the mainstream, helping formulate the worldview of today’s Kremlin, said Oleg Kashin, a Russian investigative journalist who has written extensively about Mr. Borodai.
“He’s the Karl Rove of Russian imperialism,” said Irena Chalupa, a fellow at the Atlantic Council.
When Mr. Borodai talks, people here listen. Surrounded by armed guards with scowling faces, Mr. Borodai stood with a microphone at the center of a large crowd that had gathered last weekend outside the compound of a local oligarch. They wanted to break in and declare it national property.
“I know many of you want a tour,” he said smiling, as the crowd cheered. “I respect that desire. But right now a tour is not possible.”
In an interview, Mr. Borodai said that he and Mr. Strelkov, the Russian rebel commander in Slovyansk, had both gone to Transnistria, a breakaway area in Moldova, to defend the rights of Russians in the 1990s. He named the cities in Russia that volunteers have come from, including Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and Chita. He said he believed in the idea of a Greater Russia, and that he had come to Ukraine to realize it. “Real Ukrainians have the right to live as they like,” he said. “They can create their own state which would be named Ukraine, or however they like, because the word Ukraine is a little humiliating,” he said, asserting that the literal translation meant “on the border of.” (The etymology is disputed.)
He explained that Ukrainians “have their heroes, their values, their religion,” but that “we also want to live as we want to live. We think that we have that right. And if we need to, we will assert that right.”
Roman Szporluk, emeritus professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University, said such language was worrying. “The Pig would like to Yugoslavize Ukraine,” he said. “He wants to create an ethnic conflict where one did not exist.”
No one here seems to know where Mr. Borodai came from or what his allegiances are. But such things do not matter. “They are good guys, they are our guys, they are protecting us against Kiev’s aggression,” said Lidia Lisichkina, a 55-year-old geologist who is an ethnic Russian.
Mr. Kashin, the investigative journalist, does not believe that either Mr. Borodai or Mr. Strelkov is acting on behalf of the Russian government. “This is not the hand of Moscow, it’s just Borodai,” Mr. Kashin said.
Local rebel leaders say their goals coincide. Roman Lyagin, an election specialist from Donetsk who is responsible for pensions and wages in the new republic (so far they are still paid by Kiev), said one of the main tasks is to push separatist control farther west to “create a land route from Russia to Crimea.”
“People there need oatmeal, television and underwear,” he said.
At the regional administration building on Friday, Mr. Borodai was busy consolidating his power, holding his first government meeting after his forces swept out the local separatists.
The former National Guard base was buzzing with activity. A white minivan full of armed men in black balaclavas zoomed out of a large metal gate, its purple curtains pulled partly closed. A man wearing civilian clothes carried two large black bags to a hatchback station wagon and sped away.
Outside the gate, Mamai, the Ossetian fighter, said he had not come to Ukraine for money. He had a business doing security for banks in Vladikavkaz, where he lives. “Everyone who wants to be with Russia,” he said, “those are our brothers.”
Click to watch: http://www.nytimes.com/video/world/europe/100000002912503/russia8217s-reach-into-ukraine8217s-east.html
U.S. Says Russia Allows Fighters to Cross into Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
02 June 2014, 16:12
The United States said Monday that Russia is continuing to support the pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine, despite U.S. sanctions aimed at punishing it for its alleged interference in its neighbor.
"There is evidence that Russia continues to allow the free flow of weapons, funds, and fighters across its borders and President (Vladimir) Putin's next steps are still not clear," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said, in a speech in Washington.
Lew said the United States had worked with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and its G7 partners to coordinate a response to the crisis and provide Ukraine with financial and technical assistance.
"Our goal was to impose a cost on Russia for its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea and to deter Russian military intervention in Ukraine," he said, according to prepared remarks for a Treasury event held at the Center of Strategic and International Studies.
Lew said the Treasury's coordinated and precise approach with economic sanctions had put "enormous pressure" on Russia, with limited collateral damage to the U.S., European and global economies.
President Barack Obama. he said, "has given us the authority to take even more powerful action if Russia continues to support armed separatists in eastern Ukraine."
Russia has insisted it is not acting to destabilize Ukraine and demands that Kiev halt its military operations in the eastern part of the country. Fighting in the region has left nearly 200 dead -- soldiers, rebels and civilians -- since it broke out on April 13.
Stalingrad name may return to city in wave of second world war patriotism
Pig Putin has promised to help the city's residents vote on a name change after being asked by second world war veteran
theguardian.com, Sunday 8 June 2014 18.43 BST
For more than 300 years, the Russian city of Volgograd was known as Tsaritsyn. It was dubbed Stalingrad in honour of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin for a mere 26 years, but then his successor Nikita Khrushchev dropped that name as part of his campaign to dismantle the personality cult of the former dictator.
Now the city may become Stalingrad once again after the Pig president squealed about holding a referendum to change the name amid a wave of second world war patriotism over eastern Ukraine. When asked by a Soviet veteran during D-day commemorations in Normandy on Friday, Putin promised to help the city's residents vote on bringing back the Stalingrad name. "It wasn't me who canceled that," Putin told the veterans.
On Sunday, Russian Orthodox church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin also spoke out in favour of a referendum. "The word Stalingrad already has a life of its own, independent of the name Stalin. It's associated with the victory in a famous battle, with a certain part of our history," Chaplin said, news agency Interfax reported.
Several other prominent politicians, including deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin and Communist party leader and MP Gennady Zyuganov, were quick to put their weight behind the possible name change. But the Pig's support is what is likely to move the initiative forward in Volgograd, which is one of Russia's largest cities with more than 1 million people.
Last year, several politicians called for a referendum on the name Stalingrad on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the battle there, which stopped the Nazi advance into the Soviet Union and stands as one of the bloodiest battles of all time, with an estimated 2 million total casualties. The Russian Citizens' Union turned in more than 50,000 signatures in favour of renaming the city, but local politicians and Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov both turned down the idea.
However, the Volgograd city council voted to use the name Stalingrad on nine annual holidays connected with the second world war.
But outside veterans and pensioners, few seem to support bringing back the war-era name. A poll by the independent Levada Centre in 2012 found that 18% of respondents were for renaming the city Stalingrad, but 60% were against the switch. Volgograd city council deputy Alexei Volotskov said three out of four residents asked in a local poll were against returning the name.
Over 20 million Soviet citizens are said to have died in the second world war, and the conflict has played a huge role in the national consciousness. But patriotism and reverence for the great victory has risen to new heights in recent years with the support of the Pig and other politicians. Earlier this year, the liberal television station Dozhd was dropped by most major carriers under political pressure after it conducted a controversial on-air poll asking if the Soviets should have surrendered the besieged city of Leningrad to save lives.
Russian state television coverage of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels have been fighting for control with Kiev's forces, has portrayed the conflict as a struggle against fascism, dubiously comparing the new government in Kiev and Ukrainian nationalists with the Nazi invasion. Several rebel leaders have also portrayed their campaign as a continuation of the second world war.
After Annexing Crimea, Euphoric Russia Turns Thoughts to Ukraine
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
JUNE 14, 2014
MOSCOW — The event in Moscow last week was billed as an expert discussion, not a political one, on Ukraine’s future. But Sergei Y. Glazyev, an economic adviser to President Pig Putin with a distinctive Stalinist bent, unleashed some rather overtly political remarks.
“Those Nazis were educated by the United States,” he said about Kiev’s newly elected government. “The Americans are clearly fanning a war between Russia and Europe.”
Across town, in an arty cafe adorned with contemporary friezes of cavorting Greco-Roman couples, an entirely different discourse unspooled.
There, a panel of Russian and Ukrainian intellectuals was supposedly discussing the conflict’s negative ripples. The moderators broached topics like Russia’s “tele-fascism,” or the idea that Ukraine is looking to the future while Russia is mired in the past.
But panelists interrupted with various lengthy diatribes, like the Ukrainian poet determined to repeat her earlier performance of screaming “MAIDAN!” into the microphone a lot. (Maidan is, of course, the main square in Kiev, where the protest movement that toppled Ukraine’s government in February arose.)
Ukraine continues to dominate public discourse in Russia. Nothing else really competes. Not perennial public concerns like inadequate housing. Not thorny political issues like the new law allowing the government to designate nongovernmental organizations as “foreign agents,” replacing the previous version of registering themselves.
In this country of unapologetic smokers, not even a ban on lighting up indoors that went into effect this month dented Ukraine’s predominance.
Various factors fuel all the attention. First, naturally, is the worry that a full-blown war could erupt out of the skirmishing just across the border, with the Russian military involved overtly or covertly. Second is the sense that the fates of the two countries are intertwined, rooted in a shared history and culture, as well as myriad family ties.
Third, and perhaps most telling, the March annexation of Crimea put most Russians in a euphoric mood that has not diminished. The fact that the annexation has infused the public with a sense of greatness they had lost sent the Pig's favorability ratings soaring above 80 percent month after month, and the government itself keeps its focus firmly on Ukraine.
His political allies are ecstatic. The high rating “means that it is unfashionable not to support the president,” said Olga Timofeyeva, a Pig ally in Parliament.
Others are more sanguine. “It is not a rating for the Pig; it is the rating for the Pig's decision to annex Crimea,” said Alexei Venediktov, the editor in chief of Ekho Moskvy, a radio station among the shrinking public outlets for opposition voices.
Behind the euphoria lies the worrying question about how to defuse the Ukraine crisis. The conflict has deepened over the past couple of days with the downing of a Ukrainian military transport plane, killing almost 50 people, and with accusations from the United States and Ukraine that Russia dispatched a few tanks across the border. Moscow denied sending tanks.
On the eventual outcome, the government line — granting some measure of autonomy for the East and protecting the Russian language — dominates the discussion.
These days, any Ukraine discussion is often accompanied by thinly disguised anger that a week after his June 7 inauguration, President Petro O. Poroshenko has not halted the offensive of the Ukrainian security forces against the separatists.
“They are trying to take a multilingual, multicultural society and build it into a monolithic, monolingual country,” Alexander Voloshin, the Pig's former chief of staff, told a civil society forum.
“They are trying to turn it into a country of ethnic Ukrainians,” he said, rather than negotiate the compromises needed to end the crisis.
Despite the simmering conflict next door, experts of all stripes note a distinctive shift in mood that remains firmly in place three months after Crimea’s annexation. Ukraine and its Western allies condemn the annexation as illegal, but there is no sign anyone is trying to get Crimea back.
“Today, there is a kind of renaissance, people are feeling that their country is strong again, but it is not about aggression,” said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who specializes in studying Russia’s political elite. “After the Soviet Union collapsed, we were losing territories — losing and losing and losing. Now, Crimea is a symbol that we have stopped losing, we are gaining.”
Even habitual critics of things Russian tend to root for the home team on this one.
For Artemy Lebedev, the founder of a cutting-edge design firm who has never been shy about criticizing what he laments as Russia’s lack of professionalism, Crimea was different — fast and bloodless.
“Maybe they used someone from Hollywood who told them what the army of the future should look like,” he said in an interview, echoing remarks on his blog about how sharp, fit, polite and just downright good looking those soldiers were.
Mr. Lebedev garnered some abuse online from the Pig's opponents, but he said his feelings were about pride and achievement, not endorsing the president. “I was born in the U.S.S.R., and I felt bitter when 14 different countries split off from my country,” he wrote. “It is just that it happened a long time ago, and everyone got used to it.”
Members of the young generation who oppose the Pig said they had learned to shut up about it, at least in public, because of the prevailing bliss.
Even the sense that Crimea is going to cost Russians a fortune has not dampened the public mood. For example, cost estimates for the Kerch Strait bridge that will ultimately become the first land link to Russia have risen repeatedly to more than $8 billion. While noting recently that those funds would have to be siphoned off from other projects, Alexei Kudrin, the former finance minister, said, “The price is something that I think the society is willing to pay.”
Crimea crops up everywhere, not just in political debates.
One company introduced a new chocolate bar this month called “Crimea. Just Try to Take It.” The wrapper shows a superhero dressed in the colors of the Russian flag. Customers mobbed a department store in Moscow that started selling T-shirts last week glorifying the Pig and the annexation.
In the southern city of Krasnodar, the fable of Little Red Riding Hood was rewritten for a stage production as a parable about the annexation with Crimea as the wee heroine, Russia as granny and the United States as (want to guess?) the big, bad wolf.
The Pig brings up Crimea often. On Thursday, Russia’s national day, he squealed: “This year, we celebrate our national holiday with a special mood, special elation. Crimea and Sevastopol have returned to Russia, to their Motherland.”
Yet amid the elation, pollsters also note rising concerns about Ukraine. The number of Russians who support the annexation of southeastern Ukraine dropped to less than a quarter from about 60 percent right after the acquisition of Crimea, said Lev Gudkov, the Levada Center director. Several factors were behind that, including modest inflation prompted partly by sanctions.
The Pig's high ratings are undoubtedly linked to the relentless propaganda across state-controlled television that still flogs annexing Crimea as a historic feat. But that campaign also echoes public sentiment.
“Propaganda does not work unless people want to believe it,” Mr. Gudkov said. “They fully understand that it is propaganda, but at the same time, they enjoy this imperialistic rhetoric, so they play along. Most people we ask say that his main victory is that he managed to restore Russia’s reputation as a world power.”
War-inflated enthusiasm is notoriously soft, and Mr. Gudkov and others are not quite sure what might sustain the current mood. “I don’t think the euphoria will last,” he said.
Pig Putin is afraid of any real opposition – just like he was afraid of Pussy Riot
He just conquered Crimea. He has proclaimed himself a unifier. But Pig Putin's meddling in elections is another sign that his power is not as unconditional as he would have you believe
theguardian.com, Wednesday 18 June 2014 15.24 BST
After we were freed from prison, Masha Alekhina and I seriously discussed trying our hand as institutional politicians, and thought about running as regional candidates for the Moscow City Duma elections (which will be held on 14 September). But, having committed a "grave crime", we are barred from standing for election for 10 years by Russian law.
Late last month, Nikolai Lyaskin and Konstantine Yankauskas announced the launch of their candidacies for the Moscow City Duma. They are some of the strongest opposition candidates, and I've known them for years. They know how to put up a good fight.
But two days later, their homes were searched and authorities promptly charged the two men with fraud in connection to opposition leader Alexei Navalny's 2013 mayoral campaign. If convicted, the two may face up to 10 years in prison – but, until then, they can still be elected. Yankauskas, like Navalny, remains under house arrest and is denied communication with the outside world: he's not allowed any phone calls or even an internet connection. Lyaskin was released pending trial on the condition that he does not leave Russia.
Why would Pig – who just conquered Crimea, who proclaimed himself the unifier of the former land of Russia under the USSR, and who maintains (according to state opinion polls) the support of more than 80% of Russian citizens – be unable to tolerate a little trivial competition (a pair of independent opposition politicians) in even a local election? The answer is simple, and Lyaskin and Yankauskas know it: the Pig is afraid of them, just likePig was afraid of Pussy Riot.
The Moscow elections mean more to us than just any regional elections: they are the last chance in the foreseeable future to legally affect the national political agenda. The next federal elections (to the national Duma) are not until 2016, and without some opposition voice in the government – or barring a miracle – we will be doomed to the political monopoly of Pig and his friends.
Now, with less than 100 days before the Moscow City elections, the campaigns of the most powerful candidates have been undercut by criminal prosecutions. Lyaskin, however, says that the situation "just makes more work for us (and to reduce our efforts now will just not work)".
Lyaskin, Yankauskas and the third person involved in the case, Vladimir Ashurkov (who is considered to be at large), face charges that they stole $300,000 in online donations from Navalny supporters online during his 2013 mayoral election campaign. But neither Navalny nor the 16,000 people who donated to his campaign consider themselves victims.
Navalny, for his part, said, "The authorities decided to punish Lyaskin, Yankauskas and Ashurkov for what we all demonstrated together: that you can finance a large campaign, relying on the people, not the Kremlin oligarchs or black money." Investigating authorities are now questioning all of Navalny's donors – Are you aware of the political activity of Navalny? Did you participate in it, and if so, under what circumstances? – trying to find someone who considers himself a victim of this supposed scheme. But these people are not the victims.
There is something to Pig's fears. While Masha and I were sitting behind bars, these dissenters worked wonders. They flew a paraglider over the plush palaces of Russian officials – the Pig's friends – outside the city, and uploaded the photos online. In a corrupt political system, their candidate Navalny nonetheless managed to take a third of the votes in the capital’s mayoral election in the autumn of 2013. The efforts of Lyaskin and Yankauskas are even supported by donations from top managers and owners of leading Russian companies – and Ashurkov went into politics having held high positions in Russia's largest financial and industrial group Alpha-Group. These are not easily-silenced critics or marginalized people.
Still, Russia's recent foreign policy aggressions create higher risks for opposition forces domestically, and the background of domestic repression feeds back into the militant isolationist propaganda of the Russian media. Pig has referred to the Russian opposition forces as a "fifth column" of traitors; he's put forth the concept of a "Russian World" populated by citizens that "have a special genetic code"; and Sergey Kurginyan, Pig Putin's political scientist and TV host on the nation's main channel, already announced the start of "World War IV", with the Ukraine and the West on the one side, and Russia on the other.
But the Pig's power is not as unconditional as he wants it to appear to us – or to you. On 6 May, the day before the Pig's latest inauguration, over 100,000 people took part in a demonstration while chanting "For Russia without the Pig!" Today, 31 people who took part in that demonstration are currently subject to prosecution – and three new people have just been added to the case. Among the newly charged is a young woman named Pauline Strongina, who is accused of "participation in mass disorders" because of a video that shows her throwing a plastic bottle. Under Russian law, a "mass disorder" is defined as "violence, pogroms, arson, destruction of property, the use of weapons, and/or explosive devices". She faces three to eight years in prison – all for supposedly throwing a plastic bottle.
What do these charges have in common? Someone allegedly stole money from a person who does not claim to be a victim of theft. Someone is said to have thrown a plastic bottle and participated in a "mass disorder". Someone else is charged because they threw a lemon. Someone else, like us, sang a song. Those charged don't necessarily seem like they have that much in common, except that they all want the same thing:the Pig out of office.
When the authorities have to crack down so hard for such small violations, it is hard to escape the conclusion that someone in our country is very much afraid. And the opposition knows that we are not the ones who have anything to fear from a protest.