Germany Slams Russian 'Attempt to Splinter Europe'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
22 March 2014, 13:36
Germany's foreign minister on Saturday denounced Russia's "attempt to splinter Europe" by staging a disputed independence referendum in Crimea that led to the Ukrainian peninsula's absorption by Russia.
"The referendum in Crimea... is a violation of international law and an attempt to splinter Europe," Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Kiev after meeting Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov.
Russia’s Shifting of Border Force Stirs U.S. Worry
By MARK LANDLER
MARCH 21, 2014
WASHINGTON — The White House cast doubt Friday on the Kremlin’s claims that thousands of troops massing on the border of southeastern Ukraine are merely involved in training exercises, deepening fears that Russian aggression will not end in Crimea.
“It’s not clear what that signals,” the national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, said to reporters in a briefing at the White House. But she added, “Obviously given their past practice and the gap between what they have said and what they have done, we are watching it with skepticism.”
At the Pentagon, senior officers and analysts said they were monitoring the Russian infantry, airborne, air defense and other reinforcements with growing alarm, uncertain of President Vladimir V. Putin’s ambitions.
Pentagon officials do not believe that a new Russian move into Ukraine is imminent. But one of their big worries is that American and NATO officials would have virtually no time to react if it did happen. All told, officials said, there are more than 20,000 troops near the border.
“The Russian forces are reinforcing and bulking up along the eastern Ukrainian border,” a Pentagon official said. “Our view is they’re preserving all their options, including going in, absolutely. If they choose to do that, we just wouldn’t have much warning.”
President Obama cited the troop movements on Thursday in announcing new sanctions against officials with ties to Mr. Putin and in opening the door to broader measures against key industrial sectors.
He warned Russia against further incursions after its annexation of Crimea.
Ms. Rice’s comments, which set the stage for Mr. Obama’s trip to Europe next week, suggested that the tensions between the United States and Russia were continuing to intensify. Asked if the Ukraine crisis was prompting a “fundamental reassessment” of America’s relationship with Russia, she answered in a single word: “Yes.”
Russia’s integration into the global political and economic order after the Cold War, Ms. Rice said, was predicated on its adherence to international rules and norms. “What we have seen in Ukraine is obviously a very egregious departure from that,” she said.
Her comments were among the bluntest of any ranking administration official since the crisis began, and were even more striking because they came hours after Mr. Putin signaled that he wanted to halt the cycle of tit-for-tat retribution between Moscow and Washington.
The White House, it seems, is paying less attention to Mr. Putin’s words than to the movement of his troops, described as a mix of infantry, motorized and airborne forces. Officials also worry about clashes with Ukrainian soldiers, who are increasingly agitated. Ukrainian officials have told American officials that Russia could use that as a pretext to move.
“This is obviously a very worrying and fragile situation,” Ms. Rice said, “but we have been very much admiring of the posture that the Ukrainian people and government have been taking.”
On Thursday, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that “the troops he has arrayed along the border are there to conduct exercises only, that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine, and that they would take no aggressive action,” according to the Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Mr. Hagel has held several urgent calls with Ukraine’s defense minister, Ihor Tenyukh, and told him Friday that the Pentagon was reviewing a request for military assistance. Ukrainian officials have asked for small arms and ammunition, as well as nonlethal aid like medical supplies. The Pentagon said it was focusing on nonlethal aid.
On Wednesday, Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, called Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to warn him about the mounting tensions in the country’s east. Mr. Biden was then on a two-day trip to Poland and the Baltic States to reassure them of American support in the wake of Russia’s moves against Ukraine.
He encountered deep divisions among Europeans about how swiftly to impose sanctions on Russia. Estonia’s president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, urged his fellow leaders to act boldly, but officials in Poland and Lithuania were more cautious, citing energy contracts with Russia.
The European Union stepped up its own sanctions, adding 12 Russian officials to its list of 21 blacklisted figures. But it did not penalize wealthy business people with ties to Mr. Putin, whom the White House describes as cronies.
Part of the reason, a senior administration official said, is that Europe has different legal criteria for penalizing such people. The “cronies” tend to have assets stashed in Europe, which makes putting them on a blacklist more complicated.
Ms. Rice said the European Union’s latest move “very much matches the theory behind the executive order that President Obama signed yesterday, which gave us and gives us the ability as needed to target particular sectors within the Russian economy.”
In addition to targeting those close to Mr. Putin with sanctions, the White House hopes to drive away foreign investors. In that regard, the best news the White House might have gotten was an announcement on Thursday by Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, that it had downgraded its outlook for the Russian economy to negative.
Ms. Rice was not among three White House officials banned from Russia by the Foreign Ministry in response to Mr. Obama’s sanctions. One of the officials who was — Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser — stood next to her at the briefing.
While Ms. Rice inveighed against Russia, Mr. Rhodes offered a businesslike recitation of the president’s schedule next week, which includes a meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican, with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia and with the leaders of the Group of 7 countries in The Hague — a club in which Russia is normally the eighth member. “Of course,” Mr. Rhodes said, “the meeting itself is part of our isolation of Russia.”
Canada's Harper Says the Pig Hurt Global Security
by Naharnet Newsdesk
22 March 2014, 16:01
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Saturday accused Russian President Pig V. Putin of damaging global security by sending troops into Crimea and eventually annexing the Black Sea peninsula.
Harper, the first leader from the G7 group of top industrialized powers to visit Kiev since last month's fall of Ukraine's pro-Kremlin regime, said the consequences of Putin's actions "will be felt far beyond beyond the borders of Ukraine or even the European continent itself."
He cited a 1994 agreement under which Ukraine gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in return for sovereignty guarantees from Russia and several Western powers as the reason why some nations may now decide "to arm themselves to the teeth".
"Ukraine relinquished the nuclear weapons it inherited from the former Soviet Union on the basis of an explicit Russian guarantee of its territorial integrity," said Harper.
"By breaching that guarantee, the Pig has provided a rationale for those elsewhere, who needed little more encouragement than that already furnished by pride or grievance, to arm themselves to the teeth."
Canada, with the world's third-largest population of ethnic Ukrainians, was the first Western power to recognize the ex-Soviet country's independence in 1991.
Nato warns of Russian army build-up on Ukraine border
Pro-Russian rally in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine
24 March 2014
Nato's General Philip Breedlove warned that the Russian forces on Ukraine's eastern border are now 'sizeable', as Rajesh Mirchandani reports
Nato's military commander in Europe has issued a warning about the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine's border.
Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen Philip Breedlove said Nato was in particular concerned about the threat to Moldova's Trans-Dniester region.
Russia said its forces east of Ukraine complied with international agreements.
The build-up has been linked to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, following the removal of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia warned that the risk of war with Russia was growing.
"The problem with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is that he doesn't want to talk to - not only to the Ukrainian government - but also to the Western leaders," Mr Deshchytsia told the BBC.
The Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, has said that Russia did not have any "expansionist views"
"And this is quite a danger for the decision-making process. We could only expect that he might invade."
Meanwhile, several parts of Crimea have been hit by power cuts blamed on technical problems in a transmission line from the Ukrainian mainland to the Black Sea peninsula.
Crimea's power provider Krymenergo said in a statement on its website that it was forced to implement partial power cuts after a line run by Ukraine's national electricity company, Ukrenergo, was hit by a technical fault and needed to be repaired.
Most of Crimea's electricity, as well as its water and food, comes from the Ukrainian mainland.
In Washington US security official Tony Blinken told CNN that America was reviewing every request Ukraine was making for help.
But cautioned that even if assistance was forthcoming, it would be "very unlikely to change Russia's calculus or prevent any invasion".
President Barack Obama earlier ruled out sending US troops to Ukraine.
Moscow formally annexed Crimea after the predominantly ethnic Russian region held a referendum which backed joining Russia.
Kiev and the West condemned the vote as "illegal".
Ukrainian troops on the border with Russia, 21 March Ukrainian troops are stationed on the border with Russia, in smaller numbers
Russian flags have now been hoisted at 189 Ukrainian military units and facilities in Crimea, the Interfax news agency reports.
Moscow's EU envoy told the BBC the "reunification" had not been planned, but was the end of an "abnormality" which had lasted for 60 years.
Vladimir Chizhov also said Moscow did not have any "expansionist views" and that "nobody should fear Russia".
However, Ukrainian security chief Andriy Parubiy told a rally in Kiev: "The aim of Putin is not Crimea, but all of Ukraine. His troops massed at the border are ready to attack at any moment."
The comments by Gen Breedlove came at an event held by the German Marshall Fund think-tank in Brussels.
He described the Russian forces at the Ukrainian border as "very, very sizeable and very, very ready".
"There is absolutely sufficient force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Trans-Dniester if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome," he said.
"Russia is acting much more like an adversary than a partner."
Trans-Dniester is a narrow strip of land between the Dniester river and Ukraine's south-western border and it proclaimed independence from Moldova in 1990.
The international community has not recognised its self-declared statehood.
As Crimea was annexed, the Trans-Dniester Supreme Soviet sent a request asking to join the Russian Federation.
Correspondents say Russian forces appear to be stepping up their efforts to secure full military control of Crimea.
The BBC's Ian Pannell, in Belbek, says the few remaining Ukrainian troops on the peninsula feel beleaguered and abandoned by their commanders.
He saw Russian troops use stun grenades and automatic weapons in a raid on the Belbek airbase, near Sevastopol, on Saturday.
Another BBC correspondent witnessed the takeover of the Novofedorivka naval base in western Crimea by Russian troops.
Russian soldiers and pro-Russian protesters stormed the base and forced Ukrainian troops to leave.
Russia annexed Crimea following a referendum on 16 March, which came after the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February.
The Kremlin said it had acted to protect its "compatriots" in Crimea from "fascists" moving in from the mainland Ukraine.
The US and EU responded with a series of sanctions targeting individuals they say played roles in Crimea's annexation.
NATO commander warns of Russian threat to separatist Moldova region
(Adds Schaeuble quote, G7 to meet on Monday)
* NATO commander warns of threat to Transdniestria
* Says Russian force on Ukraine border is "very, very sizeable and very, very ready"
* Russian ambassador to EU says Russia has no expansionist views
* U.S. Senator John McCain draws parallel between Putin and Hitler
* Russian bank SMP says Visa, MasterCard resume processing payments
By Adrian Croft and Aleksandar Vasovic
BRUSSELS/FEODOSIA, Ukraine, March 23 (Reuters) - NATO's top military commander said on Sunday Russia had built up a "very sizeable" force on its border with Ukraine and Moscow may have a region in another ex-Soviet republic, Moldova, in its sights after annexing Crimea.
Russia was acting more like an adversary than a partner, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove said, and the 28-nation alliance should rethink the positioning and readiness of its forces in eastern Europe.
Russian troops, using armoured vehicles, automatic weapons and stun grenades, seized some of the last military facilities under Ukrainian control on Saturday in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexed the day before.
Breedlove was one of several Western officials and politicians to warn on Sunday that Russia may not stop there in a crisis that has taken East-West relations lurching back towards the Cold War since pro-Western protests in Ukraine ousted Moscow-allied President Viktor Yanukovich last month.
"The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready," the NATO commander told an event held by the German Marshall Fund think-tank.
U.S. President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said the build-up might just be aimed at intimidating Ukraine's new pro-Western leaders but that Russia could invade the country's mainly Russian-speaking east. "It's possible that they are preparing to move in," he told CNN.
A meeting of the G7 group of industrialised nations has been hastily convened for Monday in the Netherlands to allow leaders to discuss a response to Russia's actions. Obama will also meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for bilateral talks.
Russia said it was complying with international agreements and had no plans to invade. It has called the soldiers who took over Ukrainian bases in Crimea "self defence forces".
The United States and the European Union have targeted some of Putin's closest political and business allies with personal sanctions and have threatened broader economic sanctions if Putin's forces encroach on other eastern or southern parts of Ukraine with big Russian-speaking populations.
Germany, which has close trade ties with Russia, said the European Union was united in its readiness to impose sanctions on Russia if necessary, and that Moscow had the most to lose.
"None of us wants to escalate, but if Russia changes things unilaterally, then it must know that we won't accept it and that relations will be bad," Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told German television.
Ukrainian marine standards were still flying on Sunday alongside the Russian flag at the Crimean base of Ukraine's top military unit in Feodosia, but the Ukrainian troops were getting ready to leave after the Russian military takeover.
"Our only issue is that we want to leave this place with honour, weapons and vehicles," one Ukrainian soldier said.
Blinken said Washington was considering all requests for military assistance from the government in Kiev, but that it would be unlikely to prevent an invasion of Ukraine, which is not part of NATO. Breedlove said the military alliance needed to think about its eastern members, particularly the former Soviet Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
"We need to think about our allies, the positioning of our forces in the alliance and the readiness of those forces ... such that we can be there to defend against it if required, especially in the Baltics and other places," Breedlove said.
Breedlove said NATO was very concerned about the threat to Transdniestria, which declared independence from Moldova in 1990 but has not been recognised by any United Nations member state. About 30 percent of its half million population is ethnic Russian and more than half of the total speak Russian as a mother tongue.
Russia has 440 peacekeepers in Transdniestria plus other soldiers guarding Soviet-era arms stocks. It launched a new military exercise, involving 8,500 artillery men, near Ukraine's eastern border 10 days ago.
"There is absolutely sufficient (Russian) force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transdniestria if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome," Breedlove said.
The speaker of Transdniestria's parliament has urged Russia to incorporate the region, which lies to the west of Ukraine. The new leaders in Kiev have said Moscow could seek to link up pro-Russian regions in Moldova, and Georgia to Ukraine's east, in a destabilising southern corridor with Crimea in the middle.
Russia's Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov was quoted by the state's Itar-Tass news agency as saying Russia was complying with international agreements limiting the number of troops near its border with Ukraine.
Moscow's ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said Russia did not have "expansionist views". Asked to give a commitment that Russian troops would not move into Ukrainian territory outside Crimea, he told Britain's BBC. "There is no intention of the Russian Federation to do anything like that."
U.S. Senator John McCain, a Republican foreign policy specialist, told the same BBC show that Putin's actions in Ukraine were akin to those of Adolf Hitler in 1930s Germany.
"I think he (Putin) is calculating how much he can get away with, just as Adolf Hitler calculated how much he could get away with in the 1930s," McCain said.
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier underscored the huge potential repercussions of Russia's bid to redraw national borders in Europe.
"I'm very worried the unlawful attempt to alter recognised borders in our European neighbourhood, 25 years after the end of the Cold War, will open Pandora's Box," he said.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia, accepted on Sunday that Crimea was now "de facto" a part of Russia, but said the annexation set a "bad precedent".
Western sanctions lost some of their sting on Sunday when Russia's SMP bank, whose main shareholders were targeted by U.S. sanctions, said Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc had resumed payment services for its clients.
The bank said it was glad the two biggest international payments systems had listened to its arguments to reverse Friday's suspension of services as it was wrong to target the bank, which was not itself subject to any sanctions.
Putin and Russian media had mocked the sanctions, which did not stop the Russian military completing its takeover of Ukraine's military bases in Crimea. Russia's defence ministry said on Sunday that its flag was now flying over 189 Ukrainian military installations on the peninsula.
The EU emphasised its support for the new pro-Western government in Kiev, signing a political agreement with interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk last week.
It also promised financial aid for the government - which Moscow says came to power by a coup to overthrow Yanukovich after he rejected an EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with Russia - as soon as Kiev reaches a deal with the International Monetary Fund. The IMF will report on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Alexandar Vasovic in Simferopol, Alissa de Carbonnel and Oksana Kobzeva in Moscow and by Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Will Waterman and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
Romania Says NATO Should Reposition Forces
by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 March 2014, 14:05
Romania's president said Monday NATO should reposition its forces after Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Traian Basescu said he would discuss the crisis in Ukraine, which shares a border with Romania, with world leaders meeting in The Hague.
He will stress "the need to reposition NATO's military resources following the military activities of the Russian Federation over the past months," he told reporters.
NATO's top commander said Sunday there was a "very sizable" Russian troop presence on the Ukrainian border and warned of a possible incursion into the Moscow-backed separatist territory of Transdniestr.
Basescu warned last week that Moscow would not stop after annexing Crimea and called on Western allies to be prepared for Russia's "next step."
Ukraine's leaders meanwhile have voiced fears Russia could invade its eastern industrial heartland.
Ukraine and Crimea: what is the Pig thinking?
Recent events are both a knee-jerk reaction by Putin and a culmination of his years of grievances with the international order
Shaun Walker in Moscow
The Guardian, Sunday 23 March 2014 15.29 GMT
When Vladimir Putin summoned the entirety of Russia's political elite to the St George's Hall of the Kremlin to announce that Russia would "welcome back" the territory of Crimea last week, the atmosphere was almost as if they were celebrating a military victory.
"In people's hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia," said Putin, making it sound like it had always been a matter of time before Moscow made its move to recover the territory. "This firm conviction is based on truth and justice."
Some have seen Putin's actions in the context of a post-imperial complex and a leader longing to reconstitute some form of the Soviet Union by gathering up lost territories. There may be a flicker of truth in this, but the reality is more complex, according to those familiar with the Kremlin's decision-making over Crimea in recent weeks.
The evidence about how decisions were made over the past month points to reactive, adhoc and impulsive moves rather than the implementation of a strategic gambit long in the planning.
Part of the issue comes from what the Russian president sees as a dangerously chaotic situation in Ukraine and Russia's complete loss of influence on the decision-making process in Kiev. The psychological element of seeing masked revolutionaries wiping their boots on the carpets at the ousted president Viktor Yanukovych's palatial compound is also likely to have had an effect on a ruler who has done everything to ensure that protest stirrings at home are nipped in the bud.
"Putin hates revolution, he's a counter-revolutionary by nature," says Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin-linked spin doctor. "Yanukovich was forced to flee, and the Russian system of influence on Ukraine ended. Putin realised that no one would listen to Russia if he didn't strengthen his position. So he strengthened it."
According to Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-linked analyst who has been taking part in official meetings with local politicians in Crimea, the initial plan was not to annex Crimea, and the final call to do so was taken only a fortnight ago.
"There are two major factors that played a role in the decision," he says. "The first was the demands of the Crimean elite, who did not want to end up like Abkhazia in international limbo and really pushed strongly to be part of Russia, and the second was the position of the west, who did not want to listen to any compromise."
Markov says Putin laid down several conditions to western leaders which he saw as a compromise solution but they viewed as unwarranted meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The conditions included ensuring that Ukraine's interim government involved a coalition of all political forces, including Yanukovych's Party of Regions, disbanding all armed revolutionary factions and making Russian an official state language.
"If this had happened, Crimea would still be part of Ukraine," says Markov.
As well as merely reacting to events in Ukraine, there was also a sense that the Crimea situation is a culmination of many years of grievances with what Putin sees as an unfair international system. "They say we are violating norms of international law … It's a good thing that they at least remember that there exists such a thing as international law – better late than never," said Putinlast week, to an ovation from the hall. "They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right."
What the world heard from Putin last week was not new in its thrust, but never has he spoken at such length and with such open contempt for the current international order. "I talked with his speechwriters and they said that he himself dictated the main points of the speech; it's his own deeply held position," says Yevgeny Minchenko, a political analyst close to the Kremlin.
Viewed through the spectrum of this discontent, Russia's actions in Crimea are essentially a petulant riposte to the west: we think you break international law all the time, so we will too.
The armed seizure of the Crimean parliament, the cynical insistence that Russian troops were not operating in Crimea when they clearly were, and the breakneck speed and flagrant violations involved in organising the Crimean referendum at short notice have been hidden behind a thread of plausible deniability stretched infinitesimally thin – and a knowing smirk on Putin's face.
"To keep the gloves on while everyone else allows themselves everything is not pragmatic," says Minchenko. "Putin has become more realistic."
Feeding into this irritation is also a deep-seated sense of injustice and unfair victimisation from the west that has long been a feature of Russian political thinking. Sochi is a particular sore point. The 2014 Winter Olympics was Putin's pet project, costing $50bn (£30bn), yet the build-up was permeated with noise about gay rights and security concerns from the west, and few heads of state visited the games, to the irritation of the Kremlin.
The Russian Railways boss, Vladimir Yakunin, a close associate of Putin's and now placed on the US sanctions list, said the west wanted "to befoul everything" to do with Russia and thus criticised the Sochi games; while the influential defence analyst Sergei Karaganov complained about an "avalanche of lies" about Russia over Sochi.
"People say that Putin doesn't care what the west thinks; that's nonsense," says Anton Krasovsky, a journalist who was chief of staff for the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov when he ran against Putin in the 2012 presidential elections. "He does care, and he doesn't understand the hatred towards him from the west, which he feels has no basis. In Sochi, he organised what he saw as an incredible Olympics and people still criticised him for it. It's partly a generational and civilisational thing. He wishes he could go back to the era when he could just drink wine and have fun with Berlusconi. He just doesn't understand why people criticise him so much."
A number of those close to the Kremlin point to this genuine feeling of bewilderment about criticism and what is seen as an unwillingness to take Russia's interests into account. Over Crimea, it seems, the Russian president simply snapped, and decided it was time to act unilaterally.
"The feeling was that whatever we do, the west won't support it, so things can't get any worse," says Minchenko. "Putin was seriously disappointed with the attitude toward the Russian regime, first of all from US, but also from the European bureaucracy. Putin thought that Russia had taken too many steps toward compromise, but there weren't even any hints of acknowledgment."
Despite the staunch support for the move in Russia's parliament, it is clear the decision to seize Crimea was taken by a very small circle of people. Russian newspapers reported that all their government sources had been taken completely by surprise by the move.
The president now takes counsel from an ever-shrinking coterie of trusted aides. Most of them have a KGB background like the president and see nefarious western plots everywhere.
"There is a tremendous anxiety about Putin's decision-making and the erratic, impulsive behaviour," says Michael McFaul, who was US ambassador to Russia until last month. "Those that worry about the economy in Russia do not appear to be part of the decision-making process."
McFaul, a professional academic who works on Russia, describes Putin's worldview as "paranoid". The Russian president genuinely believes that the US is attempting to destabilise Russia, he says: "Putin assigns us all kinds of agency in Russia and across the world that we simply don't have."
Michael McFaul 'There is a tremendous anxiety about Putin's decision-making and his erratic, impulsive behaviour,' says Michael McFaul. Photograph: Misha Japaridze/AP
McFaul says he has been surprised by recent events: "We always thought of worst-case scenarios, but I did not expect it to go this far. I always thought of Putin as someone who doesn't like international norms, but operates within them and thinks that Russia is best off operating within them."
That the decision-making was adhoc does not mean it did not tap into aspirations that have long been bottled up among sections of the Russian elite. Putin's Ukraine point-man, the economist Sergei Glazyev, told the Guardian as long ago as September that if Ukraine were to sign the integration agreement with the EU, "political and social chaos" would ensue and Russia could be "forced to intervene" to protect Russians in the east and south. What happened after the successful revolution is so close to what Glazyev predicted might happen if Yanukovych had taken Ukraine westbound that it is tempting to think a contingency plan for a different scenario was taken off the shelf and activated.
The events of recent months have also solidified the hold of "Eurasianism" on the imaginations of Russia's top lawmakers. This ideology envisions Russia's re-emergence as a conservative world power in direct opposition to the geopolitical hegemony and liberal values of the west. The ideology was largely developed by Alexander Dugin, the son of a KGB officer who has become the wide-eyed prophet predicting a "Russian spring", as he called his recent plan for Russia's domination of Europe via Ukraine. Dugin serves as an adviser to State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin, a key member of the ruling United Russia party who has loudly supported Russian intervention in Ukraine, and has made widely viewed television appearances to discuss the Ukraine crisis alongside high-ranking members of the government. Glazyev is also an associate of Dugin's.
Upset with western criticism of him when he returned to the presidency for a third term in 2012, Putin realised that an independent Russia could never be part of the "western club" as he had previously wanted, says Dugin. "Putin sees the west as his main enemy, but to come to this conclusion he lived through a lot, he lived through a historical situation," Dugin said. "He came to the same conclusion in practice as we did in theory."
So far, the decision to seize Crimea has gone down well in Russia, evidenced by the seemingly endless ovations for Putin during his speech, and by his record-high approval ratings among the public. But some wonder just how sustainable this is. "In times of crisis, in times of us versus them, people always rally around their leaders and their flag," says McFaul. "That's what we saw after September 11 in the US. The fervour doesn't surprise me, and the propaganda works. But believe me: this stuff goes away pretty fast."
Additional reporting by Alec Luhn
3 Presidents and a Riddle Named Putin
By PETER BAKER
MARCH 23, 2014
WASHINGTON — Bill Clinton found him to be cold and worrisome, but predicted he would be a tough and able leader. George W. Bush wanted to make him a friend and partner in the war on terror, but grew disillusioned over time.
Barack Obama tried working around him by building up his protégé in the Kremlin, an approach that worked for a time but steadily deteriorated to the point that relations between Russia and the United States are now at their worst point since the end of the Cold War.
For 15 years, Vladimir V. Putin has confounded American presidents as they tried to figure him out, only to misjudge him time and again. He has defied their assumptions and rebuffed their efforts at friendship. He has argued with them, lectured them, misled them, accused them, kept them waiting, kept them guessing, betrayed them and felt betrayed by them.
Each of the three presidents tried in his own way to forge a historic if elusive new relationship with Russia, only to find their efforts torpedoed by the wiry martial arts master and former K.G.B. colonel. They imagined him to be something he was not or assumed they could manage a man who refuses to be managed. They saw him through their own lens, believing he viewed Russia’s interests as they thought he should. And they underestimated his deep sense of grievance.
To the extent that there were any illusions left in Washington, and it is hard to imagine there were by this point, they were finally and irrevocably shattered by Mr. Putin’s takeover of Crimea and the exchange of sanctions that has followed. As Russian forces now mass on the Ukrainian border, the debate has now shifted from how to work with Mr. Putin to how to counter him.
“He’s declared himself,” said Tom Donilon, President Obama’s former national security adviser. “That’s who you have to deal with. Trying to wish it away is not a policy.”
Looking back now, aides to all three presidents offer roughly similar takes: Their man was hardly naïve about Mr. Putin and saw him for what he was, but felt there was little choice other than to try to establish a better relationship. It may be that some of their policies hurt the chances of that by fueling Mr. Putin’s discontent, whether it was NATO expansion, the Iraq war or the Libya war, but in the end, they said, they were dealing with a Russian leader fundamentally at odds with the West.
“I know there’s been some criticism on, was the reset ill advised?” said Mr. Donilon, using the Obama administration’s term for its policy. “No, the reset wasn’t ill advised. The reset resulted in direct accomplishments that were in the interests of the United States.”
Some specialists said Mr. Obama and his two predecessors saw what they wanted to see. “The West has focused on the notion that Putin is a pragmatic realist who will cooperate with us whenever there are sufficient common interests,” said James M. Goldgeier, dean of international studies at American University. “We let that belief overshadow his stated goal of revising a post-Cold War settlement in which Moscow lost control over significant territory and watched as the West expanded its domain.”
Presidents tend to think of autocrats like Mr. Putin as fellow statesmen, said Dennis Blair, Mr. Obama’s first director of national intelligence. “They should think of dictators like they think of domestic politicians of the other party,” he said, “opponents who smile on occasion when it suits their purposes, and cooperate when it is to their advantage, but who are at heart trying to push the U.S. out of power, will kneecap the United States if they get the chance and will only go along if the U.S. has more power than they.”
Eric S. Edelman, who was undersecretary of defense under Mr. Bush, said American leaders overestimated their ability to assuage Mr. Putin’s anger about the West. “There has been a persistent tendency on the part of U.S. presidents and Western leaders more broadly to see the sense of grievance as a background condition that could be modulated by consideration of Russian national interests,” he said. “In fact, those efforts have been invariably taken as weakness.”
After 15 years, no one in Washington still thinks of Mr. Putin as a partner. “He goes to bed at night thinking of Peter the Great and he wakes up thinking of Stalin,” Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said on “Meet the Press” on NBC on Sunday. “We need to understand who he is and what he wants. It may not fit with what we believe of the 21st century.”
Mr. Clinton was the first president to encounter Mr. Putin, although they did not overlap for long. He had spent much of his presidency building a strong relationship with President Boris N. Yeltsin, Mr. Putin’s predecessor, and gave the benefit of the doubt to the handpicked successor who became Russia’s prime minister in 1999 and president on New Year’s Eve.
“I came away from the meeting believing Yeltsin had picked a successor who had the skills and capacity for hard work necessary to manage Russia’s turbulent political and economic life better than Yeltsin now could, given his health problems,” Mr. Clinton wrote in his memoir. When Mr. Putin’s selection was ratified in a March 2000 election, Mr. Clinton called to congratulate him and, as he later wrote, “hung up the phone thinking he was tough enough to hold Russia together.”
Mr. Clinton had his worries, though, particularly as Mr. Putin waged a brutal war in the separatist republic of Chechnya and cracked down on independent media. He privately urged Mr. Yeltsin to watch over his successor. Mr. Clinton also felt brushed off by Mr. Putin, who seemed uninterested in doing business with a departing American president.
But the prevailing attitude at the time was that Mr. Putin was a modernizer who could consolidate the raw form of democracy and capitalism that Mr. Yeltsin had introduced to Russia. He moved early to overhaul the country’s tax, land and judicial codes. As Strobe Talbott, Mr. Clinton’s deputy secretary of state, put it in his book on that period, George F. Kennan, the noted Kremlinologist, thought that Mr. Putin “was young enough, adroit enough and realistic enough to understand that Russia’s ongoing transition required that he not just co-opt the power structure, but to transform it.”
Mr. Bush came to office skeptical of Mr. Putin, privately calling him “one cold dude,” but bonded with him during their first meeting in Slovenia in June 2001, after which he made his now-famous comment about looking into the Russian’s soul. Mr. Putin had made a connection with the religious Mr. Bush by telling him a story about a cross that his mother had given him and how it was the only thing that survived a fire at his country house.
Putin, in the Words of U.S. Officials
President Bill Clinton
"I called to congratulate him and hung up the phone thinking he was tough enough to hold Russia together and hoping he was wise enough to find an honorable way out of the Chechnya problem and committed enough to democracy to preserve it."
— Writing in “My Life” about Vladimir Putin’s election in March 2000
Vice President Dick Cheney
"I think K.G.B., K.G.B., K.G.B."
— On his impression of Mr. Putin, in private conversations in 2001
President George W. Bush
"I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul."
— After first meeting with Mr. Putin in June 2001
"He’s not well-informed. It’s like arguing with an eighth-grader with his facts wrong."
— Mr. Bush, to the visiting prime minister of Denmark in June 2006.
Robert M. Gates
"I had looked into Putin’s eyes and, just as I expected, had seen a stone-cold killer."
— The defense secretary for Mr. Bush and President Obama, writing in “Duty” about his meeting with Mr. Putin in February 2007
"I don’t have a bad personal relationship with Putin. When we have conversations, they’re candid, they’re blunt, oftentimes they’re constructive. I know the press likes to focus on body language and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom."
Not everyone was convinced. Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, privately told people at the time that when he saw Mr. Putin, “I think K.G.B., K.G.B., K.G.B.” But Mr. Bush was determined to erase the historical divide and courted Mr. Putin during the Russian leader’s visits to Camp David and Mr. Bush’s Texas ranch.
Mr. Putin liked to brag that he was the first foreign leader to call Mr. Bush after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and he permitted American troops into Central Asia as a base of operations against Afghanistan.
But Mr. Putin never felt Mr. Bush delivered in return and the relationship strained over the Iraq War and the Kremlin’s accelerating crackdown on dissent at home. By Mr. Bush’s second term, the two were quarreling over Russian democracy, reaching a peak during a testy meeting in Slovakia in 2005.
“It was like junior high debating,” Mr. Bush complained later to Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to notes of the conversation. Mr. Putin kept throwing Mr. Bush’s arguments back at him. “I sat there for an hour and 45 minutes and it went on and on,” Mr. Bush said. “At one point, the interpreter made me so mad that I nearly reached over the table and slapped the hell out of the guy. He had a mocking tone, making accusations about America.”
He was even more frustrated by Mr. Putin a year later. “He’s not well-informed,” Bush told the visiting prime minister of Denmark in 2006. “It’s like arguing with an eighth-grader with his facts wrong.”
He told another visiting leader a few weeks later that he was losing hope of bringing Mr. Putin around. “I think Putin is not a democrat anymore,” he said. “He’s a czar. I think we’ve lost him.”
‘A Stone-Cold Killer’
But Mr. Bush was reluctant to give up, even if those around him no longer saw the opportunity he saw. His new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, came back from his first meeting with Mr. Putin and told colleagues that unlike Mr. Bush, he had “looked into Putin’s eyes and, just as I expected, had seen a stone-cold killer.”
In the spring of 2008, Mr. Bush put Ukraine and Georgia on the road to NATO membership, which divided the alliance and infuriated Mr. Putin. By August of that year, the two leaders were in Beijing for the Summer Olympics when word arrived that Russian troops were marching into Georgia.
Mr. Bush in his memoir recalled confronting Mr. Putin, scolding him for being provoked by Mikheil Saakashvili, then Georgia’s anti-Moscow president.
“I’ve been warning you Saakashvili is hot-blooded,” Mr. Bush told Mr. Putin.
“I’m hot-blooded too,” Mr. Putin said.
“No, Vladimir,” Mr. Bush responded. “You’re coldblooded.”
Mr. Bush responded to the Georgia war by sending humanitarian aid to Georgia, transporting its troops home from Iraq, sending an American warship to the region and shelving a civilian nuclear agreement with Russia.
Worried that Crimea might be next, Mr. Bush succeeded in stopping Russia from swallowing up Georgia altogether. But on the eve of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the global financial meltdown, he did not impose the sort of sanctions that Mr. Obama is now applying.
“We and the Europeans threw the relationship into the toilet at the end of 2008,” Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, recalled last week. “We wanted to send the message that strategically this was not acceptable. Now in retrospect, we probably should have done more like economic sanctions.”
If Mr. Bush did not take the strongest punitive actions possible, his successor soon made the point moot. Taking office just months later, Mr. Obama decided to end any isolation of Russia because of Georgia in favor of rebuilding relations. Unlike his predecessors, he would try to forge a relationship not by befriending Mr. Putin but by bypassing him.
Ostensibly complying with Russia’s two-term constitutional limit, Mr. Putin had stepped down as president and installed his aide, Dmitri A. Medvedev, in his place, while taking over as prime minister himself. So Mr. Obama decided to treat Mr. Medvedev as if he really were the leader.
A diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks later captured the strategy in summing up similar French priorities: “Cultivating relations with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, in the hope that he can become a leader independent of Vladimir Putin.”
Before his first trip to Moscow, Mr. Obama publicly dismissed Mr. Putin as having “one foot in the old ways of doing business” and pumped up Mr. Medvedev as a new-generation leader. Mr. Obama’s inaugural meeting with Mr. Putin a few days later featured a classic tirade by the Russian about all the ways that the United States had mistreated Moscow.
Among those skeptical of Mr. Obama’s strategy were Mr. Gates, who stayed on as defense secretary, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the new secretary of state. Like Mr. Gates, Mrs. Clinton was deeply suspicious of Mr. Putin. In private, she mockingly imitated his man’s-man, legs-spread-wide posture during their meetings. But even if they did not assign it much chance of success, she and Mr. Gates both agreed the policy was worth trying and she gamely presented her Russian counterpart with a “reset” button, remembered largely for its mistaken Russian translation.
Obama’s ‘Reset’ Gambit
For a time, Mr. Obama’s gamble on Mr. Medvedev seemed to be working. They revived Mr. Bush’s civilian nuclear agreement, signed a nuclear arms treaty, sealed an agreement allowing American troops to fly through Russian airspace en route to Afghanistan and collaborated on sanctions against Iran. But Mr. Putin was not to be ignored and by 2012 returned to the presidency, sidelining Mr. Medvedev and making clear that he would not let Mr. Obama roll over him.
Mr. Putin ignored Mr. Obama’s efforts to start new nuclear arms talks and gave asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the national security leaker. Mr. Obama canceled a trip to Moscow, making clear that he had no personal connection with Mr. Putin. The Russian leader has a “kind of slouch” that made him look “like that bored schoolboy in the back of the classroom,” Mr. Obama noted.
In the end, Mr. Obama did not see how the pro-Western revolution in Ukraine that toppled a Moscow ally last month would look through Mr. Putin’s eyes, said several Russia specialists. “With no meaningful rapport or trust between Obama and Putin, it’s nearly impossible to use high-level phone calls for actual problem solving,” said Andrew Weiss, a former Russia adviser to Mr. Clinton and now a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Instead, it looks like we’re mostly posturing and talking past each other.”
As Mr. Obama has tried to figure out what to do to end the crisis over Ukraine, he has reached out to other leaders who still have a relationship with Mr. Putin, including Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. She privately told Mr. Obama that after speaking with Mr. Putin she thought he was “in another world.” Secretary of State John Kerry later said publicly that Mr. Putin’s speech on Crimea did not “jibe with reality.”
That has sparked a debate in Washington: Has Mr. Putin changed over the last 15 years and become unhinged in some way, or does he simply see the world in starkly different terms than the West does, terms that make it hard if not impossible to find common ground?
“He’s not delusional, but he’s inhabiting a Russia of the past — a version of the past that he has created,” said Fiona Hill, the top intelligence officer on Russia during Mr. Bush’s presidency and co-author of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.” “His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future. Where exactly does he go from here beyond reasserting and regaining influence over territories and people? Then what?”
That is the question this president, and likely the next one, will be asking for some time to come.
West, Russia signal line drawn in Ukraine crisis
By Jeff Mason and Katya Golubkova
THE HAGUE/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia and the West drew a tentative line under the Ukraine crisis on Tuesday after U.S. President Barack Obama and his allies agreed to hold off on more damaging economic sanctions unless Moscow goes beyond the seizure of Crimea.
Describing Russia as a "regional power" and not the biggest national security threat to the United States, Obama said Russian forces would not be removed militarily from Crimea, but the annexation of the Black Sea region was not a "done deal" because the international community would not recognize it.
"It is up to Russia to act responsibly and show itself once again to be willing to abide by international norms and ... if it fails to do so, there will be some costs," he told a news conference at the end of a nuclear security summit in The Hague.
After scoffing at a decision by Obama and his Western allies to boycott a planned Group of Eight summit in Sochi in June and hold a G7 summit without Russia instead, the Kremlin said it was keen to maintain contact with G8 partners.
"The Russian side continues to be ready to have such contacts at all levels, including the top level. We are interested in such contacts," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Interfax news agency.
Obama said he was concerned at the possibility of further Russian "encroachment" into Ukraine and believed Putin was still "making a series of calculations". He insisted Russian speakers faced no threat in the country, contrary to Moscow's assertions.
He urged Putin to let Ukrainians choose their own destiny free from intimidation, saying he was sure they would opt for good relations with both the European Union and Moscow rather than making a zero-sum choice for one against the other.
"Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness," Obama said. "We (the United States) have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don't need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them."
Asked what was to stop a further Russian "land grab", the U.S. president drew a distinction between an attack on members of NATO, covered by its Article V mutual defense clause, and on non-members where the West could apply international pressure, shine a spotlight on those states and provide economic support.
A senior administration official told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One to Brussels that "there's no question that NATO is prepared to defend any ally against any aggression."
The official said that in Obama's talks on Wednesday with NATO's secretary general, "we'll be discussing very specifically what more can be done in terms of signaling concrete reassurance to our Eastern European allies."
Previewing Obama's speech in Brussels on Wednesday, the official said the president "will speak about the importance of European security and not just the danger to the people of Ukraine, but the danger to the international system that Europe and the United States have invested so much in that is a consequence of Russia's actions."
The ruble firmed and Russian assets climbed on Tuesday after Obama and fellow G7 leaders held back from new sanctions and investors took the view that the crisis had been contained for now.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the United States and European Union allies were aligned in their response, contrary to media reports that Washington was pushing reluctant Europeans fearful for their economic interests to get tougher.
Moscow made two conciliatory gestures on Monday after its deputy economy minister said up to $70 billion in capital may have fled his country in the first quarter of the year.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Deshchytsia, for the first time, even though Russia does not recognize the Kiev government.
Moscow also allowed monitors from the pan-European security watchdog OSCE to begin work in Ukraine after prolonged wrangling over their mandate, which Russia says excludes Crimea.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Deshchytsia protested at the annexation of Crimea. Lavrov said Russia did not intend to use force in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, and "the two sides agreed not to fuel further escalation in the Crimea problem that could cause casualties", it said.
Ukraine ordered its remaining forces in Crimea to withdraw for their own safety on Monday after Russian forces fired warning shots and used stun grenades when they stormed a marine base and a landing ship. There were no casualties.
That order came too late to save the job of interim Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh, sacked by parliament on Tuesday over his handling of the crisis, after it emerged that fewer than a quarter of soldiers in Crimea plan to stay in the military.
Lawmakers elected Mykhailo Koval, head of the Ukrainian border guard, to replace Tenyukh.
In the Perevalnoye base, 25 km (15 miles) southeast of the capital, Simferopol, somber-looking Ukrainian troops loaded a freight truck with furniture, clothes and kitchen appliances.
"We are not fleeing, but leaving to the mainland where we will continue to serve," said a soldier who identified himself only as Svyatoslav. "One cannot be a soldier without a country and we have to relocate," he said.
But in the Belbek air base stormed four days ago, officers and soldiers refused to leave until the Russian military releases their commander, Colonel Yuliy Mamchur, who became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in Crimea.
According to his aides, Mamchur is being held in the Russian Black Sea Fleet's home port of Sevastopol.
IMF DEAL SOUGHT
Ukrainian Finance Minister Oleksander Shlapak said he was negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a loan package of $15 billion to $20 billion because the economy had been severely weakened by months of political turmoil and mismanagement. He forecast a 3 percent contraction in the economy this year.
Obama also urged the IMF to reach agreement swiftly on a financial support package for Kiev, which would unlock additional aid from the European Union and Washington.
Increasing the chances a Ukraine aid bill will get through the U.S. Congress, Senate Democrats agreed on Tuesday to drop language in their measure containing reforms to the IMF. There had been stiff opposition to the IMF measures in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
The legislation backs a $1 billion loan guarantee for the government in Kiev, provides $150 million in aid for Ukraine and neighboring countries and requires sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians responsible for corruption, human rights abuses or undermining stability in Ukraine.
The measure is now expected to pass through Congress relatively quickly and be sent to Obama to sign into law, as long as another dispute over whether to include increased natural gas exports in the bill does not hold it up again.
Both the West and Russia sought to woo other key nations present in The Hague.
Obama, who discussed the Ukraine crisis with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, met President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, which is part of a customs union with Russia but is also seeking to join the World Trade Organization.
Nazarbayev, a ruling politburo member before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, expressed understanding for Russia's position in a telephone call with Putin on March 10.
Lavrov sought support from foreign ministers of the BRICS grouping of emerging economic powers - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
In a joint statement that did not mention Ukraine or take a position on the annexation of Crimea, they said: "The escalation of hostile language, sanctions and counter-sanctions, and force does not contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution ..."
European diplomats said tentative signs that Putin may have decided to go no farther than Crimea in his campaign to protect ethnic Russians in former Soviet republics may reflect concern about the mounting economic consequences.
The crisis is also taking a toll in Western Europe. German business morale dropped for the first time in five months in March as firms in Europe's largest economy began to worry that a standoff with Russia and further sanctions over Ukraine would hurt them in a key market, the Munich-based Ifo institute said.
(Additional reporting by William James and Steve Holland in The Hague, Lidia Kelly and Darya Korsunskaya in Moscow, Richard Balmforth in Kiev, Aleksandar Vasovic in Perevalnoye, Crimea, and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Writing by Paul Taylor and Peter Cooney; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Bernard Orr)
Barack Obama: no cold war over Crimea
US president insists military solution not an option, saying pressure and diplomacy are the way forward in Crimea dispute
Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 March 2014 20.50 GMT
Barack Obama declared there were no easy answers nor military solutions to the Crimea crisis, but cast Pig Putin's Russia as a lonely villain shredding the international rulebook to bully a smaller neighbour.
Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Black sea peninsula did not herald a new cold war, Obama told 2,000 people gathered in an arts centre in central Brussels in the big speech of his four-day trip to Europe.
But it was also clear that the Kremlin's actions in recent weeks had triggered a deep shift in western perceptions of Pig Putin that would see Russia increasingly isolated internationally and exposed to a spiralling trade war with the west, depending on his next moves.
The Pig's decision to redraw his region's borders had caused "a moment of testing", Obama said in a 40-minute speech on his first visit in office to Brussels."Bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way," he said. "We must never take for granted the progress that has been won here in Europe and advanced around the world, because the contest of ideas continues. And that's what's at stake in Ukraine today. Russia's leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident, that in the 21st century the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future."
It was clear Obama had no intention of being drawn into rash action or any kind of dangerous confrontation with Pig Putin over Ukraine. "This is not another cold war that we're entering into. The United States and Nato do not seek any conflict with Russia," Obama said. "Now is not the time for bluster … There are no easy answers, no military solution."
While a major policy shift will take time to become effective, a transatlantic resolve was hardening to break European dependence on Russian energy supplies, with Obama for the first time stating that America's shale gas bonanza could be part of the solution for Europe's vulnerabilities.
But he also told the Europeans that they, too, would need to bear the political risks of fracking to develop their own shale deposits in order to build up indigenous energy reserves. At a 65-minute lunchtime US-EU summit, Europe asked Obama to share America's shale gas revolution by facilitating US gas exports to help counter the stranglehold Russia exerts on the continent's energy needs.
The Pig, Crimea, and Ukraine have completely overshadowed Obama's long-scheduled visit to the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy, and the US trip has brought into focus the way Russian behaviour is affecting transatlantic relations and western security policy in various areas from defence spending to energy to trade talks.
With Russia's gas monopoly, Gazprom, supplying a quarter of Europe's gas needs, and almost all of the gas in parts of eastern Europe, the energy issue has soared to the top of Europe's strategic agenda amid fears the Kremlin will be able to blackmail Europe if a threatened trade war erupts.
Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso, the presidents of the European council and the European commission, asked Obama to come up with measures that would favour European companies obtaining licences to export US shale gas in liquid form to Europe.
Obama agreed that the US could be part of the answer to Europe's problems, but stressed the need for Europe to diversify its sources of energy in order to make it less vulnerable to Russian blackmail, and also said that Europe should open up to fracking to develop its own gas supply.
"What we are asking for is a willingness of the US side to be more proactive on licences," said João Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador in Washington who took part in the summit. "What has changed in the last few weeks is the realisation in America that energy is used as a political tool by Russia."
While European access to US shale gas is currently constrained by American licensing procedures, a successful conclusion of ongoing ambitious trade talks aimed at creating a transatlantic free trade area would also hasten European access to American deliveries.
EU officials said they wanted the trade talks finished by next year, while Obama pledged that he would ensure a successful pact would not entail any dilution of consumer or environmental standards under pressure from multinational corporations.
"The situation in Ukraine proves the need to reinforce energy security in Europe and we are considering new collaborative efforts to achieve this goal," the summit statement said. "We welcome the prospect of US liquid natural gas exports in the future since additional global supplies will benefit Europe and other strategic partners. We agree on the importance of redoubling transatlantic efforts to support European energy security to further diversify energy sources and suppliers."
As a result of redrawing Ukraine's borders, Russia "stands alone" in the world, Obama said earlier, predicting that the isolation would deepen unless Moscow opted to pursue a diplomatic solution of the crisis with Kiev.
Obama dismissed Russian arguments on Crimea, countering Moscow's claims that ethnic Russians in Ukraine had to be protected, saying there could be no parallels between Kosovo and Crimea, and also offering a qualified defence of US policy in Iraq. "There is no evidence, never has been, of systematic violence against ethnic Russians," he said. "Our approach stands in stark contrast to the arguments coming out of Russia these days."
Pig Putin and Ukraine dominated the bulk of the 40-minute speech. Obama painted Putin as a menace to a law-based international system that had taken decades to establish after the second world war.
He laid the emphasis on pressure and diplomacy, but also made plain the limits of US engagement. "With time, so long as we remain united, the Russian people will recognise that they cannot achieve the security, prosperity and the status that they seek through brute force," he said. "Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea nor deterred from further escalation by military force."
On his visit to Brussels, the capital of the EU and also the headquarters of Nato, Obama also sought to stiffen European spines against Russia and pledged US security guarantees for east European allies on Russia's borders who are alarmed at the Kremlin's expansionist aims. "[Europe] ultimately has been an anchor of the international system that we've spent decades to build, and it's that international system that has been put at risk by Russia's recent actions," said a senior White House official.
Barack Obama delivers withering civics lesson to The Pig over Crimea
Eschewing sticks and stones, Obama stuck to wounding words: Russia was no longer powerful enough to match the US
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 March 2014 21.31 GMT
Facing the biggest punch-up with Russia since the end of the cold war, Barack Obama did what he does best: he came out talking.
The former Harvard professor gave class dunce Pig Putin a withering civics lesson over his badly thought-through invasion of Crimea. History was on the side of those who believed in individual freedom, universal rights and democracy, he said.
The "might is right" alternative – the playground resort to "brute force" recalling Europe's past "descent into barbarism" – was no alternative at all. In fact, it was a generation or more out of date, as every half-sensible student of the 20th century must surely realise.
"We must meet the challenge to our ideals and our international order with strength and conviction," Obama insisted in scholarly fashion. There could be "no going back".
Whether he meant no going back to Crimea, which is certainly true for Kiev's beleaguered rulers, or to the era of "extreme nationalism" from which he said Europe had escaped in 1945 was unclear.
An eve-of-battle speech it was not. As a stirring call to arms, it lacked fire. Some among his invited Euro-elite audience in the glittering Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels took to taking selfies or sending Twitter messages.
If they had been hoping for a second Duchess of Richmond's ball, held on the night before Waterloo, they were disappointed.
In practical terms, Obama added little or nothing to the mild punishments already handed out to Moscow. Only if the Pig transgressed again, in eastern Ukraine or the territories of neighbouring Nato members, would more sanctions be imposed.
Despite his avowal that Crimea's annexation was illegal and unrecognised, that seemed to put the cap on any thought the US might seek to force its reversal. It also left non-Nato border states such as Georgia, Moldova and Finland to wonder what his response might be if they are next in the firing line.
Eschewing sticks and stones, Obama stuck to wounding words. The Soviet Union lost the cold war for a reason, he said: it had tried to repress freedom, rather than celebrate it.
A new cold war was not dawning, for the simple reason that Russia was no longer powerful enough to match the US and its allies ideologically or geopolitically.
Washington did not seek to humiliate the Russian people – only to bring them round to its way of thinking, which would inevitably happen one day.
Obama, who once likened the Pig to a bored schoolboy behaving disruptively at the back of the class, was crushing in his disdain and masterly in his reproach.
Without once mentioning the Russian president by name, he patiently explained that the Pig's actions threatened the "architecture of peace" painstakingly erected after the second world war.
The US did not have to come to Ukraine's rescue. Its own borders and security were not directly threatened.
It was doing so because Russia's behaviour could not be ignored, since that would set an anarchic precedent that might be emulated in Africa or Asia.
Perhaps he was thinking of China. It has steadfastly refused to condemn the Russians, in case it needs to invade Taiwan.
The US only wanted good relations with Russia. Once he had truly understood the error of his ways, Putin might be allowed back into class.
Obama was soothing, conciliatory and ineffably smug. His grasp of the moral high ground was so very high, his head was in danger of disappearing into clouds of hot air.
"We do not regard ourselves as the sole arbiters of what is right in the world," he said. "We are not perfect." Truly.
Ukraine says 100,000 Russian troops have amassed near border
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:33 EDT
Nearly 100,000 Russian forces have massed on Ukraine’s border, a top Ukrainian defense official told an American audience Thursday, giving a number far higher than US military estimates.
“Almost 100,000 soldiers are stationed on the borders of Ukraine and in the direction … of Kharkiv, Donetsk, ” Andriy Parubiy, chairman of Ukraine’s national security council, said via a webcast from Kiev.
“Russian troops are not in Crimea only, they are along all Ukrainian borders. They’re in the south, they’re in the east and in the north,” Parubiy said.
After its intervention in the Crimean peninsula, Russia is plotting to foment separatist sentiment elsewhere and Kiev fears a possible incursion in the country’s east, he told the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
Parubiy said any day “we might see a huge attack on the territory of continental Ukraine and we are getting ready for it.”
Pentagon officials have previously said more than 20,000 Russian troops — including airborne units and armored vehicles — have deployed along Ukraine’s border, a force big enough to seize control of the eastern region.
But a senior defense official expressed skepticism at Parubiy’s estimate of Russian troop strength.
“That sounds too high,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
Parubiy said the Ukrainian government supported moves by Western countries to impose punitive sanctions on Russia and appealed for a public display of military partnership to send a signal to Moscow over its actions.
“We are calling on our partners to hold a common military exercise” that would “show that the cooperation and partnership is still there,” he said through an interpreter.
He urged “visible support, visible presence of our partners” at this moment of crisis.
The Russian troops that have deployed in Crimea were well-trained special forces, he said.
After Russia’s takeover of Crimea, Moscow had launched a new strategy aimed at disrupting Ukraine’s upcoming presidential elections in May, according to Parubiy.
Kiev authorities had “arrested” separatist leaders in the east and Moscow’s attempts to provoke street demonstrations were faltering with fewer people turning out for the protests, he said.
US President Barack Obama and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen have both denounced Moscow’s incursion into Crimea but have called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
NATO has bolstered its presence in Eastern Europe since Russia’s intervention, deploying radar surveillance aircraft to the area while Washington has sent F-16 fighter jets to Poland.
Obama has ruled out military action in Ukraine, which is not a member of the NATO alliance.
Vote by U.N. General Assembly Isolates Russia
By SOMINI SENGUPTAMARCH 27, 2014
U.N. Calls Annexation of Crimea Illegal
UNITED NATIONS — In the first barometer of global condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine and its Western backers persuaded a large majority of countries in the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday to dismiss the annexation as illegal, even as Russia sought to rally world support for the idea of self-determination.
The resolution, proposed by Ukraine and backed by the United States and the European Union, represented the latest effort to isolate President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia over the annexation, which followed a March 16 referendum in the peninsula that has been internationally regarded as Ukrainian territory.
The resolution garnered 100 votes in favor, 11 votes against, with 58 abstentions. The two-page text does not identify Russia by name, but describes the referendum as “having no validity” and calls on countries not to recognize the redrawing of Ukraine’s borders.
Ukraine’s acting foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia, called Russia’s actions “a direct violation of the United Nations Charter.”
Russia said Crimea should not have been part of Ukraine anyway, since it had been part of Russia for centuries until 1954, when the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev gave the peninsula to Ukraine, at the time a Soviet republic.
“Crimea was for many years an integral part of our country,” the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, told the Assembly in an effort to appeal to other nations that have similar grievances over territory lost in the past. The Crimean vote to join Russia was an expression of its right to self-determination, Mr. Churkin said, appealing to another resonant principle of international law. “You have to be very misanthropic to criticize them for that,” he said.
His argument met with a pointed rebuttal from the American ambassador, Samantha Power. Coercion cannot be the means to self-determination, she argued. “The chaos that would ensue is not a world that any of us can afford,” she said.
The most poignant argument came from Costa Rica. Small states have only the power of international law “to defend our sovereignty,” its ambassador, Eduardo Ulibarri, said. The resolution proposed by Ukraine, he said, would help to reaffirm that power.
The resolution has no enforcement power, and even its symbolic value as an influential expression of United Nations member opinion is debated since other resolutions of the General Assembly often have no practical effect.
The United States routinely ignores the General Assembly’s condemnations of its position on the Palestinian issue, for example. Neither Russia nor China has paid much attention to the General Assembly’s resolutions on Syria. And the high number of abstentions in the Ukraine resolution vote, including those by large, important countries, like China, India and South Africa, diluted the sympathy for Ukraine’s position.
Among the members that did not vote were Iran, Lebanon and Israel.
Still, the resolution was regarded as an important pressure point on Russia by the United States and European Union, which had been lobbying intensely for its passage.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official and now president of the New America Foundation, a public policy group based in Washington, said the vote could be used to help refute the image of Russia vs. the West.
“It is a very big deal to make it clear to all Russians that the international community condemns this action,” she said. “This is not the story Putin told.”
The votes of some nations also reflected their specific grievances. Bolivia, which opposed the resolution, railed against the United States, saying it had used its military and economic power to build “a unipolar world.” St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which abstained, said that while it supported the principles of the United Nations Charter, the United States and the European Union had not applied international law. Georgia, which supported the resolution, said the fate of Crimea was a flashback to Russia’s invasion of Georgia’s territory in 2008. Cyprus, another supporter, said it “suffered from foreign occupation.”
Several former socialist republics, including Albania, Estonia and Slovenia, added their names as co-sponsors.
Correction: March 27, 2014
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Albania and Slovenia. They are former socialist states, not former Soviet republics.
How Pig Putin's actions in Crimea changed the world
Disarmament is on hold, Nato has renewed its sense of purpose, Belarus is flirting with the west and 'irredentism' is back in vogue
Julian Borger, Richard Norton-Taylor, Alec Luhn, Tonia Samsonova, Terry Macalister, Luke Harding
theguardian.com, Friday 28 March 2014 08.59 GMT
Vladimir Putin's policies in the Soviet Union's former 'near abroad' have gone hand in hand with an increasingly tough nuclear stance. The thaw of the US-Russian 'reset' that led to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New Start in 2010 has passed and the disarmament process is largely frozen.
The reductions in both countries' strategic arsenals to the 1,550 deployed strategic warheads agreed four years ago do appear to be going ahead. But Putin has made clear that he has little interest in a more ambitious follow-on treaty, that would have addressed the issue of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.
The US has an estimated 150-200 such weapons: B61 gravity bombs, based in Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Turkey. Russia has 2,000 warheads for short-range missiles and artillery shells. Putin has cut off discussion on the subject and even raised the possibility of deploying nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania.
Putin wants to link negotiation on tactical nuclear weapons to the issue of US missile defence sites in Europe. Washington insists that the system under construction is only intended to defend against a putative Iranian and North Korean threat and the US has cancelled the last and most capable phase of the project, but the Russian leader has shown little interest in further discussion. Consequently, voices within Nato arguing for unilateral confidence building steps, such as the removal of the obsolescent B61 bombs from Europe, have been muffled, and in Congress there is more support for spending money on upgrading the US arsenal rather than on disarmament.
Putin's actions in Crimea has given Nato "a shot in the arm", said a former British defence secretary, reflecting recent widespread concern about the future of the west's military alliance.
The concern was that with Nato-sponsored combat operations in Afghanistan coming to an end this year, the alliance will have nothing to do and its west European members would make further cuts in their defence budgets. The hope in Nato headquarters is that Crimea and Ukraine will shake member governments out of what they regarded as complacency.
"After much agonising over Nato's purpose after Afghanistan, the Crimea crisis has given the alliance a new purpose", said Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute thinktank in London. He added: "If Putin were to attack the territory of a Nato member state, like Poland or Latvia, other Nato states – including the UK – would be obligated to respond militarily."
Barack Obama's message during his European trip this week was that Washington would stand by its security guarantees to Nato partners, notably post-Soviet states that joined the alliance.
"We will act in their defence against any threats", he said. "That's what Nato is all about". The British defence secretary, Philip Hammond, sang from the same hymn sheet during a visit to Washington. "There should be no doubt", he said, "about our resolve to defend Nato members."
Nato will reassure its eastern allies by holding exercises and deploying fighters. The US is also using the crisis to galvanise west European Nato members to end their steady fall in defence spending. For the moment, however, there is huge relief they rejected calls for Ukraine to join Nato in 2008 when Russian was attacking Georgia over the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Will Belarus come in from the cold?
Alexander Lukashenko, the strongman leader of Russia's neighbour and long-time ally Belarus, has been cool on Crimea joining Russia, saying the move sets a "bad precedent". Belarus pointedly didn't send observers to Crimea's 15 March referendum on joining Russia, and Lukashenko has said he is ready to work with the new Kiev government, which Russia says is illegitimate.
A visit to Minsk by a Nato delegation this week seemed to send a signal that Belarus, faced by increasingly aggressive Russian policy in the CIS, could move toward the west. The delegation discussed expanding Belarus's participation in UN peacekeeping and military exercises and arms purchases from the west, as well as the possible stationing of Nato aircraft in Belarus.
But Lukashenko is a canny operator, and some believe he has no plans to leave Russia's camp – only to improve his negotiating position with Moscow.
"Lukashenko definitely wants to cash in on this crisis, and he wants to use it to make up with the west," said Yaroslav Romanchuk, a political and economic analyst in Belarus. "At same time, he wants to not quarrel with Russia too much and make Russia pay for him staying around".
The Belarusian president is at a "crucial stage" of negotiations to join the Eurasian Economic Union, the Russian-led alternative to the European Union, and Lukashenko's flirtations with the west will likely give him more bargaining power to remove trade barriers and seek a large loan from Russia, Romanchuk said. Lukashenko may also be hoping that the EU will finally recognise him as president after he runs for re-election next year.
Belarus is economically dependent on Russia and is a transit hub for Russian oil sold to Europe. Its largest single source of income is selling refined petroleum made from subsidised Russian crude.
Moscow-based political analyst Alexei Makarkin said the Nato negotiations were a way of "gently indicating to Russia that he's an independent figure". Although Europe will likely continue to encourage Minsk to distance itself from Moscow, this won't lead to any concrete agreements, he predicted.
"He needs Russia to support him," Makarkin said. "He needs to show that he's independent and that he controls entire situation in his country, that he's not an enemy of Russia".
Alec Luhn in Moscow
The siege of Londongrad
Sanctions will only hit a few individuals for now, but Russians in London have worries for the future. The overall economic relationship between Britain and Russia is changing. The time when Russians would buy up a football club or a newspaper on an apparent whim are over.
But that doesn't mean rich Russians will immediately rush for the exits. Some are predicting a subtle switch, with money pouring into art.
"When you feel yourself under the threat of financial sanctions and freezing of your bank accounts it is always easier to invest in a piece of art," said Svetlana Marich International director of the Phillips auction house, belonging to a Moscow-based Mercury Group. "Nobody could take a painting from your bedroom even if international sanctions are imposed against you."
The multimillionaire owner of one of the most successful London's restaurants, Arkady Novikov, said it would be a complete nonsense to stop doing business abroad because of the Ukrainian crisis.
"I do not think much about these sanctions. I am not a little girl to feel offended by them. Nobody tried to put pressure on me so far. Neither from one nor from the other side. I hope I will be able to continue to cheer up Russian and British audience in my restaurants in the UK and other parts of the world. Tensions will disappear, business will remain."
"Business people are always more optimistic than political analysts. Moreover, pragmatic uses of London will remain an attraction," says Alena Ledeneva, professor of politics and society at UCL. "Sanctions are narrow and hit only a limited circle of people. They are not relevant for the default globalization process of Russian business."
Alexander Lebedev, the owner of the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers, says it would be naive to believe sanctions could prevent corrupt Russian money coming to London.
"We do not have another London to do business and invest in. British sanctions could not stop Russian kleptocracy from putting money here. As long as British layers are welcoming Russian dirty money and British government pays zero attention to this co-operation of Russian corruption and English law, nothing would change."
"You see only the surface of the iceberg and you see only the things we would like you to show. You call a football club, a newspaper and a book shop the examples of Russian dirty money. The real amount of dirty Russian money parked in the UK is hundred times bigger than what you would need to buy all these Waterstones and Chelseas.»
Tonia Samsonova, London correspondent for the Echo of Moscow radiostation
The bustup between the west and Russia over the Crimea has been seized on by those in favour of fracking shale gas in Britain as a convenient new way of selling a potentially exciting – but controversial – new energy source.
David Cameron took up the theme at a nuclear summit in The Hague earlier this week saying shale offered a "good opportunity" to strengthen the UK's energy self-reliance at a time of falling North Sea production.
"Energy independence, using all these different sources of energy, should be a tier-one political issue from now on, rather than tier five," he said echoing the positive noises coming out of the industry itself.
The fact is that no one really knows how much shale gas will be found in Britain and how much will be exploitable at a commercial rate.
The prime minister also overlooked the fact that numerous experts have warned that it could take many years of exploration and then development before this country has a resources that really makes a difference. Only a couple of large companies – Centrica and Total of France – have invested in the UK shale sector and their financial commitments have been tiny by their standards.
Most environmentalists – and many locals living near potential fracking sites – raise concerns about chemical and water use and remain determined to try to halt any operations.
But politicians in Europe are deeply aware that a shale gas "revolution" in North America has sent the price of natural gas spinning downwards acting as a boost to economic activity and triggering a significant manufacturing revival.
Up until now, the national security issues around having a domestic own power supply – independent of imports – have rarely been aired in favour of other power sources such as wind farms or even nuclear stations. But just as Ukraine and Poland have encouraged a shale search to loosen dependence on Russian gas, so now seemingly has Britain - even though little gas arrives here from Siberia.
Musing on Russia's annexation of Crimea, Strobe Talbott, foreign policy analyst and former US deputy secretary – sent an eye-catching tweet last week. He wrote: "Thanks to Putin, musty word 'irredentism', coined by Italians in 19th & early 20th century, is now all-too-relevant to new perils of 21st."
Talbott was referring to the doctrine that a country is entitled to control areas or territories outside its borders to which it has an ethnic or historical claim. The word comes from the Italian for unredeemed – *irredenta*. The Italians patriots who came up with it were referring to Italian-speaking territories at the time under the control of the Austro-Hungarian empire (Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia and so on). Ever since, irredentism has frequently featured in territorial disputes, especially but not always in Europe. The doctrine's most brutal exponent, of course, was Hitler. The Führer justified his annexation of Austria and the Südetenland on the grounds that he was protecting ethnic Germans and incorporating them into Greater Germany. The 1938 Anschlüss in Austria took place after a rigged referendum.
Putin's audacious irredentist land-grab in Ukraine is the biggest geopolitical challenge for the west since the cold war. It has shaken the post-war consensus that Europe's borders are fixed, and has thrown up a series of major challenges for the US, the EU and Nato – defensive, cyber, energy. The question now is how far is Putin prepared to go to realise what looks like a plan to create a new Greater Russia? The obvious next target are the Russian-speaking areas of south and eastern Ukraine. Trans-Dniester – a Russian-speaking separatist territory and Soviet hangover next to Moldova – has already said it wants to join the Russian Federation. There are significant Russian-speaking populations in the Baltic states. And in post-Soviet Central Asia, especially Kazakhstan.
Seemingly, the Kremlin's annexation sets a military precedent for other major states with historical grudges to take matters into their own hands. China notably abstained on a motion by the US at the UN security council condemning Moscow's annexation of Crimea. Beijing has always claimed Taiwan is part of the People's Republic of China, applying the irredentist principle that the Chinese-speaking peoples are an indivisible entity. (For its part, China has Tibet – from Beijing's point of view a separatist or splittist rather than irredentist problem).
There are numerous other irredentist hotspots out there. Pakistan claims Indian-administred Kashmir on the grounds that it is the only state with a Muslim majority. Afghanistan's Pashtun tribes refuse to recognise the Durand line, drawn up by a British civil servant, and dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan. Argentina makes an irredentist case for the Malvinas or Falkland islands, on the grounds of historical justice and propinquity. But the population on the Falklands is resolutely British, making the ethnic argument tricky and allowing London to invoke self-determination.
What conclusions should sovereign nations draw from the unhappy Crimea affair? With irrendentism back in fashion one is surely get yourself a nuclear weapon. And hang on to it.
Obama Calls on Russia to 'Move Back' Troops as the Pig Says Crimea Showed Army's Capabilities
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 March 2014, 13:58
U.S. President Barack Obama in an interview aired Friday said Russia must "move back" its troops from the Ukraine border and start negotiating.
Obama told CBS News that Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to assemble forces on the border may "simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that they've got additional plans."
Although estimates of troop numbers vary vastly, Obama said that "to de-escalate the situation" Russia should "move back those troops and begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government as well as the international community."
He also said Putin had been "willing to show a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union," and the Russian leader should not "revert back to the kinds of practices that, you know, were so prevalent during the Cold War.”
"I think there's a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past and that he wants to in some fashion, you know, reverse that or make up for that," Obama said, referring to Putin..
"What I have repeatedly said is that he may be entirely misreading the West. He's certainly misreading American foreign policy," the U.S. leader told CBS.
"We have no interest in circling Russia and we have no interest in Ukraine beyond letting Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives."
But Putin on Friday congratulated the Russian armed forces for their role in the takeover of Crimea, saying they had shown the new capacities of the Russian army.
"The recent events in Crimea were a serious test. They demonstrated the new capacities of our armed forces in terms of quality and the high moral spirit of the personnel," he said at a televised military ceremony.
Putin for the first time confirmed the direct involvement of the Russian army in the seizure which was carried out by thousands of well armed and equipped troops in unmarked battle fatigues.
He had previously described the forces who took Crimea as "local self-defense forces" although it appeared that Russia's Black Sea Fleet which is based in Crimea was heavily involved in the takeover.
Putin at the ceremony thanked the "commanders and servicemen of the Black Sea Fleet and other units deployed in Crimea for their restraint and personal courage".
He said the actions of Russian servicemen in Crimea were "precise and professional" and allowed "the avoidance of provocations and bloodshed and the peaceful carrying out of the referendum" on March 16 when Crimea voted to become part of Russia.
The Pig calls Obama to discuss proposal for Ukraine, says White House
US president insists Russia must pull troops back from Ukraine border in discussion over Crimea crisis
Reuters in Riyadh
theguardian.com, Friday 28 March 2014 22.48 GMT
Russian president Pig V. Putin called Barack Obama on Friday to discuss a US diplomatic proposal for Ukraine and the US president told the Pig that Russia must pull back its troops and not move deeper into Ukraine, the White House said.
It was believed to have been the first direct conversation between Obama and the Pig since the US and its European allies began imposing sanctions on Putin's inner circle and threatened to penalise key sectors of Russia's economy.
Russia's reinforcement of troops near Ukraine has brought the total forces there to as many as 40,000, US officials estimated on Friday in a buildup that has increasingly worried Washington in recent days.
The White House noted specifically that it was the Pig who called Obama, who is ending a four-nation trip in Saudi Arabia and had just returned to his Riyadh hotel after talks with King Abdullah.
Pig called to discuss a US proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis, which the US secretary of state, John Kerry, again presented to Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, at a meeting at The Hague earlier this week.
The US has been pressing Russia to pull back its troops to their Crimean bases and agree to talks with the Ukrainian government with international mediation. International monitors would go into Ukraine to assure that the ethnic Russian minority there is safe.
"President Obama suggested that Russia put a concrete response in writing and the presidents agreed that Kerry and Lavrov would meet to discuss next steps," the White House said.
A senior Obama administration official described the call as "frank and direct" and said the next step is the Kerry-Lavrov follow-up discussions to see whether the Russians are serious about diplomacy.
Obama and European leaders this week piled pressure on Russia to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis in a peaceful way. In a speech on Wednesday in Brussels, Obama built his case for sanctions against parts of the Russian economy like the energy industry, and said Nato would bolster its presence in alliance member nations close to Russia.
The White House said Obama stressed to the Pig that the US continues to support a diplomatic path in close consultation with the Ukrainian government.
"President Obama made clear that this remains possible only if Russia pulls back its troops and does not take any steps to further violate Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty," the White House said.
The Russian deployments on the border with Ukraine include the establishment of supply lines and the fielding of a wide range of military forces, US officials said.
These include militia or special forces units made up of Russian fighters wearing uniforms lacking insignia or other identifying markings, similar to the first Russian forces to move into Crimea during Russia's recent military takeover there, according to US and European sources familiar with official reporting.
How Pig Putin became Evil
The US and UK condemn him for Crimea but supported him over the war in Chechnya. Why? Because now he refuses to play ball
The Guardian, Friday 28 March 2014 18.29 GMT
Once again, it seems that Russia and the United States are finding it difficult to agree on how to deal with their respective ambitions. This clash of interests is highlighted by the Ukrainian crisis. The provocation in this particular instance, as the leaked recording of a US diplomat, Victoria Nuland, saying "Fuck the EU" suggests, came from Washington.
Several decades ago, at the height of the cold war, George Kennan, a leading American foreign policy strategist invited to give the Reith Lectures, informed his audience: "There is, let me assure you, nothing in nature more egocentric than embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision … Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side is the centre of all virtue."
And so it continues. Washington knows that Ukraine has always been a delicate issue for Moscow. The ultra-nationalists who fought with the Third Reich during the second world war killed 30,000 Russian soldiers and communists. They were still conducting a covert war with CIA backing as late as 1951. Pavel Sudoplatov, a Soviet intelligence chief, wrote in 1994: "The origins of the cold war are closely interwoven with western support for nationalist unrest in the Baltic areas and western Ukraine."
When Gorbachev agreed the deal on German reunification, the cornerstone of which was that united Germany could remain in Nato, US secretary of state Baker assured him that "there would be no extension of Nato's jurisdiction one inch to the east". Gorbachev repeated: "Any extension of the zone of Nato is unacceptable." Baker's response: "I agree." One reason Gorbachev has publicly supported Putin on the Crimea is that his trust in the west was so cruelly betrayed.
As long as Washington believed that Russian leaders would blindly do its bidding (which Yeltsin did blind drunk) it supported Moscow. Yeltsin's attack on the Russian parliament in 1993 was justified in the western media. The wholesale assaults on Chechnya by Yeltsin and then by Putin were treated as a little local problem with support from George Bush and Tony Blair. "Chechnya isn't Kosovo," said Blair after his meeting with the Pig in 2000. Tony Wood's book, Chechnya: The Case for Independence, provides chapter and verse of what the horrors that were inflicted on that country. Chechnya had enjoyed de facto independence from 1991-94. Its people had observed the speed with which the Baltic republics had been allowed independence and wanted the same for themselves.
Instead they were bombarded. Grozny, the capital, was virtually reduced to dust as 85 percent of its housing was destroyed. In February 1995 two courageous Russian economists, Andrey Illarionov and Boris Lvin published a text in Moscow News arguing in favour of Chechen independence and the paper (unlike its Western counterparts) also published some excellent critical reports that revealed atrocities on a huge scale, eclipsing the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre in Srebrenica. Rape, torture, homeless refugees and tens of thousands dead was the fate of the Chechens. No problem here for Washington and its EU allies.
In the calculus of western interests there is no suffering, whatever its scale, which cannot be justified. Chechens, Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis are of little importance. Nonetheless, the contrast between the west's attitude to the Chechen war and Crimea is startling.
The Crimean affair led to barely any loss of life, and the population clearly wanted to be part of Russia. The White House's reaction has been the opposite of its reaction to Chechnya. Why? Because the Pig, unlike Yeltsin, is refusing to play ball any more on the things that matter such as Nato expansion, sanctions on Iran, Syria etc. As a result, he has become evil incarnate. And all this because he has decided to contest US hegemony by using the methods often deployed by the west. (France's repeated incursions in Africa are but one example.)
If the US insists on using the Nato magnet to attract the Ukraine, it is likely that Moscow will detach the eastern part of the country. Those who really value Ukrainian sovereignty should opt for real independence and a positive neutrality: neither a plaything of the west nor Moscow.
03/31/2014 01:01 PM
Fighting Words: Schäuble Says the Pig's Crimea Plans Reminiscent of Hitler
By Christian Reiermann
He's not the first to do it, but he's a big enough player that it could worsen tensions. On Monday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said he saw parallels between Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and Adolf Hitler's land grab of Sudetenland.
As Germany's Mr. Euro, Wolfgang Schäuble is one of the country's best-known politicians abroad. When the finance minister speaks, people generally tend to listen. But on Monday morning, public statements at his ministry raised eyebrows. Schäuble made statements drawing parallels between the politics of Adolf Hitler and Russian President Pig V. Putin.
Schäuble said Russia's actions in Ukraine remind him of the expansionism of Nazi Germany. "Hitler already adopted such methods in Sudetenland," Schäuble said at a public event at the Finance Ministry in Berlin on Monday morning. "That's something that we all know from history." Schäuble's comments were directed at the justification provided by the Russians for annexing Crimea. Russian officials claim ethnic Russian residents of the peninsula are threatened by Ukraine. The Nazis argued similarly in the 1938 that "ethnic Germans" in peripheral regions of what was then Czechoslovakia required protection.
Given stewing tensions between Russia and the West and the finance minister's political prominence in Europe, Schäuble's comments could further intensify discord.
The finance minister made the comments while speaking to 50 school children from Berlin participating in a government-organized EU Project Day. Schäuble answered children's' questions about European unity and the euro crisis. He made his remarks after a student asked if the Ukraine crisis could potentially intensify the euro zone's problems. Schäuble said the most important thing was to prevent Ukraine from becoming insolvent. He said if the government in Kiev were no longer able to pay its security forces, "then of course some armed bands would seek to take power." That, he warned, could serve as a pretext for a Russian intervention. "The Russians would then say they can't accept that, that they are threatening our Russian population. Now we have to protect them, and that is our reason for invading."
Eastern Europeans 'Quite Scared'
The finance minister also explained to the students how Russia's occupation of Crimea came about. "At some point the situation escalated and then the Pig said, 'I actually always wanted Crimea anyway.'" Schäuble said the Pig had justified the action because the Russian Black Sea fleet is located on the peninsula. He said the Pig must have told himself, "And the current opportunity is the right one." Schäuble also claimed the Russian president deployed troops near the Ukrainian border, "to show that I can take care of ensuring order if need be."
Schäuble also told the students that concerns about Russian actions are widespread among his colleagues in the EU member states that used to be part of the Eastern Bloc -- particularly Hungary, Poland and the Baltic states. "They're quite scared," he said. He said the finance ministers of these countries have told him personally that they planned to expand their military expenditures. But Schäuble said there were no plans to increase Germany's defense budget. "That would be of no use," he said.