Russia Convicts Protest Leader Udaltsov of Fomenting 'Mass Riots'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 15:48
A Russian court on Thursday convicted an opposition leader and his colleague of organising "mass riots" ahead of Pig Putin's inauguration as president in 2012.
Judge Alexander Zamashnyuk said the guilt of protest leader Sergei Udaltsov and his ally Leonid Razvozzhayev in preparing unrest in Moscow and in other regions of Russia has been "totally proven", an Agence France-Presse correspondent in the courtroom reported.
Prosecutors have requested Udaltsov and Razvozzhayev be sentenced to eight years in a penal colony for organizing the rally on May 6, 2012, which the government has described as a "riot", as well as plotting further unrest across Russia.
As the entire verdict is read out in court, it may be several hours before the judge announces the sentence.
Supporters of the two men gathered near the courthouse with signs protesting the trial and chanted protest slogans.
Udaltsov, 37, was one of the more radical opposition leaders during the wave of mass rallies against the foul Pig Putin which swept Moscow in 2011-2012.
He was put under house arrest in February 2013 after being charged with fomenting mass disorder and accused of attempting to overthrow the government.
His co-defendant Leonid Razvozzhayev, 41, was an aide to a Russian opposition lawmaker. He was put under pre-trial arrest in October 2012, accusing Russia's security services of abducting him from Ukraine where he was applying for asylum, and smuggling him across the border.
The two men were charged in the wake of a mass rally in Moscow on May 6, 2012, when tens of thousands of people marched in protest against the evil Pig's inauguration to a historic third presidential term, only to clash with police cordons around the central Bolotnaya square.
Human rights organizations have protested the charges as disproportionate and said that police provoked the clashes by blocking the path of the crowd.
The so-called Bolotnaya probe has already seen seven protesters sentenced to prison terms of up to four years for participating in the unrest.
The probe against Udaltsov is based on a film broadcast on a Russian TV channel which alleged that he planned an uprising funded by a Georgian lawmaker.
Udaltsov proclaimed his innocence again in an interview published Thursday in the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, saying he did not know the Georgian lawmaker and that the film had been fabricated.
Udaltsov's lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky remarked to AFP during the Wednesday hearing that the decision read by judge Alexander Zamashnyuk seemed to be a carbon copy of the prosecutor's indictment.
With tensions running high in and around the courtroom, the judge ordered some of the people to leave the hearing following emotional outbursts of protest.
Udaltsov headed the leftist opposition group Left Front before it was banned shortly after his arrest.
Malignant tumor Pig Putin Igniting Dangerous Nationalist Fervor, Says U.S. General
by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 09:34
Russian President, the malignant tumor called Pig Putin, military intervention in Ukraine is fanning nationalist sentiments that could spread across the region with dangerous, unpredictable consequences, the U.S. military's top officer said Thursday.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said malignant tumor Pig Putin was pursuing an "aggressive" agenda that flouts sovereignty and seeks to address alleged grievances harbored by Moscow since the demise of the Soviet Union.
"If I have a fear about this, it's that the malignant tumor called Pig Putin may actually light a fire that he loses control of," Dempsey said at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado.
Speaking hours after U.S. officials accused Russia of firing artillery across the border at Ukrainian troops, Dempsey said Putin has appealed to Russian-speaking enclaves and bolstered his country's military in a bid to reassert Russian power.
"There's a rising tide of nationalism in Europe right now that's been created in many ways by these Russian activities that I find to be quite dangerous," Dempsey said in remarks broadcast by the Pentagon.
Nationalism "can be a very dangerous instinct and impulse," he said.
"My real concern is, having lit this fire in an isolated part of Eastern Europe, it may not stay in Eastern Europe," he said.
Under the malignant tumor called Pig Putin, the Russians "are clearly on a path to assert themselves differently," not only in Eastern Europe but towards the rest of Europe and the United States, he said.
"And he's very aggressive about it. He's got a playbook that has worked for him a few times," Dempsey said.
"If you're asking me if there's a change in the relationship (with Russia), I would have to say absolutely," the general said.
Since 2008, Russia's armed forces have increased their combat readiness while investing in "strategic" weapons such as long-range aircraft and cruise missiles, according to Dempsey.
Even amid international outrage over the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, which Western governments suspect was shot down by pro-Russian separatists armed by Moscow, Dempsey said the malignant tumor called Pig Putin is "actually taking a decision to escalate" instead of defusing the conflict.
He said senior U.S. government officials were weighing what assistance to provide the Ukrainian government, which has asked for weapons and electronic jammers to counter missiles employed by the separatists.
"That debate is ongoing," Dempsey said.
Washington was also discussing with its NATO partners how to respond to Moscow's "provocation" by strengthening allied military forces across Europe, he said.
There is "a recognition that we've been a little bit complacent about Europe for probably the last 10 or 15 years," Dempsey said.
Russia Firing Artillery on Ukraine Troops
by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 09:35
The United States on Thursday said it had evidence Russian forces were firing artillery from inside Russia on Ukrainian troops, in what officials called a "clear escalation" of the conflict.
Moscow is also planning to "deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers" to the pro-Russian separatist forces in Ukraine, U.S. deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
The evidence was based on "intelligence information" indicating arms were "continuing to flow across the border" into Ukraine since the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner with 298 on board, Harf said.
But she refused to reveal the evidence behind the allegation or give further information.
"They're firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military," Harf told reporters.
Washington, however, was still looking into the downing of two Ukrainian fighter jets on Wednesday. Kiev has alleged the warplanes were hit by missiles fired from Russian territory.
The shelling by Russian forces against Ukrainian positions had been "going on for several days," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren.
"It's a clear escalation," Warren told reporters.
The Pentagon did not specify the precise location of the Russian artillery units or the artillery fire.
The Russian shelling has taken place "within the last 14 days," according to a statement issued by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Russia has continued a troop build-up near the border of Ukraine and kept up deliveries of arms and equipment to separatists since the downing of the Malaysian airliner, US defense officials told AFP.
The Russians have sent at least one battalion a week to the border area in recent weeks, raising the troop level to 15,000 forces, up from about 12,000 last week, said two defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"It looks like a steady increase," one official said.
Military hardware has also continued to arrive at a large base set up near Rostov, which is used as a staging and training area before the equipment is transported to the rebels in Ukraine, according to defense officials.
U.S. intelligence officials said this week that artillery and multiple rocket launcher systems recently arrived at the southwestern base in Rostov.
At a briefing earlier this week, U.S. intelligence officials cited commercial satellite photos that showed new structures and an apparent expansion of the base over the past month.
Of course .........
MH17 crash: sanctions against Russia are illegal, ambassador claims
Moscow insists documents that show Russians armed the separatists who shot down Malaysia Airlines plane are forged
Rowena Mason, political correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014 19.47 BST
The west is imposing "illegal, unreasonable and counter-productive" sanctions against Russia based on internet forgeries that do not prove any of its missiles shot down the Malaysian airliner, the Russian ambassador to London has said.
Shortly before the European Union announced further sanctions against individuals and businesses linked to the Kremlin on Thursday night, Alexander Yakovenko condemned the trade restrictions that have already been imposed and warned that any more "may well trigger a long anticipated endgame of the present global crisis".
The EU agreed at a meeting on Thursday to add 15 people and 18 companies or other organisations to the bloc's sanctions list for undermining Ukraine's territorial integrity, diplomats said. But they failed to reach agreement on economic sanctions and will resume discussions on Friday, they added.
Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, has joined the US and Ukraine in saying there is strong reason to believe the Malaysian airliner was shot down by pro-Pig Putin separatists using a Soviet-era Russian-made Buk missile, killing 298 people.
On Thursday night, the US state department said it had evidence Russia intended to deliver "heavier and more powerful" rocket launchers to separatists in Ukraine.
However, Yakovenko said Russia had never given weapons to the separatists.
"The ample proof of inconsistencies of the initial narrative by Kiev and Washington has been provided by the closed briefing by the American intelligence officials on Tuesday," he told journalists at the Russian embassy in London.
"I took this from British media. Given media reports, there was nothing convincing, not to say compelling, in those materials.
"The case, as is admitted, is built upon photos and messages from social media sites, placed by Ukrainian authorities and since then proved to be forgeries, as ambassador Churkin demonstrated at the UN security council meeting. Naturally, our American partners say that they have no way of certifying the authenticity of those materials."
He added: "What we do is providing humanitarian assistance and receiving refugees from Ukraine in our territory. I don't have to say that people in Russia entertain strong feelings over the atrocities committed today by the Ukrainian forces against civilians, their ruthless use of heavy weapons and air force to shell and bomb [a] peaceful population."
The ambassador said the war in Ukraine had created "murky waters which are a fertile ground for all sorts of incidents".
The separatists are continuing to hold the site of the accident, but the black boxes from the plane and some of the bodies of those who died in the crash have now been released.
Yakovenko's warnings came after Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, suggested sanctions should only be directed at people in the entourage of the malignant tumor called Pig Putin, rather than Russian business in general. He also warned people not to "lash out" against all Russians.
Johnson previously expressed unease about being asked to play tennis with the wife of a former finance minister of the Pig, along with David Cameron, in return for a £160,000 donation. However, he claimed sufficient checks on the donor have now been carried out to satisfy him that the couple are not "buddies" of Putin.
"We have got to target the people who really count in the evil Pig's immediate entourage, in his regime, the people who are this cronies," Johnson told LBC 97.3.
"That's sensible. People say this will affect London, [that] it will do damage [but] I don't believe it will, because what people will see is a city that knows the difference between right and wrong. I think it is to the credit of Britain and to London that we are able to do these difficult things.
"I would stress obviously this is not the context for a general lashing out against all Russians, everybody who happens to speak Russian. This is a city that welcomes people from all around the world and there are many Russians here in London who are by no means buddies of the malignant tumor called Pig Putin."
The mayor's defence of the tennis match comes after the Conservatives were put under scrutiny over hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Russians, who Labour said were bankrolling their general election campaign.
An analysis by the Guardian shows more than £161,000 has come from donors with links to the Kremlin's business interests in the last five years.
It also emerged that one of Cameron's trade envoys, Charles Hendry, is president of a pro-Russia business lobby group whose advisory council includes an ally of the evil Pig Putin who recently struck an oil deal with Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and a former chief of the arms company that designed Buk missiles.
The UK and some eastern European countries have been pushing for sanctions not just on individuals and businesses linked to Putin's regime but for some wider sectoral restrictions that could hit trade in areas such as energy, defence and finance. The list of individuals who face sanctions announced on Thursday is likely to be published on Friday or Saturday.
Shellshocked Ex-Rebel Ukraine City Uncovers 'Mass Grave'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 12:59
Three hours after the digging began, a piece of white sackcloth was seen in the soil.
A few minutes later, four bodies were being recovered from the hole.
The city of Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine -- a former rebel stronghold back under Ukrainian military control -- had found its first mass grave.
A 30-strong crowd of police officers, town officials in gas masks, forensic experts and local residents, watched the grim scene unfold.
Everyone looked on, save one man -- the brother of one of the dozens who went missing. He sat on a stone wall with his back to the scene.
Municipal workers dug up the three-meter (10-foot) deep hole with an excavator in an area near the town center, then climbed in to recover the bodies.
"This is a terrible tragedy," said Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian interior ministry adviser presiding at a brief ceremony for townspeople before the exhumation began.
"In this mass grave are the bodies of four Protestant parishioners, innocents who were tortured and killed by the rebels," he said.
Wreaths and portraits of the four men believed to be the victims had been laid out by the grave site with heartbreaking notes: "To our dear Viktor, from your children and family", "To our dear brother Dima, Lisa and the children", "To our husband and brother".
The men were kidnapped on June 8 as they came out from Sunday worship, and were never seen again. All four were married. One had four children, while another had eight.
"There are likely around 20 bodies in this mass grave. As well as the four men who were tortured, we think there are the bodies of terrorists who died in the battle for Slavyansk against the Ukrainian army," Gerashchenko said.
A town of 100,000 people north of Donetsk, Slayvansk was recaptured by the Ukrainian army earlier this month.
During its three months under separatist control, several dozen people went missing.
"All the people around this area saw the rebels burying people here. That's why we knew of its existence," Gerashchenko said.
"We know there are others in the town but we don't know where. This is the first one that we're excavating," he added.
A bystander, Valentina, who lives nearby, said: "I was outside my house on June 11, when a truck came and made the hole in the morning.
"After 3 pm two vehicles came close to the hole and threw some corpses inside.
"The bodies were wrapped in a white cloth but there was no coffin," she said, as two snipers surveyed the scene from a nearby rooftop above her.
"How can we go on after this?" she added. "We are normally a peaceful people!"
On nearby Lenin Square, dozens of local residents came to watch as the Ukrainian flag was raised over the town hall and the Ukrainian anthem was sung.
The town employees sang along, hands on their hearts and tears in their eyes.
U.N. Says 230,000 Have Fled Homes in Ukraine Crisis
by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 13:53
A total of 230,000 people have fled their homes during the spiraling armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.
UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton told reporters that the number of people who have left the conflict zone for other Ukrainian regions was now close to 100,000, while some 130,000 had crossed the border into Russia.
"They are mainly from the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. Those are figures that have risen in recent weeks," McNorton said.
The numbers, dating from July 18, are the most recent available, he underlined.
Ukrainian forces have been battling pro-Russian separatists in the two eastern regions for months, with both sides facing accusations of failing to keep civilians out of the line of fire.
"There are a variety of security concerns and a variety of reasons for people making the decision to leave their homes," McNorton said.
Fears of being caught in the crossfire have been a major reason, he noted.
The number of people who have fled the fighting but remained within Ukraine has nearly doubled from the figure of 54,000 released by the UNHCR at the end of June.
The number of refugees in Russia had then been 110,000.
Claims that Russian-speakers in Ukraine are under threat have been cited regularly by the rebels and Moscow, though U.N. human rights probes have said there is little evidence for such fears.
Those fleeing within Ukraine include at least 12,000 Muslim Tatars from the southern peninsula of Crimea.
Mainly populated by Russian speakers and long home to Russian military bases, Crimea was annexed by Moscow in March.
That move came after Russian-speaking militants rose up following the removal in February of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukoyvch by a coalition of pro-Western groups and nationalists.
He was forced from power after months of protests following his last-minute decision not to sign a deal cementing the economically-embattled, ex-Soviet republic's ties with the European Union.
Instead, he opted to turn to former master Moscow for economic backing, sparking uproar in the pro-Western camp.
In the space of just three months, the Ukraine conflict in the east of the country has claimed more than 1,000 lives.
The toll includes the 298 people on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was downed over the east last week in an attack blamed on the rebels.
Russia denies claims that it is stoking strife by sending in men and weapons to Russified eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine Forces Take another Strategic City
by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 11:06
Ukrainian troops have retaken the strategically-important city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine, as they press on with their offensive to stamp out a pro-Russian rebellion, President Petro Poroshenko said.
"Ukrainian forces have raised the flag over the town council in Lysychansk," the presidency said in a statement late Thursday.
Operations were continuing to drive the remaining insurgents out of the town, the statement said.
Lysychansk -- a city of around 105,000 some 90 kilometers northwest of the rebel stronghold of Lugansk -- was seized by separatists in early April at the start of a bloody insurgency that has now claimed the lives of some 1,000 people, including the nearly 300 on board downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
The government offensive against the rebels has made significant progress since rebels unexpectedly fled a string of key towns earlier this month.
Government forces say they are now closing in on the major cities of Lugansk and Donetsk, where the bulk of the insurgent fighters have dug in and pledged to fight to the death.
Russia Steps Up Help for Rebels in Ukraine War
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and PETER BAKER
JULY 25, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine — Rather than backing down after last week’s downing of a civilian passenger jet, Russia appears to be intervening more aggressively in the war in eastern Ukraine in what American and Ukrainian officials call a dangerous escalation that will almost certainly force more robust retaliation from the United States and Europe.
Russia has increased its direct involvement in fighting between the Ukrainian military and separatist insurgents, moving more of its own troops to the border and preparing to arm the rebels with ever more potent weapons, including high-powered Tornado rocket launchers, American and Ukrainian officials said on Friday.
The officials, citing satellite images and other military intelligence, said that Russia had positioned heavy weapons, including tanks and other combat vehicles, at several points along the border where there has been intense fighting. On Thursday, Russia unleashed artillery attacks on eastern Ukraine from Russian territory, officials in Washington and Kiev said. While Russia flatly denied accelerating its intervention on Friday, American and Ukrainian officials said Moscow appeared anxious to stem gains by government forces that have succeeded in retaking some rebel-held territory.
The reported Russian moves raised the prospect of a new and more perilous chapter opening in a conflict that has already inflamed the region and, with the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with 298 aboard, stunned the world. American officials blamed a Russian-provided surface-to-air missile for the explosion and hoped the shock of the episode would prompt the Kremlin to rethink its approach, but they are increasingly convinced it has not.
Obama administration officials said Russia’s rising involvement had stiffened the resolve of European leaders who have been reluctant to confront Moscow for fear of damaging their own economies. But there was no appetite for a direct military response, and it remained unclear whether the West could or would take action that may change the calculus of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as Moscow seems to devote more firepower to the fight.
American and Ukrainian officials said Russia has moved beyond simply helping separatists and is now engaging directly in the war. Multiple Ukrainian military planes have been brought down in recent days by missiles fired from Russian territory, and now artillery batteries are firing from across the border into Ukraine, the officials said.
“We have detected that firing and that does represent an escalation in this conflict,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “It only underscores the concerns that the United States and the international community has about Russian behavior and the need for the Putin regime to change their strategy.”
American officials said Russia has moved 15,000 troops near the border. Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Russia had made “imminent” plans to deliver heavier rockets to the separatists. Instead of the malignant tumor Pig Putin de-escalating the conflict after the Malaysia Airlines tragedy, “he’s actually taken a decision to escalate,” Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a security forum in Aspen, Colo.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine to express solidarity and pledge to coordinate with allies “about imposing further costs on Russia for its deeply destabilizing and irresponsible actions in Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.
While the United States has been hesitant to make its intelligence public, Ukrainian officials have provided a daily, running list of Russian incursions, including flights into Ukrainian air space by fighter jets and unmanned surveillance drones, as well as mortar and rocket attacks.
“We have facts of shelling of Ukrainian positions from the territory of Russian Federation,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said at a briefing in Kiev on Friday. “We have facts on the violation of air border between Ukraine and Russia.”
Mr. Lysenko said there were active-duty Russian soldiers who had surrendered, as well as volunteer Russian fighters who had been captured. “We have information about weapons and mercenaries who have respective skills for warfare, who have been passing over from the territory of the Russian Federation,” Mr. Lysenko said.
Russia pointedly denied the American allegations on Friday. In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the United States of engaging in a “smear campaign.”
“All of this is accompanied by references to some ‘evidence’ allegedly available to the United States,” the ministry said. “Not one of these ‘evidences,’ however, has been shown, which is not surprising. Facts and specifics to support false allegations simply do not exist.”
On Friday, the European Union took another step toward imposing additional economic penalties focused on the financial, energy and military sectors of the Russian economy, but a letter to European leaders from Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, made clear that officials were still struggling to find a balance.
Mr. Lysenko, the military spokesman, said that Ukrainian troops were coming under increased fire from the Russian side of the border, and that the Ukrainian military had recently shot down three Russian surveillance drones. One was used to target a Ukrainian base near the town of Amvrosiivka, which then quickly came under heavy rocket attack, he said.
Ukrainian officials say their forces have recaptured at least 10 towns, shrinking the amount of territory under rebel control in the embattled regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and gaining substantial advantage, including over some of the main highways in the region.
The recent gains by Ukrainian forces included the recapture of the city of Lysychansk after days of fighting. The city of more than 100,000 had been a rebel stronghold, and it posed a strategic obstacle to government troops pressing through the Luhansk region from the north and west. Ukrainian ground troops needed air support to expel the rebels, but were able to push them south and out of the city.
Officials have said they believed that they could defeat the rebels within three weeks if there were no further intervention by Russia.
By placing forces close to the border, the Russians can provide fire support to the separatists, prevent Ukrainian troops from establishing control over the border and facilitate the delivery of Russian arms to the separatists. The Ukrainian military has expressed frustration that at least two sections of the border remain porous. One goal of the Russian attacks on targets, an American official said, is to keep Ukrainian forces away from the border, making it easier for Russia to transport weapons and cooperate with the insurgents.
“The quantity and sophistication of weaponry being sent by Russia across the border is increasing,” one Western official said on Friday, adding that Russian artillery units have been firing into Ukraine from Russian territory “in direct support of separatists.” Like other officials with access to classified intelligence assessments, he spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Correction: July 26, 2014
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Ukrainian accounts of Russian interventions. Ukrainian officials said Russian fighter jets and drones have flown into Ukrainian air space, not Russian.
EU expands Russian oligarch sanctions blacklist in wake of MH17 crash
Measures against Moscow looking likely after shooting down of plane, though deep divisions remain among 28 member states
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
The Guardian, Friday 25 July 2014 19.42 BST
The European Union has expanded its blacklist of Russians subject to sanctions and broad economic measures against Moscow are looking increasingly likely following the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 despite deep divisions among the 28 EU member states.
Such measures would represent a rift between Russia and the rest of Europe of a depth not seen for over 20 years. While analysts balk at describing the looming standoff as a new cold war, pointing out Russia is a much less formidable power than the Soviet Union, they say the new east-west tensions could intensify and prove very hard to reverse.
So far, with no sign of an end to Russian military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and reports of direct artillery fire from inside Russia against Ukrainian positions, Malignant tumor Pig Putin appears to be responding to the threat of more sanctions by raising the stakes on the battlefield.
"Malignant tumor Pig Putin has dug himself into a hole," said John Lough, an associate fellow at the Chatham House thinktank's Russia and Eurasia programme. "He has revved up public opinion with grotesque use of propaganda, and it is not clear what he can do with the national mood he has released. What is it going to focus on? This could transform the relationship extremely negatively to one of long-term mutual alienation."
However, Lough added: "We are a long way off from a new cold war. Russia is a very different country from the Soviet Union, with no unifying ideology. This is a collision of interests rather than of ideologies. Inadvertently the EU finds itself in competition with Russia on its periphery."
The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) said the direct challenge posed by Putin could unravel the post-cold war order in which the eastward spread of liberal European ideas once seemed inevitable.
"By annexing Crimea and intervening in Ukraine, Russia has raised fundamental questions about the principles of the European order," the ECFR said in an assessment of 10 global consequences of the Ukraine crisis. "Russia wants to both restore and re-legitimise spheres of influence as an organising principle of European order. This is a direct challenge to Europe and the west as a whole: although some countries might be willing to accept implicitly Russia's view of European order, none can afford to do so explicitly."
The EU has found it hard to find a cohesive position towards Russia but the downing of the Malaysian airliner, killing 298 people, of whom more than 200 were EU nationals, has made an escalation in European sanctions all but certain.
The new EU sanctions list adds 15 individuals and 18 entities, bringing the totals of those affected to 87 people and 20 organisations, all deemed to be directly linked to the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. Among the new names were the chief of Russia's FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, and Mikhail Fradkov, a former prime minister who now heads the foreign intelligence service.
European ambassadors meeting in Brussels on Thursday also agreed to widen targeted sanctions to include the malignant tumor called Pig Putin's close circle of supporters, but the final decision on a list of affected "cronies" will not be discussed until Monday.
The EU is also due to decide next week on the first significant financial sanctions to be imposed if Russian-backed separatists continue to obstruct an investigation into the airliner crash and Russia fails to stop the flow of arms to the rebels. Those conditions appear unlikely to be met.
European commission officials have drawn up options including banning Russian banks with more than 50% state ownership from raising capital on European markets, a potentially powerful blow. Last year, almost half the bonds issued by Russian public financial institutions, worth €7.5bn (£6bn), were sold on European markets.
Such measures have long been portrayed as particularly damaging to London, but research by the Open Europe thinktank suggests the impact has been exaggerated, partly because of the high profile of some London-based oligarchs. In 2012, the latest year for which full statistics are available, the stock of Russian assets in the UK was worth £27bn, only half of one per cent of total European assets invested in the UK.
"While the Londongrad narrative is attractive, the data suggests it doesn't quite hold," said Raoul Ruparel, the head of economic research at Open Europe. "Given that London is a global financial centre, Russian business is only a small slice of a very large pie. The stage three sanctions being considered should therefore be manageable from the City's perspective."
The limited stakes involved help explain the UK's vocal backing of tough measures in Brussels, but progress in agreeing a package of EU measures has been slowed by the principle of burden sharing, in which all member states with an economic stake in the outcome have to be seen to be making equal sacrifices.
In that respect, European officials have drawn up a draft arms embargo covering the entire defence sector, but left it to the politicians to hammer out whether and how it should affect contracts already signed. France has sold two Mistral helicopter carrier vessels to Russia worth a combined €1.2bn, but President François Hollande has hinted at a compromise, by which one ship would be delivered and another held back, even at the cost of penalties and forgone income.
"This is a huge problem for Hollande," said Bruno Tertrais, a senior research fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique in Paris. "The question of reputation as a supplier is as important at least as the money. If it was just about a billion euros, it would be different story."
The choices facing Europe are complicated by different degrees of dependence on Russian gas for energy supplies. However, the correlation between gas pipelines and political positions is not linear. Bulgaria is completely dependent and is the European state most opposed to sanctions. But Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia also receive all their gas from Russia but are fervent advocates of punitive measures.
The most decisive split over sanctions in Europe may not be between governments but inside the most powerful government on the continent, in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been a much tougher advocate of sanctions than the foreign ministry under Frank-Walter Steinmeier. How those differences are resolved could determine which way Europe jumps next week.
There is no doubt that the sanctions on the table in Brussels could inflict serious economic damage on Russia. Whether that can influence the malignant tumor's actions, however, is another question.
"A lot depends on how much the elite that matters, the elite behind Pig Putin, are up for a confrontation," said Sophia Pugsley, an ECFR analyst. "Which way they will go is anyone's guess."
Russia Says New EU Sanctions Risk Ending Security Cooperation
by Naharnet Newsdesk
26 July 2014, 09:48
Russia said Saturday that new European Union sanctions targeting Russian intelligence chiefs over its role in Ukraine risked ending all joint cooperation on security.
The European Union "has practically speaking put at risk international cooperation in the area of security," the Russian foreign ministry said in an angry response.
The EU on Saturday announced it had broadened its list of Russian officials facing targeted sanctions to include the head of the FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, and the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Mikhail Fradkov.
It also included the head of Russia's national security council, Nikolai Patrushev who is a former head of the FSB.
"The additional sanctions list is a direct testimony that European Union countries have chosen a course towards fully rolling back cooperation with Russia in matters of international and regional security," Moscow said.
It cited the worsening situation in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa.
Russia called the fresh sanctions "irresponsible", adding that the effect of the penalties "will be enthusiastically welcomed by international terrorism".
Disturbed Items at Flight 17 Site Add to Growing Reports of Tampering
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
JULY 25, 2014
DONETSK, Ukraine — European monitors on Friday indicated for the first time that credit and debit cards belonging to people who died on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine had been moved inappropriately, though it was unclear whether anybody had tried to use them.
Debris from Flight 17 spilled over dozens of square miles, extending across sunflower fields, forests and villages. The huge site is almost wholly unguarded, though pro-Russian militants who control it have denied that looting has been allowed.
The movement of credit cards was the latest sign of tampering with the wreckage in ways large and small. The United States and Ukraine say that the airliner was shot down by a missile, likely supplied by Russia, from territory occupied by the same separatists who now control the debris field.
The monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe visits the debris site daily, though it has no control over it. On Friday, the group found cards and passports at two locations where they had not been seen before.
The cards and documents looked fresh, as if they had not been exposed to the elements for a week, for reasons that were entirely unclear to the monitors.
“There’s nothing to explain how it landed there,” Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the organization, said of the strange discovery. “But it was there.”
Reports of looting have swirled for a week. Dutch officials say they are monitoring bank accounts of the dead passengers. As recently as Thursday, Mr. Bociurkiw said his agency had not seen any sign of looting. Malaysian investigators said they saw valuables in the fields untouched, including unopened backpacks, a watch and jewelry.
Monitors said on July 22 that they had seen uniformed men cutting into the cockpit section of the fuselage with a power tool. Since then, the cockpit has been further dismantled, Mr. Bociurkiw said. If the earlier work might have been justified by a search for bodies after the plane was shot down on July 17, he said, it was unclear why metal-cutting tools were still being used. “The cockpit slammed into the ground and pancaked and now it’s opened up,” he said. “It was quite stunning.”
Monitors also said they saw body fragments elsewhere in the debris field on Friday.
Ukraine has ceded control of the inquiry into the downing of Flight 17 to the Netherlands, the nation with the largest number of citizens on board, and the Dutch government has pressed to secure the site as well as the safety of an investigative team still waiting in Kiev for access. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said his government intended to send 40 unarmed border police officers. The Australian government is also pressing to deploy the police to protect the site.
On Friday, the militia at the site apparently rejected this suggestion. Mr. Bociurkiw said the armed men controlling the area wanted no more than 35 investigators.
The separatists also indicated that they intended to gather the debris and ship it out of the war zone by train, Mr. Bociurkiw said during a nightly briefing in Donetsk, and that they could begin doing so within days. He added that the militia leadership argued that the wreckage cannot be secured against looting as it was, scattered in and around villages. The separatists suggested sending the pieces to Kharkiv, a city in Ukrainian-controlled territory that also became the destination for a trainload of victims’ bodies, as a transfer site for onward shipment to the Netherlands.
MH17 Victims Lie Abandoned as Australia, Netherlands Ready Mission
by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 21:07
A strip of white bandage on a stick in a sunflower field marked the spot where the remains of one of the 298 victims of downed Malaysian flight MH17 lay in the sun on Friday more than a week after the crash.
Combine harvesters cut down the wheat in surrounding fields in a semblance of normality at the gruesome scene -- some of them skirting pieces of the wreckage.
The remains were among several seen in recent days as dozens of the victims are still unaccounted for and Australia and the Netherlands prepare to deploy police and troops to secure the sprawling site in rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
Australian and Dutch officials accompanied a team of monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to examine the wreckage and get ready for the deployment by mapping the territory.
"They're doing GPS coordinates," Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE's special monitoring mission to Ukraine, said next to the scorched earth at the main crash scene near the village of Grabove.
Artillery booming in the distance echoed across the rolling hills -- a stark reminder of the fighting raging just a few dozen kilometers away outside the ceasefire zone declared by both Ukraine's army and separatists around the crash site.
As negotiations continued over how Australian and Dutch officers could be deployed, villagers said they welcomed the prospect of foreign police and inspectors coming to carry out a proper investigation.
"They can come and live here if they want!" said Galyna Nemenko, a 51-year-old housewife in the tumbledown village of Petropavlivka, as the inspectors swept past in their muddy white Land Cruisers.
Nemenko was in a huddle of local residents discussing the incredible incident in a normally peaceful slice of countryside with potholed roads and illegal coal mines.
"As long as the inspectors are here, there'll be no fighting!" one woman said.
On a swing outside her cottage, 16-year-old Tetyana Grybova also welcomed the prospect.
"I think they should guard the site," she said.
Debris from the crash that flew into people's gardens had been left by the side of the road around her -- including clothes, oxygen masks and bits of fuselage.
At the one-room library, another group gathered as the OSCE monitors drove past.
"Our land, our roads are open to everyone," said the director Svetlana Korotysh, 53.
"We're not bothered about all the foreigners coming here. We also need to know the truth," she said.
The experts on Friday were seen examining the wreckage at three main sites in and around the villages of Grabove, Petropavlivka and Rozsypne, appearing to show particular interest in parts of the wreckage that had shrapnel-like lacerations.
The circumstances are as yet unexplained but the plane appears to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile, which the United States has accused Russia of providing to the rebels.
Dutch authorities said some 227 bodies have been accounted for, suggesting that those of 71 victims have not been recovered.
With no recovery efforts seen at the site on Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a statement urging "the need to act quickly and follow proper procedures in searching for, collecting, managing and identifying the remains of those who died."
The OSCE monitors said they had also noticed personal objects of passengers including credit cards and passports that were not there before suddenly reappear.
A group of rebels in uniforms from the now-disbanded Ukrainian interior ministry special forces unit Berkut, accompanied the monitors in a symbolic show of force as the site is normally not under guard.
All the gunmen were wielding Kalashnikovs and one of them carried a surface-to-air missile slung across his shoulder -- a shoulder-fired model not like the one allegedly used to down the plane.
Asked about the possible arrival of foreign officers, one local man fixing his motorbike reacted with disbelief: "What? Australia and Holland? Really? Why do they need to come here? What is there to guard?"
Yes, of course...............
Russia Accuses U.S. of 'Smear Campaign' over Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 18:40
Russia on Friday called the latest U.S. accusations of Moscow's involvement in the Ukrainian conflict a baseless "smear campaign" and said Washington bears responsibility for the bloodshed.
"Due to the smear campaign against us that the U.S. Administration has begun... we reject the unfounded public insinuations that U.S. deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is spreading on a daily basis," a statement by the Russian foreign ministry said.
Harf on Thursday said that latest evidence suggests that Russian troops are firing artillery from within Russia on Ukrainian military across the border, while defense officials suggested that Moscow is supplying the pro-Russian rebels with equipment like rocket launchers.
The foreign ministry said that Harf has used "a basketful of these anti-Russian cliches" to sway public opinion against Russia.
"There are no facts or specifics about these falsehoods," the statement said, accusing Washington of essentially trying to "shield their Kiev wards and themselves" by obscuring the "real reasons for events in Ukraine."
Moscow has denounced the protests in Kiev which led to former president Viktor Yanukovych's ouster as a U.S.-sponsored regime change and alleged that the current leadership wants to eliminate the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, where Ukraine's army has been fighting an insurgency since April.
The foreign ministry accused the United States of supporting the "coup" in Ukraine and "pushing" it toward "cruel reprisals against the Russian-speaking population."
"Washington fully shares the responsibility for the bloodshed. The U.S. Administration should not lay the blame on somebody else. It would be more honest and responsible to keep quiet if recognizing the truth is difficult."
Russia offers 3.9m roubles for 'research to identify users of Tor'
Analysts say tender for research on service that anonymises browsing sends signal to online community amid crackdown on Russian internet
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Friday 25 July 2014 19.03 BST
Russia's interior ministry has offered up to 3.9m roubles (£65,000) for research on identifying the users of the anonymous browsing network Tor, raising questions of online freedom amid a broader crackdown on the Russian internet.
The interior ministry's special technology and communications group published a tender earlier this month on the government procurement website offering the sum for "research work, Tor cipher".
Before changes to the tender were published on Friday, numerous news outlets reported that it originally sought "research work on the possibility to obtain technical information about users (user equipment) of the anonymous network Tor".
According to Andrei Soldatov, an expert on surveillance and security services, the interior ministry might be exploring possible ways to restrict Tor. But the fact that the tender was publicly announced meant that those seeking greater government control of the internet had defined their next target and were sending "yet another signal" to the online community, he argued.
"It's not important if the Russian government is able to block Tor or not," Soldatov said. "The importance is that they're sending signals that they are watching this. People will start to be more cautious."
The interior ministry refused to comment on Friday afternoon.
Originally developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory as an "onion routing project", Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows users to hide the source and destination of their internet browsing and keeps websites from tracking them. It is often used by whistleblowers and residents of countries where the authorities restrict access to the internet, but has also been known to be used for criminal activity. A famous example was the Tor-based online market Silk Road, which was known as an "eBay for drugs" before the FBI shut it down in 2013.
Although many news outlets reported on the recent tender as a reward for "cracking Tor", internet security experts doubted Tor could be successfully decrypted, let alone for a mere 3.9m roubles.
Of all countries, the fifth largest contingent of Tor users come from Russia, where the network's popularity more than doubled in June, going from about 80,000 directly connecting users to more than 210,000. The growth followed a "bloggers law" – signed by the president, malignant tumor Pig Putin, in May – requiring any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily to register with the government. Media experts argued that the legislation would stifle opposition voices and restrict government criticism on the internet.
The move was part of a wider campaign to regulate the internet which saw the authorities block three major opposition news sites as well as the blog of anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny in March. Users located in Russia can now only access the news sites through anonymising services such as Tor.
This week, the malignant tumor Pig Putin signed a law requiring internet companies to store Russian user data in-country, where intelligence services enjoy sweeping access to electronic information through telecoms companies. Critics worry that websites such as Facebook and Twitter, which the opposition used to organise a string of huge rallies in 2011-2013, would be forced to stop operating in Russia when it comes into effect in 2016.
Unlike the Chinese system of internet censorship, which directly blocks websites such as Google, the Russian one is built on intimidation so that users "themselves become more cautious, and internet companies think up ways to block certain sites," Soldatov said.
But blogger, journalist and web entrepreneur Anton Nosik doubted that the Tor research tender would have any effect, arguing that the interior ministry was not a serious player among the various government agencies surveilling the internet but was now "trying to make a name for itself".
"The only significance [of the tender] is the money being paid and the PR surrounding it, showing that the ministry of interior is seriously working on issues of anonymising technology, so that everybody's talking about it. And everybody is talking about it," Nosik said.
More worrying, Nosik said, was leading communications provider Rostelecom's investment in Deep Packet Inspection technology that would filter web traffic based on its content rather than its source. This would severely reduce users' anonymity on the web, although Tor should be able to somewhat limit DPI capabilities, Nosik said.
Russia censors media by blocking websites and popular blog
Media watchdog adds Alexei Navalny blog and opposition news sites to banned list amid ongoing Ukraine crisis
theguardian.com, Friday 14 March 2014 13.31 GMT
Russia has blocked three major opposition news websites as well as the popular blog of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in a media crackdown that comes amid Vladimir Putin's standoff with the west over Ukraine.
The government's media watchdog said late on Thursday it was enforcing an order by prosecutors to add three popular opposition news websites to its banned list, along with Navalny's Live Journal blog. A law came into force in February allowing the blocking of internet sites on the order of prosecutors without a court decision.
The pulling of the sites openly critical of the Kremlin came as state media is waging a full-on propaganda war in support of intervention in the Ukrainian crisis and the Kremlin's incursion into Crimea.
"There is an absolutely direct link with the events in Ukraine," said Alexander Podrabinek, a former dissident and a columnist for two of the newly banned websites, EJ.ru and Grani.ru.
The ban comes just two days after the chief editor of one of Russia's oldest and most popular news websites, Lenta.ru, was summarily dismissed on Wednesday over its Ukraine coverage.
Russian internet providers were on Friday blocking access to the blacklisted websites, although they were still accessible through internet providers outside Russia. Tips on how to get around the ban were circulating on social media.
"We will try to find out what we are being accused of and if we can restore the site's operations," said EJ.ru, which runs liberal opinion pieces.
The Roskomnadzor media watchdog said the sites were banned for "making calls for unlawful activity and participation in mass events held with breaches of public order," it said, apparently referring to opposition rallies.
A Ukrainian Rebel Commander Veers Off-Script
JULY 25, 2014
By ROBERT MACKEY and ANDREW ROTH
Speaking to Reuters this week about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a commander of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine seemed to veer off script, suggesting that pro-Russia militants in the area, who have denied any involvement, were equipped with a sophisticated antiaircraft missile system and might have fired at the passenger jet by mistake.
The commander, Aleksandr Khodakovsky, went on to suggest that had rebels fired the missile that brought the jet down, they did so because the Ukrainian government had plotted to trick them into it, by flying military planes on a similar flight path.
Almost as soon as the Reuters interview was published, Mr. Khodakovsky tried to take the comments back, phoning LifeNews, a pro-Kremlin channel in Moscow, to say that his remarks had been taken out of context. Mr. Khodakovsky, a former leader of the government’s Alpha special forces unit in the Donetsk region — who sat for an interview with The New York Times last month — also said that video of the interview, which he possessed, would vindicate him.
Reuters responded by releasing audio of the interview, in which the commander could be clearly heard saying that he was told on the day of the crash that another separatist unit, from Lugansk, had in fact deployed an SA-11 Buk missile system to the rebel-held town of Snizhne, six miles west of the spot where Flight 17 crashed.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L19hlOOcJ2k
“That Buk I know about,” Mr. Khodakovsky told Reuters on Tuesday. “I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place.
“They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence,” he added.
The admission was surprising, because other rebel leaders have steadfastly denied that the separatists had the technical capability to shoot down a commercial jet cruising at 33,000 feet. Speaking to the BBC this week, the Russian citizen appointed prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Borodai, insisted that online images of an SA-11 system being transported through rebel-held territory on the day of the disaster were fake.
Continue reading the main story An interview with Alexander Borodai, the Russian citizen who leads the rebels in eastern Ukraine. BBC Newsnight, via YouTubehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFEv8jVAqLg
“You’re talking about an information war here,” Mr. Borodai told the BBC correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse. “You yourself can see that these photographs are the fruits of ... I don’t want to say Photoshop, but maybe some kind of more advanced program.”
Despite the rebels’ claims about not having the technical capability to shoot down jets, just days before the downing of the passenger plane pro-Russia rebels circulated video of local people in the region celebrating the shooting down of an Ukrainian military plane.
Continue reading the main story Video posted online by pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine showing a government transport plane being shot down. Anti-Maidan, via YouTubehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H98BFxsLStY
Late Thursday, Russian state television tried to tamp down the confusion caused by Mr. Khodakovsky’s remarks in a report that directly accused Reuters of tampering with the audio to distort his comments and create what the on-air correspondent, Anton Lyadov, called “a provocation.”
According to Mr. Lyadov, the record of the rebel commander’s remarks was a “strange audio recording by the British agency Reuters, having listened to which, one can easily understand, is edited from several parts.”
Mr. Khodakovsky then appeared on camera to say that he had been misquoted and could have said only that he was unsure of whether the rebels possessed any of the Buk missile systems.
The report also includes what is described as video recorded during the rebel commander’s conversation with Reuters, but because it does not show the reporter, it is impossible to know if it is authentic. And it does not contradict the Reuters report.
What happened? The day Flight 17 was downed
It was lunchtime when a tracked launcher with four SA-11 surface-to-air missiles rolled into town and parked on Karapetyan Street. Fifteen hundred miles (2,400 kilometers) to the west, passengers were checking in for Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
By YURAS KARMANAU and PETER LEONARD
People inspect the crash site of a passenger plane on July 17 near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine. All 298 people aboard the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed.
SNIZHNE, Ukraine —
It was lunchtime when a tracked launcher with four SA-11 surface-to-air missiles rolled into town and parked on Karapetyan Street. Fifteen hundred miles (2,400 kilometers) to the west, passengers were checking in for Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
It had been a noisy day in this eastern Ukrainian town, residents recounted. Plenty of military equipment was moving through. But still it was hard to miss the bulky missile system, also known as a Buk M-1. It left deep tread marks in the asphalt as it rumbled by in a small convoy.
The vehicles stopped in front of journalists from The Associated Press. A man wearing unfamiliar fatigues, speaking with a distinctive Russian accent, checked to make sure they weren't filming. The convoy then moved on, destination unknown in the heart of eastern Ukraine's pro-Russia rebellion.
Three hours later, people six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne heard loud noises.
And then they saw pieces of twisted metal -- and bodies-- fall from the sky.
The rebel leadership in Donetsk has repeatedly and publicly denied any responsibility for the downing of Flight 17.
Sergei Kavtaradze, a spokesman for rebel leader Alexander Borodai, repeated to the AP on Friday that no rebel units had weapons capable of shooting that high, and said any suggestions to the contrary are part of an information war aimed at undermining the insurgents' cause.
Nevertheless, the denials are increasingly challenged by accounts of residents, the observations of journalists on the ground, and the statements of one rebel official. The Ukrainian government has also provided purported communications intercepts that it says show rebel involvement in the shoot-down.
A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP this week, admitted that rebels were responsible. He said a unit based in the hometown of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, made up of both Russians and Ukrainians, was involved in the firing of an SA-11 from near Snizhne. The rebel, who has direct access to the inner circle of the insurgent leadership in Donetsk, said that he could not be named because he was contradicting the rebels' official line.
The rebels believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane, this person said. Instead, they hit the passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard were killed.
Intercepted phone conversations released by the Ukrainian government appear to back up the contention they were unaware the aircraft was a passenger jet.
In those tapes, the first rebels to reach the scene can be heard swearing when they see the number of bodies and the insignia of Malaysia Airlines.
Ukraine immediately blamed the rebels for the shooting. In an interview in Kiev this week, the Ukrainian counterterrorism chief, Vitaly Nayda, gave the AP the government's version of the events of July 17. He said the account was based on information from intercepts, spies and resident tips.
Nayda laid the blame fully on Russia: He said the missile launcher came from Russia and was operated by Russians. The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday declined to comment on either charge. Moscow has continually denied involvement in the downing of the plane.
The rebel official who spoke to AP did not address the question of any Russian government involvement in the attack. U.S. officials have blamed Russia for creating the "conditions" for the downing of the plane, but have offered no evidence that the missile came from Russia or that Russia directly was involved.
According to Nayda, at 1 a.m. on July 17 the launcher rolled into Ukraine across the Russian border aboard a flatbed truck. He cited communications intercepts that he would not share with the AP. By 9 a.m., he said, the launcher had reached Donetsk, the main rebel stronghold 125 miles (200 kilometers) from the border. In Donetsk it is presumed to have been off-loaded from the flatbed and started to move in a convoy on its own.
Nayda said the Buk turned back east toward Snizhne. Townspeople who spoke to the AP said it rolled into Snizhne around lunchtime.
"On that day there was a lot of military equipment moving about in town," recalled Tatyana Germash, a 55-year-old accountant, interviewed Monday, four days after the attack.
Valery Sakharov, a 64-year-old retired miner, pointed out the spot where he saw the missile launcher.
"The Buk was parked on Karapetyan Street at midday, but later it left; I don't know where," he said. "Look -- it even left marks on the asphalt."
Even before the plane was downed, the AP had reported on the presence of the missile launcher in the town July 17.
Here is what that dispatch said: "An Associated Press reporter on Thursday saw seven rebel-owned tanks parked at a gas station outside the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne. In the town, he also observed a Buk missile system, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet)."
AP journalists saw the Buk moving through town at 1:05 p.m. The vehicle, which carried four 18-foot (5.5-meter) missiles, was in a convoy with two civilian cars.
The convoy stopped. A man in sand-colored camouflage without identifying insignia -- different from the green camouflage the rebels normally wear -- approached the journalists. The man wanted to make sure they had not recorded any images of the missile launcher. Satisfied that they hadn't, the convoy moved on.
About three hours later, at 4:18 p.m., according to a recording from an intercepted phone call that has been released by Ukraine's government, the Buk's crew snapped to attention when a spotter called in a report of an incoming airplane.
"A bird is flying to you," the spotter tells the rebel, identified by the Ukrainians as Igor Bezler, an insurgent commander who the Ukrainian government asserts is also a Russian intelligence officer.
The man identified as Bezler responds: "Reconnaissance plane or a big one?"
"I can't see behind the clouds. Too high," the spotter replies.
The rebel official who spoke to the AP about the incident said that Bezler commanded another fighter, code-named Sapper, who was the ranking rebel officer with the missile launcher at the time.
According to the rebel official, Sapper led a rebel unit, about half of which was made up of men from far eastern Russia, many from the island of Sakhalin off Russia's Pacific coast.
Sapper is from the nearby town of Yenakiieve, he said. The town also happens to be the home of the former president, Yanukovych.
Sapper could not be reached for comment; his real identity is not known. Bezler, contacted on Friday by the AP, denied any connection to the attack on the plane. "I did not shoot down the Malaysia Airlines plane. I did not have the physical capabilities to do so," he declared.
According to the account of the rebel official, however, Sapper had been sent that day to inspect three checkpoints -- in the towns of Debaltsevo, Chernukhino and Snizhne, all of which are within a 20-mile (30-kilometer) radius of where the plane went down. At some point in these travels, he joined up with the convoy accompanying the missile launch system.
At about 4:20 p.m., in the town of Torez, six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne, residents heard loud noises. Some reported hearing two blasts, while others recall only one.
"I heard two powerful blasts in a row. First there was one, but then after a minute, a minute and a half, there was another discharge," said Rostislav Grishin, a 21-year-old prison guard. "I raised my head and within a minute I could see a plane falling through the clouds."
At 4:40 p.m., in another intercepted call released by Ukraine, the man identified as Bezler tells his own superior that the unit had shot down a plane.
"Just shot down a plane. It was Sapper's group. It went down beyond Yenakiieve," the man says.
While the authenticity of the intercept cannot be verified independently, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev said specialists in the intelligence community have deemed it authentic.
As for the Buk, Nayda said, intelligence suggests it went back on the move shortly after the attack.
That very night, he said, it crossed the border, back into Russia.
Leonard reported from Kiev. Other AP correspondents in eastern Ukraine assisted in this report.
Satellite images released by US 'show Russian rocket fire into Ukraine'
• Dossier appears to show blast marks and craters
• US says artillery for separatists has crossed border into Ukraine
Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 27 July 2014 19.20 BST
The US on Sunday released satellite images it said backed up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.
A four-page document released by the State Department seemed to show blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images, which were sourced from the US director of national intelligence, showed heavy weapons fired between 21 July and 26 July, after the 17 July downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, over eastern Ukraine.
All 298 people onboard MH17 were killed.
The memo is part of the Obama administration's push to hold Russia accountable for its activities in neighboring Ukraine and the release could help to persuade the US' European allies to apply harsher sanctions on Russia.
The timing of the memo also could be aimed at dissuading Russia from further military posturing. The Pentagon said just days ago that the movement of Russian heavy-caliber artillery systems across its border into Ukraine was "imminent”.
Russian officials have denied allegations of Russia's involvement in eastern Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on Sunday with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, but details about their discussion were not immediately released by the State Department.
The US images claim to show multiple rocket launchers fired at Ukrainian forces from within Ukraine and from Russian soil. One image shows dozens of craters around a Ukrainian military unit and rockets that can travel more than seven miles.
The memo said one image provides evidence that Russian forces have "fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery provided by Russia in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine”.
Another satellite image depicted in the memo shows "ground scarring at multiple rocket launch sites on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukraine military units within Ukraine."
"The wide areas of impact near the Ukrainian military units indicates fire from multiple rocket launchers," the memo said.
Moreover, the memo included a satellite image that it stated is evidence of self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units "on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine”.
Tensions have run high in the region since Russia seized Crimea in March and Washington has been highly critical of the behaviour of Russia's President malignant tumor Pig Putin. More recently, US intelligence officials have said they have what they call a solid circumstantial case that pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine are responsible for downing the Malaysia Airlines plane.
Citing satellite imagery, intercepted conversations and social-media postings, officials say a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile hit the plane on 17 July.
Moscow angrily denies any involvement in the attack.
US officials said they still did not know who fired the missile or whether Russian military officers were present when it happened. But until Sunday they were unwilling to share proof that the separatists had the technology to down a plane.
Ukraine rebels appeal to WWII spirit with Soviet propaganda
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 28, 2014 7:05 EDT
Pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine are turning to Soviet World War II posters to spread their message of fighting against Ukrainian “fascists” in a part of the world that was flattened by Nazi troops.
“The Motherland Calls!” read one billboard accompanied by a vintage print of a stern-looking Soviet woman against a background of bayonets — jarring next to garish adverts for phone operators, vacuum cleaners and bikinis.
Dozens of posters have sprung up on the main roads in and around Donetsk, a rebel-held industrial city and commercial hub for eastern Ukraine.
“We have put up about 100 of them,” said Yelena Nikitina, the minister of information of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic government.
“We Will Win!” read another poster featuring a picture of a mediaeval Russian knight, the Russian general Alexander Suvorov who fought against Napoleon and a Bolshevik fighter from the 1917-1922 Russian Civil War.
Some of the images have been adapted to fit with modern-day circumstances.
One shows a mother and child cowering as a bloody bayonet is thrust towards them and the slogan reads: “Russian Army, Save Us” — a small but significant alteration from the original Soviet version: “Red Army, Save Us.”
Another depicts a Soviet Red Guard fighter in the Civil War with the date 1918, followed by an image of a Red Army soldier with the date 1941, then a modern-day rebel fighter with a surface-to-air missile and the date — 2014.
“They reflect people’s inner convictions. We almost didn’t have to change them,” Nikitina told AFP in an interview in the rebel-held regional administration building where a sign outside reads: “No to Fascism”.
“The terrible thing about this situation is that after 70 years we still haven’t learnt the lesson. The same slogans still apply now! It’s terrible. We have allowed Nazism to appear,” Nikitina said.
‘Russians made of steel’
Pro-Moscow rebels often portray their insurgency as a war against far-right nationalists in eastern Ukraine — a view reinforced by fighting in civilian areas in and around Donetsk and Lugansk, another rebel-held city.
The main aim of the campaign is to encourage volunteers to join rebel ranks.
One World War II image shows a mother and child behind barbed wire and the inscription says: “Everyone defend our native land: We will not allow Nazi concentration camps in the Donbass” — a reference to the Donetsk region.
Nikitina said there had been a “positive” response to the poster campaign but not everyone in Donetsk appeared convinced about their effectiveness.
“The effect of these World War II designs are exactly the same as they would be for any other posters. People would still join the rebellion. The posters don’t matter,” said Oleg, a 41-year-old walking past one of the billboards.
Other Soviet-like posters have also cropped up with entirely new images and slogans about the current struggle including one about the rebel authority reading: “A Republic of the People’s Economy Without Oligarchs or Corruption.”
Another looks like the poster for the film “300″ about the resistance of 300 Spartans in the ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae against the Persian Empire.
But the image is of Igor Strelkov, a pseudonym used by the rebel authority’s defence minister, a Russian citizen whose real name is Igor Girkin.
The caption reads: “Russians Made of Steel.”
U.N.: Downing of Flight MH17 'May Amount to a War Crime'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 July 2014, 11:34
The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 "may amount to a war crime,” the U.N. said Monday, adding that fighting in east Ukraine has claimed over 1,100 lives with both government and rebel forces using heavy weaponry in built-up areas.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the "horrendous shooting down" of the Malaysian passenger jet in rebel-held territory that killed all 298 people on board, and demanded a "thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation".
"This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime," she said in a statement.
"Every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are," Pillay said.
The Red Cross officially said last week that Ukraine is now in civil war -- a classification that would make parties in the conflict liable to prosecution for war crimes.
The U.N. said that latest figures showed that more than 1,100 people have been killed in fighting on the ground in east Ukraine as both government forces and rebels have increasingly used heavy weapons in built-up areas.
"As of 26 July, at least 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 wounded," the U.N. statement said.
The latest toll marks a sharp rise from that given a month ago on June 18, when the U.N. said at least 356 people had been killed since April.
Pillay described reports of increasingly intense fighting in rebel bastions Donetsk and Lugansk regions as "extremely alarming" and said both sides were "employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles."
"Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured," Pillay said.
Some 100,000 people have now fled the conflict zone in the east for other areas of Ukraine, the U.N. said in the report released Monday.
The report also accused rebels controlling swathes of territory of conducting a brutal "reign of terror" in the areas they control, including the abduction, torture and killing of civilians as the rule of law has collapsed.
"These groups have taken control of Ukrainian territory and inflicted on the populations a reign of intimidation and terror to maintain their position of control," the report said.
Troops Move on Crash Site in Ukraine, Foiling Deal
By ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW HIGGINS
JULY 27, 2014
ZUHRES, Ukraine — Just hours after the Malaysian government reached an agreement with Ukrainian separatists on Sunday over access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner shot down in rebel territory, the Ukrainian military launched an operation to recapture the debris fields, again stalling international efforts to secure the site.
The heavy fighting threatened to torpedo hopes of a breakthrough and cause yet more delays in collecting evidence and retrieving the remaining bodies from the crash. Ukrainian security officials said they needed control over the site to prevent the pro-Russia separatists from destroying clues to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
By Sunday evening, the Ukrainian advance had blocked a road leading from the provincial capital, Donetsk, to the airplane debris northeast of Shakhtyorsk, but it remained unclear whether government troops were in control of all or part of the approximately 14 square miles of debris fields.
Videos posted online appeared to show Ukrainian armored vehicles near the site, and reporters who visited earlier Sunday said insurgents were nowhere to be seen.
The combat spread out along the road in a fluid and chaotic scene, leaving it wholly unclear who controlled what. Fragments of rockets lay on the sunbaked macadam, and columns of black smoke rose along the horizon.
One separatist commander at a checkpoint outside Shakhtyorsk, about 10 miles from the crash site, said the Ukrainians had retaken the area, and a rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, confirmed that government troops were advancing.
“The attempts to clear militia from the crash site irrefutably show Kiev is trying to destroy evidence,” he told reporters in Donetsk. His claim was apparently intended to counter earlier allegations that the rebels had been tampering with evidence to hide their own role in the downing of the plane.
Separatists seemed to be in a state of alarm, driving in convoys of buses and armored vehicles out of Donetsk toward the fighting. They controlled the road as far as the town of Zuhres.
The Malaysian jetliner, a Boeing 777-200, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukrainian and American officials say the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by the rebels. Russia and the rebels have denied any involvement and blame Ukraine.
Ukraine and the United States have said repeatedly that Russia is providing military equipment to the separatists and claim to have evidence that Russia is firing artillery and rockets on Ukrainian military positions.
On Sunday, the Obama administration stepped up its public pressure on Moscow, as the State Department released intelligence images presented as evidence that Russian forces had fired across the border.
The images were said to show charred ground on the Russian side of the border, described as evidence of rocket launches into Ukraine. Another showed artillery pieces of a type found only in the Russian military, pointed toward Ukraine. Other images showed crater impacts inside Ukraine.
It was not possible to independently verify the images. They are from DigitalGlobe, which provides high-resolution satellite images and aerial photos; they were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft. Small groups of foreign police officers and forensic experts have managed to reach the crash site, but efforts to secure it with larger contingents have repeatedly fallen through.
Earlier Sunday, the prospects of a more robust foreign presence at the crash site seemed to have improved when the office of Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia announced in an email that he had reached an agreement with Mr. Borodai “to allow a deployment of international police personnel” to enter.
After the announcement, about 30 unarmed Dutch police officers left the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv intending to reach the debris fields. But fighting stopped the officers after they reached Donetsk, said a spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The Dutch police deployment on Sunday, ordered overnight by the Ministry of Security and Justice in The Hague, reversed an earlier decision by the head of a Dutch police mission in Kharkiv. He had intended to delay movement toward the crash site until a vote on Thursday by the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev that he said would provide a “legal basis” for the deployment of foreign police officers.
The Netherlands, whose citizens accounted for around two-thirds of the crash victims, is leading an international effort to get to the bottom of what happened to Flight 17.
The area is tactically important for the Ukrainian military, which is trying to close access to Donetsk from the east, lest separatists in the city be resupplied and reinforced from the direction of the Russian border.
Clashes flared in half a dozen towns east of Donetsk on Sunday. There was also fighting to the north, with an artillery strike in the town of Horlivka reportedly killing at least 13 civilians.
The longer the crash site remains unguarded, the smaller the chances of recovering evidence. Responding to growing reports that the wreckage and passenger items had been tampered with, Australia said Sunday that it was sending unarmed police officers to the site to prevent any further meddling. Australia lost dozens of citizens on Flight 17.
“Our objective is to get in, to get cracking and to get out,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia said at a news conference in Canberra, the capital. Australia had considered allowing some of its officers to carry weapons, but Mr. Abbott said he had decided against that.
“This is a risky mission, no doubt about that,” he said, “but all the professional advice I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed as part of a police-led humanitarian mission.”
Foreign access to the site has been hampered by problems from the start, with heavily armed rebels initially restricting the movements of foreign experts. In Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said the Ukrainian troops intended to “liberate” the crash site to secure evidence.
The Ukrainian government has been loath to see foreign governments negotiate with the separatist leaders based in Donetsk, the capital of a self-declared republic that no foreign state, including Russia, has recognized. Malaysia has been particularly active in reaching out to the rebel leadership. It brokered a deal last week under which the rebels handed over the plane’s data and voice recorders, which they had seized at the crash site.
Correction: July 27, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly rendered part of the name of the airline whose plane was shot down in Ukraine. It is Malaysia Airlines, not Malaysian Airlines. The article also misspelled, in several instances, the surname of the Australian prime minister. He is Tony Abbott, not Abbot or Abott.
Flight MH17: victims’ remains might not all be found, AFP warns
Intense fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces has reduced the chance of a successful recovery
Daniel Hurst in Canberra
theguardian.com, Monday 28 July 2014 09.04 BST
Australians must prepare for the possibility that not all remains will be recovered from the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine, a federal police chief has warned.
Andrew Colvin, the deputy commissioner of the Australian federal police (AFP), also confirmed he was uncomfortable with the hazards facing unarmed officers seeking to enter the rebel-held area.
In a briefing to the media in Canberra on Monday, Colvin said the AFP was taking steps to reduce the risks and was in direct contact with the separatists via the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
A multinational team cancelled a visit to the wreckage site on Sunday based on an assessment that intense fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russia separatist forces made the mission too dangerous at that stage.
The 49-member team, including AFP and Dutch officers and OSCE personnel, would attempt to gain access to the “highly volatile area” later on Monday but safety considerations remained paramount, Colvin said.
Flight MH17 was shot down on 17 July en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 people on board, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.
Asked whether it was now likely that not all of the victims’ remains would get back to the Netherlands for identification, Colvin said: “I think we have to consider that as a possibility.”
He added: “I won't say it's a likely situation but we have to consider, as we have from day one, given a range of factors, given the spread of the crime scene, given the nature of this disaster, the trauma on the bodies of the victims, and now given these added complications of not being certain about when we’ll get access [and] the environmental factors, we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that not all remains will ultimately be recovered.”
Colvin said potential evidence might be lost if intense fighting continued in the area where the Boeing 777 came down.
He said it was a “possibility” that the multinational team would not be able to enter the site “in the near future”.
“Of course, it takes time to get into the site, it takes time for us to set up and do what we need to do,” Colvin said. “We need to be mindful of how much time is required to be effective on any given day. We don't want to put our officers in danger for the sake of a brief look at the site. We’ve had a look at the site already … the next stage of this is to get in there and start the examination.”
Colvin said access would depend on an assessment that the conditions were “permissive”.
It was a region where the sounds of gunfire and shelling were “a normal part of the day”, he said. The OSCE advanced ahead of the rest of the multinational team overnight and came back with an assessment that the risks were too great.
“We are using the monitors from the OSCE as our intermediaries [with the rebels],” Colvin said.
“I say intermediaries but we are there with them along with the Dutch when we meet with the separatist fighters and those that are in a degree of governance of the area to which we need access, so I would say that yes, we are in direct contact with them.
“We’re certainly very confident in the information we're getting, we’re very confident in the role that OSCE are providing, so we're satisfied with the information that we have available.”
Colvin said the risks were “obvious” and “many” as it was a conflict zone where fighting had intensified overnight.
The prime minister, Tony Abbott, and the AFP commissioner, Tony Negus, said on Sunday the multinational force would be seeking to enter the site unarmed because this was likely to ensure a safer, more permissive environment.
But when asked on Monday whether he was comfortable with sending his officers in unarmed, Colvin conceded that he held concerns.
“Comfortable is a broad word. No, we can't be comfortable, but … we have mitigated the risk, we have dealt with the risk to a point where we wouldn't send our people into a situation where we didn't think that they would be safe,” Colvin said.
“Of course, this is a difficult environment and the Australian Federal Police have deployed on many occasions overseas to do disaster victim identification, to do responses to tragic events and terrorist events. We haven't deployed into a conflict zone in this manner before.”
Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, who has been involved in talks in Ukraine, emphasised that the nature of the Dutch-led mission was humanitarian in nature.
“This has always been a risk,” Bishop said.
“We’re aware that this plane was shot down over a war zone and that news that the fighting has intensified is perhaps inevitable, but we are planning for those risks, we will mitigate those risks and we’ll make sure that our police investigators are safe when they go in and we won’t take steps that would put them in danger.”
The Labor opposition has offered its “full support” for the deployment of AFP officers as part of a Dutch-led unarmed police operation.
“There is no doubt this will be a difficult mission, but Labor has full confidence in the skill and professionalism of the AFP officers undertaking this task,” the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, and its foreign affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said in a statement on Sunday.
07/28/2014 12:23 PM
Stopping malignant tumor Pig Putin: The Time Has Come for Europe to Act
A DER SPIEGEL Editorial
Malignant tumor Pig Putin has ignored Western demands that he cease arming and supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. As such, he shares responsibility for the shooting down of MH17. It is now time for Europe to take tough action.
The Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site is a nightmare, with body parts still lying among the sunflowers. Fully 298 people were murdered here while the entire world became witness to marauding bandits in uniform robbing the dead and taking their dignity in the process.
Here, in the eastern Ukrainian steppe, malignant tumor Pig Putin has shown his true face. Once seen as a statesman, the Russian president has exposed himself as a pariah of the international community. The MH17 dead are also his; he is partially responsible for the shooting down of the flight. And now, the moment has come to force him to back down -- with severe economic sanctions.
Nobody in the West continues to harbor serious doubts that the plane was shot down with a Buk surface-to-air missile system -- one that was almost certainly provided to the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine by Russia. One separatist leader even admitted that they possessed such a system -- and the evidence is substantial.
It may be that the shooting down of MH17 was a tragic error. The fighter who launched the missile didn't likely intend to shoot down a commercial aircraft. Still, the incident is the direct consequence of the recent weeks Russia has spent arming the separatists. It is a symbol of Putin's depravity -- and for the failure of Western policy thus far. The wreckage of MH17 is also the wreckage of diplomacy.
While the West initially imposed but mild sanctions and demanded a policy of de-escalation, malignant tumor Pig Putin repeatedly escalated the conflict while vociferously proclaiming his irreproachability. He continually insisted that he wasn't behind the separatists. This web of lies, propaganda and deceit has now been exposed.
The ties between malignant tumor Pig Putin and the separatists are not difficult to see. While it may not be possible to completely control the men in eastern Ukraine -- that is a problem faced by all who engage in proxy warfare -- malignant tumor Pig Putin armed them and he can curb their activities. All demands that he do so have thus far been ignored. Even after the murder of 298 innocent civilians, there has not been a word of contrition or dissociation from malignant tumor Pig Putin.
Europe can no longer continue as before. The agreement among the European Union's 28 member states to impose severe sanctions on Russia was the right move. Among the measures proposed is a boycott of Russian banks as well as a ban on exporting arms and energy technology. It is now crucial that EU member states this week actually enact the full range of measures to put a crimp in the Russian economy and, should it become necessary, to broaden them.
Demanding tough measures to force Russia to back down is not akin to being a warmonger. The only one who has fanned the flames of war in the Ukraine without constraint and who, since the annexation of the Crimea peninsula, insists on gambling with peace in Europe is the president of Russia. It is imperative that Europeans exhaust all non-military means of bringing pressure to bear on Moscow. The goal is deterrence, not escalation, and for that to work, the measures must be credible.
To achieve deterrence, it is imperative that Europe act together and dispense with national selfishness. As long as France continues to insist on delivering warships to the Russians and the British continue coveting profits earned from Russian oligarchs, the EU will be unable to impress malignant tumor Pig Putin. Germany's government and business leaders deserve praise for their willingness to support severe penalties -- even though they are sure to hurt German exports.
Europe can absorb the consequences of such sanctions. Russia cannot. It is economically vulnerable and is in need of Western investment and technology, particularly in the energy sector.
Still, there is no guarantee that sanctions will rapidly have the desired effect. malignant tumor Pig Putin's initial reaction could very well be one of aggression, the imposition of countermeasures. But chances are that he will ultimately have to give in. His rule has thus far depended on keeping the elite quiet by ensuring that they can continue to enrich themselves. He likely would be unable to resist were Russian businessmen, oligarchs and liberals to exert significant pressure. A further devaluation of the ruble, furthermore, would hurt the population at large, which has supported Putin thus far.
Europe, and we Germans, will certainly have to pay a price for sanctions. But the price would be incomparably greater were the malignant tumor Pig Putin allowed to continue to violate international law. Peace and security in Europe would then be in serious danger.
07/28/2014 12:52 PM
German Foreign Minister: 'European Peace Is At Stake'
Interview Conducted by Nikolaus Blome
In an interview, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, 58, says the downing of an aircraft carrying 300 Europeans convinced EU leaders of the need for tougher new sanctions against Moscow. German industry, he says, is on board too.
SPIEGEL: The EU wants to increase sanctions against Moscow step by step. What gives you hope that the continuation of a policy which has failed to deliver the desired results over the past several months will now lead to success?
Steinmeier: There are no guarantees in diplomacy, and this applies especially to crisis situations. The fact that we haven't achieved a sustained de-escalation does not, however, mean that a different course of action would have been more successful. I don't know if Russia wants to be our partner or our adversary. We will have to see. What is certain is that it will remain Europe's neighbor, and you have to be able to talk to your neighbors. That's why our course is the right one. We will increase the pressure but we will at the same time be prepared to negotiate a de-escalation of the conflict with Russia. After the tragedy of MH 17, the deaths of almost 300 people who were innocent and in no way involved in the conflict, and after the undignified actions of the marauding separatists at the site of the crash, we were all convinced that new, substantial measures were the correct answer to an insufficient readiness on the part of Russia to seal its borders with Ukraine and exercise its influence on the separatists.
SPIEGEL: In practical terms, the imperative of European unity means that sanctions can only be strengthened in lockstep. Is that still the right strategy given the ongoing military conflict and the MH 17 tragedy?
Steinmeier: We're already way beyond that. We, the EU foreign ministers, have charted the course and shown great unity in our decision to increase pressure. On Friday, the sanctions lists were expanded to include companies and state institutions for the first time. In a few days, we will also have the formal basis for sanctions against political string-pullers and supporters. Economic measures are also on the table. We want to spread the burden fairly with targeted rules that can be strengthened or reduced when Russia moves. We hope to make decisions about them in the coming days.
SPIEGEL: Why doesn't the German government want to strengthen sanctions on its own?
Steinmeier: We can only send Moscow the clear message that is needed when all 28 member states work as one. And when it comes to arms deals, it should be noted that Germany stepped into the lead months ago.
SPIEGEL: Is German industry urging the government to practice moderation when it comes to sanctions?
Steinmeier: There is no question about the primacy of politics. Eckhard Cordes, the head of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (eds. note: an organization representing German business interests in Russia), recently said that industry supports our position 100 percent. Of course we also exchange views with industry and take their concerns seriously when we reach decisions.
SPIEGEL: Is Berlin pleased about its role as the final bridge to Pig Putin because it can also be used as a reason for Germany to be more reserved than many Eastern European countries in the EU debate over increasing sanctions?
Steinmeier: Those forced to live under the yoke of the Soviet Union have a different view of Russia than our Western European partners along the Atlantic coast. We are somewhere in between, with our history of having been a divided country, and we approach this role with responsibility. We have always maintained contacts with Moscow and continue to do so because we need them. I will never tire of repeating that European peace is at stake. This conflict could have unforeseeable consequences for all of Europe.
SPIEGEL: Is there a point at which increased EU sanctions could lead the Russian side to react militarily?
Steinmeier: What we expect from the Russian leadership is neither new nor excessive: We want it to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and to not undermine its territorial integrity. What we need are effective controls at the border to Ukraine in order to prevent the infiltration of fighters and weapons as well as a lasting cease-fire that will make negotiations for a political solution possible. I am certain that if external support in the form of money, fighters and weapons is stopped then the separatists' resistance will collapse. I am even more certain that the people of eastern Ukraine recognize that these armed thugs do not represent their interests.
SPIEGEL: Why are the Americans imposing tougher sanctions than the Europeans?
Steinmeier: President Obama is freer when it comes to the decision he makes because of a different legal culture. For us, it's not enough to have an agreement between 28 states. Our decisions have to be able to bear up to legal reviews that can go all the way up to the European Court of Justice. Added to this is the fact that the political, economic and societal links between Europe and our Russian neighbor are far tighter.
In Ukraine, Spent Cartridges Offer Clues to Violence Fueled by Soviet Surplus
By C. J. CHIVERS
July 24, 2014 9:30 am
With its independence in 1991, Ukraine inherited a huge and unneeded stockpile of arms and ordnance from its former Soviet masters. In the years since, the country’s businessmen, security services and cargo carriers, operating in an environment plagued by corruption, have repeatedly been accused of trafficking the surplus in black-market arms deals to Africa and the Middle East. So it was little surprise that this year, after fighting broke out, that Ukraine felt the sting of what had been its own shadowy trade. Exactly the sort of weapons it has long exported found bloody use on Ukrainian soil.
One result so far has been violence in eastern Ukraine that has claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed homes and infrastructure in areas that had not seen combat since World War II. The prevalence of Soviet-era military equipment used in the rebellion and crackdown was obvious from the semiautomatic pistols and assault rifles seen at rebel checkpoints to the glimpses of shoulder-fired, heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles, or Manpads, that were occasionally carried by rebels and apparently used to down several Ukrainian military aircraft, including one strike that killed more Ukrainian soldiers than any other incident in the war. A legacy of weapons from the Soviet period, the SA-11, or Buk surface-to-air missile, was also suspected in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, though the precise origins of that particular missile and the launch vehicle used in that attack are as yet unclear.
Today, At War will look at an element of the conflict that standard images or field reporting does not readily capture, because the details are too small to be seen at a glance, or cannot be viewed at all without magnification: the origins of small-arms ammunition.
Understanding the origins of small-arms ammunition, which usually attracts less attention than big-ticket or high-tech weapons, is important, because in most conflicts it is a primary fuel for organized violence, and accounts for a large share of the casualties and the disruption caused by armed parties. This was certainly the case in eastern Ukraine, where the war began as rebels seized territory with common and relatively simple rifles and other light weapons. This war, like many, gained velocity with small arms, and as the violence from small arms escalated, it grew into a conflict that claimed a civilian passenger jet and the lives of 298 people passing through overhead.
Samples of cartridge cases gathered by two reporters for The New York Times after a pair of intensive fights in early May on the outskirts of Slovyansk, a former rebel stronghold, showed that ammunition for assault rifles used in the clashes originated in plants that once were mainstays of Soviet arms production. These include cartridge factories in the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (now Kyrgyzstan) during the 1970s and ‘80s, and in Russia and Ukraine in the late-Soviet and early post-Soviet years.
What does this tell us? That Ukraine was the latest victim of the same arms-production and stockpiling excesses of the Soviet period, and may have been the victim of its own huge legacy caches.
The details here lie in history. During the Cold War, the territory of Ukraine was to be the Soviet Union’s second line of defense against a conventional Western attack, a buffer behind the Warsaw Pact countries. And during these same years, the Kremlin, still stung by the German invasion in 1941 and alarmed by the United States’ destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs in 1945, had remained on a war footing, channeling the industrial capacity of the Soviet Union’s planned economy to produce weapons in vast quantities.
In preparation for its role as Russia’s buffer, Ukraine became a repository for all manner of Soviet ordnance and military equipment. To Ukraine’s good fortune, this was a front that did not have to be. Then, bad luck intervened again. To the country’s already massive stockpile, more arms were added when the Soviet Army withdrew from Warsaw Pact countries after the Soviet collapse. As the forces slunk home eastward, they carried or shipped much of their ammunition and equipment with them, and dumped huge quantities of it in Ukraine, leaving extraordinarily large, undocumented ordnance caches.
The conditions were set for illicit arms transfers, or to fuel internal war.
In this particular cartridge survey, the expended samples were gathered at the bridge connecting southwestern Slovyansk to the village of Andreyevka, and at an intersection and railroad crossing at Semyonovka, to the city’s east. It was not possible to determine which combatants had fired them, as the bridge and the railroad crossing had been occupied, at least briefly, by both sides shortly before the samples were collected. It is likely the sample contained cases expended by rebels and by government troops.
Almost all of the rounds were 5.45×39-millimeter rifle cartridges, the ammunition fired by the AK-74 line of assault rifles. Several were 7.62x54R, the more powerful ammunition used by both the PK machine gun and SVD sniper rifle families, both of which were used by government forces and rebels.
The primary focus here is on the first caliber. Many conflicts have their signature personal weapons, and in Ukraine, AK-74 variants were it — the weapon most commonly carried by combatants on both sides. This class of rifles, first distributed to Soviet forces in the 1970s, combined the design traits of the original Kalashnikov assault rifle with the concept of small-caliber, high-velocity ammunition fielded by the Pentagon’s M-16 line in Vietnam. The war in Ukraine offered an unusual example of both sides using AK-74 variants on a large scale.
Its presence also created moments of confusion in Internet discussions of the war. Perhaps because the cartridges for the AK-74 series are roughly similar in external dimensions to standard U.S. and NATO 5.56×45-millimeter ammunition, and do not resemble the familiar ammunition of the older and more widespread Kalashnikov line, some commentators declared that 5.45×39 rounds found in the fighting were NATO cartridges. They weren’t.
Our sample size is small. It totaled fewer than 80 cartridges. Fifty-nine of the cartridges were freshly expended, but two of them were intact rounds that were dropped in the fighting. The remainder were unused rounds I observed a rebel loading into AK-74 magazines at a rebel base. Interestingly, but not conclusively, the roughly 20 rounds observed in rebel possession were of identical provenance to expended rounds collected on the ground.
The small sample reflected the limits of field research in Slovyansk, where suspicion of Westerners runs high. Ammunition sampling in any case is often a dicey pursuit. Many combatants and their supporters find it suspicious. Some call it the handiwork of spies.
Nonetheless, with various commentators insisting that Russia was providing the rebels new military equipment (most notably on the false meme that Russia had provided the rebels RPG-30s) or that some of the combatants were using NATO cartridges, Noah Sneider and I wanted to take a slice of the small-arms ammunition and see if we could find anything intriguing or suggestive.
While working on other stories, we gathered the rounds casually, in places where the gunmen had at least briefly drifted away and left behind many spent cases. We pocketed our samples quickly and for a few hours we kept them out of view, until reaching the hotel at night, where I shut myself away, inventoried them, made a photo record of their markings and then bundled them up and discarded them in a communal garbage bin.
In each case, the point of manufacture and vintage of the ammunition was determined by examining headstamps — the markings at the base of a cartridge case imprinted by manufacturers.
We routinely collect this type of data while covering conflicts, and archive it to examine arms-transfer trends. When the data is aggregated or combined with shipping documents or packaging examinations (or shared with fellow arms researchers), we sometimes are able to make observations on a local or regional scale, to confirm retransfers of lawfully obtained ammunition to third parties, to identify the presence of unexpected ammunition in a conflict as part of an arms-transfer fraud, or to participate in multinational investigations that can point to a previously undocumented exporter of cartridges to zones of protracted conflict.
This cartridge case was collected on the Andreyevka bridge. Note at the 12 o’clock position the stamped code 270. During the Cold War, that was the factory code assigned to the ammunition plant in Luhansk, Ukraine. The stamp at 6 o’clock — 77 — is a two-digit code indicating manufacturing year, 1977 in this case. This cartridge is roughly 37-years-old and it had not traveled far: Luhansk is fewer than 80 miles east of Slovyansk.
The city’s cartridge factory, now doing business as Lugansk Cartridge Works, was long part of the Soviet constellation of arms plants. And the date on the cartridge sample found on the bridge suggests one of the tasks its former Kremlin masters assigned it in the mid-1970s — to help the Soviet Union roll out a new service rifle. The AK-74 line had been accepted by the Soviet Army in 1974 (thus the two digits in its abbreviated name), and it required a supply of new cartridges for training and war reserves.
This headstamp pointed to what the overall sample would show. Every case found was from a Soviet or former Soviet plant, and many of them matched years when we would expect high production — either soon after the AK-74 rollout or during the Soviet Union’s long war in Afghanistan, when its ammunition expenditures would have been high.
The factory codes correspond to arms plants that produced cartridges for Soviet forces.
The code 539, upper right, is from the Tula Cartridge Works plant south of Moscow. The code 3 indicates the plant in Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Lenin, east of Moscow on the Volga River. The code 7 matches the plant in Amursk, in Russia’s Far East. And the code 60 was used by the cartridge plant in Frunze, in the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic. (The city shed its Soviet name and became Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, when the Soviet Union fell apart.) The Cyrillic LPZ is a more recent stamp from Luhansk — it is an abbreviation for the Russian-language name for the successor firm at the plant.
Of the 54 rounds collected, only five appeared to have been manufactured after the Soviet collapse. All of these rounds bore stamps from Luhansk.
The presence of the ammunition from multiple Soviet factories that were busily manufacturing standard ammunition for Soviet rifles in the late Soviet period aligns neatly with historical factors at play in Ukraine. Put simply, these rounds, along with the samples from Luhansk, carried the headstamps one would expect in Ukrainian military arsenals and in the unregistered stockpiles from the Soviet collapse. The provenance of the stamps also aligns with rebel claims that much of their ammunition was captured from dispirited government troops, or was purchased from corrupt local police or sympathetic military officers.
This, of course, will not settle any arguments, and it shouldn’t, given the small sample size. (We invite other researchers to gather and pool more data and see where it leads.) Some commentators might want to claim that the presence of cartridges manufactured on Russian soil suggests that a recent Kremlin hand was involved in funneling these rounds to the fighters, and thereby stoking eastern Ukraine’s violence. This sample certainly does not disprove that possibility, as similar cartridges would be expected to be found over the border in Russia, in neighboring countries, and in the pro-Russian enclave of Transnistria. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project posted a video report earlier this month of a sting showing one possible way that arms have flowed into eastern Ukraine from Transnistria. And any smart arms pipeline to the rebels would match headstamps smuggled into Ukraine to those already in Ukrainian stockpiles.
Still, given Ukraine’s arms-trafficking circles, smuggling weapons into Ukraine might not be necessary. And a fuller read of Ukraine’s peculiar stockpiling history means that these cartridges cannot be pinned to any external foreign support by identification alone, and that local sources are more than plausible for much of what was fired at the edges of Slovyansk in May. If that was the case, Ukraine has been suffering from what its corrupt arms dealers once shipped. Its violence, tied to surplus arms far beyond what its military might ever need, and that might better have been destroyed long ago, is a reminder of the many excess stockpiles around the world, all of them latent firepower, waiting for their day.
US says Russia breached nuclear treaty
Obama administration registers objections, accusing Russian military of testing new cruise missile in violation of 1987 pact
Agencies in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 02.58 BST
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev shake hands in 1987 after signing the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which Russia is now accused of breaching by Washington. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev shake hands in 1987 after signing the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which Russia is now accused of breaching by Washington. Photograph: Bob Daugherty/AP
The Obama administration in Washington has accused Russia of conducting missile tests in violation of a 1987 nuclear treaty, calling the breach "a very serious matter" and bringing into the public sphere allegations that have simmered for some time.
The treaty confrontation comes at a highly strained time between the US president and his Russian counterpart, malignant tumor Pig Putin, over Russia's intervention in Ukraine and granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, who exposed widespread surveillance and collection of innocent people's data by US intelligence agencies.
An administration official said Obama had notified malignant tumor Pig Putin of the US objections in a letter Monday. The finding is to be included in a US state department annual report on compliance with arms control treaties due for release on Tuesday.
The US is accusing Russia tested a new ground-launched cruise missile, breaking the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Ronald Reagan signed with Mikhail Gorbachev during the Soviet era.
"This is a very serious matter which we have attempted to address with Russia for some time now," an administration official said in a statement.
"We encourage Russia to return to compliance with its obligations under the treaty and to eliminate any prohibited items in a verifiable manner."
Another official said the US was prepared to hold high-level discussions on the issue immediately.
The US has raised the matter with Russia in the past through diplomatic channels but has not previously made the accusation publicly. Russian officials say they have looked into the allegations and consider the matter closed. The New York Times first reported the US conclusion on Monday evening.
In raising the issue now the US appears to be placing increased pressure on Russia and trying to further isolate it from the international community. The European Union and the United States plan to announce new sanctions against Russia this week in the face of US evidence that Russia has continued to assist separatist forces in Ukraine.
The public finding comes in the wake of congressional pressure on the White House to confront Russia over the allegations of cheating on the treaty. The treaty banned all US and Russian land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 miles (480km) and 3,400 miles (5,470km).
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report
07/28/2014 03:14 PM
The Wake-Up Call: Europe Toughens Stance against malignant tumor Pig Putin
By SPIEGEL Staff
It took the shooting down of a Boeing jet carrying almost 300 people before the EU agreed on the first true economic sanctions against Russia. The Americans want further action, but it is impossible to know if punitive measures can sway malignant tumor Pig Putin.
It was the images. Absurdly tattooed pro-Russian fighters, cigarettes dangling from their lips and Kalashnikovs tucked under their arms, stomping around in the field of bodies and wreckage at the crash site, as if the dead children from the downed Boeing had nothing to do with them. Experts holding their noses as they opened a railroad car full of dead bodies. A seemingly endless convoy of hearses leaving Eindhoven Airport in the Netherlands. And Russian President Vladimir Putin took it all in without losing his composure.
It's usually the images.
It's part of the occasionally cynical business of political experts to refer to a tragedy of this magnitude, and to the endlessly repeated TV images of the suffering of innocent people, as a "game changer." It's the moment that divides the course of a crisis into "before" and "after" -- a time when the public and politicians hold their breaths and take a new look at the situation. But one of the unique features of the European Union is that in the "after" period, it often continues for a time to behave the way it did in the "before" period. Supporting evidence was provided by an exchange from last Tuesday, almost a week after Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 was shot down:
Let's at least do an arms embargo, argued British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
No, you can't even do financial sanctions, responded his French counterpart Laurent Fabius in the hearing room of the European Council building in Brussels.
Prior to the meeting, EU foreign ministers had seemed deeply disconcerted. But behind closed doors, the overriding objective was apparently not to determine how best to force Putin to back down, but how best to protect their own domestic economies.
In the days following, senior representatives of Eastern European member states voiced doubts about their smug cousins from the EU's western member states. It is "simply ridiculous," one representative said.
But by the end of the week, Europe had finally arrived in the "after" phase. The "game changer" had had its effect. It is now all but certain that flight MH 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile system from Russian inventories, a system that hardly would have reached Ukraine without Putin's approval. The 28 EU ambassadors agreed in principle on initial tough economic sanctions against Russia, which they plan to wrap up on Tuesday. In a letter to European leaders, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy wrote: ""I would like to ask you that you instruct your ambassador to complete an agreement by Tuesday." Unless the EU abandons its resolve once again, "we can now pull the plug on Russia and Putin in a very controlled manner," say officials in Berlin.
European leaders are expected to officially approve the new sanctions against Russian banks, companies and private citizens by the end of this week. Despite the summer break, the German government is hoping for a special summit in Brussels. The EU message to Putin, after all, must also be accompanied by images -- symbolism strong enough to be worthy of the pictures from the MH 17 crash site.
In practical terms, the sanctions revolve around oil, natural gas, weapons, high tech and a lot of money. If it weren't for the reality of the war in eastern Ukraine, where people are dying every day, the latest European offensive would be dubbed an "economic war."
Is this the way to stop malignant tumor Pig Putin? And how will he respond?
The EU wants the Russian president to promptly close the border with Ukraine and cut off supplies to the separatists. It also wants malignant tumor Pig Putin to disarm the separatists, recognize the Ukrainian government and guarantee freedom of movement for OSCE observers. The German Foreign Ministry wants even more: a UN police mission with a clearly defined mandate and time frame, to investigate the crash of flight MH 17. "Talks to that effect are already underway with our Dutch and Australian partners," say German Foreign Ministry officials. This would require a resolution in the UN Security Council, to which Putin would have to agree.
Staying the Course
It would be a first test to see if the Europeans' newfound courage has made an impression on the Russian president.
As Western agencies did during the Cold War, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, is now trying to figure out what Putin's advisors are telling him. There are signs that Kremlin hardliners and business leaders are locked in a fierce battle for the upper hand. In contrast to what Western intelligence services believed at the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, cracks now appear to be forming in malignant tumor Pig Putin power structure. This, at least, was reported by the head of the BND, Gerhard Schindler, in a recent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee in German parliament, the Bundestag. He delivered a similar report in the Chancellery a short time later, during the weekly intelligence briefing, sources say. BND officials believe that it is quite possible that some Russian oligarchs will soon place economic interests above the political and try to get Putin to change course.
Sergey Glazyev, 53, is one of the most influential hardliners who want malignant tumor Pig Putin to stay the course. Glazyev is responsible for relations with Ukraine and the Eurasian Economic Community in the Kremlin.
Glazyev calls Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko a "Nazi" and is also calling for airstrikes against Ukrainian troops. He views Europe as degenerate, and the United States as an enemy that is secretly printing enough money to enable it to buy up or ruin Russia. As a consequence, Glazyev wants to seal off his country and make it self-sufficient in key areas. For malignant tumor Pig Putin confidants like Glazyev, EU sanctions are the perfect trigger for such a renunciation of the Western world. If Glazyev had his way, Moscow would cease holding its $472 billion (€351 billion) in foreign currency reserves in US dollars or euros, would replace Visa and MasterCard with "Eurasian credit cards," and would replace Europe with China as Russia's most important partner.
Already, Russian civil servants and politicians are no longer permitted to have bank accounts and own companies or houses abroad, and 4 million police officers, military officials and intelligence agents are not allowed to vacation in the West. In the future, all Russian government employees will be required to drive official cars made in Russia.
A world is taking shape that mirrorsmalignant tumor Pig Putin weltanschauung. It is a world in which Russia, supposedly humiliated by the West, regains its old glory.
Pushing malignant tumor Pig Putin into a Corner
Moscow political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky is reminded of malignant tumor Pig Putin interview-based biography "First Person," published in 2000. In it, the president says: "You should never drive a rat into a corner." And because one shouldn't apply pressure to malignant tumor Pig Putin, who is not a flexible person, says Belkovsky, "we can expect all kinds of aggressive decisions from him now."
So far, malignant tumor Pig Putin has avoided direct military intervention in Ukraine. But according to Western intelligence information, Russia moved heavy military equipment across the three border crossings rebels captured during the recent ceasefire declared by the Ukrainian government in Kiev. And by acquiring anti-aircraft missiles, the separatists have offset the Ukrainian army's biggest military advantage, its air superiority. More than a dozen aircraft have already been shot down.
Since the shooting down of MH 17, malignant tumor Pig Putin has lost any political capital he still had in Europe and the US. And with nothing left to lose, it seems likely that he is approaching tougher sanctions with sanguinity.
Eckhard Cordes, the chairman of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, an organization representing German business interests in Russia, agrees. "In the current situation, too much external pressure can achieve the opposite of what is intended. It does no one any good if we completely force malignant tumor Pig Putin into a corner." Indeed, such a prospect alarms quite a few people in the Russian economy. Oligarchs may be concerned about their billions and their villas in Cyprus, on the Côte d'Azur and in London. But they also know that without machinery and know-how from the West, the Russian economy is doomed.
Of the very few people who have dared to say this openly, one is former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, a liberal. According to his calculations, rearmament, military intervention in eastern Ukraine and sanctions could cost Russia up to 20 percent of its economic strength within a few years. Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was even blunter: "If sanctions were imposed against the entire Russian financial sector, our economy would collapse in six weeks."
America Loses Patience with Europe
The European Union won't go quite that far this week. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are determined not to jeopardize solidarity among the 28 EU countries. They also want to maintain Germany's direct ties to Moscow. Of course Germany also continues to apply a caveat that a source within the Berlin government puts this way: "It should hurt them, but not us."
That's why the only step that is clear at this point is Monday's addition of 15 new names to the current blacklist, which already includes 72 people. The new names include the heads of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and foreign intelligence, as well as the president of Chechnya.
EU-based assets belonging to these individuals will be frozen and those on the list also face travel restrictions. In addition, sanctions have been imposed on almost 20 companies and organizations, mostly based in eastern Ukraine. None of this will be particularly alarming to the Kremlin. One of the companies is a wine and sparkling wine producer from Crimea.
Will the Oligarchs Be Next?
However, the list does not include some of Putin's important supporters. Roman Abramovich, who owes his wealth to his strong ties to malignant tumor Pig Putin, will continue to hold court at London football club FC Chelsea. Alexey Miller, the head of energy giant Gazprom, has also been spared. His company supplies natural gas to much of Europe. "You have to understand," says a government official contacted by phone, "that all of this isn't very easy."
There are still many, many questions or restrictions that essentially constitute footnotes to the agreement that reflect national interests. For instance, the arms embargo only applies to future deals because of the pending sale of two French helicopter carriers to Russia. The extent of restrictions on high-tech sales to the oil industry, which is extremely important for Russia, remains unclear. The same applies to what appears on the list of prohibited products for dual civilian and military use, an area of interest to the German economy. At issue are special materials, certain tool-making machines and high-performance computers. The European Commission estimates that a total of €4-5 billion in trade volume is on the line.
"It's most imperative that we strike the oligarchs," says German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the center-left Social Democratic Party. "And we need to succeed in that regard in the next week." Russian policy rests on the oligarchs' shoulders, Gabriel explains. "We have to freeze their accounts in European capitals and revoke their entry visas." He concedes the German and European economy will feel the consequences of sanctions. "But what would be the consequences if Europe, fearing economic losses, stood back and watched a civil war unfold and innocent people die?"
German Public Supports Tough Action
Meanwhile, other members of the SPD are also losing patience, even with Gerhard Schröder. In light of the latest developments, the former chancellor would be well advised to reconsider his appearances and involvement with Gazprom, says Rolf Mützenich, the SPD's deputy whip in parliament. Even Schröder should know how sensitive the Poles and citizens of the Baltic countries are about the Putin-Schröder alliance. Foreign policy expert Dietmar Nietan puts it even more bluntly: "I have no advice to give the former chancellor. But I would be pleased if he would speak clearly in Moscow and state that a red line has been crossed."
Germans tend to agree. In a poll conducted for SPIEGEL, 52 percent of Germans said they would favor tougher sanctions, even they would lead to the loss of "many jobs" in Germany, while 39 percent are opposed. Some 40 percent of respondents support the German government going it alone, while 59 percent are opposed.
The business community has also gotten the message.
Although the initial sanctions had few direct consequences for them, many business leaders had warned against sanctions -- drawing the ire of the chancellor and other politicians. Now they are changing their position, and Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations Chairman Cordes says: "The EU's current sanctions policy is responsible. The German business community recognizes the primacy of politics. If economic sanctions are approved, we will support them." Small and mid-sized business owners, which form the backbone of the German economy, tend to agree. "It's terrible for me, but the political world has to take action," says the owner of a family owned company that does considerable business in Russia.
Exports to Russia in Decline
A look at their own circumstances has presumably helped businesses rethink their position on sanctions. "The main reason German companies are exporting less and less to Russia is that the Russian economy is sliding into recession," says Klaus Mangold, the chairman of the German arm of Rothschild Bank and also a former head of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations.
Because of the uncertain outlook, Russian companies are hesitant to order German machinery, equipment and building materials. German exports to Russia declined by about 15 percent in the first five months of 2014, and the situation continue to deteriorate in June. However, business with Russia only accounts for about 4 percent of German foreign trade. And the European economy as a whole has also seen few adverse effects of EU sanctions to date. Only a few banks have lost the occasional Russian client who had parked his or her money in foreign bank accounts.
Of course, this would change if the West aimed to strike Russia in its funding of the government and industry. "Money is the nerve of war," said Julius Caesar, a very early European.
"The restriction on arms exports will have little effect on the Russians. They'll simply shrug it off," says banker Mangold. But American sanctions against Gazprombank and the VEB development bank "will really hurt Russia," Mangold believes. Gazprombank is Russia's third-largest financial institution and is 36-percent owned by the eponymous energy group. VEB's role in Russia is similarly important to that of KfW, the German development bank. A total of four banks are now cut off from the flow of money coming from American investors. This is dramatic for the Russian economy. In the next 30 months, Russian companies are expected to have to raise up to $150 billion on financial markets to meet their commitments, and four Russian banks affected by US sanctions account for about one-third of that money. European banks would have even greater leverage, but of course would also incur greater risk. Russian borrowers owe European banks about $155 billion. French banks alone have lent $47 billion to Russian customers, while German lenders have roughly $17 billion in outstanding loans in Russia. "If EU countries follow the United States with similar sanctions, things will be very tight for many Russian companies," says Mangold.
That is, if they do it.
EU Faces Pressure from US
After imposing initial restrictions on lending by the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the EU ambassadors only reached the basic agreement to bar Russian companies with majority government ownership access to the European capital market. Of course, the EU could face pressure from US President Barack Obama to take further action. He's increasingly losing patience, both with malignant tumor Pig Putin and Europe.
Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the influential Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, says: "If the Europeans don't keep up with sanctions, they could be forced in through the back door, because otherwise US authorities could impose punitive measures on EU companies that continue to cooperation with proscribed Russian financial institutions. That would guarantee new tensions between the United States and Europe."
US pressure, which was increased in July, is already affecting European banks. They are reducing their loans to Russia out of fear of being penalized in the United States for not abiding by American sanctions. "Business with Russian banks on the US list has virtually ground to a halt," says a German bank executive.
This comes as no surprise. US authorities recently slapped a $9 billion fine on major French bank BNP Paribas, which had violated US sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Sudan.
The United States is now using this form of "soft power" more frequently, says a prominent German bank CEO. In doing so, it is replacing military intervention, or "hard power," which the war-weary superpower is no longer capable of applying. In other words, the Americans have learned from the Europeans. Now the Europeans simply have to emulate the Americans.
By Benjamin Bidder, Nikolaus Blome, Martin Hesse, Horand Knaup, Christian Neef, Christoph Pauly, Michael Sauga, Jörg Schindler and Gregor Peter Schmitz
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Pussy Riot members take Kremlin to European court of human rights
Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova demand compensation over their 2012 arrest, trial and imprisonment
Alec Luhn in Moscow
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 17.59 BST
Two members of the feminist group Pussy Riot are suing the Russian government in the European court of human rights (ECHR) over their imprisonment for a 2012 "punk prayer" protest at a Moscow cathedral.
Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who were given an amnesty in December after serving 21 months in prison and pre-trial confinement, are demanding €120,000 (£71,000) each in compensation, plus €10,000 in court fees. They argue that the investigation and prosecution violated their rights and amounted to torture.
"They didn't get fair trial here in Russia so they want to get it finally in the European court of human rights," said Pavel Chikov, the head of the human rights legal group Agora, which is representing the two women.
"Plus they want this case to set a precedent that Russians can speak publicly on sensitive political issues, even if this speech is not supported by majority. This is a case about freedom of expression and fair trial first of all."
Pussy Riot came to the world's attention with their protest on 21 February 2012, when they attempted to perform their song Mother of God, Drive the malignant tumor Pig Putin Out in Christ the Saviour cathedral near the Kremlin. Three members of the group were convicted of hooliganism and sentenced to two years in a prison colony in a trial that was widely and sympathetically covered by western media.
The vast majority of Russians, however, were disapproving of Pussy Riot's actions. According to surveys during the trial, 86% of Russians thought its members should be punished. Most favoured a large fine or forced labour.
Yekaterina Samutsevich was given a suspended sentence in October 2012, while Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova served time in far-flung prison colonies, where they went on hunger strike in protest against the harsh conditions they faced. Tolokonnikova also corresponded with the left-wing philosopher Slavoj Žižek in an exchange of letters due to be published in September. They were released in December in what was largely viewed as a gesture of goodwill by the Kremlin before the Sochi Olympics.
The activists, who initiated the complaint in 2012, argue that Russia violated four articles of the European convention on human rights guaranteeing the rights to freedom of expression, liberty and security and a fair trial, and prohibiting torture.
The ECHR's questions to the Russian government on the case earlier this year suggested that the harsh schedule of trial hearings, the glass cage in which the defendants were kept and the heightened security measures could be considered inhumane treatment.
Transport from the court to pre-trial detention took up to four hours, and the women were accompanied by law enforcement officers with dogs at all times.
"People saw them in a glass cage all the time next to police dogs, and the whole thing proved to everyone that they were guilty before they were found guilty by the court," Chikov said. "The practice in Russia where people are put in glass or metal cages in the courtroom has nothing to do with a fair trial and violates the presumption of innocence."
In a 35-page response in June, the Russian government called the complaint "obviously unfounded", arguing that the glass cage is a practice used in other countries and that the imprisonment was a "side-effect" of its desire to protect Russian Orthodox worshippers' freedom of belief.
"Deliberately provocative behaviour in a place that is dedicated to the spiritual needs of believers and is a symbol of the Russian Orthodox community clearly undermines tolerance and cannot be seen as a normal, sincere exercise of the rights of the convention," it said.
Chikov said that he expects to win the suit, after which his clients will seek to overturn their criminal conviction in the Russian courts. Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have pledged to give any compensation they receive to human rights organisations, including their own group dedicated to prison system reform.
Russia ordered to pay $50bn in damages to Yukos shareholders
State sought to bankrupt oil firm, appropriate assets and prevent owner Khodorkovsky from entering politics, rules Hague court
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 13.48 BST
Russia has been ordered to pay $50bn (£29.4bn) to shareholders of Yukos, the formerdefunct oil company that was broken up a decade ago after its boss fell foul of the malignant tumor Pig Putin.
In a judgment against the Kremlin, a tribunal in the Hague ruled that the Russian state had sought to bankrupt Yukos, appropriate its assets and prevent its owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, from entering politics.
The permanent court of arbitration rejected Moscow's arguments that the assets seizure was driven by tax-collection motives, ruling that the state set out to bankrupt the oil firm in "a devious and calculated expropriation".
In a damning indictment of the rule of law in Russia, the tribunal found that the country's courts had "bent to the will of Russian executive authorities" to "incarcerate a man who gave signs of becoming a political competitor".
The judgment is a blow to the malignant tumor Pig Putin, who led the campaign against Khodorkovsky, and is facing the threat of further western sanctions over the conflict in eastern Ukraine following the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The $50bn damages bill, roughly 2.5% of Russia's economic output, is also bad news for an economy the International Monetary Fund deems to be in recession.
Yukos was the largest oil company in Russia when, in 2003, Khodorkovsky was arrested at gunpoint on an airport runway in Siberia. The son of two Moscow engineers and leading light of the Communist party's youth wing during the Soviet era, he had made millions in the controversial privatisations of the 1990s to become Russia's richest man. But he roused Putin's ire by refusing to stay out of politics and served 10 years in jail in what were widely seen as trumped-up charges.
Khodorkovsky, who was released in December after a surprise pardon, renounced his claims to Yukos assets during an earlier trial, and restated on Monday that he will not seek to benefit from the Hague court's ruling. The principal victors are the main Yukos shareholders led by Leonid Nevzlin, Khodorkovsky's former business partner, who fled to Israel to avoid prosecution and has a stake of around 70%. Platon Lebedev, another former executive, who was jailed by a Russian court on tax-evasion charges and was released this year, is another victor. About 30,000 ex-employees of Yukos are expected to share in a $458m pension fund that will pay out once damages are collected.
In a statement, Khodorkovsky said it was "fantastic" that the shareholders were being given a chance to recover their losses, but added that it was sad that "the recompense will have to come from the state's coffers, not from the pockets of mafiosi linked to the powers that be and those of the malignant tumor Pig Putin's oligarchs".
He described the results as predictable for unbiased observers of Moscow's court proceedings. "From beginning to end, the Yukos case has been an instance of unabashed plundering of a successful company by a mafia with links to the state."
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Moscow would "use all possible legal means" to defend its position. But under the rules of the Hague tribunal, which considered 6,500 pages of evidence, Russia has no right of appeal.
The biggest loser could be the state-owned oil company Rosneft, which bought Yukos assets in auctions when the latter's stock was almost worthless. The tribunal concluded that the expropriation had not been carried out to benefit Rosneft, which is controlled by the malignant tumor Pig Putin's ally Igor Sechin.
The payout is worth almost three-quarters of Rosneft's market value and raises awkward questions for BP, which took a 20% stake in the company in 2012
Tim Osborne, a British lawyer and director of GML, the majority shareholder group, rejected suggestions that Russia would not pay the $50bn in damages, saying: "We didn't go into this for a pyrrhic victory to make a point. We went into this to get compensation for the loss we suffered." He warned, too, that shareholders might target BP to collect damages owed. "I think it's safe to say that nobody is safe. We will look at everything and we will take a view and it will be a pragmatic approach."
Emmanuel Gaillard, head of Shearman & Sterling, the lawyer who represented the shareholders, said it could take a long time to collect the damages, but argued that Russia would ultimately pay. "Russia cares about being a powerful international player," he said. "They should respect the rules of the game and I think they will."
Rosneft rejected claims that any claims would be brought against it, arguing that the rulings would have "no adverse effect on its business or assets".
The claim, brought under the energy charter treaty in 2005, amounted to less than the $100bn that claimants had originally hoped for, but is 20 times larger than the previous largest damages award against a government.
Russia has 180 days to pay the $50bn bill, plus $65m in legal fees and arbitration costs, before interest starts accumulating.
David Clark, who was an adviser to the former foreign secretary Robin Cook, said that Putin appeared to be in little mood to yield to foreign pressure, but warned that the economic cost of confrontation was likely to be high. "The malignant tumor Pig Putin's new doctrine of muscular nationalism increasingly points in the opposite direction to Russia's real economic interests."
Coordinated Sanctions Aim at Russia’s Ability to Tap Its Oil Reserves
By PETER BAKER, ALAN COWELL and JAMES KANTER
JULY 29, 2014
WASHINGTON — The United States and Europe kicked off a joint effort on Tuesday intended to curb Russia’s long-term ability to develop new oil resources, taking aim at the Kremlin’s premier source of wealth and power in retaliation for its intervention in Ukraine.
In announcing coordinated sanctions, American and European leaders went beyond previous moves against banking and defense industries in an effort to curtail Russia’s access to Western technology as it seeks to tap new Arctic, deep sea and shale oil reserves. The goal was not to inhibit current oil production but to cloud Russia’s energy future.
The new strategy took direct aim at the economic foundation of Russia, which holds the largest combined oil and gas reserves in the world.
“The biggest edge that Western energy companies still have is their technological edge — that’s why these sanctions have the potential to have significant impact,” said Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Chinese companies can’t step in and provide shale technology where U.S. companies are blocked. They can provide capital; they can provide people. They can’t fill in on the technology front.”
The technology cutoff could be important because Russia is only now at the early stages of developing new Arctic, deep sea and shale resources. Most of its current production comes from depleted Siberian deposits that will eventually run out. And several Western oil companies have been working with Russia to expand their resources.
ExxonMobil has a joint venture with Rosneft, the state-owned oil giant, to develop Arctic oil, and is scheduled to start drilling in the Kara Sea within weeks. BP, which owns 19.75 percent of Rosneft, just signed a joint venture with the Russian firm in May to search for shale oil in the Volga-Urals region.
Even though BP announced higher quarterly profits on Tuesday, its stock was hammered by the sanctions news, falling 3 percent. BP warned investors bluntly that further sanctions “could adversely impact our business and strategic objectives in Russia.”
Dan Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said the new energy measures underscored how much ties had deteriorated. “A year ago, Western collaboration with Russia’s energy sector was one of the bright spots in what had become a dour relationship,” he said. “No longer.”
The carefully orchestrated actions on both sides of the Atlantic were intended to demonstrate solidarity in the face of what American and European officials say has been a stark escalation by Russia in the insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Until now, European leaders had resisted the broader sorts of actions they agreed to on Tuesday, and their decision to pursue them reflected increasing alarm that Russia was not only helping separatists in Ukraine but directly involving itself in the fighting.
They are “meant as a strong warning,” Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said in a statement on Tuesday that was joined by José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. “Destabilizing Ukraine, or any other Eastern European neighboring state, will bring heavy costs,” the statement said.
President Obama said Russia’s economy would continue to suffer until it reversed course. “Today is a reminder that the United States means what it says, and we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world,” he told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.
Mr. Obama said the fact that Europe was now joining the United States in broader measures meant the moves would “have an even bigger bite,” but in response to reporters’ questions, he said it was “not a new Cold War” between the two countries. He also made clear he was not considering providing arms to Ukraine’s government, as some Republicans have suggested, as it tries to put down the pro-Russian insurgency.
“They are better armed than the separatists,” he said. “The issue is, ‘How do we prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine?’ We’re trying to avoid that. And the main tool that we have to influence Russian behavior at this point is the impact that it’s having on its economy.”
The American and European actions were intended to largely, though not precisely, match each other. The United States cut off three more Russian banks, including the giant VTB Bank, from medium- and long-term capital markets and barred Americans from doing business with the United Shipbuilding Corporation, a large state-owned firm created by Mr. Putin. The Obama administration also formally suspended export credit and development finance to Russia.
The European Union adopted similar restrictions on capital markets and applied them to Russian state-owned banks. It imposed an embargo on new arms sales to Russia and limited sales of equipment with both civilian and military uses to Russian military buyers. Europe also approved new sanctions against at least three close malignant tumor Pig Putin associates, but did not identify them publicly.
European governments moved ahead despite concerns that Europe would pay an economic price for confronting the Kremlin more aggressively. While their actions went far beyond any previously taken against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, they were tailored to minimize their own costs. The arms embargo, for instance, applies only to future sales, not to the much-debated delivery by France of Mistral-class helicopter carriers that resemble bigger aircraft carriers. And the energy technology restrictions do not apply to Russian natural gas, on which Europe relies heavily.
The new sanctions could take effect as soon as Friday, though the necessary legal formalities would most likely to take longer to complete, officials said.
On Twitter, the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, praised the decision “on a wide range of sanctions on Russia.” But she expressed unease that France would be able to maintain its naval deal with Moscow. “Unfortunately, nothing to stop the deal of Mistral yet,” she wrote. Lithuania is one of five European Union states that are close to or border Russia.
Mr. Van Rompuy departed from the usual cautious language of Europe’s declarations by condemning Russia for actions that “cannot be accepted in 21st-century Europe,” including “illegal annexation of territory” — a reference to Crimea — “and deliberate destabilization of a neighboring sovereign country.” He also cited the “anger and frustration” over the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over rebel-held territory on July 17 and “the delays in providing international access to the site of the air crash, the tampering with the remains of the plane, and the disrespectful handling of the deceased.”
Although European commerce with Russia will probably decline because of the sanctions, where the measures are expected to more severely affect Russia are the restrictions on the ability of Russian banks to raise money in Europe and the United States. “These sanctions can have quite a substantial chilling effect on the Russian economy,” said Adam Slater, a senior economist at Oxford Economics in London. “That is probably a quite effective way to put pressure on Russia.”
Still, it could take time for the effects to be felt by ordinary Russians, and some analysts expected the Kremlin to shrug them off, at least publicly.
As Sanctions Pile Up, Russians’ Alarm Grows Over Malignant Tumor Pig Putin's Tactics
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
JULY 29, 2014
MOSCOW — Russia, facing the toughest round of Western sanctions imposed since the Ukraine crisis erupted, has adopted a nonchalant public stance, with malignant tumor Pig Putin emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and a new poll released Tuesday indicating a “What, me worry?” attitude among the bulk of the population.
But beneath that calm facade, there is growing alarm in Russia that the festering turmoil in Ukraine and the new round of far more punitive sanctions — announced Tuesday by both European nations and the United States — will have an impact on Russia’s relations with the West for years to come and damage the economy to the extent that ordinary Russians feel it.
Until now, malignant tumor Pig Putin's tactics seemed to be working. Russia was feeding the separatist insurgency in Ukraine without leaving distinct fingerprints — able to press Kiev to come to terms while avoiding a rupture with Europe that would alienate Russia’s business elite. But that strategy is beginning to crumble, battered under successive shock waves generated by the crisis.
More frequent and prominent critics are saying that malignant tumor Pig Putin and the hard-line leaders in the Kremlin overreached by suggesting that Russia, far more dependent than the old Soviet Union on international trade and financial markets, could thrive without the West.
“They were not anticipating the West to make radical moves, costly moves,” said Nikolai Petrov, an independent political analyst. “What is happening is different from what they wanted and what they expected.”
He and others pointed to the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over embattled southeastern Ukraine on July 17 as upsetting the balancing act that malignant tumor Pig Putin had managed to pull off to maintain support from the public, hard-line nationalists, the security services, the oligarchs and the more liberal business community.
“Until this catastrophe, malignant tumor Pig Putin's calculations were pretty good in terms of being able to win any tactical battle,” Mr. Petrov said.
The Kremlin had been counting on its ability to maintain just enough instability in Ukraine to keep the country dependent on Russian good will, while making Europe and the United States cautious about intervening too assertively there.
Right after this weekend, when the likelihood of more serious European sanctions materialized, malignant tumor Pig Putin met with advisers to say that Russia needed to become self-reliant. He was referring to arms production previously done in Ukraine, but the sentiment echoed in other fields.
“No matter what the difficulties we may encounter, and to be honest, I do not really see any big difficulties so far,” he said, according to a transcript on the Kremlin website, “I think that they will ultimately work to our advantage because they will give us the needed incentive to develop our production capability in areas where we had not done so yet.”
Domestically, grumbling over the creeping isolationism has grown louder. Roughly 50 percent of the economy is state-run, and the loyalty of those who direct such companies to malignant tumor Pig Putin remains absolute. But the rest are changing.
“It is still a very polite version: ‘Maybe something is going wrong,' ” said Sergei Petrov, an opposition member of Parliament and the founder of Rolf, one of the biggest car importers in Russia. “They would never say it to you, a foreigner, but I hear more and more critics.”
A former finance minister and a close malignant tumor Pig Putin ally, Alexei Kudrin, voiced rare public criticism of Kremlin policy in an interview last week with the state-run news agency ITAR-TASS.
Mr. Kudrin said he was worried that the Ukraine crisis would drive Russia into a “historic confrontation” that would retard the country’s development across the board.
The business community was dismayed by the amount of anti-Western comments on television and radio, he said, indicating a “fundamental” shift that made the West Russia’s adversary again.
“Things are different in business,” he said. “Businessmen want to work, to invest, build factories and develop trade.”
Some analysts saw that interview as a sign that malignant tumor Pig Putin was looking for a way out, preparing to abandon the Ukraine separatists publicly. They linked it to a similar sentiment in a column in the newspaper Kommersant on Tuesday, by a journalist close to the president, suggesting that he had allowed the black boxes from the Malaysian airliner to be sent to the West because he did not fully trust the information he got from his advisers.
But there has been no direct indication from malignant tumor Pig Putin that he wants to change tacks.
Officially, Russia tried to play down the airplane disaster, which killed all 298 people on board, although some news outlets raised questions from the start. The front page of the government-owned Russkaya Gazeta the day after the crash put the report on the bottom half — the top story was that Russians were eating less bread and potatoes.
The general sense here was that the West was again piling on Russia without evidence — that it was a political issue.
“In my opinion, we face a critical situation today,” Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, told a weekend seminar audience. “But our society does not realize it against a backdrop of patriotic and chauvinistic euphoria.”
That euphoria was rooted in the relatively bloodless, seemingly costless annexation of Crimea in March. The public expected that the rest of the crisis in Ukraine would be resolved with similar ease.
“The situation began changing dramatically after the crash of the Boeing,” Mr. Gudkov said. “According to our research, reaction inside the country was quite weak, but the Western European public has drastically changed its attitude towards Russia.”
Indeed, poll results released Tuesday by the Levada Center showed the Russian public barely concerned about sanctions. More than 60 percent of respondents thought they would have little or no impact on them. Malignant tumor Pig Putin remains hugely popular.
The official attitude was also calm. “We can’t ignore it,” the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said at a news conference on Monday when asked about the expected sanctions. “But to fall into hysterics and respond to a blow with a blow is not worthy of a major country.”
Mr. Lavrov also expressed disappointment that the Ukraine crisis was damaging relations between Russia and the West, but said repeatedly that it was the fault of Western capitals because they had encouraged Kiev to fight rather than negotiate.
“No one is pleased with the deterioration of relations between the partners,” he said. “We are trying to influence the situation in Ukraine to move it from the military confrontation to political negotiations.”
But others were less sanguine as the sanctions piled up.
Beyond sanctions, an arbitration court in The Hague ruled Monday that Russia should pay former Yukos shareholders $50 billion for breaking up the oil and gas company decade ago. The ruling added an element of uncertainty to dealing with Gazprom and Rosneft, the two state-controlled giants of the Russian energy economy that absorbed Yukos holdings.
Economic issues are likely to broaden the split between the more liberal economists and the conservative members of the security services, analysts said. Malignant tumor Pig Putin makes all the crucial decisions, however, and no one is likely to challenge him directly.
“There is a split, but the antiwar party lacks the instruments to forcemalignant tumor Pig Putin into practical action,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister turned opposition politician.
Kremlin officials seeking to break with the West believe that whatever financing they lose there, they can regain from China or India, Mr. Milov said, without realizing that neither banking system is geared to provide the billions in long-term credit that Russian companies routinely got from Western banks.
Indeed, at a recent dinner party, a Kremlin confidant said that the future would be all about “Russian might and Chinese wealth.” Did the West not worry, he mused aloud, that China would be the big winner?
Over all, Mr. Milov said, the outlook seems bleak.
“We are sliding into something which is clearly becoming a long-term standoff, and malignant tumor Pig Putin looks committed and not ready to give up,” he said. “It is a bad sign that everything is becoming a long-term problem.”
Russia takes defiant stance in face of tough EU and US sanctions
Russian officials say focus will shift to domestic market production, but analysts say defence and oil industries will suffer
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.59 BST
As the US and the European Union adopted tougher economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine and downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Russian officials struck a defiant note, promising that Russia would localise production and emerge stronger than before. But analysts in sectors that could be affected by the sanctions – finance, defence and energy – predicted that they would suffer in isolation from the west.
The EU reached a deal on Tuesday evening to cut off Russian state-owned banks from European capital markets and was quickly joined by the US, which denied the state-owned banks VTB Bank OAO, Bank of Moscow and the Russian Agricultural Bank access to the US economy.
In addition, the EU banned any trade in arms or "related material" with Russia, and the US prohibited transactions with Russia's United Shipbuilding Corp, which it classified as a defence company.
Both the EU and the US will also ban technology exports to Russia for deep-water, Arctic or shale oil drilling. The sanctions imposed by the EU, which does far more trade with Russia than the US, will be reviewed in three months.
Shares in VTB, Russia's second-largest bank, dropped by 3% at the start of trading on Wednesday but later regained most of that. The Russian stock market on the whole grew, with the MICEX and RTS indices rising by about 2%.
The Bank of Moscow said in a statement it was focused on its domestic market, and its business "wouldn't suffer at all from the imposed sanctions". Russia's central bank promised to prop up banks hit by sanctions. "If necessary, appropriate measures will be taken to support these organisations in order to protect the interests of their customers, depositors and creditors," it said in a statement.
But the measures are likely to raise the cost of credit in Russia and likely take their toll on the economy. Andrei Klepach, the deputy chairman of the state-owned bank VEB, said on Russian television on Tuesday that sanctions could halt economic growth or even lead to a recession in the country. Previously, Russia has forecast a 1% growth in gross domestic product this year – although the IMF this month downgraded its forecast to 0.2%, citing capital flight and falling investment amid western economic pressure.
Reacting to the sanctions on Wednesday, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's deputy prime minister, who is in charge of Russia's defence and space industries, wrote on Twitter: "Obama's decision to impose sanctions against the United Shipbuilding Corporation is a clear sign that Russian military shipbuilding is becoming a problem for Russia's enemies." Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, tweeted: "Obama won't go into history as a peacemaker – everyone has already forgotten about his Nobel peace prize – but as the US president who started a new cold war."
Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said on Monday about the expected sanctions that Russia for now would not "fall into hysterics" or take retaliatory measures. "I assure you, we will overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy, and maybe we will become more independent and more confident in our own strength," Lavrov said.
But despite Lavrov's statement, a group of ruling party lawmakers said on Tuesday they would introduce legislation to ban auditing and consulting companies from "aggressor countries", including the big four auditing firms Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers. In addition, Russia's consumer watchdog, which has been known to wield import bans for political purposes, placed a ban on some fruits and vegetables from EU member Poland.
Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at Otkritie Bank, said that such measures against "aggressor countries" is not likely to pass because it would have little impact on western economies but would be disastrous for traded Russian companies, which are all audited by international firms. Instead, Russia could adopt asymmetric measures to ban foreign companies or cut off its export, Tikhomirov said.
In response to sanctions, Russian state-owned banks will probably try to sell more debt on the domestic and Asian markets, but will nonetheless have to increase the cost at which they lend money, Tikhomirov added.
For now, Russian banks are not taking steps to ward off the effects of sanctions, because they expect the situation to be short-lived.
"It will be a burden on Russia's central bank and sovereign fund," he said. "The issue for Russian banks and the market in general is not catastrophic, but macroeconomic pressure will increase, as will growth of inflation and of cost of credit."
State-owned banks Sberbank and VTB declined to comment for this story.
In one example of the import substitution sought by the Kremlin, Russia's president, malignant tumor Pig Putin, snorted at a meeting with representatives of Russia's military-industrial complex on Monday night that the country would replace imported components for its arms production, and the impending "technological difficulties" would in the end be beneficial for the country.
"Our task is to insure ourselves against the risk of our foreign partners not fulfilling contracts, and this includes political risks," malignant tumor Pig Putin snorted. "We need to provide for the reliable and on-time delivery of vital parts and components and carefully keep track of their quality."
The remarks appeared directed toward the effects of the expected western sanctions, as well as the end of cooperation with Ukraine, which has been a major manufacturing base for arms components, especially engines for aircraft and ships. In addition, Russia has a large arms trade with France, having ordered not only two Mistral warships from the country but also licensing to produce thermal imagery devices and electronics for its Su-30 fighter jet. Although the Mistral warship contract will go through, new trade in arms components with Europe will be halted. In light of sanctions Russia will likely turn towards the Asian market to supply such components, Igor Korotchenko, editor of the National Defence journal, told the newspaper Izvestia.
But independent defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said that despite Putin's optimism, replacing many of the foreign-sourced components was a "sheer impossibility". He said 90% of defence-industry electronics were produced in the west, arguing that even intercontinental ballistic missiles are not fully Russian-made.
"Self-dependence and doing everything on your own soil, that didn't work even in medieval times, and right now practically all Russian weapons systems use foreign components or materials," he said.
The restrictions placed by the EU on the oil industry are also likely to be painful but not crippling. BP, which owns nearly 20% of Russia's state-owned oil major Rosneft and has been cooperating with it to explore Arctic deposits, said further sanctions "could have a material adverse impact on our relationship with and investment in Rosneft, our business and strategic objectives in Russia, and our financial position and results of operations".
A drilling rig that ExxonMobil and Rosneft will operate as part of its exploration project in the Arctic Ocean left port in Norway two days after MH17 was downed. But further Arctic exploration projects will be put into doubt.
Ildar Davletshin, an oil analyst at Renaissance Capital, said western technologies to drill in the Arctic would not be needed until conventional reserves begin to dry up by 2020, he added.
In response to sanctions, Rosneft is will probably seek to divest from non-core assets and decrease its participation in projects in Venezuela and other countries, he said.
"It's a very connected industry, high-technology components could be produced in Russia or China but it will take time to re-orient," he said.
MH17: Abbott says Australia is unlikely to follow tougher US and EU sanctions
Prime minister says his priority is recovering bodies from the crash site as the US and EU increase sanctions against Russia
Daniel Hurst in Canberra
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 03.44 BST
Australia is unlikely to follow the US and European Union in pursuing new sanctions against Russia as its focus remains on recovering the bodies of victims of the downed flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine.
Tony Abbott played down the prospect of rapidly strengthening Australia’s existing sanctions. The prime minister emphasised his priority was the 38 Australian citizens and residents who were among 298 people on the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 brought down, apparently by a missile attack, on 17 July.
A multinational team, including Australian federal police (AFP), Dutch police and personnel from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has been seeking to enter the site but the fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatist forces has made it too dangerous.
Abbott said the situation on the ground was “very fluid” and the team wanted to try again to access the site on Wednesday. The prime minister said authorities owed it to the victims and their loved ones “to make every reasonable effort”.
“If it doesn’t happen today, we’ll try again tomorrow,” he said on Wednesday. “If it doesn’t happen tomorrow, we’ll try again the next day. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
On Tuesday, Barack Obama announced new US sanctions targeted at the Russian economy including weapons, energy and finance. The US president said the measures were in response to “Russia’s unwillingness to recognise that Ukraine can chart its own path.”
The EU also announced a series of measures against Moscow to restrict Russian state-owned banks from accessing European capital markets, arguing they were a signal that “illegal annexation of territory and deliberate destabilisation” of a neighbouring sovereign country could not be accepted in 21st-century Europe.
Abbott said he was aware of the new sanctions but they were “a matter for the Europeans and others”.
“We already have some sanctions on Russia,” he said. “I’m not saying that we might not at some point in the future move further, but at the moment our focus is not on sanctions; our focus is on bringing home our dead as quickly as we humanly can.”
Abbott’s comments were consistent with his recent remark that Australia was not interested in engaging in “the politics of eastern Europe”.
In the immediate aftermath of the plane coming down Abbott made forthright criticisms of Russia, but since the passage of a UN security council resolution he has sought to emphasise the humanitarian nature of the mission to recover the bodies and secure evidence.
“We are just focused on getting onto the site as quickly as we can,” Abbott said. “We want to get in, we want to get cracking and we want to get out.”
Foreign minister Julie Bishop said the multinational team was carefully considering the risks of any potential mission to the site of the downed aircraft.
“We are assessing the situation in terms of risks day by day, hour by hour, and we will not take any unacceptable risks given that we have unarmed police as part of our humanitarian mission,” Bishop said.
Abbott has previously said the inability to access the site was frustrating and called for all parties to “be as good as their word”.
In an interview with radio 2UE on Tuesday, Abbott said the separatists, the Ukrainian government and Russia had “all said they want the fighting to stop, at least insofar as is necessary for the site to be secured, the bodies to be recovered, the investigation to be assisted and justice to be done”.
The AFP deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin also warned that ongoing fighting in the area might jeopardise the collection of potential evidence. Colvin said on Monday that Australians must prepare for the possibility that not all remains would ultimately be recovered.
07/30/2014 10:33 AM
Europe's Ground Zero: Fairy Tales and Fabrications in Eastern Ukraine
By Christian Neef in Grabovo, Ukraine
There's an eerie silence at the MH 17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, even as a civil war and propaganda battles rage around it. Few here seem concerned that the investigation into the tragedy could influence future ties with Europe.
Alexander Hug isn't really supposed to be here. He hasn't seen his wife and three children, aged four, three and nine months, for weeks and his family came to Kiev for a short visit. Instead of Kiev, though, Hug now finds himself on a road some 650 kilometers (400 miles) away from the capital -- in eastern Ukraine, among fields of wheat and sunflowers. The next village, about a kilometer away, is called Grabovo.
It's the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, fell out of the sky, likely after having been struck by an anti-aircraft missile.
"I experienced the Balkan wars and the Middle East, but what happened here was very extreme," the 42-year-old says, with typical Swiss understatement. But then he loses his composure after all. "This is an unbelievable tragedy of immense scope," he says. "An airplane crashes over a war zone, totally innocent vacationers fall from the sky, and then access to the disaster site is hindered."
Hug is the deputy head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine. He has been monitoring activities at Europe's easternmost edge for months now -- in the "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk that have been proclaimed by pro-Russian separatists. The expectation of the OSCE's 57 member states is that Hug will provide an objective look at what is happening in the region.
Hug first arrived at the scene of the crash 24 hours after the Boeing 777 went down at 4:20 p.m. on July 17. Since then, he has driven the 60 kilometer stretch between Donetsk and Grabovo on a daily basis. On this particular day, he is accompanying three Malaysia Airlines experts, the first who dared travel to the crisis area. They were only allowed access to the site with the permission of the rebels.
The visit took place last Tuesday, five days after the aircraft had been shot down. The rebels claimed that the remains of all 298 of the dead had been recovered, but the stench of death among the wreckage told a different story. Hug says he has seen "body parts all over the place."
Evidence for the depth of the tragedy that occurred here is everywhere. There is a Bali travel guide still lying there, as is the children's toy that was shown on television. There's also a folder with the floor plans for a new home -- a dream that had nearly been attained by a young Dutch family that perished in the crash.
Investigation Will Determine Future Relations
Grabovo is Europe's Ground Zero -- a crime that must be resolved, because the findings are likely to determine how Europe deals with a Russian that is supporting self-proclaimed separatists in eastern Ukraine, both paying and equipping them. Europe has already indicated that it is losing patience with Moscow, and on Tuesday imposed the toughest round of sanctions yet.
Here, though, nobody seems overly concerned about the implications of the crime, with the exception of Hug, a tall man of 6'4" wearing a blue-checkered shirt, a bullet-proof vest and a white OSCE armband as he directs the gaggle of journalists who have descended on the site. The other exceptions are the trio of Malaysian experts who can be seen roaming the fields with backpacks and cameras.
As had been the case for days, apart from Hug and the Malaysians, the crash site was devoid of any guards or teams of investigators and was open to anyone, including plunderers. The rebels have even taken away aircraft parts and presented them like trophies at checkpoints located kilometers away.
The world outside of eastern Ukraine may be shaken by this disaster -- indeed, the UN Security Council showed rare unanimity when it demanded that an international investigation be conducted. But none of that is tangible on the ground here. So far, little has been done to clarify what happened. Instead there has been a lot of finger-pointing. What is clear is that the death of 298 people has opened a new round in the battle over Ukraine, with each side now feeling its position has been validated.
One gets a sense for this about 10 kilometers away from Grabovo, where parts of the fuselage and luggage bins lie. Village residents have placed signs along the road reading, "Stop the genocide in Donbass," or "Rescue our children from the Ukrainian army!"
You can also get a sense for it on a road near Grabovo, where a woman wearing a summer dress and high heels suddenly appears holding shell fragments in her hand. Speaking to the gathered journalists, who represent publications from all over the world, she says she comes from Shakhtarsk and claims her hometown had just been shelled with such projectiles by the Ukrainian army. That, she says, should be investigated, adding that it was much more important. How she managed to get to us from Shakhtarsk, located over 20 kilometers away, and why she appeared just at that moment remains unexplained.
Then a rebel "press officer" wearing an exotic uniform comes down the street and talks about the West's crimes. "The usual rhetorical polemics," Hug notes.
On the same day, the Security Council of Russia held a meeting in Moscow to address the crash of Flight MH 17. Yet again, malignant tumor Pig Putin repeated his allegation that "neo-fascist, fundamentalist forces had used arms to seize power in Kiev." He went on to describe the separatists as a "part of the population" that disagrees with the developments in Ukraine.
Russians Call the Shots
The disgruntled segment of the Ukrainian population that malignant tumor Pig Putin refers to is represented near Grabovo by the woman in the summer dress and the 10 heavily armed men of the "People's Republic," who, while claiming to be protecting OSCE staff, are more likely present to keep watch over them. The armed men are wearing brand new camouflage uniforms with patches that read "Sevastopol, City of Heroes," and "The Crimean Spring." One, a young man with a headband and long hair holding a Kalashnikov in his hands and carrying a pistol in his waist belt, tells a Russian television team that he's also from Moscow. When asked where, he says he's from the city's Cheryomushki district. When asked what he does there, he responds by saying he sings in the church choir -- and he has the voice and looks to back it up. He means it seriously. But then he adds, "I'm here voluntarily."
He's just as Ukrainian as Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the "People's Republic of Donetsk" who also hails from Moscow. When Borodai handed MH 17's flight recorder over to the Malaysia Airlines experts, they referred to him as "your excellency," just to play it safe. For some time now, it has been leaders from Moscow and not local forces who have been calling the shots in the separatist republic. It's a subject that neither Putin nor the Russian media have shown much interest in addressing. Instead, the public defamation of Ukraine by Russia has reached new heights in the wake of the MH 17 crash.
That too is palpable in Grabovo. A correspondent for Russia's Channel One does a stand-up report from the edge of the wreckage area for the evening news. In it, he claims that the government in Kiev has done everything it could to prevent international experts from getting to the crash scene. Then a Russian news agency issues a report claiming that the Malaysian aviation experts and their OSCE escorts came under fire by Ukrainian fighter jets on their way to the crash site.
The reports are just as untrue as the majority of what Russian television stations broadcast from the separatist republics each day. There is, for example, the report that air traffic controllers, located 270 kilometers away in Dnipropetrovsk, a city under the control of a governor friendly to Kiev, instructed Flight MH 17 to change its path in order to make it easier for Ukrainian fighter jets to shoot it down. European air traffic safety regulators have long since refuted reports of a course change and have stated that the aircraft followed its originally planned route. Few residing between Moscow and Donetsk are interested in hearing that, however. People even believe the most absurd reporting on the disaster, like stories claiming that MH 17 had been carrying corpses when it took off from Amsterdam. It's a fairy tale that is repeated incessantly on countless Russian news broadcasts.
The separatists and Moscow alike have indignantly denied that a Buk surface-to-air missile shot MH 17 down. They have also vehemently denied that rebels could even have been in possession of the air defense system. They claim that evidence in the form of photos and recordings of conversations have been fabricated by the Ukrainians and the Americans.
But on Wednesday, Alexander Khodakovsky, a rebel leader in Donetsk and commander of the notorious Vostok battalion, told Reuters that rebels did in fact possess the Buk missile system and that it could have come from Russia. Khodakovsky later retracted his statements, but the recording of the interview shows that it is in fact precisely what he said.
OSCE official Hug has almost daily dealings with the rebels. Twice since April, he has had to intervene to secure the freedom of Western hostages held by them.
He says he only continues to speak with Borodai or his deputy, adding that they generally do what they say, "at least to a certain degree." He notes that "we've known for some time now that there is quarreling among the rebels and that there are differences between the political level and their armed forces." He describes it as a "thicket of alliances," with many acting on their own.
War Continues Unabated
In exactly this moment, heavy shelling begins around 20 kilometers away from Grabovo in Snizhne, the town from which it is believed the rebels fired the missile that brought down Flight MH 17. The impact of the rockets in Snizhne is visible from as far away as the crash site. Despite the tragedy, the war continues unabated here.
Just a few days later, rebels in the area again shoot down two planes, Ukrainian Air Force SU-25 fighter jets. In recent weeks, they have shot down 14 aircraft. Evidence is overwhelming that the Malaysian Airlines Boeing was among them.
The developments have led to political radicalization in Ukraine as well. Last week, President Petro Poroshenko ordered a partial mobilization for the third time, saying he needed 60,000 soldiers for deployment in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, he also got the opportunity for new elections after the parties backing him quit the government coalition. It is now likely that the final remaining members of parliament from the party of Poroshenko's deposed predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, will be voted out of office. In addition, the Communist Party, which remains strong in the separatist areas, is expected to be banned.
A 'Russian Lockerbie'
Behind the scenes in the Kremlin, away from the official television propaganda, uncertainty is beginning to spread. malignant tumor Pig Putin himself has seemed agitated and nervous in his latest television appearances.
Voices claiming that Russia's intervention in eastern Ukraine has turned into a disaster are growing louder, as are those who consider the shooting down of MH 17 to be a turning point. Moscow-based journalist and columnist Yulia Latynina described the events as a "Russian Lockerbie." And the editor-in-chief of the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta is even predicting malignant tumor Pig Putin's descent to the status of political "pariah" because he armed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
A program on radio broadcaster Echo of Moscow, which is at least half-way independent, came to the conclusion last week that the situation had blindsided Putin. Political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky said in the program that the president had come across as being quite optimistic prior to the shooting down of MH 17. The separatists had encircled the Ukrainian army south of Donetsk and malignant tumor Pig Putin believed he was on the verge of being able to force the West to negotiate over Ukraine's fate. That, Belkovski believes, was the goal of malignant tumor Pig Putin's interference in Ukraine all along. But the shooting down of the aircraft has altered the situation and Moscow's support for the rebels wound up costing the lives of 298 innocent people. "This has made clear once and for all that malignant tumor Pig Putin can no longer disentangle himself from the separatists."
Alexander Hug is still at the site of the downed plane, with the wreckage in sight. He says he doesn't want to comment on any of this. "The OSCE has no political agenda," he says, "and that's what makes it possible for us to be in the combat area of the rebels." He says his most important mission is making sure that the world finally has access to the crash site in Grabovo.
In the meantime, supporters of the separatists continue living in their own world. On the way back to Donetsk, which was being shelled by the Ukrainian army at the time, a young man could hardly hide his excitement. He was very certain, he said, that malignant tumor Pig Putin's troops, "would invade" this week. "Finally."
Belarus to host Ukraine crisis talks
President Petro Poroshenko wants discussions with Russia and OSCE to focus on securing access to MH17 crash site
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.46 BST
Belarus is to host talks between Ukraine, Russia and OSCE representatives on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, President Alexander Lukashenko's office has said.
It did not say when the meetings would take place but the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, asked Lukashenko to host the talks on Thursday, and to focus on securing access to the site where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was brought down in east Ukraine this month.
Fierce fighting has prevented officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reaching the crash site for several days.
There was no indication pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukraine's army would attend the talks, although Lukashenko's office said "all interested sides" were invited.
The talks were expected to involve Russia's ambassador to Kiev, Mikhail Zurabov, and former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who have met several times since the crisis began but have failed to secure a breakthrough.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine prevented OSCE representatives from reaching the crash site on Tuesday for the third successive day.
"Decisions are being made on a political level on ensuring safety on the site," Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE in Ukraine said on Wednesday. "Today, as far as we know, we won't be going there."
An OSCE convoy had earlier on Wednesday been stopped by rebels about six miles outside the city of Donetsk because of fighting further along the route, but OSCE officials later denied the team had been trying to reach the crash site.
Poroshenko wants the talks in Minsk to also discuss the release of hostages Kiev claims are being held by the rebels in east Ukraine, the Ukrainian president said in a statement on Facebook.
He appears to have turned to Belarus for help because the former Soviet republic is a Moscow ally but also has a solid relationship with Ukraine.
The regional authorities in Donetsk, one of the regions worst hit by the fighting, said on Wednesday morning that 19 people had been killed in the past 24 hours.
Kiev's military offensive has forced the rebels out of some areas they held, apart from their strongholds in and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and fighting has intensified since the airliner was brought down on 17 July killing all 298 people on board.
The west believes the separatists probably shot the plane down by mistake and has accused Russia of arming them. Moscow denies this.
Ukraine rebel chief Igor Bezler threatens to execute interviewer
Nicknamed the Demon, leader said to be behind MH17 crash ends rare interview after exploding into a rage and shouting: ‘Don’t think I won’t shoot you’
Shaun Walker in Gorlovka
Tuesday 29 July 2014 23.59 BST
With a walrus moustache, a fiery temper and a reputation for brutality, Igor Bezler is the most feared of all the rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine. Nicknamed Bes, or “the Demon”, he is regarded as something of a loose cannon, even by other rebels, who speak about him in hushed tones. If the Ukrainian security services, the SBU, are to be believed, the Demon and a group of his men were responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the region a fortnight ago.
According to the recording of a phone call allegedly made two minutes before the disaster, the Demon was told: “A bird is flying towards you.” He asked whether it was small or big, and was told that it was hard to see, as it was flying high above the clouds. In another recording, apparently made 20 minutes later, the Demon reported to his interlocutor, supposedly a Russian intelligence official, that a plane had been shot down. Bezler said the recording was real, but referred to a different incident: as well as allegedly bringing down MH17, the rebels have shot down 10 Ukrainian aircraft.
The Demon hardly ever gives interviews, but a Russian journalist and I managed to secure one, so we set off last Thursdayto visit his headquarters in the town of Gorlovka, a 40-minute drive along deserted roads from the regional capital of Donetsk.
Previously a normal east Ukrainian town, with decaying Soviet-era industrial plants and a political elite that skimmed off the financial flows that might have helped lift it from its decrepit state, Gorlovka has become the Demon’s fiefdom in the three months since the uprising started.
At the entrance to the town was a checkpoint with barricades of sandbags and armoured personnel carriers pointing their guns at the road. It was manned by rebels armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The man on the post, who introduced himself as Gorynych – a three-headed dragon of Russian folklore – did not want to let us pass, but we explained we had an interview with the Demon himself. Phone calls were made, and we were allowed to enter the town.
Arriving at the government building that the Demon’s fighters had seized at the start of the uprising, we were led through several barricades, made up of sandbags and stacked ammunition boxes, and brought to the first floor, where there was a waiting area for those who sought an audience with the Demon. On the wall, there was a portrait of Vladimir Lenin and one of Soviet-era bard Vladimir Vysotsky, with the caption: “A thief should sit in prison.”
Periodically, fighters came dashing up the stairs with news for the boss. Before they entered his office, they had to leave their telephones and weapons on a table. One man with a Cossack fur hat deposited two pistols, a Kalashnikov, a foot-long dagger and an iPhone 5 on the table before he was allowed into the Demon’s inner sanctum.
While we waited, a group of fighters made us tea in plastic cups with a lilac-coloured kettle, and we talked about life in the warzone. The rumble of shelling in the distance was audible. It had been getting closer every day, said the fighters, as the Ukrainian army continued retaking towns, not without civilian loss of life.
Some of the fighters were locals; others had come from Russia and attended a training camp in Rostov, across the border, before being sent to the Demon (pictured below). One was a local who had lived in Moscow and worked as a lighting engineer for photo shoots. He found holding up an umbrella all day demeaning work, and longed for something more meaningful. When the insurgency started, he returned to his home town, and now he looked every inch the fighter, with a flowing beard, irregular fatigues, and a waistcoat with pockets for knives and ammunition.
The fighters showed me a room in disarray, filing cabinets tipped over and documents strewn across the floor. In the corner, incongruously, was a petting zoo of 10 rabbits. One of them was a huge, white specimen that the fighters had nicknamed Yatsenyuk, after the leader of the Maidan protests in Kiev, who went on to become prime minister and resigned last week. They said they planned to skin, cook and eat Yatsenyuk soon. It was unclear if they were joking. In the bathroom, instead of toilet paper, a copy of the Ukrainian legal code sat on the holder, half of its pages ripped out.
The door to the Demon’s office opened and the man himself emerged, cigarette in hand, wearing a telnyashka – the stripy Russian naval vest – underneath military fatigues. In an instant the fighters were on their feet, standing rigid and saluting. One meekly explained that two journalists were waiting to see him.
“I’m busy. We will talk later. For now, show them the prisoners,” he snapped, striding down the stairs surrounded by heavily armed men.
The Demon was born in Crimea as Igor Bezler and lived for a long time in Russia before moving to Gorlovka, where he worked for a time as the director of the local funeral parlour. The SBU claims he is a Russian military intelligence agent who coordinates his actions directly with Moscow. He is one of a number of key commanders of the rebel movement who Kiev claims are Russian agents, including the mysterious figure of Igor Girkin, nicknamed Strelkov or “the Shooter”, the commander-in-chief of the Donetsk resistance. An enthusiast of military re-enactments, Strelkov himself has admitted he was a Russian agent until last year, and that he took part in the Russian takeover of Crimea.
It is possible that men like Bezler and Strelkov are not directly carrying out Moscow’s orders but are proxy agents with handlers two, three or four steps removed from the Kremlin or other official Russian structures; players who can be directed from Moscow but who are also liable to go rogue at any time.
Bezler, Strelkov and many of the other commanders in the patchwork of rebel groups in eastern Ukraine have all taken hostages. At the headquarters in Gorlovka, we were led down to the ground floor and into two small rooms filled with mattresses. In one of the rooms I met Vasyl Budik, a local journalist arrested for supposed links to Pravy Sektor, a Ukrainian far-right group. He had been a prisoner for nearly three months, and was subjected to a mock execution on video to pressure Kiev into agreeing an exchange of the remaining prisoners. There was also a 64-year-old Swede, who did not want to say what he was doing when captured (though he said he was not involved in combat), and a number of Ukrainian soldiers. One of them was with his wife; she had travelled from Kiev and voluntarily entered captivity so she could be with her husband.
As we talked, guards came for Budik and took him up to the main courtyard. A van had arrived, serving as an impromptu hearse, carrying the body of a rebel fighter who had died in combat. The Demon and the other fighters crowded round the open doors of the van to glance at the open coffin and pay their respects. Budik was also emotional.
“I knew him well, since he was eight years old,” he said. “My wife and I would bring in homeless kids or orphans and try to give them a decent upbringing. I taught him boxing, tried to give him a grounding in life. I helped him out a lot. He was a good lad.”
I remarked what an extraordinary testament it was to the mindless, fratricidal nature of the conflict that he was mourning the death of one of his captors. Budik chuckled. “You think that’s weird. They’ve got a high-ranking SBU official as a prisoner here, and one of his in-laws is guarding him,” he said.
The Demon materialised outside the rooms holding the hostages and told us he was ready to talk, but as we turned to walk to his office, he became agitated over the question of why he keeps hostages. He looked at us with furious eyes.
“The only reason they are here is because they are Ukrainian army soldiers,” he said, gesturing at the rooms with the hostages in. “Those who are fighting with the Ukrainian army, we keep as prisoners. Those who are fighting with volunteer battalions, we question them and then shoot them on the spot. Why should we show any pity to them?”
His voice grew louder as he grew more angry. “You should see what they have done to my people. They chop off their heads and shit in the helmets! They are fascists! So why should we stand on ceremony with them? Questioning, an execution, that’s it. I will hang those fuckers from lampposts!”
By this point he was shouting at the top of his voice, and suddenly noticed that the Russian journalist I was with had her Dictaphone on, and that I was making notes in my notebook. He grabbed the Dictaphone from her hands and ordered one of the fighters to throw it at the wall. Pulling my notebook from my hands, he began to rip out the pages frantically.
Protesting only made things worse. He barked commands at his subordinates: “Burn their notebooks! Seize their electronics! Search everything for compromising material and then destroy it! If you find anything, execute them as spies!”
Working in eastern Ukraine has been difficult for all journalists and anger and threats are commonplace. This was the first time, however, that I felt a very real sense of danger. “Don’t think for one minute I will hesitate to have you shot,” he yelled at the pair of us.
We were taken into a room where our bags were rummaged through by underlings, the gravity of the situation underlined by just how scared the rebel fighters themselves appeared to be.
Twenty minutes later, as a nervous woman was methodically flicking through our possessions and I was clandestinely deleting all photographs and messages from the phone in my pocket they had not noticed, the Demon appeared at the door again, smoking a cigarette. He had calmed down, somewhat. “Give them back their things. Drive them to the checkpoint, kick them out and never let them in,” he barked. We left hastily, and I never did get to ask the Demon about his alleged role in shooting down MH17.
I may never get another chance. Three days after our visit, on Sunday, Gorlovka was ruthlessly shelled with Grad rockets. Meaning “hail” in Russian, the Grad can launch up to 40 rockets in a matter of seconds, and is a spectacularly imprecise weapon designed to inflict maximum casualties. The missiles hailed down on central Gorlovka without warning, with plumes of smoke rising from buildings across the town.
The Demon was not there when the attack came; the Ukrainians say he has fled, his fighters say he left Gorlovka on a mission. But the missiles missed the headquarters anyway, coming down in various residential areas.
As the conflict enters what looks like an endgame, both sides are more resolute than ever. When the bodies began to fall from the sky earlier this month, the downing of MH17 seemed like an event so outlandish, so gruesome, that some thought it might just act to jolt the players in the region’s conflict to their senses.
A collateral massacre whose victims had no stake in the conflict on the ground, it was surely enough to end a war that has appeared largely manufactured, but has nevertheless cost hundreds of civilian lives.
Instead, the fighting has intensified. The pro-Russian rebels have continued to down Ukrainian planes and Kiev claims Russia is still funnelling weapons and fighters across the border. Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, have intensified their attacks on the rebels and appear to have used indiscriminate missile systems against civilian areas. The conflict, far from calming down, has entered its most vicious stage yet.
Around 13 people died in Gorlovka on Sunday, including a mother and her young child. A haunting photograph of the pair lying on the ground, the mother’s body badly mangled but one arm still cradling the corpse of her child, was shared on social media and led to another round of both sides loudly blaming the other for the atrocity.
The headquarters of the Ukrainian anti-terrorist operation denied it had used Grad missiles on Gorlovka, instead blaming the rebels, saying they had carried out the attack to “discredit the Ukrainian army” among the town’s residents.
Ukrainian forces have repeatedly denied using Grads against residential areas, and it is true that both sides have the missile launchers in their arsenals. However, Human Rights Watch found that on the outskirts of Donetsk there was compelling evidence that shelling had come from Ukrainian positions.
The rebels have a healthy supply of weaponry and, if Kiev is believed, are still receiving shipments from Russia. But they are no match for the sheer size of the Ukrainian army and the various volunteer regiments fighting on Kiev’s side, whatever state of disarray the government forces may be in.
Deep down, they all expect to die here. One of the Demon’s men, a jovial Muscovite, gave us a number to call so we could tell his relatives where to find his body when he is killed. None of his family knew he had come to Ukraine to fight. “There is nowhere for us to go now. We will fight until the end, until the last drop of our blood is spilled and the last one of us is dead,” he said.
The question is how much more civilian blood will be spilled before that happens.
Moscow may walk out of nuclear treaty after US accusations of breach
Russia said to be on point of leaving 1987 treaty, after Obama administration said it violated the accord with tests of R-500
Alec Luhn in Moscow and Julian Borger
The Guardian, Tuesday 29 July 2014 12.38 BST
Russia may be on the point of walking out of a major cold war era arms-control treaty, Russian analysts have said, after President Obama accused Moscow of violating the accord by testing a cruise missile.
There has been evidence at least since 2011 of Russian missile tests in violation of the 1987 intermediate range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, which banned US or Russian ground-launched cruise missiles with a 500 to 5,500-mile (805 to 8,851km) range. But the Obama administration has been hesitant until now of accusing Moscow of a violation in the hope that it could persuade Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to stop the tests or at least not deploy the weapon in question, known as the Iskander, or R-500.
Washington has also been reticent because of the technical differences in definition of what constitutes the range of a missile under the INF treaty. That ambiguity now seems to have dropped away. According to Pavel Felgenhauer, a defence analyst and columnist for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Russia has indeed broken the treaty by testing the R-500 which has a range of more than 1,000km.
"Of course, this is in gross violation of the 1987 treaty, but Russian officials including malignant tumor Pig Putin have said this treaty is unfair and not suitable for Russia," Felgenhauer said. "The United States doesn't have [medium-range missiles] but other countries do have them, such as China, Pakistan and Israel, so they say this is unfair and wrong."
Russian press reports have suggested the missile may even be in deployment, with state news agency RIA Novosti reporting in June that the "Russian army currently uses its Iskander-M and Iskander-K variants." Felgenhauer said he doesn't believe the missile has been deployed, although he said it's entirely possible that Russia will leave the treaty amid tensions with the US.
"The present situation of a new cold war in Europe – and not even cold, at least not in Ukraine right now – it's a situation in which Russia can abrogate the 1987 treaty, and the possibilities are rather high," Felgenhauer said.
Russian officials have previously criticised the 1987 treaty, including former defence minister Sergei Ivanov. In 2013, Ivanov, then presidential chief of staff, said of the treaty: "We are fulfilling it, but it can't last forever."
According to Kremlin-linked analyst Sergei Markov, Russia has a far greater need for medium-range cruise missiles than the |US, because military rivals including China are located near its borders and because Moscow lacks the Americans' long-range bombing capabilities.
"Russia would be happy to leave this agreement, and I think Russia is using the Ukraine crisis to leave the agreement," Markov said.
As for Russia's complaints about US aegis missiles, Felgenhauer said they reflect the genuine belief among Kremlin top brass that the US missile defence has a secret attack capability and poses a threat to Russia.
"This was a normal Soviet practice that missile interceptors had the in-built capability to be used as an attack missile," Felgenhauer said.
Russia in Fresh War Games as Ukraine Lodges Complaint
by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 July 2014, 14:05
Russia has launched fresh war games involving S-300 surface-to-air missiles on its southern flank as Ukraine demanded that Moscow explain separate three-day drills close to the border.
The war games involving S-300 missiles, SU-24 attack aircraft and MiG-31 supersonic interceptor jets are taking place in the southern Astrakhan region and will end on Friday, a spokesman for the Central military district told AFP on Thursday.
The goal of the drills is to repel "a massive rocket strike," the defense ministry said in a statement.
The defense ministry spokesman, who requested anonymity, said the military maneuvers had been planned in advance, adding they were not linked to a spike in tensions with the West over Ukraine after the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet this month.
Separately, Russia's air and space defense forces will in August conduct drills involving S-300 surface-to-air missiles and their next-generation version, the S-400, as well as the Pantsir-S1 air defense systems, a spokesman said.
The spokesman for the air and space defense forces, Dmitry Zenin, told AFP that troops in charge of Moscow's air defense will participate in the drills which he said had been planned a year ago.
The fresh drills -- the latest in a series of high-profile military maneuvers Russia has staged over the past few months -- come as ties with the West over Ukraine have sunk to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
Kiev on Thursday demanded that Russia explain its "military activities close to the border with Ukraine."
The Ukrainian foreign ministry said it was especially concerned by "large-scale" three-day drills involving aircraft in Russia's southern Rostov and Stavropol regions.
The drills began on July 29, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said.
Citing the Russian defense ministry, it said the drills involved the launch of missiles as well as fire support operations for advancing troops.
Kiev added that Russian drones kept illegally flying over the border, claiming that the transfer of sophisticated weapons including air-defense systems to Moscow-backed rebels was continuing.
"Ukraine called on the Russian Federation to take urgent measures with a view to immediately halting such illegal activities," the foreign ministry said.
Kiev said it had sent Russia an official request in line with the Vienna Document 2011 on military confidence- and security-building measures to which both countries are parties.
According to the Vienna Document 2011, Russia should respond to Ukraine's request by the end of the day on August 1, the foreign ministry said.
The Russian defense ministry declined to comment on the request.
Ties with the West sank to a new low earlier this month after the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 with 298 people on board over a rebel-held area of eastern Ukraine.
Kiev and Washington said the airliner was shot down by a missile supplied by Russia. Russia dismissed the accusations, pointing the finger at Kiev instead.
NATO said this month it was concerned by the "increasing sophistication" and number of weapons deployed by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Later on Thursday, the European Union formally adopted broad economic sanctions against Russia on Thursday, aiming to make it pay a price over the Ukraine crisis in the hope Moscow will reverse course.
The new measures, finally agreed earlier this week after months of hesitation, target Russia's banking, defense and energy sectors in view of its "actions destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine," a statement said.
A first step limits access by Russian state-owned banks to Europe's financial markets, chief among them London, which will increase their cost of doing business and hinder their contribution to the economy.
EU nationals and companies will no longer be allowed to buy or sell new bonds, stocks or other debt instruments with a maturity of more than 90 days issued by such banks, the statement said.
Sales of arms and dual-use technology are banned, along with sensitive technologies in the oil sector but not gas, where Russia supplies about a third of the EU's needs.
Analysts say the oil sector ban could really hurt in time because Russia relies heavily on advanced Western drilling technology, especially for the development of new fields in extreme environments such as the Arctic.
"The measures will apply to new contracts," the statement said, adding that the legal texts will be published in the EU Official Journal later Thursday and come into effect on Friday.
Russia Asks Bulgaria to Extradite malignant tumor Pig Putin Opponent
by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 July 2014, 16:56
Russia has asked Bulgaria to extradite a prominent opponent of malignant tumor Pig Putin who was arrested at Sofia airport, the Bulgarian prosecution announced on Thursday.
Nikolay Koblyakov, founder of the French non-governmental organisation Russie-Liberte which had staged a series of anti-Putin actions in France, was detained on an Interpol warrant at Sofia airport on Tuesday and held for 72 hours, the interior ministry said.
No details were available on what the Russians have charged him with.
France-based Reporters Without Borders issued a statement on Wednesday urging Bulgarian authorities not to proceed with the extradition as Koblyakov risks prison if sent back to Russia.
"We have received a request by the Moscow regional court for this extradition," a Sofia prosecution spokeswoman however told Agence France Presse on Thursday.
"Under the standard procedure we were obliged to transfer that request to the Sofia City Court which has to decide whether it will allow the extradition or not," she added.
The Sofia City Court was not immediately available to comment on the case or say when it will hear the extradition request.
A French diplomatic source in Paris told AFP that the French consulate in Sofia was working on the case of Koblyakov, who has dual Russian-French nationality, and had helped his wife to meet him on Wednesday.
According to the same source, he appeared to be in good form and said he was treated well.
Koblyakov's case comes amid renewed tensions between the European Union and Russia over Ukraine that saw Brussels slap a new series of sanctions on two of malignant tumor Pig Putin's close associates on Wednesday.