Friday, September 05, 2014

Winning and Losing

Looking at some recent media opinion on the Ukraine conflict it’s easy to discern a number of tendencies, one or two of which coincide while others are beginning to diverge in a pattern that to some extent mirrors the divisions and differences currently being played out on the international scene. By examining this pattern it may be possible to obtain some idea of where Western policy on the crisis really lies: after all, the policy of national governments is not usually produced in a vacuum and often comes into being as a fusion of official discussion, "think tanks", and public media debate.

In the National Interest, Steven Pifer sees the crux of the present standoff in Russia’s denial of involvement in the conflict, a denial for which he seeks the reason. It may, he suggests, have its roots in the anxious desire of the Kremlin authorities to conceal from the Russian public the steadily rising level of Russian casualties:

If Mr. Putin continues or deepens his military involvement in Ukraine, and the casualties mount, what will that do to the support that his Ukraine policy has enjoyed from the Russian public? And could the potential erosion of public support finally lead him to a different course?

Here the outlined position is fairly clear: the West should wait and see if tensions caused by issues of domestic public opinion may bring Russia’s leadership to soften or modify its stance. On the other hand, it might be wondered whether a U-turn of this kind can really be expected from a Kremlin that is prepared to turn a blind eye to the downing of a civilian airliner, or convinced that the humiliation of Ukrainian prisoners of war on the streets of Donetsk does not represent a violation of human rights.

For Anatol Lieven, writing in the New York Times, the matter is simple and straightforward: in view of the fact that the Kremlin will not allow the Donbass separatists to be crushed, the West must take realistic steps:

The choice today is not between a united Ukraine fully in the Western camp, or a Ukraine which has lost part of its territory to Russia. As recent military developments have demonstrated, the first outcome is simply not going to happen. The choice is between a Ukraine with an autonomous Donbass region, along with a real chance of developing the country’s democracy and economy in a Western direction, or a Ukraine which will be mired in a half-frozen conflict that will undermine all hopes of progress. The way out of this disaster is obvious — if only Western governments have the statesmanship and courage to take it.

This is essentially an argument for appeasement, which the author makes little or no attempt to conceal. Meanwhile, in  another NYT opinion article, Ben Judah puts the West’s dilemma in a slightly different light: Russia and Ukraine are now at war and Putin, he tells us, has presented the West with “two dire choices”:

Either we arm Ukraine, or we force Kiev to surrender and let Mr. Putin carve whatever territories he wants into a Russian-occupied zone of “frozen conflict.”

While Judah’s sympathies undoubtedly lie more with Ukraine than with Russia, his real concern is apparently to confront Western Europe and America with the nightmare scenario of what he believes will happen if both elements of the choice turn out to be disastrous. Since arming Ukraine will be only a part of the solution – the arming will have to be backed up by the dispatch of American and British special forces, and even by a readiness “to deploy NATO troops if Russian tanks roll toward Crimea” to secure the building of a land bridge to the mainland – there is much doubt as to whether the West will be prepared to take this route. The alternative, then, is to make Ukraine surrender:

But we must not let thousands of Ukrainians die because we dithered. We must be honest with them if we are not willing to fight a new Cold War with Russia over Ukrainians’ independence. But if we force Ukraine to surrender, rather than sacrifice lives in a fight for which we have no stomach, then we must accept that it is a surrender, too, for NATO, for Europe and liberal democracy, and for American global leadership. That is the choice before us.

In response to this it might be argued that to put the matter in such stark and apocalyptic terms is an unproductive oversimplification: after all, the resolution of the present conflict is, by its very nature, bound to involve a number of factors that cannot be predicted with any certainty right now. There is also some confusion in Judah's use here of the term “Cold War” – given the context of the article, it seems more probable that the author really means “hot war”, but for some reason holds back from this. The real intention of the piece appears to be to cast the West as weak, indecisive and hypocritical.

Another recent article on the Ukraine crisis in which the West appears in an unflattering light is Keith Gessen’s report in the London Review of Books on a visit to Donetsk. This is a lively, autobiographical piece which seeks to portray the human reality of South Eastern Ukraine in closeup, including interviews with members of the anti-Maidan movement and the armed Moscow-backed  insurgency. The general drift of the article is to demonstrate that “these are people, too”; that however misguided their views and actions, they deserve a public hearing. Admirable and vivid though the character portrayal and description are (“But among the young professionals I also met a journalist from Lviv. She wasn’t just dressed better than anyone in Donetsk, she was dressed differently, as if on a civilisational level. She looked like she was from France.”), the reader may be somewhat taken aback at Gessen’s  summary of what he claims to have been told by “respectable people in Kiev” in response to the armed separatist threat:

Wouldn’t it be a better long-term solution just to kill as many as you could and scare the shit out of the rest of them, for ever? This is what I heard from respectable people in Kiev. Not from the nationalists, but from liberals, from professionals and journalists. All the bad people were in one place – why not kill them all?

At best, this seems like selective reporting – at worst, like a not too sophisticated attempt to blacken the name of all the Ukrainian people who support the Maidan and are trying to save their country.

By contrast, Timothy Snyder takes a passionately supportive view of Ukraine’s democratic independence movement. In Politico he perceives the origins of Putin’s foreign policy in a twentieth century English novel:

In Orwell’s 1984, one of the world powers is called Eurasia. Interestingly enough, Eurasia is the name of Russia’s major foreign policy doctrine. In Orwell’s dystopia, Eurasia is a repressive, warmongering state that “comprises the whole of the northern part of the European and Asiatic land-mass, from Portugal to the Bering Strait.” In Russian foreign policy, Eurasia is a plan for the integration of all the lands from—you guessed it—Portugal to the Bering Strait. Orwell’s Eurasia practices “neo-Bolshevism”; Russia’s leading Eurasian theorist once called himself a “national Bolshevik.” This man, the influential Alexander Dugin, has long advocated that the Ukrainian state be destroyed, and has very recently proposed that Russia exterminate Ukrainians.

Of all the articles reviewed here, Snyder’s is perhaps both the most succinct and the most receptive to what Ukraine’s Maidan movement is trying to achieve:  above all, to break away from ways of perceiving the world that amount to "doublethink" and are characterized by the output of the Moscow propaganda machine, which simultaneously presents Ukraine as a “repressive state” and as a “state that does not exist”.

Perhaps the most puzzling recent article on the topic is one by Edward Lucas. Although a large part of it is devoted to a dissection and analysis of what the author calls “Russian revisionism” –new rules of international security that Russia is trying to impose on the rest of the world – its title is “Russia Is Winning”, a sentence that recurs in the body of the piece. The author’s vehement insistence that in spite of its obvious failure to persuade the world community of even a small part of its blustering claims  Russia is stronger and tougher than the West, tends to make the rest of the article seems somehow irrelevant: the lengthy and detailed suggestions on how to bolster Western security and the security of the Baltic States, the calls for the rebooting of NATO , the attack on the ‘Snowdenistas’ are like the a suddenly  deflated balloon when the reader is told that

Russia is an integrated part of the world economy and of international decision-making on everything from space to sub-sea minerals. It cannot be simply isolated and ignored. But that does not mean that we cannot raise the cost of doing business for the Putin regime.

 If isolating Russia is too difficult to achieve, and the West must “do business” with Moscow, albeit at an increased price, it’s hard to see how the rest of the author’s prescriptions can be fulfilled. One has the sense of a deep anger behind the extended paragraphs, and an intimation if not of despair, then of resignation. Since Russia is winning, the article seems to say, then the West will have to make the best of a bad job – the proposed measures are needed, but because of the West’s weakness of will and the “withering of transatlantic ties” many of them will not be implemented, and the West itself will ultimately suffer defeat.  It reads like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and its pessimism is not calculated to help and support either Ukraine or the West itself.  

Perhaps this is a misreading, and I hope that is so – but I can only give my personal reaction.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ukraine Today

The new international Ukrainian television channel Ukraine Today is presenting genuinely interesting and lively broadcasts of news, information and documentary reporting, mostly in English.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chronology of war

Ukrainian journalist Viktor Kovalenko's blog has a chronology of the liberation of Eastern Ukraine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kyiv is winning the war

In Politico Magazine, Chrystia Freeland writes:
In the fog of war, the ADHD of cable news and the smears of Russian propaganda have combined to obscure some important good news in this dismal summer. In the historic fight over the future of democracy in Ukraine, Kyiv is winning and the Kremlin is losing. That is good news for Ukrainians, but also for Europeans, for the rest of the world—and ultimately for Russians, too.
Read the whole article, here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Russia "feared but not respected"

Michael McFaul:

"... the downing of Malaysia Airways #17 squandered in one day years of investment in changing Russia’s reputation abroad, including the $50 billion spent on the Sochi Olympics, which were intended to introduce the new, modern Russia to the world. Russia may be feared again, but Russia is not respected."

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/08/putin-the-not-so-great-109711_Page3.html#ixzz39aIlIsAM

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Tymoshenko was victim of government murder plot

The head of Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Committee, Tetyana Chornovol, has published transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations which show that Party of Regions MPs advised former President Yanukovych to kill Yulia Tymoshenko in prison. The tapes have also been released on YouTube, here.

Hat tip: Taras Kuzio

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ukrainians Become Ukrainian

At New Pathway, Alexander Motyl writes
For the first time, arguably ever, Ukraine has a solidly pro-Western, pro-reform elite and society, a patriotic, self-mobilized, active, and pro-Ukrainian civil society and population, an increasingly patriotic security apparatus and army, the solid support of the West and of key Western institutions, and a crystal-clear sense of who the “enemy” is – Russia.
Ukrainians have finally become Ukrainian, and their society and state are finally in the West. This is unprecedented and of world-historical importance.
What needs to change is of course the economy, the state apparatus, the society. The economy has to be made more market friendly, the state has to be trimmed, decentralized, made less corrupt, and subordinate to the rule of law, and society has to be made less corrupt and also subordinate to the еrule of law. Opening up the economy is “easy,” as are trimming and decentralizing the state. A few good laws can do the trick. Changing attitudes to corruption and rule of law will take time.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The End of a Brand

On his blog The Vault of the Future, Silicon Valley startup entrepreneur Max Skibinsky takes an undeceived view of today's Russia in the aftermath of the MH17 disaster, and explains some of the reasons for his reluctance to return there:
To understand Russia’s lightning fast descent into the abyss one has to understand a simple truth that many (myself included) suspected all along: Russia was and is a failed state. What is seen from the outside is just a facade imitating a functional country and government. High oil prices, residual infrastructure of USSR and internal mass propaganda machine maintained the illusion for more than a decade.
Not only is Russia a mafia state -- it's controlled by a vast propaganda machine that is even more all-devouring than the Soviet one:
Official TV propaganda lies professionally and constantly. There are no independent TV channels; everything is controlled by government stooges. The “news” teams employ special teams that do video editing and fabrications to present absolutely falsified accounts for TV transmission...
The best way to understand modern Russia is to imagine a steep pyramid. At the very top there is a clique of KGB-affiliated oligarchs, who manage a barely-competent class of middle-managers (who can and do steal a fraction of everything they touch) which in turn sits on top of a largely brainwashed and deranged mass population living on life-long government welfare. 
As the author notes, "this is the most toxic environment imaginable to incubate a startup ecosystem."

He concludes:
I think we came to the end of the line with regards to Russia as a name, culture, a global brand. For the time being the country future is destroyed, police state is well-entrenched and the narrative for the brainwashed locals would be xenophobic tale of struggle with the “West”.
Hat tip: Anders Östlund on Twitter: @andersostlund

Friday, July 18, 2014

Take Russia out of Europe

Dmitry Tymchuk, on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 flight MH17:
I sincerely believe that some part of the responsibility for this tragedy lies with the European leaders. In the case of the Russian aggression against Ukraine they have been too busy counting their money, forgetting that the world is very crowded and fragile. They forgot how small Europe is. And it cannot be that one country is the victim of aggression and consumed by war, while this is apparently of no concern to all the others. 
It's also time, I believe, that those in Europe and the U.K. who are involved with Russia at a general cultural and educational level made their position clear. Time that Russian propaganda organizations like RT (Russia Today) and Voice of Russia were taken off the air and closed, time that Russian PR agencies like the Russkiy Mir Foundation and Academia Rossica were shut down and their offshoots and branches in Western universities removed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Dictatorship

Yuri Felshtinsky, in a recent article discussing what he sees as Russia's current gradual preparation for a major war:
Сейчас уже понятно, что никакой элиты нет. Есть довольно жестко отстроенная вертикаль власти. В конце 15-летнего пути все, что мы имеем в России, – это диктатура. Это диктатура не сталинского типа, а скорее мягкая диктатура фашистского типа, как при Муссолини или раннем Гитлере. Диктатура при открытости границы – а при Сталине границы были закрыты, при рыночной экономике – а при Сталине никакой рыночной экономики не было, без концентрационных лагерей, без массовых политических репрессий. Но эта мягкая диктатура в любой момент может превратиться и в более жесткую диктатуру – просто по законам жанра.
It is now clear that there is no elite. There is a rather rigidly constructed power vertical. At the end of a 15-year-old path, all that we have in Russia is a dictatorship. It is not a Stalinist dictatorship, but rather a soft dictatorship of the fascist type, like that of Mussolini or early Hitler. A dictatorship with open borders - under Stalin the borders were closed. One with a market economy - under Stalin, there was no market economy. One without concentration camps, without mass political repressions. But this soft dictatorship can at any moment turn into a more hardline dictatorship - simply by the laws of the genre.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Putin's Russian World

At the annual conference of Russian Federation ambassadors and permanent representatives on July 1 Putin delivered an address "on protecting Russia’s national interests and strengthening the foundations and principles of international relations." 

This year, prompted by events in Ukraine that are being deliberately engineered by Russia itself, Putin's speech contained some unambiguous pointers to the future direction of Russian foreign policy and military strategy, which are now impelled by considerations of what the propaganda calls "national interest" and "rights to protective intrusion". From the English translation posted on the official website:
In Ukraine, as you may have seen, at threat were our compatriots, Russian people and people of other nationalities, their language, history, culture and legal rights, guaranteed, by the way, by European conventions. When I speak of Russians and Russian-speaking citizens I am referring to those people who consider themselves part of the broad Russian community, they may not necessarily be ethnic Russians, but they consider themselves Russian people.
What did our partners expect from us as the developments in Ukraine unfolded? We clearly had no right to abandon the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol to the mercy of nationalist and radical militants; we could not allow our access to the Black Sea to be significantly limited; we could not allow NATO forces to eventually come to the land of Crimea and Sevastopol, the land of Russian military glory, and cardinally change the balance of forces in the Black Sea area. This would mean giving up practically everything that Russia had fought for since the times of Peter the Great, or maybe even earlier – historians should know.
I would like to make it clear to all: this country will continue to actively defend the rights of Russians, our compatriots abroad, using the entire range of available means – from political and economic to operations under international humanitarian law and the right of self-defence.
It should be noted that in the translation designed for foreign consumption the phrase "Russian world" (русский мир), with its quasi-imperial overtones, is rendered by the more innocuous term "Russian community".

As Vladimir Socor points out in a recent article for EDM, the "right of self-defence" "translates into Russia’s paramilitary intervention in Ukraine’s east. Moscow rejects all proposals to disarm its proxy forces there, or evacuate them back to Russia, or disavow them, at least verbally". Socor continues:
This is the boldest application to date of Putin’s concept of compatriots’ “right to self-defence.” Moscow acts as if this is an inherent right in principle and an already acquired right in Ukraine’s east. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Updates

I haven't had time to update this blog recently - however, I have continued to post Ukraine and Russia-related links to Halt in the Wilderness, the news and discussion group you are welcome to join if you feel so inclined.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Interpreter vs. RT

The Interpreter's James Miller, on RT's sudden interest in his magazine:
It is curious...that The Interpreter – a magazine which is barely a year old (RT was established in 2005), has an extremely small staff (RT has over 2,000 staffers), and runs on a tight budget... — should increasingly come under attack by some of the network’s staff members and television guests.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Neo-Nazism now a part of Russia Today

The Interpreter online current affairs magazine recently ran a feature on a neo-Nazi who represents Germany on the Kremlin's propaganda TV channel Russia Today (RT). Now the Interpreter discusses another right-wing extremist who appears regularly on the same channel. It seems that the Moscow authorities have no qualms about associating themselves with some of the most vicious racist and extremist movements in Europe and the United States. A few years ago, I would not have believed that this was possible - but now it's plain for everyone to see.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The rise of antisemitism in Russia and the crisis in Ukraine

The Winnipeg Media Centre has published an analysis of the Putin regime's campaign of disinformation and defamation against Ukraine, the basis of which is an attempt to incriminate the Ukrainian government and people with the charge of organized antisemitism. In fact, as the analysis shows, the rise of antisemitism is taking place not in Ukraine but in neighboring Russia, where officially sponsored fascist and neo-Nazi ideology is creating a situation not unlike the one that existed in Germany during the 1930s. 

The analysis is divided into three sections:
The first section gives the view of the Ukrainian Jewish community and of organizations that monitor human rights. It is clear from these articles that Jews in Ukraine see neither the current Ukrainian government nor the groups that brought about the change of government as a danger.  On the contrary, they are unanimous in the view that the biggest threat to the safety and security of Jewish people in Ukraine comes from the militant separatists backed by the Russian state.
The second section presents articles by scholars who are following events in the Donbas area and in Russia. These researchers are among many who warn of an alarming rise in chauvinistic and xenophobic attitudes in Russia. They are particularly worried by the rise of fascist groups supported by the government, and by the development of a fascist ideology in circles close to Putin.
The third section presents articles that indicate what we can expect from governing circles in Moscow, and raises broader issues in connection with Putin’s propaganda campaign.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Wavering Line

There are some interesting insights into the political status and prospects of Ukraine's president-elect Poroshenko in this (NB) Valdai Club article. A couple of excerpts:
Statements made by US politicians did not have much influence on Ukrainian voters. More likely, the electorate was swayed by technologies invented by a Ukrainian spin doctor, Igor Gryniv (who was behind the electoral success of Viktor Yushchenko and still earlier planned the establishment of the Reforms and Order and Our Ukraine parties). First of all, he cleaned out the minds of Ukrainian voters and made them accept Poroshenko as a “new politician.” Next he began publishing his growing ratings and convinced the public that his client took the lead in the race. All that remained was to give voters a motivation for support and urge a first-round vote.
-------------------------------------
The new Ukrainian government’s ability to steer an independent line with regard to the Russian Federation will depend on many factors, including the international situation. The world is volatile. Poroshenko, a flexible politician and diplomat, is unlikely to focus on just one line of behavior. I would not be surprised if the utterly pro-American politician Poroshenko turns into a no less enthusiastic pro-Russian politician, come a change of mood in the world. It’s almost like an old joke from the Stalin era: “Did you waver with regard to the Party’s general line? I wavered with the general line.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ukraine as Antidote

In the wake of the large gains by ultra-right wing parties in the recent European elections, Timothy Snyder suggests in the New York Review of Books that Ukraine could provide an antidote to the problem. A country that actively wants to join the European Union and is willing to work for it could help the body to rediscover its purpose:
In the Ukrainian revolution, people fought carrying the EU flag; in the Ukrainian elections, people stood in line for hours wearing EU symbols. The European Union has been enlarging since its establishment as the European Communities, and it will and should continue to do so. A promise of further enlargement would not be expensive: on the contrary, the incentives for reform and for investment would reduce the need for future aid.
By contrast, Snyder says, the voters who in Scotland, France, England, Greece, Austria, Bulgaria and elsewhere in Europe voted for a return to the nation state are living in a parallel universe, and really voted for a "separation from the world". Their detachment from reality is merely enabling Putin's scheme for the Russian domination of Europe - the Russkiy Mir - for these nationalists and advocates of "independence" also support Putin's aims and policies. However, "if Europeans voted the way Ukrainians did, Europe could count on a far more secure and prosperous future."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Russian right-wing mercenaries in Ukraine

The Winnipeg Media Centre has published a detailed survey of the leaders of Russian neo-Nazi and other extreme right wing groups currently operating in eastern Ukraine. These include the high-profile Strelkov-Girkin 'Donbass self-defence' group, but also many others that are less well known but are also trained in Russia and have a fascistic, anti-Semitic and militaristic orientation.

Ukraine: Real Deals

In Grani, Ilya Milstein writes about the aftermath and possible consequences of yesterday's Ukrainian presidential election (my tr.):
Meanwhile Tymoshenko has other plans. Her "Fatherland " party is initiating a referendum on Ukraine's accession to NATO, and it is only outwardly that this step appears risky, reckless and unwise. Well, yes, NATO does not accept states with unresolved territorial issues, but after all it is not a question of joining the alliance immediately. It is rather about scaring Putin, who has been scaring the Russians and giving himself nightmares about a terrible scenario: the entry of American cruisers into the peaceful waters of Sevastopol and the installation of American missiles on the territory of Ukraine. Now, if the issue is discussed in the Rada, the propaganda horror stories that were suitable only for justifying intervention in Crimea will acquire the traits of another geopolitical disaster.
Poroshenko himself is by no means a supporter of Ukraine's accession to NATO, but he can offer Putin an exchange. You get rid of Grandpa Babai and his RPGs, and I will calm Yulia. You stop supporting the bandits who are already building real concentration camps in our country and have effectively used them, and we will postpone the referendum on accession to NATO. You temporarily forget about Ukraine and stop blackmailing us with rising gas prices, and we will temporarily forget about Crimea. Agreed?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kyiv's eastern strategy

Mychailo Wynnyckyj in Euromaidan PR:
Effectively, the strategy of Kyiv in the Donbas must gradually shift from waging a “hot war” to exercising “soft power” eastward – i.e. the goal must be to shift the line that formerly defined Ukraine’s electoral geography to the Russian border (or at least as far eastward and southward as possible). From this perspective, the war in eastern Ukraine becomes a civilizational war (i.e. informational, economic, cultural). The conflict is less about whether the population wishes to be Ukrainian or Russian (or about what language they speak), but rather about whether the Donbas will be a part of Europe or will continue to be (post)Soviet. Putin has made it eminently clear that he wishes to reinstate the USSR, and during the economic summit in St. Petersburg today he reiterated that he views the conflict in eastern Ukraine in geo-political terms (as engaging the US and EU), rather than as a local/regional struggle for ethnic or linguistic self-determination.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Russian army tries to break up Tatar rally

The Russian army has used military helicopters in an attempt to disrupt a small prayer rally of Crimean Tatars in Bakhchisaray, after the occupying forces banned all commemorations of the 1944 deportations under Stalin.

https://twitter.com/svaboda/status/467934317482876928/photo/1

There are similar reports from other areas of Crimea today.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Ukraine:Thinking Together

An international conference called Ukraine: Thinking Together («Мислити з Україною») is currently being held in Kyiv, with participants who include Timothy Snyder, Leon Wieseltier, Timothy Garton Ash, Adam Michnik, Slavenka Drakulić, Paul Berman and others. The conference aims to discuss Maidan and reactions to it in the context of wider questions of human rights and contemporary geopolitics, and the sessions can be followed in livestream here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Language as a barrier to dialogue in Ukraine

Via openDemocracy


Monday, May 05, 2014

Russian troop locations near Estonia's borders

Kaarel Kaas, editor of Estonia's Diplomaatia monthly, has compiled a detailed survey of the state of Russia's conventional forces near Estonia's borders.

The failed lingua franca

Leonidas Donskis, writing in New Eastern Europe:
The Russian language could have become a lingua franca of Eastern Europe. It failed irreversibly precisely because Putin and his regime stripped the political vocabulary of Russia of its potent moral imagination and alternative potential. What is left is not even the banality of evil practiced by the Kremlin with no impunity and in the moral and political void created by the West and its impotence – the West that attempts to reset relations with a regime hostile to every single political and moral sensitivity of the EU and the US. Instead, it is the evil of banality whose essence lies in exercising power for no meaningful reason and with no love for humanity.

Breedlove: Putin may not need to invade Ukraine

Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin may be able to annex pieces of Ukraine simply by encouraging unrest among pro-Russian forces inside the country, said Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, who commands U.S. and European NATO forces.
http://www.nationaljournal.com/defense/nato-commander-says-russia-doesn-t-need-to-invade-to-take-over-eastern-ukraine-20140502

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Hrytsenko: a third world war has already begun

In Ukraine, Civil Position leader and ex-defence minister Anatoly Hrytsenko writes that Putin’s current foreign policy aims include much more than an annexation of Crimea and East Ukraine. Putin wants the whole of Ukraine, and much more besides. Hrytsenko says that the Russian president has decided to demonstrate to the world by his aggression that international law no longer has any validity and that money and power are the only factors that have meaning in the modern world.

Hrytsenko considers that the fears of Western nations that by confronting Putin they will provoke a third world war lag a long way behind the reality of what has actually happened: Putin has already begun such a war, and the West will need to take swift and decisive action to stop it.

Pointing to recent threatening statements from Moscow about the rights of Russian-speakers in the Baltic States, to the movement of heavy artillery and missile launchers to Russia’s borders with Moldova and Transnistria, to the direction of  strategic bombers down the Baltic and North Sea, to the redeployment of fighter and long-range aviation including Su-27s, MiG-29s and Tu-22M3s to the Crimean peninsula, to the distribution of airborne assault teams, sabotage units and  covert agents throughout Ukraine, and probably also into neighbouring countries, Hrytsenko says that Putin has made no secret of his plans: they are already in operation, without any restrictions.

The West’s attempts to slow the aggression by means of negotiations, diplomacy and economic sanctions have not been effective, Hrytsenko warns. To deter further aggression, the West will need to  form an anti-Putin coalition and focus all  available means and capabilities on taking practical military steps. These should in the first instance be the relocation and deployment around the territory of Ukraine (Poland, Slovakia , Hungary, Romania , Bulgaria, Northern Turkey) of a powerful NATO aviation group (80-100 F-16s and F-15s), a carrier strike group in the Mediterranean (70+ carrier-based aircraft) plus 7-8 warships in the Black Sea (destroyers and cruisers with powerful air defence) and several airborne brigades - to establish reliable control over Ukraine’s air and sea space in order to prevent  Russia from building up additional forces and halt the invasion that is now in progress.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Voices of Ukraine

Daniella Peled of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) has interviewed the English-language editor of Voice of Ukraine, a volunteer-run translation project that is proving to be a vital resource in the Ukraine crisis, providing cross-checked reports and in-depth analysis:
It started in early December 2013 as a social network project when Euromaidan SOS put out a call to translate a text for the OSCE, and the Euro-Maidan As It Is  Facebook page was created by one founder to post such texts to, and very soon after a MaidanNeedsTranslators  Facebook page was started by the other founder in Ukraine as a companion, so translators could take on articles posted there for translation. 
At the beginning, there were two or three people working on the project. Now there is a core group of 15 coordinators and editors, with between eight and 11 doing most of the daily work. Beyond this core are many translators who are not coordinators but who put in a lot of time translating on a regular basis.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Should Ukraine hold a presidential election on May 25?

In an article published in Die Zeit, but apparently translated from English, political analyst Andreas Umland thinks it would be wise for Ukraine to cancel this month's planned presidential election, which he believes could turn into a political disaster that would play into Russia's hands:
Ein Scheitern der Wahl würde Moskau die Möglichkeit geben, die Legitimität der Kiewer Staatsgewalt auf Jahre hinaus infrage zu stellen. Eine niedrige Wahlbeteiligung in der Ostukraine würde Putins Propagandamaschine das Futter liefern, um eine Teilung der Ukraine in zwei Staaten zu propagieren. Das Scheitern der Wahl könnte gar als Vorwand für einen Anschluss ostukrainischer Gebiete an Russland nach dem Muster der Krim-Annexion benutzt werden.
A failure of the election would give Moscow the opportunity to put into question the legitimacy of Kievan state power for years to come. A low voter turnout in eastern Ukraine would be fuel for Putin's propaganda machine to call for a division of Ukraine into two states. The failure of the election could even be used as a pretext for an annexation of Eastern Ukraine by Russia after the pattern of the Crimean annexation.
Umland holds out several alternative ideas, including a switch in the near future from a presidential system to a parliamentary one, and also a reform of Ukraine's constitution.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Armed in Error

In the belief that Russia could be drawn into greater military cooperation by "engagement" (an unclear term that can be interpreted several ways), Western countries, particularly Germany, directly supported and trained the Russian military - and this even continued until recently, when Russia began its attacks on Ukraine. An article by Josh Rogin in the Daily Beast states that in 2011, for example,    
the German defense contractor Rheinmetall signed a $140 million contract to build a combat simulation training center in Mulino, in southwest Russia, that would train 30,000 Russian combat troops per year. While the facility wasn't officially scheduled to be completed until later this year, U.S. officials believe that Germany has been training Russian forces for years.
Rheinmetall defended the project even after the invasion of Crimea, up until the German government finally shut it down late last month. But many tracking the issue within the U.S. government were not happy with Germany's handling of the Russian contract, and worry that some of the training may have gone to the kind of special operations forces now operating in and around Ukraine.
Moreover, it also appears that the German help was going not only to Russia's traditional armed forces but also in a high degree to the sophisticated GRU Spetsnaz units that are now being deployed in the new Russian strategy of intervening "on behalf" of Russian-speakers abroad whenever the latter claim discrimination. While it looks as though now the era of military cooperation with Russia is at an end, some observers are wondering whether the realization of what was really happening may have come too late.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Russia Today and Britain's Far Right

In Searchlight on April 16, Gerry Gable noted that
A film crew from Russia’s RT Documentaries TV channel is coming to London on 19 April. Headed by producer Eldar Kazakov, they plan to interview representatives of as many far-right groups as possible for a long programme.
They approached Searchlight as they hoped we could give them contact details for some of these groups.

The article also mentions groups that RT don't want to take part in the programme - these include the Traditional Britain Group and the Iona London Forum, which apparently have links with Vladimir Putin's propagandist Alexander Dugin. As Gable observed:
Dugin is a close friend of Putin. I suggested Kazakov investigate Iona’s links not only with Dugin but with extreme right groups in Russia, Syria and Ukraine. Such a programme would be far more relevant than the one he was planning.
Putin has cultivated European extreme-right organisations and even invited their representatives to observe last month’s illegal referendum in Crimea.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kasyanov: Putin will not attack Ukraine

According to Mikhail Kasyanov, quoted in an interview for VoA's Ukrainian service, Putin is not going to attack Ukraine, and is using his troops on the border and acts of sabotage inside Ukraine as a form of blackmail to gain recognition for Russia's control of Crimea, the payment of Ukraine's gas debt, Russian as Ukraine's second state language, and changes to the country's constitution. But Putin is bluffing. His regime is on its last legs - the Russian economy is in a bad way, and the confidence of investors and creditors is falling. The West need only apply some firm and concerted economic pressure in order to secure Russia's total collapse.