How fake far-right “observers” entered Donetsk from Russia

International fake observers of the fake elections in the Donbas arrived in Moscow on the 31st of October and checked in to the 5-star Metropol Hotel. They had a late dinner at the hotel restaurant and some of them went for a walk to the Red Square:

Those “observers” who would go illegally to Eastern Ukraine, took a morning flight from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don on the 1st of November and then travelled by bus from there to the Russian town of Kuybyshevo, right on the Russia-Ukraine border.

Those "observers" who would go illegally to Eastern Ukraine, took a morning flight from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don on the 1st of November and then travelled by bus from there to the Russian town of Kuybyshevo, right on the Russia-Ukraine border.
Those “observers” who would go illegally to Eastern Ukraine, took a morning flight from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don on the 1st of November and then travelled by bus from there to the Russian town of Kuybyshevo, right on the Russia-Ukraine border.
The "observers" arriving to the Russia-Ukraine border in Kuybyshevo
The “observers” arriving to the Russia-Ukraine border in Kuybyshevo

At the border, (pro-)Russian extremists put armed escorts into the buses of “observers” and then they crossed the border. None of them passed any official Ukrainian border control.

(Pro-)Russian extremists' armed escort on the way from Kuybyshevo to Donetsk
(Pro-)Russian extremists’ armed escort on the way from Kuybyshevo to Donetsk 

They arrived in Donetsk and checked in to the Ramada Hotel.

International "observers" and terrorists of the "Donetsk People's Republic" at the Ramada Hotel, Donetsk, 1 November 2014
International “observers” and terrorists of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” at the Ramada Hotel, Donetsk, 1 November 2014 

On the same day, the “observers” were introduced to the leadership of the terrorist organisation “Donetsk People’s Republic” and issued with “international observer” cards.

Member of the extreme right Ataka party Georgi Sengalevich's card of an international "observer"
Member of the extreme right Ataka party Georgi Sengalevich’s card of an international “observer”

Some of them met with French/Serbian Eurasianist fighters. Below is Manuel Ochsenreiter, editor of the far right Zuerst! journal (far left), and Dragana Trifkovic, director of the Belgrade Centre of Strategic Research (far right), with French/Serbian Eurasianists fighting against Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine.

Manuel Ochsenreiter, editor of the far right Zuerst! journal (far left), and Dragana Trifkovic, director of the Belgrade Centre of Strategic Research (far right), with French/Serbian Eurasianists fighting against Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine
Manuel Ochsenreiter, editor of the far right Zuerst! journal (far left), and Dragana Trifkovic, director of the Belgrade Centre of Strategic Research (far right), with French/Serbian Eurasianists fighting against Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine

On the 2nd of November, international “observers” began their work of “legitimising” illegal, fake elections held by (pro-)Russian extremists. Not all of them did their work in Ukraine, however. Adrienn Szaniszló of the extreme right Jobbik party, for example, stayed in the Rostov region to observe the “elections” there.

Adrienn Szaniszló (in the centre) at the "polling station" in the Rostov region, Russia, 2 November 2014
Adrienn Szaniszló (in the centre) at the “polling station” in the Rostov region, Russia, 2 November 2014

Fake monitors “observe” fake elections in Donbas

The “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LNR), the organizations which are recognized as terrorist by the Ukrainian authorities, will hold “parliamentary elections” on Sunday, 2nd of November, on the territories occupied by them with the help of the Russian army.

These “elections” are widely considered illegal and illegitimate, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored “the planned holding by armed rebel groups in eastern Ukraine of their own “elections” on 2 November, in breach of the Constitution and national law” adding that “these “elections” will seriously undermine the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum, which need to be urgently implemented in full”.

Nevertheless, the Kremlin is said to be willing to recognize these “elections”, yet again completely dismissing the advice from the UN let alone defying the laws of Ukraine that Russia has invaded in February-March 2014. The DNR/LNR “elections” will not be recognized as legitimate either by the EU or the US that threaten Russia with further sanctions for undermining Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty.

As it happened before, the Kremlin will employ puppet “election monitors” that will “observe” and legitimize the “elections” held by the terrorists. Evidence suggests that two “election monitoring organizations” have been in charge of setting up “election observation mission” for the DNR/LNR: the Eurasian Observatory of Democracy and Elections (EODE) run by Belgian fascist Luc Michel and the European Centre for Geopolitical Analysis (ECGA) run by Polish far right politician Mateusz Piskorski – both have been in the service of the Kremlin’s foreign policy since 2005-2006.

(left to right ) The leader of the DNR terrorists Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Fabrice Beaur (EODE / extreme right Parti communautaire national-européen), 1 November 2014, Donetsk
(left to right ) The leader of the DNR terrorists Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Fabrice Beaur (EODE / extreme right Parti communautaire national-européen), 1 November 2014, Donetsk
(left to right ) The leader of the DNR terrorists Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Mateusz Piskorski, 1 November 2014, Donetsk
(left to right ) The leader of the DNR terrorists Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Mateusz Piskorski, 1 November 2014, Donetsk

At the time of writing, the following names of international “observers” hired by the the EODE and ECGA the can be disclosed:

observer table

As my analysis of the movements of these international “election monitors” shows, they arrived to Donetsk from Moscow via Rostov-on-Don. This means that they have all entered Ukraine illegally, as they did not pass pass the official Ukrainian border control. Thus, they can be all persecuted for the crime of illegal border crossing.

According to Moscow-based journalist Alec Luhn, at the press conference in Donbas, the international “observers” suggested creating the Association for Security and Cooperation in Europe (ASCE), but then Stadler proposed the name “Agency for Security and Cooperation in Europe” (ASCE). The name obviously refers to the Oganisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an international organization that, in particular, monitors elections in different parts of the world. Since it provides objective and independent monitoring of elections and referenda, the OSCE is hated by the EODE and ECGA, as well as Russian authorities.

However, while constantly vilifying and trying to discredit the OSCE’s observation missions, Russian state-controlled media intentionally present fake “election monitors” as members of the OSCE. For example, in March 2014, Russian TV channel “Rossiya 24” claimed that notorious fascist Michel was “the organizer of the OSCE observation mission” at the illegal “referendum in Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea that Russia annexed afterwards.

Belgian fascist Luc Michel, the head of the EODE, in Crimea. The caption reads: "Organiser of the OSCE observation mission in Crimea"
Belgian fascist Luc Michel, the head of the EODE, in Crimea. The caption reads: “Organiser of the OSCE observation mission in Crimea”

This imposturous presentation of Michel to the Russian-speaking audience reveals the high status value of the OSCE even in the generally anti-Western context.

The “elections” planned for the 2nd of November may be a start of a new offensive of the DNR/LNR extremists against the Ukrainian forces. There is a non-zero chance of a false flag operation against either the “observers” or people at “polling stations”. Some of them may be killed by the (pro-)Russian extremists dressed in uniforms of Ukrainian forces to discredit Ukraine and/or divert the international attention from the illegitimate “elections” to the killing(s) of “election observers” or “voters”. The chances are low, but such a development cannot be ruled out.

[hr] Cover photo: The press conference of the international “observers” in Donbas, 1 November 2014. Third from the right is Ewald Stadler. Credit: Alec Luhn

Exclusive: An interview with a Chechen commander fighting for Ukraine

DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine – The leader of the Chechen volunteer battalion here says Canada, the United States and other western nations can help to stop Russian aggression now in the “open war” against Ukraine, or face it later elsewhere.

“If we don’t stop Russia, it will go further,” said Cmdr. Isa Munajev, a veteran of the Chechen wars of the 1990s who now serves in the Ukrainian army. He suggested Estonia and Latvia will be the next countries Russia will attack. About 3,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers are among those fighting with separatist rebels in the east of Ukraine, the United Nations has reported.

Munajev was interviewed recently 50 kilometres behind the lines at the headquarters of his group, called the International Peacekeepers Battalion. About 10 tents house the group’s soldiers here, and it has people in two other locations as well.

Cmdr. Isa Munajev with reporter Bird.
Cmdr. Isa Munajev with reporter Bird.

The commander said he is motivated partly by revenge, after the Russians killed some family members in earlier wars, but he also wants to help the Ukrainian people stop Russian-backed separatist aggression.

He said he would like Canada and the United States to enter the fray in eastern Ukraine. “It would be wonderful. It would be unity of the civilized world against the barbarian (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

But another officer at a checkpoint in Ukrainian-held territory said this is a local fight that should be fought by local soldiers, though he would welcome material aid from the West. So there is a variety of viewpoints about what should be done going forward.

Despite the Sept. 5 ceasefire agreement, which promises autonomy for the two self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, shelling and skirmishes continue.

Since Ukraine does not belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, western countries are not obliged to help it repel aggression. But NATO is concerned about the violence in eastern Ukraine and is seeing an increasing number of flights of Russian military aircraft over the Baltic states, which are NATO members.

An Oct. 8 report from the UN’s Human Rights Office outlines rape, beatings, mock-murders and murders of Ukrainian civilians by “armed groups” in the war-torn areas.

“It is true,” said Munajev, who blamed the rebels and Russians for the atrocities, though the report says elements on both sides are culpable. “I have been here for two months and the same things happened in Chechnya (when Russian troops invaded in the 1990s). I hope the world community will stand up to this devil, Putin. We can defeat him only together.”

Tents used by the Chechen battalion.
Tents used by the Chechen battalion.

Munajev said seven of his men have been injured in recent fighting; he would not reveal the number of dead.

Timur, 21, is an ethnic Chechen who recently graduated with a degree in economics and was living in Germany. “I have seen what the Russians have done to the Chechen people,” Timur said, explaining why he volunteered. “Many of my family have died.”

All of those interviewed spoke through an interpreter.

Another soldier, Valentine, 35, is from Russia. “No other battalion would accept me, and my father was Ukrainian,” he explains. He was trained by the Russian army.

The commander said Russian forces are three kilometers closer to this base than they were last week. “The Russians are coming here, step by step,” he said. The HQ is in a field near a line of trees used for firewood to cook and heat the tents.

“I hope the world will find out the truth. It’s a war, an open war against the Ukrainian nation and state,” said Munajev.

The Russian president’s image is used for target practice.
The Russian president’s image is used for target practice.

[hr] Mr. Bird is a Canadian freelance reporter.

Protestants persecuted in rebel-held Luhansk

LVIV, Ukraine — Protestants and pro-Ukraine residents in the war-torn areas of eastern Ukraine are being persecuted by separatist rebels and forced to flee, says a man from the Luhansk area.

“The separatists say all Protestant churches are American spies, so there is religious oppression,” said Yurii Radchenko, 46, from the town of Zymohiria. Radchenko, a Protestant, said he was shot at twice in separate incidents but emerged unscathed.

“All the religious communities have been threatened except the Russian Orthodox. My property was taken and we have nothing,” he said. Others, including a recent report from the United Nations Human Rights Office, confirm that looting is being done by rebels and their supporters.

“That is the problem. I have lost everything in eastern Ukraine,” said Radchenko. “Those who remain undergo threats, oppression and are beaten up. That is the tragedy. If the separatists learn that people are pro-Ukraine they suffer a lot. It is like cleansing. Either you leave or you suffer.”

Yurii Radchenko says he has been shot at, his houses stolen.
Yurii Radchenko says he has been shot at, his houses stolen.

Radchenko and other Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) spoke to a reporter recently through an interpreter at a former military compound in the town of Vynnyky, east of Lviv. About 200 men, women and children are being sheltered and fed there by The Good Samaritan Protestant Church, said a Canadian, Roman Yereniuk, who is helping to fund the effort.

“Many Protestants are not tolerated by the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” he said. “The other two Orthodox churches have good ecumenical relations with the Protestants. Many have escaped from the east to the west.”

Some 375,000 IDPs have fled from the violence in the east and are living largely off their savings and the largesse of friends and family across Ukraine, the United Nations Human Rights Office reported Oct. 8. The report confirms that persecution is taking place.

Some of them near Lviv arrived four months ago, others more recently, said one of their leaders, Elena Pavlenko. All had similar stories of fearing for their lives as a result of either direct threats or concerns about being caught in the crossfire between Ukrainian and separatist forces.

In a recent article in Ukraine’s The Day newspaper, Mykola Siry, a senior researcher at the Koretsky Institute of State and Law, said “we are talking about systemic torture of people in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, intentional murders. It is a form of intimidation of the whole population.”

In the Middle East, ISIS is attacking and killing civilian populations because of their beliefs, and the international community is taking military action. But violence is also happening to civilians in eastern Ukraine, where the West is avoiding engagement.

For Pavlenko, fears arose when the separatists placed missile launchers beside her house. The noise was deafening, she said, and they feared being bombed by their own side. Her husband arranges the refugees’ humanitarian aid, and they have a small child. The rebels, a mix of local men resenting the centralized control of Kyiv and foreigners she said are from Russia, are shelling the airport about eight kilometers away in a bid to force out the Ukrainian forces in control.

Elena Pavlenko, a leader of the group, talks to a reporter.
Elena Pavlenko, a leader of the group, talks to a reporter.

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatist fighters recently marked one month since the signing of a Kremlin-backed truce with one the most heated battles of the six-month war in Donetsk. Ukraine said 75 soldiers and civilians have been killed since the Sept. 5 cease-fire. President Petro Poroshenko is hoping the shaky truce, signed as part of a peace plan, will hold together for parliamentary elections Oct. 26.

Pavlenko said many soldiers have died in the fighting, noting a “massive burial site” near the airport. About 400 civilians have also died from Luhansk, to her knowledge. Most people have fled, she said, and those who remain stay inside. Thousands of IDPs have also gone to Russia.

Protestants make up about 2.4 per cent of the Ukrainian population, but Ukraine has been called the “Bible belt” of Eastern Europe and a hub of evangelical church life and missions. Most people are Ukrainian Orthodox (40 per cent), Russian Orthodox (30 per cent), or Ukrainian Greek Catholic (14 per cent). Roman Catholics account for 1.7 per cent of the population, Moslems 0.6 per cent and Jews, 0.2.

While the loss of Crimea in March appeared to reduce tensions between the Orthodox churches – one pro-Moscow prelate even denounced Putin as a “bandit” – bitter divisions remain.

Mr. Radchenko, who worked for a non-profit organization that helped drug addicts and former prison inmates, said pastors have been tortured. He gave the example of one who was injured and taken to a hospital, where separatists were also being treated. When they heard him proselytize they informed their leaders, who hauled the man from the hospital, beat him up, and left him for dead in a forest. Parishoners found him and he is recovering, Radchenko said.

That’s when he asked friends to find a place for him and his family – wife, four children and mother in law. His wife and kids arrived here four months ago, but he stayed home until mid-September.

It all began with widespread protests in Ukraine last November when former President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of a deal with Russia. He was forced from office in February, as most Ukrainian people support ties with the EU as essential to cleaning up a corrupt system. Ukraine is also deeply in debt, and Yanukovych was despised for lining his own pockets and those of his family and friends. But his departure displeased the Kremlin and led to armed rebellion by pro-Russian rebels in the east and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

As a 17-year-old student, Valentine, said at the monument on Maidan or Independence Square, “Russia wanted to control us, hence the fighting in the east.”

Another man who fled from the east, Vasiliy Klimov, 40, who has four daughters and a wife, said things got quickly out of hand at his home of Krasnodon.

“When the war began, local people who formed the bandit groups took weapons, from I don’t know where, and captured the police station, and it surrendered and joined them. Next these separatists blew up the customs building on the border with Russia.”

Klimov said it was frightening to go into town because the armed rebels without uniforms were openly stopping cars and people. “It was scary to say something that would provoke them. Some friends heard people scream from the cars, they heard someone shoot. That’s why we packed up and left for Crimea in June.”

But the family left Crimea Sept. 22 because “there is uncertainty in the air and some people expect the war also in Crimea,” on the Black Sea peninsula. It has Russia’s only warm-water port (which it had been leasing) and is home to its Black Sea fleet. “Crimea is wanted back by local authorities,” Klimov said, “and local Tatars (who are Moslem and more than 10 per cent of the population) are against the annexation of Crimea.”

Vasiliy Klimov with three of his daughters; they fled twice.
Vasiliy Klimov with three of his daughters; they fled twice.

Annexation happened after the March 16 referendum showed 97 per cent support for joining Russia. Even if the voting was rigged, some people say most Crimeans wanted change; others say a majority liked the status-quo. Some Ukrainian people from the Soviet era believe that under Russia their old ways would be better protected.

Like many here, Pavlenko believes the war is rooted partly in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire for a land route to Crimea.

Putin has said his concern is to protect ethnic Russians. He has accused Ukrainian troops of acting “like Nazis” in the conflict by targeting residential areas of towns and cities like German troops did in the former Soviet Union during the Second World War.

Propaganda comes from both sides, but much of it is from Russia. Russian military leaders have claimed on TV that only Ukrainian can be spoken in the region, when in fact Russian is freely and legally used. The UN report says propaganda and incitement to hatred are causing tensions in eastern Ukraine that could lead to the region breaking away like Crimea.

Language is a sore point. Ukrainian is the only officially recognized tongue, which tends to hamper rather than build national unity. Many people speak Russian, especially in the cities, while Ukrainian is more common in the country. The interpreter, Ievgenii Sinielnikov, a 27-year-old businessman and former PhD student from a town near Kyiv, said many use a blended Russian-Ukrainian language called “Surzhyk,” after a mix of grain.

Another problem is corruption in the legal system: bribery of judges is common.

But the key reason for regional discontent in Sinielnikov’s view is the lack of local control over taxation, spending, and other matters. While countries like Canada have empowered their regions and largely removed the grievances of those in outlying areas, many in the east resent Kyiv’s control of their lives. For them, it smacks of the Soviet Union at its worst.

The month-old ceasefire agreement addresses this concern, as greater autonomy will be granted to the rebel-held areas. But the separatist genie is out of the bottle and will be difficult to stuff back in.


Mr. Bird is touring Ukraine and area. For more about the refugee camp see teenagerfund.org.ua

Cover photo: Orthodox church overlooks a smoke filled Luhansk

The “Ukraine crisis” is a long-planned operation

What is now known as the “Ukraine crisis” in the international media is hardly a properly Ukrainian phenomenon. The first uses of this phrase go back to the pro-European protests that started in November 2013 and ended with a revolution that ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. Yet even if the initial pro-European protests could be considered an internal Ukrainian development, their trigger lay beyond the country’s borders.

It was Russian foreign policy that has always been directed at preventing Ukraine from leaving Russia’s sphere of influence. Since the annexation of Crimea in March, “the Ukraine crisis” seems an increasingly misleading concept. Especially because [highlight]the plans to annex Crimea and support separatists in Eastern Ukraine were designed by the Russian authorities several years ago[/highlight] and have little to do with the defence of ethnic Russians allegedly threatened by the new Ukrainian authorities.

We heard this story before, 75 years ago, when the Soviet Union invaded Poland under the pretext of protecting ethnic Ukrainians and Belarusians from the advancing army of the Third Reich. It was only in 1989 when the Soviet authorities admitted the existence of the secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet Pact that was signed on the 23rd of August, 1939, and implied the division of Poland, Romania, the Baltic States and Finland into Nazi and Soviet “spheres of influence”. It was Soviet expansionism initially supported by the Third Reich, rather than a concern about ethnic Ukrainians and Belarusians, that was the first and only reason of the Soviet invasion of Poland.

Nazi-Soviet division of Europe
Nazi-Soviet division of Europe

Russian university textbooks on geopolitics published since the late 1990s routinely questioned the territorial integrity of Ukraine and, especially, the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Since the 1990s, Russian top officials regularly visited Crimea and spoke about the republic’s integration with Russia in future. In 2008, then Mayor of Moscow Yuriy Luzhkov was denied entry in Ukraine for his earlier speech about the “return” of Sevastopol, the major port in Crimea, to Russia.

For the Russian authorities, the “colour revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine that brought to power pro-Western governments in 2003-2004 was a sign that these countries were willing to leave the Russian sphere of influence choosing liberal democracy over semi-authoritarian kleptocracy. President Vladimir Putin perceived these revolutions as a direct threat to his rule: if Russian citizens see that post-Soviet countries such as Georgia and Ukraine can successfully modernize and democratize, then they may want the same for Russia – and this would dramatically undermine the authoritarian regime that Putin and his elites have built. Hence, Putin’s task was to subvert democratic governments in the neighbouring countries to prevent them from successful modernization.

(left to right) Vladimir Yakunin and Igor Sechin, two of the most influential representatives of the siloviki group
(left to right) Vladimir Yakunin and Igor Sechin, two of the most influential representatives of the siloviki group

Most importantly for him was to prevent former Soviet countries from joining NATO. Despite the fear of NATO that Putin and his colleagues from security services (or siloviki) inherited from the Soviet times, the expansion of NATO in the 1990s and 2000s posed a very different threat to what was claimed by the Kremlin. [highlight]It had nothing to do with Moscow’s official line that NATO expansion near Russian borders was a danger to Russia’s national security. Rather, the organization’s system of collective defence secured member states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, and this made it impossible or, at least, very dangerous for Russia to pursue its expansionist agenda.[/highlight]

Russian expansionism has always been veiled by the rhetoric of concern about “Russian compatriots” in neighbouring countries. A year after the Ukrainian “Orange revolution” in 2004, Putin lamented about “tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots” who had “found themselves outside Russian territory”, and claimed that “the collapse of the Soviet Union had been a major geopolitical disaster of the century”.

It was in 2005, when the Kremlin’s siloviki revitalized their support for pro-Russian separatists in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. That year, the organization “Donetsk Republic” – a Russian proxy in the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine – was created. Its leaders went to Russia in 2006 to participate in the summer camp of the Eurasian Youth Union that was established in 2005 with the money from the Presidential Administration of Russia on the initiative of Aleksandr Dugin, major ideologue of the Russia-led Eurasian Empire, and Vladislav Surkov, then deputy head of the Presidential Administration. This summer camp was aimed at further indoctrination of the activists and training for fighting against democratic movements in the neighbouring states. Instructors from security services taught methods of espionage, sabotage and guerrilla tactics. Among the participants of the summer camp was Andrey Purgin, who is now “First Prime Minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”.

(from left to right) Oleg Frolov, currently a member of the "parliament of the Donetsk People's Republic", and Pavel Zarifullin, former leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, in the summer camp in 2006
(from left to right) Oleg Frolov, currently a member of the “parliament of the Donetsk People’s Republic”, and Pavel Zarifullin, former leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, in the summer camp in 2006

A political discussion of possible NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia in 2008 prompted Putin to lift the veil on Russian plans concerning Ukraine. It was at the Bucharest NATO meeting when Putin told then President George Bush: “You don’t understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state. What is Ukraine? Part of its territories is Eastern Europe, but the greater part is a gift from us”. In his official speech at the same meeting, Putin even suggested that rapprochement with the West might result in Ukraine’s loss of statehood.

For the Kremlin, the ideal “solution of the Ukrainian question” (Plan A) was to integrate Ukraine into the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia that would be transformed into the Eurasian Union in 2015, and, consequently, prevent the country from signing an Association Agreement with the EU. [highlight]If Ukraine did not cooperate in this regard, then the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be Plan B.[/highlight] In September 2013, when the Ukrainian authorities still discussed the prospects of signing the Association Agreement with the EU, Putin’s aide Sergey Glazyev explicitly stated that if Ukraine signed the Agreement, Russia could no longer guarantee Ukraine’s status as a state and could intervene “if pro-Russian regions of the country appealed directly to Moscow”. The Ukrainian revolution that set the country on the pro-European course was a signal for Moscow to launch that Plan B.

[box]

“We don’t want to use any kind of blackmail. This is a question for the Ukrainian people,” said Glazyev. “But legally, signing this agreement about association with EU, the Ukrainian government violates the treaty on strategic partnership and friendship with Russia.” When this happened, he said, Russia could no longer guarantee Ukraine’s status as a state and could possibly intervene if pro-Russian regions of the country appealed directly to Moscow.

“Signing this treaty will lead to political and social unrest,” said the Kremlin aide. “The living standard will decline dramatically … there will be chaos.”

[/box]

The Kremlin and its propaganda machine depict the annexation of Crimea as an act of defending ethnic Russians, and the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine – as a Ukrainian civil war. This narrative cannot be any further from the truth. What has been going on in Ukraine since February 2014 is an operation that Russia developed several years ago for the event of Ukraine willing to become a part of the family of European free, democratic nations.

[hr] Originally published on Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog

The Ukrainian Army is unprepared for war

The recent news in Ukraine, from the perspective of the government side, has been very positive. At least sixty settlements have been recaptured from the anti-Kyiv forces led by the Russian officers Vladimir Antyufeyev and Igor Girkin/Strelkov. The terrorists are now confined to two small pockets inside the two regional capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk. They are well provided with weaponsry but desperate for a full-scale Russian invasion to begin.

This picture, however, masks fundamental problems at the upper levels of Ukrainian army. Evidence is emerging of large-scale corruption among generals and lower-ranking officers, particularly in Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. It is undermining the war effort and lowering the morale of rank-and-file. Many soldiers have come to the conclusion that it would be better to change the leadership in Kyiv before dealing with the separatists in the Donbas.

Command over troops in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) is divided among several sectors, including the ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs, along with some volunteer formations. Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, announced on July 29 that at least 20,000 troops in the Donbas were needed to replace deserters and traitors. Almost 600 troops had been found collaborating with officials of the “Donetsk People’s Republic.” A further 242 people who had been on vacation “for a long time” were also under investigation.

After months of fighting the border with Russia remains open. Anton Herashchenko, an advisor to Avakov, notes that daily hundreds, and sometimes thousands of mercenaries cross from Russia to join the fighting in Ukraine. Some are influenced by Russian state propaganda, but others come as mercenaries. Some Ukrainian soldiers suspect that the border has remained open because some of their own leaders are making profits from the hiring of Russian troops and equipment.

Ukrainian soldier

One soldier (we have withheld his name) complained that ATO generals were ignorant of what is taking place in the war zone. They prefer to sit in hotels well away from the battle front “eating lobster” and cavorting with prostitutes. They remain restricted to the “Soviet mindset.” Leader of the Radical Party Oleh Liashko had visited them and provided cookies, chocolate, food, and sleeping bags, but the commanders had confiscated them and put such goods under lock and key. He quoted a border source that Russia was prepared to pay $100,000 for a truck loaded with weapons to cross and $10,000 for an individual mercenary. These funds fall into the hands of Ukrainian military leaders. The war, in his view, could be ended in a month using two battalions with twenty snipers in each, but people at the top are interested in prolonging it.

Parents of soldiers from Uzhhorod region complain of corrupt and irresponsible military commanders. About 280 soldiers were picked up at Luhansk airport and informed that their destination would be the Moscow-Luhansk highway, a virtual death sentence, since the road is the only remaining link between eastern Ukraine and Russia, and controlled by separatists and Chechens. The troops abandoned their mission; only 25 paratroopers from Zhytomyr were willing to take it on and suffered heavily. The Uzhhorod parents believe their Ukrainian commanders betrayed their whereabouts to the Chechens for cash and took vacations on the proceeds. Captured Chechens have also been suddenly released. The soldiers do not complain about shortages of food and water and are willing to defend Ukraine. But they believe also that the war is being prolonged for profits.

According to Dmytro Tymchuk, coordinator of the group “Information Resistance,” the main problem lies with army generals at ATO headquarters. They are, he reports, pathologically inclined to lies, are afraid to take on the slightest responsibility, unable to make simple decisions, and utterly incompetent. Military commanders of all units are psychologically unprepared for combat. Starting with the war in Crimea (March 2014), examples abound of middle and junior commanders refusing to obey orders or sabotaging them.

 

Treachery and corruption at the top is rampant. Both Svoboda leader Oleh Tiahnybok and commander of the “Aidar” battalion, Serhii Melnychuk, maintain there are traitors in the central office of the ATO. Tiahnybok has proposed a lie detector test to prevent the delivery of secret information to Moscow, end corruption, and facilitate the delivery of necessary military equipment. A volunteer from the “Wings of the Phoenix” from Mykolaiv region complained that: “The generals have saunas and fitness centers in the rear of ATO Staff. They have no idea what’s going on here, where our guys are dying.”

One soldier bemoaned the fact that in Kyiv the oligarchs have returned to power and “nothing has changed.” The generals do not care about soldiers, they remain in hotels and secure places, and are content to replace dead troops with new recruits. Even Ukrainian Minister of Defense, Valerii Heletei, acknowledged the depths of the problems of the high command, noting that the Ukrainian army has 20-30 generals who are quite adept at preparing battle plans on tablets and on paper. But they have no idea what is happening at the front. In order to understand the situation, he commented, “one should at least go there.”

Ukrainian army

 

The DNR’s defense leader Strelkov recently imposed martial law in Donetsk. Such options are not open to the Ukrainian side, complained deputy of the Kyiv Council, Ihor Lutsenko. Yet, he believes, its imposition would allow the military to detain suspected separatists. The front abounds in enemy agents and traitors, yet local police forces leave the separatists in peace. Lutsenko maintained that “The main problems with fighting the terrorists are located in the capital, and to overcome them will automatically ensure victory—at least over those enemies who are in our country right now. The ATO must start in Kyiv!”

The government of Ukraine proposes to allot about $1 billion for the ATO, the costs of refugees, and restoring the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk in the future in the 2014 state budget. It has also raised financial assistance to the families of dead servicemen in the ATO zone to around $50,000 per soldier. In reality, however, families do not receive such compensation since the soldiers are blamed for their own deaths—failure to follow instructions, misuse of weapon, improper behavior, etc., as the testimony of their widows reveals.

The failure to deal with fundamental problems of the army is undermining the war effort and alienating the troops conducting the main fighting. Not only does it endanger the future of Ukraine, but also it contributes to volunteer extremist paramilitary groups like the extremist “Azov” battalion taking over the war effort. The victims of high-level corruption in the current Ukrainian army are the rank-and-file troops who are neglected, betrayed, and often abandoned to their fate as “cannon fodder.” This fact is largely concealed in the Ukrainian and Western media amid reports of ATO successes and liberation of eastern towns and villages. But it will affect the future of Ukraine long after the demise of Girkin and the so-called People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

[hr]

David Marples is currently Visiting Professor at the Slavic and Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University, Japan. He is Distinguished Professor and Dirctor of the Stasiuk Program for the Study of Contemporary Ukraine at the University of Alberta, Canada.

Myroslava Uniat holds an MA from the University of Alberta, Canada. Her sphere of research was contemporary Ukrainian political folklore. She was born in Kyiv and raised in Chernihiv region of Ukraine.

The aftermath of MH17

The massive outpouring of media commentary and analysis following the tragic loss of lives on the downed Dutch airliner has given much pause for thought. Three items in attracted my attention, one from the perspective of misreading the situation, and the second and third offering informed but questionable statements by experts on Ukraine. They provide an introduction for an analysis of the reaction from the Russian side, which seeks to deflect responsibility for the catastrophe from the Kremlin and even from the anti-Ukrainian forces that currently occupy the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, which, most sources concur, were responsible for the missile that brought down Flight MH-17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur last Thursday.

Writing in the London Daily Mail, a tabloid better known for its gossip columns than reasoned and informative analysis, Peter Hitchens blames the European Union for the current conflict in Ukraine, maintaining that it was the EU’s expansionism that sparked the insurgence:

[The] aggressor was the European Union, which rivals China as the world’s most expansionist power, swallowing countries the way performing seals swallow fish (16 gulped down since 1995)…. Ignoring repeated and increasingly urgent warnings from Moscow, the EU – backed by the USA – sought to bring Ukraine into its orbit. It did so through violence and illegality, an armed mob and the overthrow of an elected president.

Hitchens presumably suffers from a short memory. Had he contemplated the events of six years ago, namely the Russian war with Georgia that resulted in the defection from that country of two states recognized today by less than five countries—Abkhazia and South Ossetia—he might have recalled why the Eastern Partnership Project (initiated by Poland and Sweden) came into being, and why the EU opted to give states in the neighborhood of Russia some political and economic alternatives. It should be added that the EU has offered membership to none of them. Even if it had, most EU states retain considerable independence, as demonstrated by the recent examples of France selling two Mistral-class warships to Russia and German reluctance to impose more severe sanctions on Moscow. Blaming the EU for the war given its demonstrable lack of participation and restrained sanctions makes no sense.

A more serious analysis of the current troubles is offered by Ivan Katchanovski, writing for The Washington Post blog, who concludes that: “The second-largest country in Europe is now formally in a state of civil war, since the battle-related casualties exceed 1,000, a mark that political scientists and conflict studies scholars often use to formally classify an armed conflict as a civil war.

This statement requires an explanation of how one defines civil war, other than numerically. Which residents of Ukraine are fighting each other? The war began last March with the Russian invasion of Crimea, the most significant alteration of European boundaries since the Second World War (not 1954, since both Ukraine and Russia were part of a single state). Moreover there was a clear continuation of that war into eastern Ukraine, even including the leaders of the invasion forces, such as Igor Girkin (Strelkov), a resident of Moscow. Notably when the Ukrainian army recaptured the former terrorist stronghold of Sloviansk on July 5, the fighting stopped and people returned to the streets.

What Katchanovski’s polls demonstrate is disaffection with Euromaidan and the government installed in Kyiv earlier this year. No doubt that alienation remains in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk—though less so in any other region other than Crimea. But that is not civil war [see also Adrian Karatnycky’s comment at New Republic]. Yaroslav Tynchenko, deputy director of the National Military-History Museum of Ukraine, points out that these three regions, in addition to Kharkiv and Odesa took exception (during Euromaidan in Kyiv) especially to the appearance of the red-black “Bandera” flag, Dmytro Yarosh, portraits of Stepan Bandera, and the party Svoboda and that they neither knew nor understood the “western Ukrainian culture.” As Tynchenko recalled, this situation had prompted the late Viacheslav Chornovil in the early 1990s to advocate a system of federalization for Ukraine. Clearly Euromaidan always had as many opponents as supporters. But civil war requires more than disagreement. After all, the Ukrainian state is approaching its 23rd anniversary.

On the other hand, to state, as Chrystia Freeland did during her CNN debate with Stephen Cohen that Vladimir Putin could end the war “tomorrow,” also seems far-fetched, though in general her comments were much better informed and credible than those of her interlocutor, Stephen Cohen, who took the Ukrainian government to task for liberating its own territory. In fact, Moscow tried to prevent (unsuccessfully) the Donetsk and Luhansk referendums, and it supported, belatedly, the holding of the Ukrainian presidential election, while the militants in these two cities generally obstructed people from voting. In short, while Russia has armed and trained the insurgents, it has not always controlled them. But the looseness of command can be perceived as one of understanding and trust. The occupants of Donetsk and Luhansk would not be there without the bidding and support of the Russian government.

Girkin and his troops—let us call them “anti-Ukrainian forces,” because it seems the most accurate phrase to use (he is not a separatist leader as he is not a resident of Ukraine)—had already shot down two military planes earlier in the week before the downing of the civilian airliner on July 17. They then boasted about the latter event in recorded conversations, released by the Ukrainian SBU, as well as in Girkin’s own diary annotations, before realizing what they had hit. Girkin’s diary seems quite a credible source. He has kept such records in the past, for example during the Bosnian conflict, and his earlier entries of the Ukrainian war were never retracted or amended. That may be because Girkin is a military adventurer who believes his mission is to implant his and Russia’s preferred form of government not only in Ukraine, but worldwide, including places like Syria and the former Yugoslavia. US radar also detected the source of the missile as being close to the village of Hrabove (Donetsk Oblast).

So why cannot Russia and the anti-Ukrainian insurgents acknowledge what they did, explain that it was in error, and express their regrets and apologies to the families of those killed? That should be a simple task. Undoubtedly this is a chaotic scene with many armed groups not necessarily working in unison, as OSCE observer Michael Bociurkiw has pointed out. But a command structure remains in place and a completely disorganized group could not have fired such an advanced weapon. It required training and orders.

Putin’s statement that “the state over whose territory it occurred is responsible for the terrible tragedy” is absurd. By that same token, the United Kingdom was responsible for the Lockerbie plane destroyed by a terrorist bomb in 1988 or Ireland for the 1985 Air India flight, both of which had huge death tolls like MH17. Similarly irresponsible commentary came from RIA Novosti on July 18, which reported that: “there has been no evidence” that Russia has supplied arms to resistance forces in Ukraine, a statement that even the cautious Angela Merkel rejected.

Such denials belittle the Russian president’s expressions of regret at the losses. His general attitude of avoiding responsibility and living in a state of denial is reminiscent of that of another former KGB leader, the ailing Yuri Andropov, after a Soviet jet shot down Korean Air 007 on September 1, 1983 west of Sakhalin Island. The order to do so was given by General Anatoly Kornukhov, who paradoxically died, unrepentant, just three weeks ago. Both Putin and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin had decorated him previously for his loyal service to his homeland.

While it would be facile to deny the one-sidedness of many Western reports on this war, they pale beside the propaganda on the Russian side, which goes well beyond distortion. According to analyst Viktor Ukolov, the campaign is intended to ensure that the Russian military do not have the slightest sympathy for their adversaries when the time comes to “pull the trigger.” They include stories such as the crucifixion of a young child by the Right Sector in Sloviansk. The campaign’s impact has extended to more peaceful parts of Ukraine. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has declared it a war for the minds of people that is having a pernicious effect on his country.

As for Russian residents, as a Radio Liberty report by Robert Coalson noted recently, a June opinion poll conducted by the Levada Center, 90% of Russian residents obtain their news directly from Russian Television, and over 50% rely on a single source. A further 60% considered the treatment of Ukraine to be objective. There is little question therefore that Russians believe what they hear. But it is also a campaign that has entrapped the Russian leadership as well: once initiated it is difficult to stop, and it undermines any attempts at compromise once the enemy [Ukraine] is portrayed as a “neo-Nazi Junta,” a depiction incidentally that has found its way onto the Facebook and Twitter sites of many gullible Westerners, despite a presidential election in which rightist forces were heavily defeated and a forthcoming parliamentary election in the fall.

It is this sort of mindset that has brought about the callous and otherwise unfathomable reaction to the loss of MH17 and its innocent passengers, accompanied by a plethora of conspiracy theories, aspersions on the Ukrainian government, and of course denial of complicity on the part of Russia and its allies. Ultimately the first way out of this maze of fabrications and distortions is quite simple: an admission of guilt and open access to the crash scene. Very few observers believe that those who launched the missile deliberately fired on a civilian airliner—even including a Canadian analyst who describes the tragedy as a war crime and “mass murder.” On the other hand, the tragedy is a result of escalation of the war by Russia and its anti-Ukrainian insurgents inside Ukraine, most of which are Russian-led and armed. Its impact is exacerbated and deepened by the continuing denials of guilt from the Russian president and his ministers.

[hr] Article was originally published here
*The author expresses his gratitude to Eduard Baidaus, PhD candidate, University of Alberta, for his assistance on this essay.

Putin’s dwindling options in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s options in Ukraine appear to be diminishing as the war in the Donbas continues, despite an official ceasefire initiated on June 20 by Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko. After almost four months of conflict, which began on March 1, when Russian forces occupied Crimea, the impetus for further dramatic changes in revising territorial boundaries in Ukraine has slowed notably.

A survey conducted by the fund Public Opinion, reveals that today over 50% of Russians want Putin to run for president of Russia after 2018, when his current term expires. The survey points out that the increase in the president’s popularity stems directly from the annexation of Crimea. The direct costs to date have been serious without being dangerous. Ukraine refers to the situation as one of “temporary occupation.” The UN resolution on March 27, which stated that the Crimean Referendum “cannot be the basis for any changes of status” of the peninsula, received the support of 100 member countries out of 193, with 11 opposed, and 58 abstentions. The costs of the occupation will likely prove severe in future (up to 1 trillion rubles over four years), and building the bridge over the Kerch Straits alone will amount to R283-349 billion—around $8.3-$10.3 billion. These future impositions will eventually take a toll on the Russian economy, but may not affect Putin’s popularity for the immediate future.

But if Crimea has necessitated acceptable sacrifices, the situation in Eastern Ukraine has been more problematic from Moscow’s perspective. Despite intensive propaganda directed at local residents, there is little to suggest that the local population supports the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) or the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR). Moreover, while nebulous concerning details, Poroshenko’s peace plan has acknowledged the need for decentralization of authority to the benefit of these regions. On the basis of a new Constitution, he declared, new local councils will be elected and form executive committees, which elect their own leaders. The proposed amendments would allow regions wide rights in the spheres of historical memory, cultural traditions, and language policy, and local communities in the Donbas will enjoy the right to use Russian, along with the state language (Ukrainian). The president also added that the program would create new jobs in the region with the assistance of the EU, but no investments would be forthcoming until warfare ended. Poroshenko is willing to talk to those who joined the separatists, but not those involved in acts of terrorism, murder, or torture.

Putin showed some signs of willingness to support the ceasefire, requesting the Federation Council to withdraw the resolution permitting military intervention in Ukraine. Valery Bolotov, head of separatist military forces in Luhansk and Aleksandr Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok battalion, both took part in the press conference in support of the ceasefire, which was to expire on June 27. Three former presidents of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma (he has been Poroshenko’s designated mediator in discussions with Russia), Leonid Kravchuk, and Viktor Yushchenko had earlier sent an open letter to Putin, demanding that he end aggression against Ukraine and start negotiations. Kravchuk remarked that without Putin, no peace proposals implemented by the Ukrainian side could be implemented. On June 22, Putin made a conciliatory statement on the need for a compromise acceptable to all sides, including the people of south-east Ukraine “who should feel they are an integral part of this country,” which taken literally would imply that the Russian president no longer recognizes the authority of the separatist regimes.

The difficulties, however, lie at the heart of these quasi-regimes and their self-appointed leaders. The “people’s governor” of Donetsk Oblast, Pavel Gubarev, proposed his own plan to resolve the conflict in southeastern Ukraine, which he posted on his Facebook page. It demanded that all Ukrainian troops be removed from the two breakaway republics and Kyiv should recognize their legitimacy, as well as the creation of conditions for a referendum in other regions of “Novorossiya.” He also stated that Ihor Kolomoiskyi (governor of Dnipropetrovsk), Arsen Avakov (Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs), and Oleh Lyashko (leader of the Ukrainian Radical Party) must voluntarily give themselves up to the militia, while oligarch Rinat Akhmetov must return everything he has “stolen from the people,” gather his belongings, and leave the country. On June 21, at Lenin Square in Donetsk (i.e. the day after the ceasefire was introduced), the armed forces of the breakaway regions took an oath of loyalty, attended by “Prime Minister” Aleksandr Boroday, former MP Oleh Tsarev, and the head of the Novorossiya party, Gubarev. These are hardly the actions of people in a mood for compromise.

The same can be said of the head of the armed forces of the DNR, Igor Strelkov (Girkin), who stated in an interview with LifeNews on June 25 that he was prepared to observe a ceasefire only on three conditions. First, that the Ukrainian army should move 10 kilometers from the main army garrisons of the DNR and LNR; second, flights of Ukrainian military planes over zones controlled by rebels must stop; and third, artillery fire on settlements and separatist bases must end. While Strelkov has declared his gratitude to Russia for the provision of weapons, which have undoubtedly been used at his base on Slovyansk (resulting in the deaths of 49 military personnel after the shooting down of a Ukrainian plane in mid-June), his frustration with his ostensible masters in Moscow has been evident for some time. Further, the demands of both Strelkov and Gubarev are far-fetched in a situation where the Ukrainian president would prefer not to deal directly with those who wish to break up or challenge the territorial integrity of his country.

Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov maintains that Putin has betrayed the Russian mercenaries, who went to Ukraine brainwashed by propaganda. He points out that “Putin’s channels” (on Russian television) talk constantly about the heroic fight against “Fascists and Banderites” but they do not show Strelkov. The latter had been among the first to be obsessed with the anti-Ukrainian propaganda and had taken up guns and traveled to Slovyansk. His example was followed by hundreds of fighters from Russia, who became the backbone of resistance to the Ukrainian army. But whereas all television propaganda focused on Strelkov’s armed detachments, the leader himself was kept in the shadows. Nemtsov’s theory is that after the war, Strelkov and his companions will return to Russia incensed at Putin for his betrayal of them, and their next actions will not be in Slovyansk, but in Moscow. The implication is that they would want Putin removed from power for inciting them to action and then withdrawing support.

Nemtsov’s analysis, while perhaps overblown, nonetheless delves into the heart of the dilemmas facing Vladimir Putin. He gained a surge of popularity for the successful annexation of Crimea, but the intervention in Eastern Ukraine—the concept of the so-called “Novorossiya”—has run into serious difficulties and cannot be sustained without a full-scale Russian military invasion. In one operation alone, Ukraine’s anti-terrorist forces killed over 250 separatists, and while costly in terms of casualties and impact on the local population, the sustained, if error-strewn drive in place since Poroshenko’s inauguration has effectively ended prospects of separatist victory assuming the current array of forces is maintained. In that respect the ceasefire may have been somewhat premature. For Putin, however, a desperate situation is masked behind what seem to be “peace maneuvers.” In reality, without further escalation, the Russian leader will lose control over the forces he has created.

In this respect, Putin’s fatal mistake was less his encouragement of the likes of Strelkov, and rather his intervention into Crimea on March 1, which at one stroke changed a border in place for sixty years. At present none of these events seems to pose an immediate danger to the Russian president, but he is wise enough to recognize that his position is deteriorating. His actions have incurred human losses, great expenses, the alienation of much of the international community, and the lasting enmity of the vast majority of Ukrainians, all of which he might have been prepared to sustain if the result had been the end of Ukraine’s move toward the West or the self-rule or independence of its eastern territories. But none of this has happened, and separatists in Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, and other Donbas towns are now in peril. They cannot agree to a ceasefire because it will signify the end of their mission and the Russian leader seems to have abandoned them. In turn, Putin has no wish to initiate full-scale war and face the quagmire of another Afghanistan. If he deluded himself into the view that he would receive widespread support in Eastern Ukraine, he recognizes today that any major conflict would be protracted and costly. His actions on March 1 are now coming back to haunt him.

 

Photo: AFP PHOTO / POOL / CHRISTOPHE ENA