Putin’s new National Guard – what does it say when you need your own personal army?

The idea of creating a National Guard (NG) for Russia bringing together public security forces under a single command has been raised periodically and always abandoned for very good reasons, not least the lack of any apparent need to have a Praetorian Guard on steroids. In 2012, for example, I didn’t think it likely: it would upend the balance of power within the security agencies, create a monster, and not really meet any true security need.

So what does it say that Putin today announced that such a natsgvardiya was going to be formed? After a meeting with security luminaries include MVD Interior Troops commander (and new NG head) Viktor Zolotov – a trusted ex-bodyguard – he announced [my translation]:

Decisions have been made: we are creating a new federal executive body on the basis of the Interior Troops – creating the National Guard, which will handle the fight against terrorism, the fight against organised crime, and in close cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, will continue to perform those functions which are [currently] performed by the OMON (riot police), SOBR (SWAT) and so on.

We will arrange, as we discussed with the Interior Minister [Vladimir Kolokoltsev], not only in the decree, but in a future federal law, so that there will be no discord in order to get everything working smoothly and clearly. I hope very much that the troops of the National Guard will effectively perform their tasks, as has been the case up now, and that they will strengthen the work on the areas that are considered priorities.

The NG will thus also take over the OMON and SOBR, making it a powerful paramilitary security force, with elements right across the country.

Meanwhile, the Federal Drugs Control Service (FSKN) and Federal Migration Service (FMS) will be brought under the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs), albeit remaining separate services. (Again, an idea which had been mooted before.) This may be a consolation prize for Kolokoltsev but appears, unsurprisingly, to have been a bitter pill for FSKN chief Viktor Ivanov, moving from independent director to ministerial subordinate.

The creation of a National Guard is a big deal. We await details, but here are a few first observations:

1. No discussion, no lead time. As with so many crucial decisions, this came essentially unheralded, underlining the extent to which policy comes from a small, tight circlearound Putin. It is not just that they have good operational security; they also clearly see no reason to prepare the public in advance. This is just the way politics goes these days.

2. Big worries in a little circle. There is no real reason for creating the NG out of the Interior Troops (VV) and other forces unless you have a serious worry about public unrest. Let’s be clear, whatever Putin says the militarised security forces of the VV and now NG have little real role fighting crime or terrorism; they are public security forces, riot and insurrection control and deterrence assets. The OMON and SOBR do play a certain role, but detaching them from the investigations elements of the MVD actually reduces their value in fighting crime. (And the MVD will likely have to recreate some kind of SWAT forces of its own.)

3. Putin’s Own. The NG, as a federal agency, will be directly subordinated to the government, without a minister in the way. With Zolotov at its head, then it is even more clearly a personal, presidential Praetorian force, under a maximalist loyalist. This may not only be a force to keep the masses in check, but also the elite.

4. Upsetting the power ministry balance. In the past, there was a key desire to retain a degree of balance between the various security agencies. The MVD has now been weakened (and having the FMS and FSKN is by no means enough of a recompense), and the Federal Security Service (FSB) has a more direct rival in the domestic security stakes.

5. I see from the text of the law that FGUP Okhrany, the private security corporation of the MVD, is being transferred to the NG. This is a major blow to the MVD, as it made quite a bit of revenue for them. It also raises questions about the future of the Vnevedomstvennaya okhrana, the police’s private security department, which was often a good way for cops to do some paid overtime and eke out their salaries. Will they still be able to do this? If not, then that may well be a further encouragement to more petty and predatory corruption by cops seeing their real wages shrink (as bonuses have also already been cut) and options legally to make up the shortfall vanish…

Who committed treason in Ukraine?

The publication of the minutes of the National Security and Defence Council meeting on 28 February 2014 is interesting for what it confirms and what it points to as to who committed treason. Several things are quite striking.

The first is recognition of mass support for Russia among Crimean residents which is not surprising as pro-Russian sentiment was always high in this region. Secondly, recognition of mass defections and fears of mass betrayals among local siloviky. This is in fact what happened. The defection of the majority of Ministry of Interior, SBU, military and prosecutor’s office personnel constitutes one of the biggest single acts of treason in modern history.  Third, a sense of disorientation on the part of the US. This is not news to anybody who knows President Obama who I compared to Yushchenko in terms of his indecisiveness. Fourthly, recognition that armed resistance is futile because Ukraine had no large and well equipped security forces. Finally, weak political will to react in any way possible by nearly all Euromaidan leaders, including Tyahnybok, Yatseniuk and Tymoshenko.

But, the minutes of the meeting tell us much more as they point to the heart of the treason of the Yanukovych presidency and why they should be accountable for their actions. The following 4 treasonous steps were permitted by Yanukovych to be undertaken by Russia:

1. Under Russian citizen and Minister of Defence’s Dmitri Salamatin the database of conscripts was destroyed. Under Ministers of Defence Salamatin, Pavel Lebedev and Mykhaylo Yezhel, Ukraine’s military budget was severely reduced and military equipment was sold or transferred to Russia. Salamatin planned to reduce Ukraine’s armed forces to 75, 000 by 2017. Russian citizen Yuri Boriskin was appointed head of the General Staff at the Ministry of Defence. Yezhel’s daughter is married to an admiral of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

2. The head of Yanukovych’s personal bodyguards, Viacheslav Zanevskiy, was a Russian citizen.

3. During Yushchenko’s presidency, Russia’s intelligence services operated covertly but under Yanukovych they were permitted to operate overtly in the Crimea, Donbas and elsewhere without hindrance. 90 percent of SBU activities were directed against the opposition in the form of illegal wiretapping, surveillance and organisation of vigilantes for election fraud and violence against opposition members and journalists. The FSB was given complete reign over the SBU and commandeered data on 22, 000 officials and informants. Hard drives and flash drives not taken to Russia were destroyed. Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said they took ‘everything that forms a basis for a professional intelligence service.’ SBU Chairman Aleksandr Yakymenko, Russian citizen Igor Kalinin and 4 top intelligence chiefs fled to Russia. 235 SBU agents were arrested of whom 25 were charged with high treason, including the counter-intelligence chief. After the Euromaidan all regional SBU directors were replaced. The FSB reportedly introduced surveillance technology on Ukraine’s mobile telephone network. The extent of Russian intelligence penetration came to light in spring-summer 2014 when Ukrainian missions in the ATO were compromised by intelligence leaks that provided the Russians and separatists with sufficient time to consolidate their positions in the crucial first months of the conflict. Obviously, not all the traitors have been removed from the SBU and over the last 8 months, 30 SBU officers have been arrested for corruption and treason.

4. During the Euromaidan, 30 FSB officers visited Ukraine on 3 occasions in 13-15 December 2013, 26-29 January and 20-22 February 2014 and used the SBU sanatorium at Koncha Zaspa, near Kyiv as their base of operations. Their main liaison was SBU Counter-Intelligence Chief Volodymyr Buk. Their goals were to increase protection of their Russian assets; ensure continued access to SBU files, special communications and headquarters; provide training for ‘antiterrorism’ exercises; and supply anti-terrorist and crowd control equipment for the SBU Alpha special forces and Ministry of Interior Berkut to destroy the Euromaidan.

Who is accountable for this mass treason?

Obviously at the top of those who committed treason are Yanukovych and key members of the Donetsk clan such as the Kluyev brothers, Borys Kolesnikov and Renat Akhmetov. Yanukovych and Andriy Kluyev have fled to Russia, Serhiy Kluyev was permitted to flee in summer 2015, and Kolesnikov and Akhmetov live peacefully in Ukraine and the latter has parliamentary immunity. Akhmetov and Yanukovych had a business and political relationship since the 1990s and to believe the oligarch had no knowledge of the treason taking place is not credible.

A second group who committed treason are the gas lobby who joined and aligned with the Party of Regions from 2006. Serhiy Lyovochkin was Chief of Staff for all of Yanukovych’s presidency except for 1 month (he resigned in late January 2014). Again, it is not credible to believe that Lyovochkin had no knowledge of the massive treason taking place or of the massive corruption. Nevertheless, he suffers from no consequences as he negotiated a backroom deal with Petro Poroshenko in mid March 2014 in Vienna. Today he is on no Ukrainian wanted list and has parliamentary immunity.

Dmytro Firtash and Yuriy Boyko, 2 other prominent gas lobby leaders, also gained massively from corruption under Yanukovych. Firtash is only wanted by the US, but not by Ukraine (according to Prosecutor-General Shokhin) for criminal charges while Boyko has parliamentary immunity. Firtash has always been Russia’s agent of influence in Ukraine, as a lengthy Reuters investigation pointed out.

Other members of the Azarov government either fled to Russia or continue to live in Ukraine. One cabinet member received the support of the gas lobby and was elected as Ukraine’s president. How much did the other members of the government know what was taking place under Yanukovych?

What was permitted to take place under Yanukovych was treason of a massive scale that nearly destroyed Ukraine. If Ukraine’s civil and military volunteers had not defended Ukraine in 2014, Putin’s NovoRossiya project would have won and crippled Ukraine as an independent state.

Has anybody been held accountable for this treason? Has anybody been criminally charged? Why is Lyovochkin still a free man when as Chief of Staff he had to know and participate in these criminal acts.

Moscow opts for conspiracy theories to explain the Flight 9268 crash

The crash of the Metrojet Flight 9268 operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia has presented Moscow with a dilemma: what explanation of the crash would be most useful for the Kremlin’s positioning both domestically and internationally? Essentially, there have been two options:

1. A mechanical failure.

The Russian media reported that Flight 9268 experienced technical problems and the pilot asked for a landing in a nearest airport. The Russian media also quoted various people in Russia – family members of the crew, technicians, and other third parties – saying that, in the past, there had been oral reports of the technical problems that the pilots and crew had with the aircraft. Explaining the crash of Flight 9268 with a reference to the mechanical failure was apparently the safest option for Moscow. Since Russia is engaged in the erratic campaign of saving the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria by bombing civilian population, anti-Assad rebels, and, occasionally, ISIS terrorists, the technical explanation presents a picture of a dramatic casualty in no way related to Putin’s Syrian campaign. Naturally, this explanation also points to the corrupt practices in Russia (an aircraft experiencing technical problems should never have been used by the Kogalymavia airline), but all the Russians are aware of the devastating corruption in their country, so “it’s fine”.

2. A terrorist attack.

Almost immediately after the crash, ISIS terrorists claimed responsibility for the incident. This directly linked the crash to Moscow’s Syrian campaign, and implied that ordinary Russians paid a costly price for Putin’s adventures. Hence, admitting that the terrorist attack was the cause of the crash of Flight 9268 could be a blow to Putin’s image domestically: for the Russian audience, he presents the Syrian campaign as something distant and, at the same time, beneficial for Russia’s international standing, but the terrorist attack brings the war back home. A similar situation in Spain (an al-Qaeda cell claimed responsibility for the 2004 Madrid train bombings) resulted in the withdrawal of the Spanish troops from Iraq. If Putin admits that an Egyptian cell of ISIS has been behind the crash and continues his Syrian campaign, his popularity in Russia my decrease. On the other hand, acknowledging the terrorist attack could still be useful for Moscow in terms of its international image: “the Russians are fighting the war on international terrorism, and Russia and the West are in this together, hence Russia is no longer a pariah state, so do lift the sanctions and accept us to the club of the global powers”.

Nevertheless, Moscow sees the first option as the most useful. After all, even the prospect of Russia’s heightened international standing can only be used by the Kremlin for the purposes of consolidating Putin’s regime, but Moscow’s cost-benefit analysis shows that the threats to Putin’s domestic image in the case of accepting the second option are more significant than the potential benefits.

Moscow’s current problem with the first option, however, is that British and US intelligence services increasingly point to the terrorist attack as the cause of the crash, thus narrowing Moscow’s maneuvering space. And the recent reports in the Russian and international fringe media hint that Moscow may have come up with a third option.

3. ‘The West did it’

On 6 November, Russia’s international Sputnik website published Finian Cunningham’s article that bluntly asked: “was it really terrorists, or was it British MI6 agents palming the deed off as terrorists?”. The same day, a conspiracy website published an article by Sorcha Faal arguing that the Russian intelligence service had allegedly captured and arrested “two CIA assets for masterminding the Sinai plane crash of Flight 9268”. The same argument was reproduced by Sean Adl-Tabatabai, a long time follower of David Icke who believes that a secret group of reptilian humanoids controls humanity. On 8 November, Russia’s chief propagandist Dmitry Kiselev, published an article implicating that an explosion on Flight 9268 could be a result of the agreement between the “Western coalition” and ISIS.

Thus, Russia’s third option is admitting that the terrorist attack was the cause of the crash, but this terrorist attack itself was a Western plot against Russia.

This version may seem absurd to everyone who is not prone to conspiracy theories, but it is also extremely dangerous. It means that, indeed, the consolidation of Putin’s criminal regime at home is far more important for the Kremlin than the international cooperation, and that Moscow is ready to escalate its war on the West. The Kremlin keeps on instilling anti-Western hatred into the Russian society by feeding it with conspiracy theories, and this hatred may lead to psychological acceptance of even more aggressive approach towards the West. As Voltaire wrote, “those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”.

Peace at Last in Ukraine? Analyzing Russian Goals

As we await the form of the local elections in the areas of the Donbas occupied by the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (the DNR and LNR), there is much speculation in the Western media whether the Minsk agreement will be upheld. Much revolves around Russia’s intentions, as well as the attitude of the militant separatist leaders who wish to use the elections to remove their fiefdoms from Ukraine.

Over the past days according to the reports of the OSCE and other sources, overt conflict in the separatist regions seems to have ended and some of the separatist leaders have either been removed or else appear to have migrated—at least for now—to the Russian Federation. Vladimir Putin is reluctant to remain involved in a war that is going nowhere, but costing Russia sorely in terms of commitment of weaponry and manpower, and even more in terms of alienation from Europe and the United States.

Some observers have noted a sustained buildup at Tartus, Russia’s military base in Syria in support of the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad. Predictably, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denies any increase in Russian forces and maintains that it is little changed from earlier.

Nonetheless, that Russia has increased its commitment to Syria while reducing that to the territories of ‘Novorossiya’ in the Donbas is evident. It is unclear whether in the event of a Ukrainian attempt to regain its former territories there would be much opposition in the Kremlin. Rather, as almost occurred in the summer of 2014, Russia might prefer to abandon the separatist regimes and leaders to their fate.

How can such a move be equated with the apparent commitment to Ukrainian separatists and the construction of ‘Novorossiya’?

Some reasons can readily be dismissed, such as the decisive impact of Western sanctions. Sanctions have had some effects, but there is no indication that they have had a serious impact on Putin’s popularity or Russia’s ability to withstand prolonged recession.

Instead, more important are the following. First, the annexation of Crimea has proven extremely costly, and has become more a symbolic triumph than an act of wise statesmanship. True, many Crimeans may have supported it. But providing services to Crimea is difficult, and the peninsula, other than providing bases for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, has little to offer.

Second, the militants, unsurprisingly given their dearth of ideas and commitments, have failed to attract support of he populations in the areas they control. A case in point is Aleksandr Zaharchenko, the leader of the DNR, who continues to make bellicose statements as the peace process makes advances. Though there are many important distinctions between the DNR and LNR, both require conflict to make advances rather than periods of stability. Both require the continued investment of Russian troops, equipment, and personnel that Moscow is no longer prepared to offer given the remote chance of long-term success.

Third, and related, ethnic Russians in Ukraine and Russian-speaking Ukrainians outside the small separatist enclave have no interest either in joining Russia or supporting a prospective full-scale Russian invasion. Even Sergey Aksyonov, the appointed leader of Crimea, would make little headway in a free election, as was evident in the last pre-annexation elections when his party achieved less than 5% of the vote. When pro-Russians failed in their attempted takeover of cities like Kharkiv in the late spring of 2014, it was evident that Vladimir Putin had misinterpreted the signs of support in Ukraine.

In short, opposition to Euromaidan did not signify pro-Russian sentiment or separatism. Most opponents of the protests in Ukraine would, given the choice, put up with the new government, particularly if it secured economic stability, just as they endured the turbulent years of the Yushchenko presidency, or for that matter the corruption of the Yanukovych years. Insofar as the concept of ‘Novorossiya’ existed, it was limited to a small coterie of gunmen and Russian idealists who for a time had the backing of the Kremlin.

Fourth, Russia has moved on. One of the few identifying aspects of the Putin leadership, as with his personal image, is the need for instant triumphs without sustained commitment, images over concrete achievements. That requires foreign policy maneuvers that might enhance the prestige of the regime and allow it to maintain profitable contacts with the Western world. Rhetoric aside—and there has been much of it—Moscow prefers to keep the lines open to the markets of the West while adopting the role of a major player in international affairs.

As far as Syria is concerned, perhaps the logic is that by maintaining Assad in power, Russia can persuade the West that it is better to keep it as a partner rather than an adversary. Just as in 2001, Moscow and Washington can join forces against terrorists, in this case the Islamic State. That is not to say that such a policy will receive much sympathy in Washington, which perceives such intervention as exacerbating the conflict.

Another theory is that by intervening in Syria, Russia will bring the West to the negotiating table, with an agreement that if the Russians keep out of that conflict, they might be given a free hand in Ukraine. But as argued above, that is not what they are seeking at present. Rather the goal is to be recognized as a significant power—in short, it is alienation that rankles rather than sanctions. Russia would like to return to the G8 and believes that there is a possibility of doing so.

Where does that leave Ukraine? Over 8,000 have died in the Donbas conflict to date and over a million residents have left the region. Analysts in the West continue to debate whether there is a civil war or a Russian war in Ukraine. The correct answer is probably a little of both. But the fact remains that the rebels would not survive for long without Russian support. Once they lose it, and given the Kremlin’s current acceptance that an invasion would be highly unpopular both in the area and at home, the likelihood is that DNR and LNR will once more come under Ukrainian control.

None of the above should lead to a conclusion that the Russian government recognizes the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Rather it prefers to wield influence from afar, to ensure that in terms of security interests, both Ukraine and Belarus are in the Russian sphere. A new accommodation with the West would then, in theory lead to the return of economic growth, decreased commitment of military personnel and equipment, and assurance that there should be no further buildup or expansion of NATO.

There is also herein an assumption that there must be some logic to Russia’s latest policy moves, an apparent commitment to the peace process of Minsk as well as to the government of Syria. In reality such moves may be no more than feelers to elicit the reaction of Western powers. Still, Russia is clearly dissatisfied with the status quo, in Ukraine and elsewhere. And that is bad news for the leaders of the DNR and LNR.

Over 2,000 Russian troops killed during Ukraine invasion

A Moscow newspaper reported that Russia had lost “no fewer than 2,000” dead in the fighting in Ukraine and another 3,200 serious casualties by February 1, 2015, a story that stayed up until Kremlin censors removed those lines from the article lest it call into question Vladimir Putin’s constant refrain that there are no Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.

In an article about increased pay for Russian soldiers in 2015, Delovaya zhizn reported these numbers, but they didn’t remain on the site for every long, according to Konstantin Zelfanov of Novy Region-2 yesterday.

But the original uncensored article remained accessible in a cached version, and the key passage of that reads as follows, Zelfanov says. “The government of the Russian Federation has taken an important decision about the monetary compensation of military personnel who have taken part in military actions in the east of Ukraine.”

“For the families of those who have died in the course of military actions in the east of Ukraine, monetary compensation has been set at three million rubles [40,000 US dollars] and for those who have become invalids during the military actions at 1.5 million rubles [20,000 US dollars].”

Moscow had already paid monetary compensation “for more than 2,000 families of soldiers who had been killed

“In addition,” the original version said, Moscow plans to pay contract soldiers a supplement of 1,800 rubles [25 US dollars] for each day of combat. As of February 1, 2015, Moscow had already paid monetary compensation “for more than 2,000 families of soldiers who had been killed and for 3,200 soldiers who were seriously wounded and recognized as invalids.”

Given that six months of fighting have passed since that time, Russian losses, both killed and wounded, must now be much higher, although the Moscow authorities are doing everything they can, including censorship of this kind, to hide that fact lest Russians learn the tragic human costs they are paying for Putin’s aggression.

Ukrainians ‘called us occupiers,’ returning Russian insurgents tell media

Many commentators have speculated that Moscow faces a potentially serious problem when those who have gone to fight in Ukraine return to Russia with their anger and their military skills, the Kremlin may face a more immediate danger: those returning are undercutting Russian propaganda about what is happening in Ukraine.

Today, Yekaterinburg’s independent online news agency reported that “about 180” volunteers from the Urals returned from Ukraine today and are telling their families, friends and the media that “local people [in Ukraine] called us occupiers,” an epithet that calls into question Moscow’s messages.

The returnees were led by Vladimir Yefimov, the spetsnaz veteran who recruited them to go to Ukraine in the first place. When they left for Ukraine in March, they formed “the largest official local group of volunteers since the declaration of the armistice. Only half returned today; the rest continue to fight in the guard of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

“We worked in guard posts and went on patrol,” Yefimov said. “There were no serious battles,” only occasional shooting and provocations. But the weather in the Donbas was terrible and everyone suffered with the flu, heart problems and lung infections.

He added that he and his men “had become disappointed in the Donetsk People’s Republic to which they had gone initially because of its ‘duplicitous leadership’ and the attitudes of the local population.”

“According to Kyiv law, we are terrorists. According to a Madrid court, we are also terrorists. According to the law of the Luhansk Republic, persons who are not included on the lists of its armed forces are also members of illegal armed formations. And if one takes money for service there, then we become mercenaries” under Russian law, Yefimov said.

But it was the attitude of the local people in Luhansk, he said, that really repelled him. “They are clearly drawn to Ukraine. They pay taxes to it. And the local population in some places calls us occupiers. We simply lost the desire to work in this republic and transferred to the Donetsk People’s Republic” where the situation is “much better.”

Yefimov told the Yekaterinburg journalists that he had had to pay for the train tickets of his men back home because of a quarrel he had with his original sponsor: That individual objected to the fact that he had named him during a media interview despite the fact that he wanted to remain anonymous.

Despite all this, Yefimov said, he “plans to prepare a new group of volunteers” and has already found 40 who are ready to go. But his words about how the people of the Donbas really view “Russian volunteers” like himself are likely to have a bigger impact on future events than anything he or they might do in Donetsk.

Nearly half of Russians say Stalin’s harsh rule justified, up from 25% in 2012

Forty-five percent of Russians now say that Stalin’s harsh repression was justified by the results he achieved as a result, a figure that is almost twice as high as in 2012, according to a new Levada Center poll. The same survey found that the share of Russians who believe that nothing justifies what Stalin did has fallen significantly.

As a result, only one Russian in four (25 percent) is either fully or partially opposed to the erection of statues and memorials to the Soviet-era dictator on the occasion of what Moscow will mark in May as the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II.

“since the last decade there has been a growth in the share of those Russians who give a positive assessment to what Stalin did”

Aleksey Grazhdankin, the Levada Center’s deputy director, says that “for the majority of respondents, the name of Stalin as before is connected with terror, but since the last decade there has been a growth in the share of those Russians who give a positive assessment to what Stalin did. It reached its highest level ever last year, he adds.

Part of the explanation for the increase in approval for Stalin, Grazhdankin suggests, is to be found in Russians’ assessment of the events in Ukraine. Seeing what instability can lead to, he says, many Russians are now “prepared to sacrifice the interests of a minority in order to preserve the current status quo and stability.”

Five years ago, 32 percent of the Russian sample said that Stalin was a criminal; now, only 25 percent do, and 57 percent say they oppose designating him as one. It isn’t that Russians love him, the Levada Center sociologist says. Rather, they see virtues in a strong leader when as they now think is the case their country is surrounded by enemies.

Stalin is most positively viewed by the least educated, those living in villages and small cities and the elderly

Not surprisingly, Stalin is most positively viewed by the least educated, those living in villages and small cities and the elderly. Young people are largely indifferent to him, while the most antagonistic to Stalin are the middle-aged and the relatively well-off populations of the large cities, such as Muscovites.

Stalin remains a divisive force for many, Ivan Nikitchuk, a KPRF Duma deputy who wants to rename Volgograd Stalingrad, an idea that the Levada Center poll found is supported by 31 percent of its sample, says that when Russians compare their situation now with what it was under Stalin, they draw the “correct” conclusion that it was better then than now.

Nikolay Svanidze, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, in contrast, says that “the moral rehabilitation of Stalin which will intensify in advance of Victory Day would be a personal insult for millions of people.”

And Yabloko Party leader Sergey Mitrokhin says that the revival of support for Stalin reflects the failure of the country to undergo any “de-Stalinization” during the first two post-Soviet decades and consequently the Soviet dictator remains “an instrument” for some to resolve political tasks such as promoting a cult of a new leader, in the present case, Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s Strategy: Involve West in undermining Ukraine so Ukrainians will despise it too

Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and continuing aggression against Ukraine means that Ukrainians will never again accept ethnic Russians as “a fraternal people” or be prepared to defer to Moscow unless they are compelled to by forces beyond the capacity of today’s Russia to field. Instead, they will continue to pursue their European choice.

That puts Putin in a difficult position, but he appears to have found a way out, one whose implications some leaders in the West have ignored or may not even understand. By involving them in talks about undermining the integrity of Ukraine, Putin is laying the groundwork for Ukrainian hostility to Europe as well.

Such antagonism to Europe will not mean that Ukrainians will want to turn to Russia instead, at least not anytime soon. But any such hostility will mean that Ukraine will remain caught between Moscow and the West, not taken in by either and thus ever weaker, more divided, and more subject to manipulation by various means overt and covert from Moscow.

That Western leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande should have fallen for this trap laid by Putin is appalling not only in terms of its immediate impact but even more because of its long-term consequences, but that the Kremlin leader should set it makes perfect sense from his point of view.

Those conclusions are suggested by Moskovsky komsomolets which notes that not Russia alone, but it together with France and Germany are now involved with Kyiv in the beginning of “the decentralization of Ukraine,” something the Moscow outlet clearly celebrates.

The paper reports that the three countries, along with Ukraine, have “discussed the beginning of the work of a special group in Minsk which will be concerned with the preparation of local elections in special regions of the Donbas,” thus giving to Putin yet another victory over Ukraine through the involvement of Western pressure.

It notes happily that yesterday “it became known that Poroshenko had signed a decree about the creation of a Constitutional Commission which is needed for “the development of agreed upon proposals for the perfecting of the Constitution of Ukraine taking into account contemporary challenges and requirements of society.”

And it concludes with the words of Mikhail Pogrebinsky, head of the Kyiv Center for Political Research and Conflict Studies, that Poroshenko is moving in this direction because “foreign players including the European Union want this,” again a source of influence Putin may be glad to get but that the EU should not be giving to an aggressor.

Is Luhansk about to be annexed by Russia?

In a series of Tweets today, German MP and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Marieluise Beck described the Russian occupation in Luhansk as she saw it – and the ominous signs of its potential annexation.

Occupation & infrastructure

In the messages, Beck says that the city is “full of Russian soldiers,” and that an engineering brigade has already begun the reconstruction of infrastructure, including electrical lines, to Russia.

Columns of Russian armor and thousands of troops have been seen in the region in recent days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already called for discussions on the region’s “statehood” and Russian-installed officials have announced bilateral negotiations with Moscow  “at the highest level” over the supply of Russian gas to occupied territory via a Luhansk pipeline. Such negotiations bypassing Kyiv would confer de facto recognition of southern Luhansk as being independent from Ukraine.

“In Moscow we have discussed the issues concerning the heating season and gas. We have a separate pipeline and we were guaranteed to receive gas supplies. The pipeline comes into the Lugansk region and covers the Donetsk region. We are the only two regions that in general do not rely on Ukraine,” Leonid Baranov, the Donetsk Republic’s so-called “Minister of State Security” told Russian media.

Russian passports

Mirroring Crimea, Beck also confirms that Russian passports are already being handed out in the city, and that Russian soldiers are distributing to locals cash sums of Russian currency.

After the Russian-Georgian ceasefire, Russian-backed police in South Ossetia forced ethnic Georgians to accept Russian passports or leave, amounting to ethnic cleansing.

“Russian authorities have launched the full-scale issuing of Russian passports in Donetsk and Luhansk. It is being done to give Russia an excuse to bring in the Russian Army under the pretext of protecting Russian citizens,” said Yuriy Serhiyev, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Nations yesterday.

Ominous similarities

Since signing a ceasefire agreement with Georgia two weeks ago, the Russian military and its local allies have carved a substantial buffer zone around the tiny enclave. To consolidate its latest conquests, Moscow has shipped in what Georgian officials describe as “industrial batches” of passports.

“The Russians are telling everyone in the town they must take a Russian passport,” said Akhalgori shopowner Guram Chkhvidze. “One came to me and explained that if I did not take it, my safety could not be certain. I was scared, so I am leaving.”

The Telegraph, August 30, 2008

Linguistic and religious Russification

Russification has also begun in the school system, with Beck also informing that lessons are already being conducted with Russian school textbooks. In Crimea, the Ukrainian language was summarily banned from schools by Russia.

“The Ukrainian church and the mosque in Luhansk have been closed. The Ukrainian-Orthodox priests had to flee,” read another tweet by the German MP observer.

Sectarian violence and religious persecution has been widespread during the conflict, with pro-Russian separatists considering Christian denominations such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Roman Catholics, and Protestants, as anti-Russian and see them as obstacles in the path of the separatist goal of uniting the region with Russia.

Previously during the occupation and annexation of Crimea by Russian forces, Ukrainian Catholics were forced to flee the peninsula under threat of arrest and property seizures. “All my parishioners are patriotic Ukrainians who love their Crimean homeland. But Russia is now seeking to drive us out,” Father Milchakovskyi told the Catholic News Service in April. The Ukrainian Catholic Church was banned under the Moscow regime from 1946 to 1989, resulting in many clergymen arrested and Church property appropriated by the state and Russian Church.

New Russia or Novorossiya, Russia’s name for the occupied parcels of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, has already embedded in its constitution that it will act as a monolingual Russian state, with the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Orthodoxy acting as the official state religion.

What next?

This story will develop in the coming days with a Tuesday press conference already scheduled by Russian-installed officials. The ongoing ceasefire may just be the calm needed to begin the process of solidifying Russian hegemony in the region, as occurred in Georgia. It remains to be see what form of annexation will take place: be it the formal annexation of Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, facilitating their recognition as vassal states in the model of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or unofficial recognition as Russia maintains with Transnistria.

Provallia in flames, details on Russian rocket strike

The aftermath of yesterday’s reported hail of Russian rockets into Ukraine is starting reveal itself. Further video footage posted online shows billowing clouds of smoke rising above the Ukrainian town of Provallia, Luhansk region.

While Provallia was mentioned briefly in a government report posted noon yesterday, in an update from the Ministry of Defense, it is now known that two attacks were made on the area of the town, one at 3pm and another from 7-9pm. The Grad rockets were firing on Ukrainian forces.

Street view of the video location
Street view of the video location

The video, which shows definitively that the Russian salvo struck a Ukrainian locale, has been verified for its location. Google Maps provides a Street View of the very hill at the edge of the Russian town of Gukovo where the video was taken. Closer footage of the damage has not yet been presented.

‘Grad’ rocket launchers, which translates literally to “hail,” are a weapon which relies on scorching a given area rather than hitting specific targets. Ruling on quantity of strikes over quality, the volley of unguided rockets from a Grad have been described as a “definite psychological weapon.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrxNvs2K0Ds