Rockets fired from Russia into Ukraine

Video surfaced today showing rocket salvos being fired from Russian territory into Ukraine. The rockets are likely from BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers, a common weapon deployed to date by Russian-backed militants and also responsible for various attacks on Ukrainian military positions, as well as civilian areas.

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

Rocket attack location highlighted in red
Rocket attack location highlighted in red

The Interpreter reported on the ongoing attacks from the Russian border, and was able to geo-locate the videos to the outskirts of Gukovo, in Krasnosulinsky District, Rostov Oblast.

Twitter reports in recent days have indicated that attacks have increasingly originated from Russia. A source recently indicated to Kommersant newspaper that Russia was planning “surgical strikes” into Ukraine, saying “Our patience is not boundless,” stressing that “this means not a massive action but exclusively targeted single strikes on positions from which the Russian territory is fired at.” Sentiment for attacks on Ukraine in response for alleged ‘shelling’ was also reciprocated by deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house, Yevgeniy Bushmin. “We should use precision weapons, like Israel, to destroy those who fired [into Russia],” Bushmin was quoted.

The U.S. Department of State says it is ‘confident’ that the Russian government is mobilizing tanks from old stock to the Rostov region, and that tanks, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers have already been delivered to militants in Ukraine – several of which were transferred this past weekend alone. It also says the number of rocket launchers and other equipment has doubled in recent time on the Russian side of the border.

The Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA), a heavily pro-Russian news agency that mostly focuses on anti-Ukrainian propaganda (but also interviews and coverage of the militants themselves) also published video of a GRAD attack today at roughly the same time as the other videos. Though its location could not immediately be verified, it does however provide a more up-close look at how these attacks operate up close.

http://youtu.be/bwTXjouDIvQ?t=14s

RT goes beyond the pale

Russia’s English-language propaganda network, RT (formerly Russia Today), known for its outlandish and over-the-top coverage of world events from a typically anti-Western perspective has reached new depths in the ongoing crusade to demonize Ukraine as it fuels and backs a proxy war in a pocket of the country’s east. While recent coverage of debunked and entirely fabricated claims has been gaining circulation in Russian-language media designed for internal consumption (including the now widely talked about ‘crucification’ hoax), RT’s latest foray is the first with such bloodied verve and disregard for competent journalism to reach an equivalent level for western audiences.

How does it reach this level? In the following 14 minute segment by RT, Ukraine is accused of the following: Murder, torture, crucifixions, beheadings, rape, ethnic cleansing, systematic genocide, instituting man-made famine, using Weapons of Mass Destruction and banned weapons, international conspiracies, and being both literally Hitler, and worse than Hitler. It’s the kitchen sink.

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The episode of the program called “The Truthseeker” aired with the title: “Genocide in Eastern Ukraine.” The purpose being to do everything it could to depict Ukraine’s war against well armed Russian militias as nothing more than unprovoked ethnic genocide against an entirely civilian, Russian population. It even led in with a short description of Rwanda – for context.

Quoting “investigative historian” Eric Zuesse, the channel calls Petro Poroshenko’s reformist government “the most far-right wing government on the face of the Earth” on a “one way killing spree.” As elections recently showed, less than 2% of Ukraine’s far-right garnered votes nationwide, significantly less than recent results in even the European Parliament.

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The host speaks liberally of “Kyiv’s mass daily bombing of unarmed civilians”, claiming a “Kyiv junta” uses “banned cluster bombs” designed to kill everyone in the surrounding area. He describes a child dying almost immediately in front of his mother’s eyes, a direct contradiction to the statement of the massive blast radius he led in with. He was only getting started.

The Ukie army, being a direct successor to Hitlerite Wehrmacht, terribly hates Saur-Mogila, as it is a symbol of Russian valor in the Great Patriotic War. All the time their artillery and mortars lob shells directly at the memorial. But they cannot get any closer.

One day, the pravoseki [Right Sector militants] came there. NazGuard [National Guard], Azov-2 and Dnepr-2. And then they instilled European values in the village. They cut out [murdered] all the men. They would cut them alive. They would cut the arms, then the legs. Then the head.

They did not cut the women – they raped them. And now they continue [to rape them], during the pauses between battles. Doubtlessly, the various fanboys of Europe and the Maidanites will say that these are made-up fairy tales.

Take note, chocolate baron, truth is on our side, and, one day, we will come for you. Yes, you, personally!

If the above sounds like it was pulled directly from a troll’s rant from the comment margins, or some obscure hate-speech blog, that’s because it was. What was presented on air was a slightly doctored version of the above, published on June 25, with adjusted grammar and evocative narration. The source for the RT centerpiece was “Slavyangrad,” a blog dedicated to such fringe musings. (The name being a Russified portmanteau of Sloviansk & Stalingrad). The rest of the entry deals with the fight against “Ukie-stan,” and the threat of female Polish snipers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdV-iBWm78k

3RT’s “Truthseeker” continues his disconnected rant with uncited reports of civilians being “systematically massacred” under “mainstream media silence.” The channel typically positions itself as ‘alternative’ news to the “mainstream,” and regular quotes on the ticker featured lines from Russian tabloid LifeNews, known for generating comical hoaxes.

This talk of systematic genocide was sure to mention the serial ‘murder’ of journalists to endure this silence, bringing up the recent controversial case of a Russian journalist who was, as it turns out, sent to be shot by Russia, sacrificed for media exposure and propaganda material. Footage of his death has now predictably been exploited.

8RT, as it is known, regularly parades Holocaust deniers, extreme fringe theorists, conspiracy nuts, and other unknown ‘specialists’ to provide bombastic statements on the air under the misleading guise of being accredited experts. In a shining example of just how unhinged the network could possibly be, an American “living in Eastern Ukraine” was brought on screen to give his testimony: “walking up to someone and disemboweling them, a child, that’s an act of heroism for Bandera [Ukraine Nazi followers].” The unknown man went on to talk of man-made famine, a particularly seditious remark to make given the Soviet Union’s man-made genocide of Ukrainians under Stalin. He claimed the Ukrainian government was “burning wheat fields,” bombing farms, and shooting ambulances. He estimated “several hundred thousand people will starve to death.” Who is this sickly man making these statements? RT doesn’t care.

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RT captions a video of children and quotes them as Nazis
RT captions a video of children and quotes them as Nazis

A good part of the segment was devoted to intentionally mistranslating the word “inhuman” when used by government officials (namely, PM Yatseniuk and President Poroshenko) to rather read as “subhumans,” and deliberately echo Mein Kampf. The Hitler-inspired connections did not end there, as literally every single Hitler-related trope was covered, from death squads, to concentration camps, to even the concept of “Lebensraum,”  living space. The wordsmith “Truthseeker” even connected every dot in succession: Ukrainian death squads will ethnically cleanse Russian ‘subhumans’ into concentration camps, and be given Lebensraum from the pro-Nazi government. There simply isn’t a way to fathom how something as inflammatory, egregious, and outright fabricated could be disseminated to audiences under the auspice of being legitimate news.

When the opponent of mainstream media is the extremist fringe – but given the funding, presentation, and exposure of any regular mainstream media outlet – it can only lead to journalistic gongshows such as this. RT has literally reached the point where the inmates are figuratively running the asylum. RT has gone beyond the pale.

#Invasion: Russian border guard waves military through, snaps pics (and a selfie)

Tag this story #nofilter – over the weekend, social media was atwitter over images purportedly showing a Russian BTR-80 armored personnel carrier being waved through a border checkpoint.

What makes this story more interesting than usual (as dozens of heavy vehicles from Russia have bled through the border in recent weeks) is that the photos were allegedly snapped by the brazen Russian customs agent waving it through – who also thought it a good idea to snap a selfie for good measure.

The Instagram account under the name Artem_Karat (which has now been deleted or deactivate) indicated in its geolocation to be at the Donetsk border post (Donetsk, Russia; adjacent to Luhansk region), and description eluded it to possibly being uploaded by a co-worker (“My job while I’m on vacation”). Hashtags or the images included (translated for convenience): #Customs, #Border, #Putin, #Luhansk, #RostovOblast, #War, and #RussianFederation.

This of course wouldn’t be the first time Russia’s hand in the invasion has been exposed in self-inflicted fashion over social media – months ago, several Russian insurgents were exposed via their VK accounts, providing a first glimpse into who and where many recruits were coming from.

instagram instagram

Look far right, and look right again

The Russian political establishment thinks that Ukrainians are ‘traitors to Orthodox civilisation and Russian unity.’ But it is not only Putin’s Russia that is behind the challenge to democracy in Ukraine.

Russkiy mir

In 2006, Russian nationalist historian Mikhail Smolin condemned former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s book Ukraine is not Russia, arguing that Ukraine was a ‘sickness,’ and Ukrainians were ‘South-Russian separatists,’ ‘traitors to Orthodox civilisation and Russian unity.’ To a greater or lesser extent, this view of the Ukrainian people is shared by the entire Russian political establishment and underpins many of the Kremlin’s responses to developments in Ukraine.

The notion of ‘Russian unity’ or russkiy mir (literally, Russian world) would seem to imply the existence of a transnational community of people and societies committed to Russian culture and language. The idea was adopted by Putin as early as 2006, and is obviously imperialistic, but it also reveals a deeper and probably more important insight into Moscow’s domestic and international politics. Since Putin’s regime correctly recognised Western-style liberal democracy as an existential threat to the well being of its elites (not the people), it has crushed democracy in Russia and successfully convinced a large number of Russian people that Western-style democracy is destructive (look back at the 1990s, they say) and essentially alien to them. To compensate for the rejection of liberal democracy and, therefore, becoming part of the West, the Kremlin and its loyal opinion-makers have offered the Russian people the belief that they are a unique civilisation in its own right: you do not need Western values because you are different; Russian culture is not only different but superior to Western culture.

putin-pic4_zoom-1000x1000-9229

Moscow proclaimed the uniqueness of Russian culture to justify both the rejection of Western-style democracy and Western modernisation. But the Kremlin – unlike China – has failed in its attempts at authoritarian modernisation, and Russian culture, as intrinsically understood by Putin’s regime, is about not modernising at all. Russkiy mir is an, ‘unwesternisable’ and ‘unmodernisable’ community. This is why Putin’s Russia is not fascist, as some commentators suggest: both Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany strove for an alternative modernity rather than rejecting the idea of modernisation altogether.

Obviously, no society should be forced to modernise along Western lines unless it so wishes. However, the danger of the Kremlin’s ‘non-modernisation,’ driven by the elites’ urgent need for self-preservation, is that it clashes with Russia’s natural progress towards social modernisation, which is determined by globalisation. Thus, the Kremlin’s ‘non-modernisation’ agenda is not only to conserve the existing traditionalist elements of Russian society, but also to suppress those who embrace Western-style modernisation. This suppression has resulted in almost all the social conservative policies that Putin’s regime has produced so far, showing disdain for – if not openly persecuting – human rights and environmental activists, social, cultural and sexual minorities, progressive artists and musicians, etc.

Another danger of the Kremlin’s refusal to modernise is that the uniqueness of the ‘unwesternisable’ russkiy mir needs constant corroboration, meaning that hindering the progress of Westernisation and democratisation in the countries that are allegedly part of russkiy mir is crucial for continuing to substantiate the ‘non-modernisation’ thesis to the Russians. Putin’s attempts, first to sabotage Ukraine’s democratic revolution, and then to undermine the country’s post-revolutionary development were aimed at Russian citizens, to prevent them from observing Ukraine’s successful democratisation; otherwise, if those Little Russians did it, why can’t we?

Belonging to russkiy mir

It is essential to stress that russkiy mir is not a community of ethnic Russians or societies committed to Russian culture. The Kremlin’s flirtation with Russian nationalism, although convincing, is inherently a means to secure the rule of the political and financial elites in Putin’s Russia. To be part of russkiy mir is to fit their agenda: disdain for liberal democracy, suppression of human rights, and undermining the rule of law. This explains why liberal citizens of Russia, or ethnic Russians in Ukraine who supported the democratic revolution, do not belong to russkiy mir; they are ‘national traitors’ or ‘Russophobes.’ It also helps to explain why the defenders of russkiy mir in Eastern Ukraine are racists and homophobes; and why the best friends of russkiy mir in the West are corrupt politicians and undemocratic political parties.

In May 2014, an ‘epic thread’ appeared on the Facebook page of the Right Sector, a far right Ukrainian movement that emerged at the beginning of the Euromaidan protests in November 2013. A photo of Conchita Wurst, the extravagant Austrian winner of 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, was posted with the comment: ‘Do we need this kind of ‘Europe’? Or would it be better to restore the real Europe at home and build a strong national state that would be free not only from Moscow imperialists but also from Western liberasts?!’. This post became a disaster for the Right Sector, as the overwhelming majority of the commentators – many of them actual subscribers to the Right Sector Facebook page – condemned the homophobia and intolerance of the post. One commentator said: ‘You have Putin’s view of Europe… Europe is different and Conchita demonstrates that people are different… And, with the kind of attitude that you demonstrate, you’d better go to a referendum and join Russia.’ Another comment was no less devastating: ‘If you’re homophobes, then don’t turn on the TV. Go and visit neighbouring fascist Russia – they think the same way you do. Shame on you.’ Apart from comparing the Right Sector to Putin’s Russia, some comments also denounced its isolationism: ‘Do you want Juche [North Korean autarchy) ideas in Ukraine or do you want Ukraine to be a full member of the world community? If you want Juche, then you are enemies of Ukraine; if you don’t, then stop this silly hysteria and talk about self-isolation. Simply put: stop talking nonsense. Glory to Ukraine!’

Written in Ukrainian and Russian, comments like these affirm that Ukraine’s departure (‘South-Russian separatism’) from russkiy mir or the sphere of influence of Putin’s Russia is not about creating an unbridgeable ethno-cultural cleavage between the Ukrainians and Russians. It is about rejecting what Putin’s Russia apparently stands for: intolerance, illiberalism, and isolationism.

Far right… and far far right

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Unfortunately, the annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the proxy war that the Kremlin has waged against Ukraine in eastern parts of the country have created the conditions for some elements of Ukrainian society to evolve in the direction of russkiy mir. The natural feeling of humiliation deriving from the loss of territory and military failure, resulted in a psychological need for the deceptive comfort of populism and its simplistic rhetoric and actions. Similar attitudes were to be found in Russia after the defeat in the first Chechen war – attitudes that contributed to the rise of Putin.

After Ukraine’s presidential election in May 2014, many journalists and experts on Ukraine, who highlighted the pathetic results of the two ‘official’ far-right candidates, Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok (1.16%) and Right Sector’s Dmytro Yarosh (0.70%), completely ignored the strong electoral performance of another presidential candidate, Oleh Lyashko, who obtained 8.32% of the votes and finished third. In his political programme, peppered with 23 exclamation marks, Lyashko presented a textbook example of unabashed populism, while, during his campaign, he postured in a military uniform promising to ‘return Crimea to Ukraine!’ In the run-up to the presidential election, Lyashko praised militarism and bragged about unlawfully questioning a captured separatist. However, not only have the Ukrainian authorities ignored Lyashko’s criminal actions, but society has largely failed to condemn his behaviour.

Social-National Assembly (SNA)

Lyashko worked with Right Sector extremist elements, namely the Social-National Assembly (SNA); and by spring 2014 had effectively managed to lure them away from Right Sector. The SNA is a neo-Nazi movement, which has always been too extreme for the Right Sector. According to its official documents, its ‘nationalism is racial, social, great-power imperialist, anti-systemic (anti-democratic and anti-capitalist), self-sufficient, militant and uncompromising’. Its ideology ‘builds on maximalist attitudes, national and racial egoism,’ while glorifying the Ukrainian nation as part of the ‘White Race.’

Lyashko’s Radical Party nominated several SNA members as candidates in the May 2014 Kyiv city council elections: Oleh Odnorozhenko (its ideologue), Ihor Mosychuk, Ihor Kryvoruchko, and Volodymyr Shpara. It seems plausible to suggest that SNA members will also be included in Lyashko’s party list in the early parliamentary elections possibly taking place in autumn 2014.

The SNA was also behind the formation of the Azov battalion, a volunteer auxiliary police unit that was armed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine as part of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) launched against the (pro-)Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Azov battalion does not consist solely of SNA members (although there are unverified reports that all the volunteers are required to sign up to the SNA before joining the battalion), but the SNA leader Andriy Biletsky is its commander, with Mosychuk as his deputy. The battalion includes members of Misanthropic Division, an international neo-Nazi movement, whose Ukrainian ‘branch’ – mostly based in Kharkiv – is affiliated with the SNA. The Division considers that, rather than liberating Eastern Ukraine from illiberal and undemocratic (pro-)Russia separatists, their ‘black squadrons are fighting in the ranks of the pagan battalion Azov against the residues of modern society represented by khachi [racist slur for natives of the Caucasus region], chavs, communists, liberals, Asians and other Untermenschen.’

Media coverage

The SNA’s participation in the ATO in Eastern Ukraine, and Lyashko’s cooperation with the neo-Nazis, run in parallel with mainstream Ukrainian media according the SNA a degree of legitimacy by proclaiming them ‘defenders of the Ukrainian motherland.’ They are almost never presented to audiences as SNA members, but specifically as fighters of the Azov battalion. In the same manner, RT (formerly Russia Today) presents members of European far-right parties who support the Kremlin’s agenda, as simply European politicians, without mentioning their undemocratic doctrines.

Recently, SNA members have appeared on Ukrainian TV, and interviews with them have been published by respected media outlets. Their ideology was very rarely questioned although sometimes they took the liberty of appearing on TV wearing clothes with dubious symbols. Regretfully, the same media that provided objective coverage during the Maidan revolution were now legitimising the SNA by refusing to regard their ideology and activities as problematic.

Ihor Mosiychuk

Hromadske TV, for instance, invited Biletsky, Mosychuk and Kryvoruchko to its studio as the commanders of the Azov battalion. In one episode, a journalist of Hromadske went so far as to show a video in which Mosychuk was humiliating a captured separatist. The journalist failed to provide even moderate criticism of Mosychuk’s actions – in what way was he any different from the Russian state journalists who questioned, detained and abused Ukrainian security officers?

In another episode, Roman Skrypin, a journalist for Hromadske, evidently unwillingly asked Biletsky, who was wearing a black paramilitary polo with a chevron saying ‘Black Corps’ – a clear reference to Das Schwarze Korps, the official newspaper of the SS – about the claims that the SNA was a neo-Nazi movement. When Biletsky, for obvious reasons, decided not to give a direct answer, Skrypin disavowed his question.

Ukrainska Pravda, LB, The Insider and other influential Ukrainian media outlets have regularly published comments from and interviews with the SNA leaders, as well as sympathetic coverage of their actions. Novoye Vremya, a new media project of Vitaliy Sych, former editor of the popular magazine Korrespondent, has even named Biletsky among the 10 people ‘who are taking a stand for Ukraine’s independence in Donbas.’ It may be worth remembering that Sych declared Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok ‘the person of the year 2012.’

How different, then, are they all from the media in Putin’s Russia that serve as a platform for disseminating the illiberal and intolerant views of Russian ultranationalists such as Aleksandr DuginAleksandr Prokhanov and many others? Ukrainian humanistic and liberal voices are few. In Ukraine, they are often slammed as ‘pacifists,’ although neither humanism nor liberalism equals pacifism. In Russia, liberal journalists are condemned as the ‘fifth column.’

Conflict as a test of Ukrainian democracy

Russia’s proxy war against Ukraine now serves as a perfect excuse for legitimising the fringe Ukrainian neo-Nazis as ‘defenders of the Ukrainian motherland.’ Those who are involved in this process – especially the Ministry of Internal Affairs that arm them and Ukrainian mainstream media that uncritically take their ‘patriotism’ at face value – fail to understand that neo-Nazis pose a real threat to Ukrainian society.

The Constitution of Ukraine unequivocally states that ‘Ukraine is the sovereign and independent, democratic, social, legal state’ (Article 1). For some Ukrainians, the Russian threat to their country’s sovereignty and independence has obscured the rationale of being sovereign and independent – that is to secure the democratic, social and legal state. Furthermore, the Constitution unambiguously recognises, ‘the human being, his or her life and health, honour and dignity, inviolability and security’ as the highest social value. At the same time, the main duty of the state is ‘to affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms’ (Article 3).

It is absurd to assume that the neo-Nazis who ‘are taking a stand for Ukraine’s independence’ are doing this in the name of Ukraine’s highest social values or to reinforce the main duty of the state as stipulated by the Constitution. Rather, they are arming themselves, learning how to fight and kill, as well as recruiting new members. Their ‘ideal Ukraine’ is not only different, but is the direct opposite of a democratic, social and legal state. To ignore these values, to override them for the sake of sovereignty and independence, is to move closer psychologically in the direction of Putin’s russkiy mir without even acknowledging it. Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU should mean something different, because EU member states have partially sacrificed their sovereignty and independence at the altar of supranational democracy, more secure social order and the stronger rule of law.

In the beginning of July, Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko used the conflict in Eastern Ukraine as an excuse for discarding what should be the fundamental values of the democratic Ukrainian state. On 5 July, the Ukrainian LGBT community was going to hold a March of Equality in Kyiv, under the slogan ‘Ukraine is united and we are part of it,’ but Klitschko called for its cancellation on the grounds that ‘when military operations are taking place and many people are dying,’ it would not be ‘appropriate to hold entertainments.’ Klitschko seems completely to misunderstand the meaning of democracy: the March of Equality is not an ‘entertainment’ but a means of drawing attention to the fact that the state should ‘affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms’ of all its citizens.

What will Klitschko do when the neo-Nazi gang from the Azov battalion returns to Kyiv to fight against various ‘Untermenschen’?

The March of Equality has been cancelled but the reasons for cancelling it are most disturbing: the police told the organising committee that ‘they could not secure the safety of participants in the face of expected far-right counter-demonstrators.’ What will Klitschko do when the neo-Nazi gang from the Azov battalion – officially armed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs – returns to Kyiv to fight against various Untermenschen? The failure to protect the participants of the March of Equality from Ukrainian right-wing extremists in Kyiv is no different from the failure to protect East Ukrainian civilians from (pro-)Russia separatists, because ‘all people are free and equal in their dignity and rights’, while ‘human rights and freedoms are inalienable and inviolable’ (Article 21).

Giving in to bullies only makes them stronger; retreating from any enemy of democracy – be they militants of intolerant and isolationist russkiy mir or Ukrainian neo-Nazis – is to open up even more space for injustice, and cede even more territory to anti-European forces. Every time Ukraine’s authorities infringe the rights of its citizens, Putin gives a welcoming smile.


Originally published on Open Democracy

Evidence of paid Russian mercenaries mounting

Evidence over the past several days illustrating the motivations behind Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine has been mounting. While some have, indeed, been driven by revanchist ideology (with one famously telling TIME that they were simply conquering “historically Russian lands”), the source of these groups’ financing has been more difficult to trace than the source of their weapons in lieu of a paper trail. This week has, however, seen three illuminating examples of the financial motivations of those recruited.

On June 19, The Interpreter published an investigation, discussing the motivations of those involved in the battle for Donetsk International Airpot. The article discusses one, Yevgeny Korolenko, a rifleman and veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan:

He was a mechanic by training who had a job in some friends’ computer repair shop as a delivery man until they were unable to pay him. His wife speculated that perhaps his shortage of funds could have pushed him into volunteering for Donetsk, although he didn’t speak of it.

Two days later the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) published a video confession of a mercenary claiming to have been contracted by Russia’s KGB successor agency – the Federal Security Service (FSB). The man in the confessional says he was acting on a $1,000 bounty for every Ukrainian officer killed (and $300 for soldiers).

Today, the Moscow Times published an article citing well-known journalist Olga Romanova, describing another insurgent who was also killed in action during the same battle in Donetsk as Korolenko:

 Four other young men from Ivanovo died with him. I asked his parents why he went there. Their reply was grotesque: ‘He wanted to pay off some loans …'”

All of this precedes today’s other revelation that Russia has been actively attempting to recruit mercenary veterans of the French Foreign Legion, targeting especially those of Slavic ethnic origin. The Russian military has in recent years opened its recruitment scope to foreigners with the lure of acquiring fast tracked citizenship.

While the number of professional, heavily armed Russian soldiers mounts in Ukraine, so too is the evidence behind the financial motivations of those fighting there – shaping the war to be less a result of ad hoc extremism, but instead rather that of a state-financed proxy war.

Strelkov Declared Supreme Commander

One day following a local separatist referendum, the commander of the Donbass People’s Militia, the paramilitary wing of the Donetsk Republic Organization, Igor “Strelkov” Girkin has declared himself “Supreme Commander” of the fledgling rebel territory. In his decree, in addition to giving himself absolute authority over all military and security structures and demanding sworn allegiance within the next 48 hours, he declares outright war against Ukraine and all military or police units stationed in the province. Girkin then lists Ukrainian and U.S. officials who will be ‘prosecuted’ for ‘perpetrating massacres’ (including CIA director John Brennan), and concludes his declaration by requesting military assistance from the Russian Federation.

It is unknown at this time if his self-appointed position will conflict with self-proclaimed ‘People’s Governor’ Pavel Gubarev. Girkin has been a vocal critic of separatist authorities in Donetsk, and has publicly stated that there have been conflicts with Republic leadership in Donetsk prior to their working agreement. “The agreement wasn’t easy for us, because in the resistance we have quite a lot of grievances about the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic, which has been able to do almost nothing since the seizure of the Donetsk governor’s office.”

Below is his statement:

I decree:

1. Reassign myself as the Supreme Commander of the DPR, and all permanently stationed military units on the republic, including security, police, customs, border guards, prosecutors and paramilitary structures.

2. Entering into the territory of the DPR forces of the counter-terrorist operation (CTO) under Ukrainian rebels who are neo-Naz0 groups (the so-called “National Guard”, the Right Sector,” Lyashko’s Battalion, etc.) are subject to detention and, in the case of armed resistance, will be destroyed on the spot.

3. Law enforcement agencies will prosecute the leaders of the Kyiv junta and other persons involved in instigating, organizing or perpetrating massacres in the territory of the DPR: Igor KolomoiskyValentyn Nalyvaichenko, Andriy Parubiy, Arsen Avakov, Yulia Tymoshenko, Oleksandr Turchynov, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Oleh Lyashko, A. Artemenko, and U.S. citizens John Brennan, Victoria Nuland, and Jen Psaki.

4. All the soldiers and officers of the armed forces, internal security forces, the Security Service, the Interior Ministry and other paramilitary structures of Ukraine from now on will be considered to be illegally within the territory of the DPR. Within 48 hours they are required to swear allegiance to the DPR or leave the country. All will come under the command of the DPR  authorities and will be guaranteed the preservation of military and special ranks, salaries and social security (assuming nothing to do with the commission of serious and very serious crimes).

5. Given the urgency of the situation in the country, the Kiev junta unleashed genocide on the Donetsk population, and the threat of intervention by NATO, I refer to the Russian Federation with a request for military assistance to DPR.

I. Strelkov

‘Strelkov’ has been described by Ukraine’s security service as a Russian colonel and resident of Moscow. He is currently a target of European Union sanctions, and was named by the EU’s Official Journal to be on the staff of the Russian foreign military intelligence agency (GRU), and a key figure involved in the military takeover of Crimea as an assistant on security matters to Sergei Aksyonov, Crimea’s self-declared prime minister.

This act comes a day after Donetsk’ regional referendum, which was internationally condemned by western nations and the OSCE as illegitimate. Reports on the day of the poll showed evidence of mass voter fraud and intimidation. The run-up to the referendum involved the seizure of thousands of pre-filled ballots, and a tapped phone call released by the SBU which unveiled Russian involvement and premeditated fraud.

Motyl: Could Russia Occupy Ukraine?

Citing a 2008 study by US Army Major Glenn E. Kozelka and a 1995 RAND Corporation study by James Quinlivan, Motyl comes to the following conclusions when assessing troop requirements to occupy Ukraine in a military invasion scenario:

  • • In order to occupy Donetsk and Luhansk provinces alone, Russian would have to deploy somewhere between 26,702 and 133,514 troops.
  • • A “land bridge” from Crimea to Transnistria would mean occupying Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odessa provinces—which would entail somewhere between 46,497 and 92,994 soldiers.
  • • Occupying all seven southeastern provinces would require between 118,536 (26,702 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 91,834 for the others) and 317,182 (133,514 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 183,668 for the others).
  • • If Russia decides to conquer all of Ukraine, it would need an additional 548,587 troops—for a grand total of 667,123 to 865,769 troops.
  • • Kyiv city and Kyiv Province alone would require 90,676 occupying soldiers.

In light of Russia’s estimated current force levels on Ukraine’s borders (50,000–80,000), the best Russia could do under low- and medium-violence assumptions would be to invade a few southeastern provinces. If those assumptions are changed to medium or high, only one or two provinces would be within its grasp. These conclusions assume that an invasion would entail no force deterioration as a result of the Ukrainian army’s resistance. Change that assumption, and Russia’s capacity to occupy southeastern Ukraine declines even more.

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR

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Felgenhauer: Russia’s Window of Opportunity in Ukraine

If Putin decides to send in his troops, he has a narrow window in which to act. The winter of 2014 in Russia and Ukraine was relatively mild with little snow, while the spring is early and warm. The soil is drying rapidly, meaning that it will soon be possible to move heavy vehicles off of highways and into fields in southern areas of Ukraine close to the Black and Azov Seas. A key date is April 1, which marks the beginning of the Russia’s spring conscript call-up, when some 130,000 troops drafted a year earlier will have to be mustered out as replacements arrive. This would leave the Russian airborne troops, marines, and army brigades with many conscripts that have served half a year or not at all, drastically reducing battle readiness. The better-trained one-year conscripts can be kept in the ranks for a couple of months but no longer. Otherwise they’ll start demanding to be sent home, and morale will slip. As a result, Russia’s conventional military will regain reasonable battle-readiness only around August or September 2014, giving the Ukrainians ample time to get their act together.

Ukraine has scheduled a national presidential election for May 25 that may further legitimize the regime the Kremlin hates and wants to overthrow. The Kremlin may find it hard to resist the temptation to attack Ukraine and “liberate” the south and east while Russia is ready, the Ukrainian military weak, and the regime in Kiev unstable. Such a move could lead to more Western sanctions, but this risk maybe dwarfed by the vision of a major geostrategic victory seemingly at hand.

The window of opportunity for an invasion will open during the first weeks of April and close somewhere around the middle of May. During his long rule Vladimir Putin has generally shown himself to be a shrewd and cautious operator, but his actions during the Ukrainian crisis have been rash. So far his daring has paid off. This, unfortunately, is precisely what could trigger more bold moves down the road.

Paul Felgenhauer is a military analyst and journalist based in Moscow

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Motyl: What Russia Can Expect in Ukraine’s Rust Belt

In their search to maintain control, Russians would quickly discover that they are in possession of economically unviable provinces that cannot survive without massive infusions of rubles. According to a detailed Ukrainian study of how much Ukraine’s provinces paid into and received from the central budget in the first half of 2013, Crimea, Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, Mykolaiv, and Zaporizhzhya represented an enormous drain on Kyiv’s resources: 22.82 billion hryvnia (around $2.5 billion, or 90 billion rubles). And that is only for the first six months of the year. Multiplied by two, the deficit amounts to 45.64 billion hryvnia (about $5 billion, or 180 billion rubles).

In 2014, Russia expects its budget revenues to be around 13.6 trillion rubles (around $375 billion); its expenditures are supposed to total 14 trillion rubles ($380 billion). That amounts to a deficit of 400 billion rubles ($11 billion). Even without extra development funds or the costs of an occupation, annexing Ukraine’s southeast will raise Russia’s deficit by 45 percent.

The bad news gets worse for Russia. Luhansk and Donetsk provinces are home to Ukraine’s loss-making coal industry. Kyiv spends between 12 and 14 billion hryvnia(around $1 billion–$1.5 billion, or 47 billion–55 billion rubles) annually to support these mines. Will Russia back these enterprises even as they compete with more economically produced coal from Russia’s Kuzbass? It will have to: As Kyiv knows from experience, firing thousands of coal miners could spark massive civil unrest. Moscow will also have to pay them their wages on time. In 2013, wage arrears reached a total of 135 million hryvnia (about $15 million, or 530 million rubles) in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR

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Ukrainian Hostages Beaten, Tortured

As the Ukrainian presidential website reported Thursday evening, Ukrainian Navy commander Serhiy Haiduk along with several hostages was released from detention by Russian forces in Kherson region. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had ordered the regional authorities to free the detained hostages and allow them safe passage out of the region. The hostages were revealed to be AutoMaidan activists, and 2 are currently hospitalized.

Hostages were kept in the basement of the Republic military office in Simferopol since March 9th; the same which was seized by 100 Russian troops the day prior. According to UNIAN, the hostages said they were not fed for four days, and that the first day was especially trying as they were not allowed to drink, or the use of lavatory, and were also beaten constantly. They could not see their abusers faces as their heads were covered with bags and taped. One activist, who was placed in solitary confinement, said that there was no place to sit down, and because the room was so damp, he attempted to sleep standing up. The lone exception of the group, 64-year old Anatoly Kovalsky, said that while he was not physically beaten, he was abused mentally. In his case, he alleged that his captors constantly humiliated him and interrogators were regularly rotated every 10 minutes. According to Kovalsky, the interrogators wanted to know why the activists were in Crimea, their source of funding, if they were attempting to disrupt the referendum, and whether they had connections to Crimean Tatars or the Right Sector organization.

The two who were hospitalized, Andriy Shevchenko and Yuri Schekun, were treated for bullet wounds from a traumatic gun. Reports claim they were shot in the hands, fingers, and feet. The Center for Investigative Journalism identified the captors as members of Aksyonov’s guard.

Cinematographers from Babylon’13 remain missing since March 16th.

AutoMaidan activists have in particular come under persecution from authorities over past months, with leader Dmytro Bulatov making international headlines after he was kidnapped, tortured, mutilated and crucified by who he described as Russians.