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04/19/2007


Russian TV News Propaganda Beats Ukraine War Drum on Home Front

BY DAN PELESCHUK / GlobalPost

The Kremlin’s propaganda machine is providing the vanguard for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.

RussiantvMOSCOW, Russia — Ukraine’s new authorities are an ultranationalist, neo-fascist gang who’ve seized power with covert Western support and are bent on marauding Russian-speaking southeastern Ukraine and forcing its peaceful citizens into submission at gunpoint.

That’s probably what you’d believe if you relied on Russian state television for news about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last week.

As tensions there escalate amid Kyiv’s desperate scramble to restore political order, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is serving as an ideological vanguard for Russia’s military operations there.

The message is simple: Ukraine has been seized by an illegitimate junta, its destiny is to become a failed state and the resulting chaos threatens the country’s large number of Russian speakers.

Fed to Russia’s population — much of which gets its news primarily from state-run television — that rhetoric has helped Moscow justify the threat of war against its neighbor.

“Taken together, all of these themes clearly indicate a certain official political line,” says Aleksandr Morozov, a media analyst in Moscow.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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G-7 Leaders Issue Joint Statement Condemning Russia's Ukraine Violation

The G-7 leaders issued a joint statement last night in response to the Russian violation in Ukraine:

CrimeaWe, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, join together today to condemn the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in contravention of Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine.  We call on Russia to address any ongoing security or human rights concerns that it has with Ukraine through direct negotiations, and/or via international observation or mediation under the auspices of the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  We stand ready to assist with these efforts.

We also call on all parties concerned to behave with the greatest extent of self-restraint and responsibility, and to decrease the tensions.

We note that Russia’s actions in Ukraine also contravene the principles and values on which the G-7 and the G-8 operate.  As such, we have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G-8 Summit in Sochi in June, until the environment comes back where the G-8 is able to have meaningful discussion.

We are united in supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its right to choose its own future.  We commit ourselves to support Ukraine in its efforts to restore unity, stability, and political and economic health to the country.  To that end, we will support Ukraine’s work with the International Monetary Fund to negotiate a new program and to implement needed reforms.  IMF support will be critical in unlocking additional assistance from the World Bank, other international financial institutions, the EU, and bilateral sources.

Previously...
Will Russia Invade Ukraine or is it Already Happening? [tlrd]
Partition Ukraine Now Before It Is Too Late [tlrd]
What Putin Really Wants with Crimea [tlrd]


Will Russia Invade Ukraine or is it Already Happening?

2_ukraine

BY DAN PELESCHUK / GlobalPost

Analysis: Russia’s lawmakers have just approved the deployment of military troops to Ukraine. But they're already there.

MOSCOW, Russia — Russia’s upper house of parliament approved on Saturday President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to send military forces to Ukraine, stoking fears of war in a country whose fragile, post-revolutionary authorities are still struggling to enforce nationwide order.

CrimeaMoscow claims the measure is aimed at protecting Russian citizens in Crimea — a pro-Russian autonomous peninsula on the Black Sea that’s threatening to split from Ukraine — as well as defending its key naval base there amid the political overhaul in Kyiv.

The move came after two days of intense speculation that the unidentified professional gunmen who’d seized two major airports and other strategic places in the region were acting under orders from the Kremlin.

Some experts suggest the approval was a mere formality amid what they say has been a swift and planned Russian incursion into Crimea aimed at further destabilizing a new Ukrainian government Moscow has refused to recognize.

“This is an occupation of Crimea under the guise of a peacekeeping operation,” says Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst in Moscow.

The vote came hours after Crimea’s newly installed prime minister called for Putin’s help and announced he’d take full control of the region’s police and security forces.

Local officials and residents of the peninsula, which is home to a majority ethnic Russian population, are frightened of a new government in Kyiv they’ve cast as “fascists” and “extremists.”

Aksyonov“All commanders are to fulfill only my orders and commands,” Sergei Aksyonov, Crimea’s prime minister, said in a televised statement Saturday. “I ask those who disagree to leave the service.”

Kyiv’s post-revolutionary government has accused Russia in recent days of staging an armed land grab, eliciting warnings from US President Barack Obama against a Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Photos of heavily armed and well-trained gunmen have widely circulated since Friday’s troop build-up in Crimea. The uniformed forces’ total lack of insignia or identification has left many observers wondering whom they’re working for.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said Friday it deployed troops — in accordance with its agreement with Ukraine — to guard its naval base in Sevastopol.

But Pavel Baev, a Russian foreign policy analyst at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, says the professionalism of the soldiers stationed in Simferopol — the regional capital where troops are occupying government buildings — is a dead giveaway.

“This in itself points very much toward Russian involvement from the very beginning,” he said.

Felgenhauer, a noted security columnist with the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow, adds that Russia may already be busy reinforcing its marines currently stationed in Sevastopol with armed elements from other parts of Russia.

“These are so-called peacekeeping units, which means that they are elite units prepared for expeditionary use outside the borders of Russia,” he said.

The rapid-fire developments in Crimea, long home to pro-Russian separatist sentiments, were joined on Saturday by large pro-Russian demonstrations in Ukraine’s eastern regions, where a Russian tri-color flag was reportedly raised above at least one local administration.

Ukraine’s fledgling government already faces a monumental task bringing the country back from the brink of economic collapse just a week after President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster. Now, the simmering tensions threaten to throw the fledgling central government into deeper crisis.

FederationcouncilMeanwhile, the debate in Russia’s upper legislative house, the Federation Council, coincided neatly with the official line broadcast on Russian state television since the Kyiv demonstrations turned violent earlier this year.

One by one, senators took to the podium to denounce the “fascist” threat — as well as the conniving Western countries that enabled it — emanating from Kyiv’s new government.

Such assessments are largely dubious, analysts say, because even the most radical paramilitary group involved in the monthslong protests that overthrew Yanukovych announced it had no intention of sending its fighters to Crimea. (Shortly after the vote, however, that militant group, Right Sector, called for a nationwide mobilization.)

Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, have slammed Russia’s alleged incursion but have offered few signs they were willing to deploy their own military forces against the occupying gunmen.

After parliament’s approval, boxing champ-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko — believed to be a top contender in May’s presidential elections — also called for a national mobilization, including of Ukraine’s armed forces. But even then, says military analyst Felgenhauer, “the Ukrainian military is in total disarray” after Yanukovych’s ouster.

However, Russian officials and locals in Crimea believe the new Kyiv government, which is backed by a broad coalition of political and civic groups, poses a threat to stability to the region.

The Kremlin said Saturday that armed men from Kyiv had attempted to seize Crimea’s Interior Ministry around midnight, but there appear to be no detailed reports on the alleged incident.

Critics say the move was part of a tried-and-true Kremlin tactic of creating pretexts for intervention in areas — such as Georgia in 2008 — it deems geopolitically valuable.

This time, some experts say, Moscow has moved even more aggressively than usual.

“There is no need to deploy these troops, because there is no threat to any military installation, to any friendlies, or to any Russian citizens,” said Baev, the foreign policy researcher.

“The situation in Crimea, all in all, was peaceful and quiet,” he added. “There were no clashes, and no threats that Kyiv would deploy forces to regain control.”


What Putin Really Wants with Crimea

Invasion
Russian helicopters enter Ukrainian airspace near Sevastopol - see video, AFTER THE JUMP...

BY GREGORY FEIFER / GlobalPost

Western countries must act decisively for any hope of rolling back Moscow's incursion.

Now that Russia has carried out a de facto invasion of Crimea, it’s worth looking at recent history to help understand Moscow’s motivations and what it wants.

UkraineNot that the Kremlin necessarily sees what it’s doing as an invasion. When Soviet troops occupied Afghanistan in 1979 after killing the president, Moscow treated the operation almost as an afterthought aimed at shoring up a coup d’etat it thought would be resolved within days or weeks.

Just as Soviet troops wore Afghan army uniforms 25 years ago, the removal of insignia from the uniforms of the soldiers now in Crimea is meant to confuse the outside world about who’s behind the incursion.

So was the Kremlin’s statement on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered his government to continue talks with Ukraine on economic and trade relations and consult the International Monetary Fund and the G8 on financial aid.

The movement of Russian armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships and troops into Crimea — where gunmen have seized parliament, government buildings and strategic infrastructure like airports and the local telecom provider — belies the Kremlin’s denial it’s carrying out a coup.

Violating the sovereignty of an independent country would seem to go against the principle Russia upholds as most sacred in its foreign policy. Nevertheless, Moscow is taking advantage of Ukraine’s weak new leaders — whom many Russian officials have denounced as illegitimate — acting according to a very basic pattern carried out many times since the Soviet collapse.

Time and again, Moscow has welcomed instability in another former Soviet republic — when not actually fomenting it — in order to exert influence there by appearing to be a peacemaker or beneficent sponsor.

That’s how the Kremlin controls the breakaway pro-Moscow region of Transnistria, an impoverished sliver of Moldova that erupted in a brutal civil conflict in 1992. With its so-called peacekeepers still stationed there, Russia uses its influence over the territory to pressure the Moldovan authorities.

In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia to firm its hold over that country’s two pro-Russia separatist provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which the Kremlin recognized as independent soon after.

Those areas have become “frozen conflict” zones — isolated from the world, locked in cycles of poverty that makes dependence on Russia the only immediate way to survive.

PutinIn Ukraine, having lost the struggle last week to save the presidency of his ally, the former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych — in what Moscow characterizes as an illegal takeover by violent nationalists — Putin is now grabbing Crimea to show Russia can do the same. Taking over Crimea would have the added benefit of relieving Moscow of the need to lease the port of Sevastopol to house the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet.

It’s all being done in the name of protecting Russian citizens — the parliament in Moscow just made it easier to give Ukrainians Russian citizenship — and may end up creating another Russian exclave.

Nevertheless, Putin has previously shown that he responds to obstacles by backtracking, having built his power base at home as well as his aggressive foreign policy by taking risks and gauging the response. Faced with a backlash, he has reversed himself in the past.

Russia’s success in Georgia — where the 2008 invasion followed actions similar to the ones Moscow is taking now, such as staging military exercises on its southern border — showed Putin Western countries will do virtually nothing to help their allies in former Soviet territory.

Part of the reason Europe and the United States have been caught off guard by Putin in Crimea, as they have been elsewhere so many times recently, is that they tend to assume he makes decisions in his country’s interests, like his Western counterparts. That’s not the case. Putin makes decisions that are in his interests: Threatening to direct nuclear missiles at Western Europe, for example, is bad for Russia’s image abroad, but at home it shows Putin to be tough.

Of course a secure, independent, successful Ukraine would benefit Russia greatly by providing a strong ally and trade partner. That’s not what Putin wants, and his actions in Ukraine are posing the West its biggest challenge since he invaded Georgia.

He has helped push Ukraine, the country on Russia's southern border, to the verge of civil war by pressuring the president to abandon a deal with the European Union while warning the West not to meddle. Surely that’s not in Russia’s interests, but it is in Putin’s: He wants Ukraine to join a so-called Eurasian Union, an organization whose main purpose would be to oppose Western alliances.

Putin’s overriding goal is to obstruct the West. Like his Soviet models, he believes that to be feared and loathed means to be respected. Still, Western countries still hope Moscow will cooperate on Syria, Iran — and now Ukraine — even though doing so plays right into the Kremlin’s hands.

That’s why the best hope of rolling back Russia’s intervention in Crimea now rests on firmness about the consequences. If Western countries are to uphold their values and interests, they must show they’ve learned lessons from the Russia-Georgia war by acting together to threaten sanctions against Moscow and aid to Ukraine.

Dealing with Moscow should begin with not being deceived about Putin’s intentions. As long as his actions in Crimea result in no direct consequences for him, he will continue trying to show the world just what a tough guy he is.

A video of helicopters entering Ukrainian airspace, AFTER THE JUMP...

Gregory Feifer is GlobalPost's Europe editor. His new book "Russians: The People Behind the Power" was published this month.

Continue reading "What Putin Really Wants with Crimea" »


Partition Ukraine Now Before It Is Too Late

Ukraine

BY DAVID MIXNER

Superpowers love their geographic boundaries despite the fact that most have no basis in history. Time and time again we have seen world wars, civil wars and senseless violence break out over who really belongs in what country. We have seen literally millions die over these artificial barriers.

Most of the nations in the Middle East were created by energy companies, Africa was cruelly divided by colonists around the early part of the 20th Century, the Balkans have been the source of one war after another, and numerous ethnic groups are still fighting for their 'homelands'.

With each passing day, the stakes in Ukraine grow higher and higher. Civil war is a real possibility, the resumption of the Cold War is not out of the question, thousands could still die, and entire cities could be destroyed. Any sane person only has to look to Syria to see the consequences of endless civil war.

Count me among those who were moved to tears by the barricades in Kiev. The entire scene was right out of Les Miz except with a different ending. You could literally hear 'the people sing' as they gave their lives for freedom. If just somehow we could just hit 'pause' and that would be the end of the story.

Unfortunately, that is not happening. President Putin, who has blood on his hands in Syria and so many other places, is determined to use any means necessary to exert the influence of the Russian Bear and save his own sad face. The major powers have a very narrow window to restore sanity to this situation and seek creative solutions before the entire world and the people of Ukraine are thrown into another spiral of brutal violence.

Right now it is clear the Russians and their surrogates are determined to keep the strategically placed Crimea. This peninsula on the Black Sea has historically been the source of much pain. Over half a million died in the Crimean War between the superpowers in the mid-1800's. Stalin deported the entire population of Crimean Tatars from the peninsula and most died in that process. Crimea became completely Russian and currently most of its population are Russian speakers.

Bp7In 1954, Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev 'gave' Crimea to the Ukrainian people. Khrushchev, who was a native Russian, rose to power through the Ukrainian Communist Party. Some say it was an act of madness created in a drunken stupor and others consider it a brilliant move by the Russian leader.

Ukraine is split between those who consider themselves Europeans and those who have a historic bond to Russia. The split has been clear in election after election. There are enough facts and figures to sanely partition Ukraine now before it is too late. Minimally, give the damn Crimea back to Russia where it historically belongs.

Drawing the 'line in the sand' over fake boundaries is inviting massive violence, international confrontation and death and destruction. Over what?

Read this National Geographic article on the history of Ukraine to fully understand why we can fully resolve this crisis peacefully and sanely. The history of Ukraine has been one of great struggle and a place that major powers have used and abused over time.

The solution is simple. Let the European section continue as the Ukraine and allow the Russian section to vote on their future either as Russians or a new nation. Finally, return Crimea to the Russians.

America has a unique opportunity to look at the concept of nation states in an innovative way that is more suited to the 21st century and not a return to the 19th Century. Let's embrace it now or the consequences may be horrific.


George Clooney Adds Voice of Support to Intensifying Protests in Ukraine: VIDEO

Kiev

Protests in Kiev over Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovich's refusal to keep promises to sign agreements that would strengthen ties between Ukraine and the European Union intensified over the weekend, with protesters bringing down a massive statue of Lenin, the NYT reports:

International concern over the unrest in Ukraine appeared to deepen on Sunday, as the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, telephoned Mr. Yanukovich and Western leaders continued to call on him to respond to the demonstrators’ demands. The European Union has been eager to draw Ukraine, a nation of 46 million, into closer alliance with the West, while Russia has sought to safeguard its major economic and political interests in its close neighbor. Making the crisis more acute, Ukraine is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and is desperate for financial assistance from abroad.

The spreading disorder set off a new round of speculation that Mr. Yanukovich would declare a state of emergency and potentially turn again to force by ordering the removal of demonstrators who have occupied Independence Square and several public buildings, including Kiev’s City Hall. There were reports on Sunday that the security services were preparing to bring charges of treason against three opposition leaders in Parliament who have been at the forefront of the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, pro-government supporters are using gay rights as an excuse for their support:

Pro-government demonstrators deployed a new tactic Friday to counter protests in favor of European integration, marching through the capital, Kiev, to oppose homosexuality, which they said would accompany a greater European Union role in Ukrainian affairs. Carrying religious icons and singing hymns, the group of about 1,000 Orthodox Christian supporters of President Viktor Yanukovych filed out of a monastery and marched to a city park. Marchers said they favored allegiance to Russia rather than Europe because Russia more closely matches the cultural and religious heritage of Ukraine, which was once part of the Soviet Union. They intend to draw attention to what they characterize as overly liberal European social values, they said.

The protests have captured international attention, and are gaining some high-profile supporters. Actor George Clooney taped a message for the people of Ukraine which began spreading on the internet today.

Watch it, and the statue coming down, AFTER THE JUMP...

UPDATE: According to late reports, it appears as if riot police are preparing to storm the square.

Clooney_ukraine

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