Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Putin flipped?...or just playing the hard man

Following Putin's absurd claims yesterday [see previous blog] Brian Whitmore, in this absolutely must-read rferl article, ponders whether the Russian president is still capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality.

Whitmore concludes:
Nutty statements from Russian officials are so commonplace that we almost don't even notice them all anymore. 

But we seem to be crossing a threshold and getting close to a very dangerous point. When you build up a make-believe world and surround yourself with only people who reinforce it -- there comes a point where you cannot distinguish reality and fantasy. 

And if Putin really believes his own hype, then we're in a very frightening place, indeed..

But then again, [as Peter Pomarantsev recently noted in the 'FT'] maybe there is reason to this madness (or the rumours of it)... What if Mr Putin’s show of derangement was a front, coolly calculated to intimidate the west? What if he wanted them to fear the random acts of recklessness that might follow if he were provoked?

There is a game of bluff and double-bluff going on here.

My uncle, whose was born and raised in Tsarist Russia always told me that Russians always like to play the hard man...and they treat any sign of weakness with great disdain. He lived through deportation to Siberia and I believe knew Russian psyche pretty well. He always told me if you talk tough and refuse to be cowed, or refuse to give way when bullied by Russians, they will back down. On several occasion this saved his life and the life of his family members . A lesson for western leaders perhaps?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lies Putin loves to believe

Today Russian President Vladimir Putin sensationally claimed that Ukraine's army is a NATO proxy whose geopolitical aim is to constrain Russia.

This is what he said :

"This is not the army, per se, this is a foreign proxy, in this case a foreign NATO legion, which, of course, doesn't pursue the objective of national interests of Ukraine.

"They have entirely different goals, and they are tied with the achievement of the geopolitical goals of containing Russia, which absolutely does not fall in place with the national interests of the Ukrainian people."

"We often say: the Ukrainian army, the Ukrainian army. But in fact, who's fighting there? Indeed, there are, in part, official units of armed forces, but for the most part it's the so-called 'volunteer nationalist battalions,'" Putin added.
[Translation from link above...not mine]

Watch Putin uttering these words, at the link here

Looking at his demeanour and not absolutely convincing delivery I am not sure he fully believes everything he is saying..[just my opinion - I think he may have just been trying to 'rubbish' the Ukrainian fighters..but said more than he intended to say.]

Some commentators suggest Putin's assertions may be a pretext to admit the presence of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, but as a peacemaking force protecting the interests of Ukrainians themselves.

But his strategists and advisers, in the words of a Townes van Zandt song,  'tell him lives he loves to believe'.. making it all ok. The lies will become ever more incredible..and dangerous.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Putin will continue to wage war on Ukraine

'Moscow Times' states the obvious when it declares:

 "Putin Is in No Hurry to Resolve Ukraine Crisis...

"Continued fighting gives Putin leverage with Europe that he hopes to corral into forcing Kiev to accept Russia's demands for a "constitutional reform." Any settlement ends this leverage.."

As this noteworthy article [in English] from Gorshenin Institute claims recent statements by key Putin advisers following Kyiv's blockade of separatist-held territories indicate Russian expansion into Ukraine will continue, possibly the start of a major war..

Reminds me of a bleak and famous quote, repeated by Gleb Pavlovsky, a former close adviser of Putin, at the end of a BBC television documentary on the Russia's war on Ukraine  last year:

"The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time"

Events over the last few days prove Putin wants to push demarcation lines further west of the ones denoted in the Minsk Agreements. As I have mentioned previously he and Foreign Minister Lavrov are also demanding recognition of the November 2 DNR and LNR 'elections' by Ukraine and the Europeans . The latter is utterly unacceptable- hence the breakdown of the Astana talks and the escalation of violence.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How Putin invented war in Ukraine

Listen to this January 17, 2015 Real Clear Radio Hour podcast:

 "Putin's Circus"

in which Peter Pomerantsev, British TV producer and author of "Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia", describes Vladimir Putin’s approach to propaganda and authoritarian rule.

If nothing else at least listen to the last 7 or 8 minutes, i.e. 20 minutes 30 seconds onward into the podcast,  from the link here.

Pomarantsev explains how bellicose propaganda has become reality in Eastern Ukraine, how a disinformation-driven reason for war was invented and the danger this poses to world peace.

What a tragedy such cynical manipulation, a war driven by misinformation, has already cost thousands of lives and billions and billions of dollars of physical damage. It is quite possible a humanitarian catastrophe awaits....I pray it does not.

Friday, January 16, 2015

USA and UK will stand up to Russia's aggression in Ukraine

The Prime Minister and US President today wrote an article for the Times about shared security and prosperity of the UK and the USA.
"...we will continue to stand up to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. If we allow such fundamental breaches of international law to go unchecked, we will all suffer from the instability that would follow. Our strong and united response has sent an unmistakable message that the international community will not stand by as Russia attempts to destabilise Ukraine.
We will continue working in lockstep and putting pressure on Russia to resolve the crisis diplomatically. At the same time we will keep supporting Ukraine as it works to fulfil the economic and democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.
Security and prosperity go hand in hand. By confronting the terrorists who threaten us, standing together against Russia’s aggressive acts and continuing our efforts to advance our economic growth, we will continue to advance the security and prosperity that our people deserve."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ukraine isolating LNR and DNR even further

Ukraine is cutting off those citizens who are living in the so-called LNR and DPR-controlled areas from the rest of Ukraine. After a decision made by Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, from this week, a special permit issued by the Ukrainian authorities will be required for entry and/or exit from the ATO area.

Initially, seven crossing points have been designated. A pass can be applied for, by adults only, in four cities held by Ukrainian forces - Starobilsk, Debaltseve, Velyka Novosilka, and Mariupol.

How residents currently living inside the ATO zone can obtain a pass is unclear. Apparently they have to go to the nearest Ukrainian-held checkpoint and hand over necessary documents for processing. They then have to return to that checkpoint after a matter of days to pick up their [by no means guaranteed] 'propusk' - a life-threatening and potentially deadly journey as events in Volnovakha showed. [One of the aims of attacking the checkpoint in Volnovakha was to deter further movement of citizens between the ATO zone and Ukraine proper.]

According to Article 33 of the Ukrainian Constitution, everyone who resides in the territory of Ukraine is guaranteed freedom of movement, freedom of residence, and the right to freely leave the territory of Ukraine.

p.s. This from the the brilliant Vladimir Socor:

"During the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) year-end meeting in Basel, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared, “The Minsk [armistice] agreements presuppose a certain sequence of implementing actions.”

Lavrov listed the serial order as: recognition by Kyiv of the November 2 elections in “DPR-LPR,” enactment of a Ukrainian law on special status for those areas, re-establishment of economic links by Kyiv with those two “republics,” and a political dialogue between Kyiv and the two “republics’ ” leaders. When Kyiv will have taken all those steps, the matter of monitoring the Ukraine-Russia border can come up for discussion; but Kyiv will have to discuss it with the two “republics’ ” authorities [they and Russia control the Ukrainian side of the Ukraine-Russia border across a 400-kilometer sector]. (Interfax, December 5)."

Lavrov's presupposings has no basis in reality, as any casual reading of the Minsk Protocol and follow-up Memorandum shows. The November 2 elections were recognised by no-one, including why on earth should the Kyiv government recognise then as a starting point for armistice? But Putin does not want this does he? He wants further destabilisation as revenge for being a two-time loser in Ukraine - once in 2004 and once in 2014.

But as they say in Ukraine, if you are plotting revenge, then dig two graves first..

p.p.s. Drop everything and read this Here is a bit:

...Russia can end its current isolation and embark on the path of reform only as the result of a large-scale civil conflict, a major military defeat of Russia's armed forces or else a fundamental economic collapse. The "Ukrainization" of Russian politics has devoured this country's future.
Even if the warring parties reach a truce in eastern Ukraine, that will not change the state of Russian society. According to Russia's current rhetoric, the West is incapable of offering any response that would warrant restoring a dialogue with it. That leaves no option but for the West to go away, to disappear.
But before that, Moscow demands that the West repent for its centuries of anti-Russian policy — starting with the fall of Byzantium and ending with its alleged role in organizing the coup d'etat in Kiev. The Kremlin and Russia's new post-Crimean society will accept nothing less.
What's more, the new social contract contains no provision for ending the conflict with Kiev. That means Ukraine should simply disappear along with the West. In fact, Putin's rhetoric over the last six months clearly lacks even a single reasonable stance that the Kremlin could take with regard to the West...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

European Parliament Joint Motion for a Resolution on Ukraine

European Parliament Joint Motion for a Resolution on Ukraine Draft 13.01.2015

"in case of any further Russian actions destabilising Ukraine, invites the European Council to take up further restrictive measures and broaden their scope, by covering the nuclear sector and by limiting the ability of Russian entities to conduct international financial transactions"

Does this mean blocking Russian access to the SWIFT international banking transaction system as proposed by the UK government several months ago?

Some other interesting stuff in the motion too...e.g. reminder "that there are now no objections, including legal restrictions, for Member States to  provide defensive arms to Ukraine, which could be based on a "lend-lease" like arrangement"

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Putin intends to take more of Ukraine

"Russia definitely has once again turned up the heat and increases its efforts to control even larger parts of Ukraine, willing to conquer those in a brutal and way which is against international law and against all its promises to at least calm down the situation or even better withdraw its forces from Ukraine." [Source - the excellent Conflict Reporter"Making sense of the latest Russian offensives in eastern Ukraine" ]

Why are mainstream western media not reporting this?

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Western leaders should attend victory day parade in Kyiv, not Moscow

It has recently been reported in the press that Downing Street is yet to comment whether or not the British prime minister is planning to attend this year's 70th anniversary celebrations of allied victory over Nazi Germany in Moscow in May.

Many of my Ukrainian forebears fought in the Soviet Army. Ukraine's contribution to the defeat of Hitler's Germany was enormous, as was the suffering inflicted on Ukraine's population during World War 2. As eminent historian Timothy Snyder recently noted:

"World War II on the eastern front was fought chiefly in what was then Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus, not in Soviet Russia. Five percent of Russia was occupied by the Germans; all of Ukraine was occupied by the Germans. Apart from the Jews, whose suffering was by far the worst, the main victims of Nazi policies were not Russians but Ukrainians and Belarusians. There was no Russian army fighting in World War II, but rather a Soviet Red Army. Its soldiers were disproportionately Ukrainian, since it took so many losses in Ukraine and recruited from the local population."

In view of the on-going Russian-Ukrainian war and the international outrage President Putin's aggression has caused, the British prime minister should only attend such an event in Moscow on the condition that Ukraine's President is also invited, and Ukraine's enormous contribution to the defeat of Hitler's Third Reich properly recognised.

The prime minister should discuss and co-ordinate his action in this matter with Chancellor Angela Merkel when they meet in a few days time. Perhaps in light of the comments above they should both attend analogous celebrations in Kyiv instead of in Moscow?

Friday, January 02, 2015

West must not sell Ukraine down the river

Please read this:

A Ukraine-Russia peace deal: Crimea must have a cost

from the excellent Mark Galleotti

Will Putin repeat Yanukovych's mistakes?

Vitaliy Portnikov makes some observations on the recent demonstration in Manezhnaya Square in Moscow following the guilty verdict on of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

He compares this demonstration to those that took place during the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko. None of them were particularly well attended and many Russians, and Ukrainians, are, and were sceptical about their efficacy, failing to understand that the protesters in both countries were first and foremost demonstrating against the cynical use of the legal system to try and 'break the back' of possible political foes.

"It is clear that Navalny is on trial for political reasons, that his brother is a victim of crude hostage taking. The people who came out to the streets in Moscow, where just trying to protect the rule of law. And the number of Ukrainians who came out to the Maidan at first was even smaller."

Portnikov recalls that until Berkut riot police tried to clear the Maidan of students just over a year ago the majority of activists in Ukraine, and virtually all politicians believed that 'the moment was lost' and protests would fizzle out.

One of the future leaders of the Maidan, following Yanukovych's non signing of the EU/Ukraine Association Agreement at Vilnius, told Portnikov that after Vilnius: "no revolutionary situation in Ukraine exists and is not expected". But just a few days later, after the mass beating of students, the streets were filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Portnikov concludes: "Putin is politically much more shrewd than Yanukovych - at the end of the day he is not criminal thug but a 'Chekist', and will avoid adding fuel to the fire of protests. He mobilizes society by pressing on the chauvinistic pedal.

If Yanukovych had signed to an association agreement in Vilnius, even if he had not tried to disperse the protesters and promised to continue the policy of drawing closer to Europe, if he had entered negotiations with the opposition and offered to share power at the first stages of the Maidan, he would still have been president - and the country would be rolling into the abyss. But Yanukovych was a greedy idiot and a puppet. There is no-one behind Putin, but this does not mean that sooner or later he will not make the same mistake."

p.s. At the New Year's 'Celebration' in central Donetsk yesterday: Almost 100 of the city's 800,000 population attended - looking forward to 2015 under Russian occupation. About 40,000 attended a similar event in Kyiv.
Just saying....