Tuesday 22 April 2014

Ukraine update - 04/21/2014

Pro-Ukraine activists defy 

harassment to rally in border 

town of Khartsyzk

US vice-president Joe Biden arrives in Kiev for largely symbolic visit as Russia hints it could send in troops

21 April, 2014

It was a classic political rally. There were emotional speeches, flags and homemade banners. But the small middle-class crowd that gathered on Monday in the eastern town of Khartsyzk, close to the border with Russia, had turned up to support Ukraine. They waved blue and yellow flags. They showed placards. One read: "Goodwill to all". Another held aloft by two smiling white-haired ladies read: "Make love not war".

Pro-Russian groups have seized a string of town halls across eastern Ukraine. They have occupied and barricaded the administration building in Khartsyzk, a town of 65,000 people 25 miles (40km) from Donetsk, and known for its giant tube factory. The separatists are demanding a referendum. They have proclaimed a "Donetsk people's republic" whose goals include separation from Kiev and – it appears – swift union with Russia.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, appears to be threatening to send in troops. On Monday Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, accused the government in Kiev of violating a deal struck in Geneva last week under which illegal groups were supposed to give up their arms. Lavrov said Kiev had failed to protect ethnic Russians from far-right extremists. His comments follow a murky shootout over the weekend in the town of Slavyansk, occupied by angry anti-western gunmen.

The US vice-president, Joe Biden, arrived in Kiev on Monday for a two day trip. He is due to meet the prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and the president, Olexander Turchynov, on Tuesday. But with international attempts to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine effectively shredded, Biden's visit appears largely symbolic. It takes place against a backdrop of ominous Kremlin rhetoric.

The pro-Ukrainians at the rally on Monday claimed that separatists in the east enjoyed only minority support. A majority in the Russian-speaking Donbass region were actually in favour of Ukrainian unity, they said. Peaceful residents regarded the appearance of "little green men" in Slavyansk – allegedly undercover Russian soldiers – with horror. So why were only about 200 people, a mixture of students, professionals and pedagogues, at Khartsyzk's pro-Ukraine rally?

"A lot of people here are frightened," Ludmilla Pogromskaya, a 53-year-old English teacher, answered. "Some of those who have seized our town hall are thugs. Others are being paid. They don't have a single political idea beyond referendum."

Pogromskaya described Putin as "the aggressor" and said: "We want a decent society. We'd like an honest judicial system. Russia means crime and corruption."

Irma Krat Blindfolded journalist Irma Krat is convoyed to her news conference in Slavyansk after she was detained by militia. Photograph: Pochuyev Mikhail/Itar-Tass Photo/Corbis

There have been examples of civic activists who support Ukraine facing harassment and worse. On Sunday Slavyansk's militia kidnapped Irma Krat, a 29-year-old Kiev activist who was working in the town as a journalist. On Monday they seized three more reporters, two Italians and a Belarusian, later releasing them. The gunmen blindfolded Krat and paraded her on Russian television and outside the town hall. She said she was not being mistreated, but she has yet to be freed.

Separately, a mediator from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe met Slavyansk's self-appointed "people's mayor", Vyacheslav Ponomaryov.

The mediator asked whether the heavily armed rebels in the town would comply with the Geneva agreement and give up their weapons. The mayor's reply was not made public. But other separatists have said they have no intention of disarming.

Svitlana Oleinikova, who runs an NGO in the town of Torez, close to Khartsyzk, said it was becoming increasingly dangerous to express pro-Ukraine views. She said a teenage boy was badly beaten on Sunday for shouting "Glory to Ukraine" in a park.

Separatists had broken the windows of Torez's progressive newspaper and tossed in a firebomb, she said. She added: "I don't call it the Donetsk people's republic. I call it the Donetsk Nazi republic. They're the fascists."
Oleinikova said she too had received threats, delivered by phone and via the internet. She added that local mafia elements were exploiting the crisis to rob shops, including two chemists. "What frustrates me most is that the police don't do anything. There is an absence of authority. Neighbours accuse me of being a traitor. But how can I be a traitor if I show my own flag?"

Monday's rally began with the Ukrainian national anthem, played out next to the town's statue of Lenin. Everybody sang. The organiser, local businessman Vyacheslav Redko, then invited people to speak. One teacher read a Ukrainian poem. Khartsyzk's mayor vanished on holiday eight days ago when separatists took over his building. Another local official, Igor Kolodey, was bold enough to address the modest crowd.

"Why isn't the Ukrainian flag flying from the town hall?" someone shouted at him.
"It's still up inside the offices. The Ukrainian trident is there too," he replied. There were boos. "I didn't take the flag down," he said. More boos.

"You steal money!" someone shouted.

"No I don't," he replied. "I've never stolen anything."

Viktor Yanukovych
Yanukovych. Photograph: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

Alexander Gricay, an entrepreneur, was unimpressed by this. He described the town council as "corrupted and pro-Russian".

"Russia has artificially created this current crisis," Gricay declared. He said the Kremlin was trying to get revenge on the west after the departure of the president, 

Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February. On Monday Yanukovych called on Kiev to pull its army out of eastern Ukraine and engage in "peaceful dialogue".

Speaking in Donetsk, Alexander Bukalov, the head of the human rights organisation Memorial, said rights campaigners were in a difficult situation. Pro-Russian feelings in the east were strong, he said, but that did not translate as support for separatist positions. "It sounds a paradox. But a lot of people say: 'I support Russia but want to live in Ukraine.' What they mean is they want Russian money and Russian help."

Bukalov was gloomy about the prospect of a further Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, with Moscow seemingly looking for a pretext to go to war. He said curious events on the ground – including scarcely believable "attacks" by Ukrainian fascists – appeared to be following a Kremlin script. "It's like watching theatre. This feels like a performance done for Russian TV," he observed.

He described the febrile Donbass region as a "splinter from the Soviet Union". Many people yearned for the paternalist certainties of Soviet life, he said.

"We need to free ourselves from the past. We need to move on from myths about Stalin and Putin." Was he an optimist? "I'm sure something good can be done here. But there may be tragedy first."

Ukraine SITREP April 21

The situation in the Ukraine continues to be characterized by complete chaos and a gradual and steady strengthening of the resistance in the East.

21 April, 2014

Following the 
attack by pro-regime forces on a resistance checkpoint in Slaviansk over the week-end Foreign Minister Lavrov has accused the revolutionary regime in Kiev of breaking the terms of the accord.

One could argue that this attack was decided by the Right Sector (that is the conclusion that the Russian-speakers have come to based on the weapons and documents they seized) and that the cannot control them.  That is probably quite true (even though the Right Sector has denied being involved).  But the regime also declared that the demonstrators which are currently occupying the Maidan square in Kiev have a permit and are there legally.  Truly, whether the regime does not want to enforce the terms of the agreement or whether it cannot do so make very little difference to the Russian-speakers in the East: they still have to bury the same number of people and they still face the same threat.  Take a look at what Right Sector thugs did to a Russian-speaker yesterday: (no translation needed)

And this is just one example amongst many.

Another telling video is the one of the man trying to stop an armored vehicle by standing in front of it: (again, no translation needed here either)

To be really honest, I have the feeling that a negotiated solution is pretty much impossible at this point. The East really has nobody to negotiate with.

At this point in time I see the following developments taking place:

1) The resistance in the East get more weapons, more men, more checkpoints, better communication, better organization and discipline.
2) Most cities in the East will organize some kind of referendum.
3) The government in Kiev will nothing done at all.
4) The Right Sector will continue to try to attack all those who dare disagree.
5) The Ukrainian military will not assist the regime in Kiev
6) The West will remain eyes wide shut and defend the regime and everything it does or does not do.

If the above is correct, the the East might as well forget any notion of federation and they should secede. If they do that, they would probably have to join Russia just for their own safety. As for Russia, if the East secedes and asks for protection, it will have no choice other than to provide either troops or some kind of security guarantees. Either way, the West will have a hysterical fit of truly monumental proportions and NATO will even probably organize some grand maneuver to show how determined the West is to resist should Moscow decide to invade Poland, Germany or even Portugal.

As for the regime in Kiev, it is really in complete disarray. Sometimes, this become outright comical. It actually went as far as publishing on open letter of the Ministry of Internal Affairs praising the Berkut police for their courage and asking them to help defend the Ukraine. If these neo-Nazis are now trying to get the help from the very same Berkut which they attacked, stabbed, stoned, shot at, defamed, burned, humiliated and even disbanded - this means that they are really desperate.

As for the West, it has discredited itself with the East to such a degree that I would find it hard to imagine that anybody would take its promises seriously.

If I am correct, we should now enter a phase of decay and break-up.

Stay tuned,

The Saker

Lavrov: US should face 

responsibility for powers it 

installed in Kiev

The Russian Foreign Minister says the US should take responsibility for those whom they put in power instead issuing ultimatums to Moscow.

21 April, 2014

"Before giving us ultimatums, demanding that we fulfill demands within two or three days with the threat of sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully accept responsibility for those who they brought to power,” said Lavrov during a press conference with his colleague from Mozambique, Oldemiro Baloi.

All attempts to isolate Russia will lead to a dead end because Russia is "a big, independent power that knows what it wants," he added

Meanwhile, the Russian FM also criticized statements from Western countries and Kiev’s authorities, which “invent possible and impossible arguments against Russia,” claiming that a large amount of Russian arms in the conflict zones proves Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs.

He called the statements absurd as Ukraine has traditionally used Russian-made arms.

This statement is ludicrous. Everyone has Russian arms in Ukraine,” Lavrov said.

Meanwhile, he also said that TV outlets have reported that US arms were also found in Ukraine and illegal armed groups, not the Ukrainian army were in possession of these American arms.

Speaking about the crisis situation in eastern Ukraine and Kiev’s crackdown on the Donetsk region, Lavrov also said that Kiev authorities don’t want or maybe cannot control the extremists who continue to control the situation in the country.

"The authorities are doing nothing, not even lifting a finger, to address the causes behind this deep internal crisis in Ukraine," he said.

Meanwhile, Lavrov also said that the Kiev coup-appointed government has violated the Geneva agreements of April 17, after the four-sided talks between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine.

The Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) group has been “running the show” in the streets of central and western Ukraine and is trying to affect eastern regions,” he said, adding that buildings in Kiev seized by the protesters haven’t been freed and the streets haven’t been cleared.

However, Kiev authorities say that “Maidan” is acting legally which is totally inadmissible,” he said.

Meanwhile, the attack by militants on the checkpoint in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on Easter Sunday is a crime beneficial only for those who want to derail the Geneva agreements, said the Russian FM.

The fact that extremists started to shoot at unarmed civilians is unacceptable,” he added.

Meanwhile, he also criticized the attitude of Kiev to foreign journalists in Ukraine as journalists in the country are being arrested and the authorities won’t let them into the regions for them to observe what is happening.

He also stressed that one of the Geneva agreement’s points is to amnesty political prisoners and participants in the protests.

Instead of releasing the Donetsk governor, Pavel Gubarev, Kiev authorities continue to arrest activists in southeastern Ukraine,” said Lavrov.

According to Lavrov, the Kiev authorities are still spinning out the implementation of constitutional reform in the country.

Why were they waiting for so long to speak about the necessity of constitutional reform? Why are they spinning out the process?” he asked at the conference.

Lavrov also stressed the necessity of restoring order in the crisis-torn country. By this he meant stopping extremism and religious intolerance, starting constitutional dialogue and disarming the illegally armed groups.

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