Sunday, December 21, 2014

US slaps sanctions on Putin's biker gang over Ukraine

(Telegraph) Also on the list was Natalya Poklonskaya, a 34-year-old prosecutor from Crimea, whose good looks and staunch criticisms of Ukraine’s pro-Western independence movement made a hero in pro-Kremlin circles earlier this year. She became an internet sensation when she was appointed in March, attracting a particular following in China and Japan where she prompted a wave of anime fan art.
On Saturday, the bikers’ leader told a Moscow radio station that he wanted to thank Mr Obama for “appreciating” his achievements by adding him to the list.

“I’ve already been called and congratulated by about a hundred people,” said Mr Zaldostanov, with whom Mr Putin has ridden on a Harley Davidson trike. “I would very much like to thank Obama for recognising my modest services to the motherland. And I promise that I will do all I can so that his concern for me only grows.”

Ms Poklonskaya, who has threatened to deport anyone from Crimea who does not recognise its annexation, posted a picture of herself smiling broadly on Facebook and wrote in a post in English and Russian peppered with smiley symbols: “Thanks for the new sanctions, the United States! The European Union, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Japan, USA... Who is next?”

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Putin notes growth in foreign intelligence activity in Russia

MOSCOW, December 20. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted a growth in activities of foreign special services in Russia.
“Extreme composure and mobilization is demanded from the counterintelligence units,” Putin said at a gala night marking Day of Security Service Officers on Saturday. “Activity of foreign special services working on Russia is on the rise since only the counterintelligence service alone has exposed 230 employees and agents of foreign intelligence.”

Our advice to Washington and Ottawa is to think about consequences from actions of the kind,” he said. “And we shall work on retaliatory measures.”.

Putin says no-one will succeed in Russia’s intimidation, isolation

MOSCOW, December 20. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin is confident that no-one will succeed in intimidating and isolating Russia.
“The world situation is far from stable,” Putin said in State Kremlin Palace at a gala night marking Day of Security Service Officers.
“A number of threats and risks are growing, the norms of international law are ignored and no stone is left unturned: blackmail, provocations, economic and informational pressure, stakes on radical elements and nationalist groups, as well as attempts to destabilize the internal situation and thus take under control the whole countries.”
The head of state pointed out one could hear oftener more explicit statements that Russia “must pay a high cost for its independent policy, for its support of compatriots, for Crimea and for Sevastopol and it sometimes seems that even for the fact that we exist.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ukrainians' Ratings of Their Lives, Country Hit New Low

(Gallup) WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ukrainians' ratings of their lives reflect the turmoil that has gripped their country in the past year and demonstrate a high degree of uncertainty about their own future and that of their country. On a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10, with 10 being the best possible life, Ukrainians rate their current lives at a 4.3 on average. This is worse than the 4.8 average rating they gave their lives in 2013, and the lowest Gallup has ever measured in the country over the past nine years.
As poor as Ukrainians' ratings of their own lives are, their ratings of where their country currently stands are even worse. Ukrainians rate their country's current situation at a 3.0 on the 10-point scale, down from 4.0 in 2013. While ratings fell in every region in the country, they are the worst in the South and East, where the average rating for the country is 2.8.
While the political upheaval and war with the pro-Russian separatists this year are undeniably factors in Ukrainians' poor ratings of their lives, so is the country's economy. Near bankruptcy before the revolution, the economy has been further crippled during the present conflict. This has led Ukrainians' views on their national economy in 2014 to be the most pessimistic in recent history -- including during the global economic crisis. Seventy-seven percent of Ukrainians say their country's economy is "getting worse," and only 4% say it is "getting better."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Poll: 81 Percent Back Putin Even as Ruble Falls

(NYT)  MOSCOW — From a Western perspective, Vladimir Putin's days as president of Russia should be numbered: The ruble has lost about half its value, the economy is in crisis and his aggression in Ukraine has turned the country into an international pariah.

And yet most Russians see Putin not as the cause, but as the solution.
While Russia has become more authoritarian under Putin, the support for him appears genuine. The significant fluctuation in Putin's ratings in recent years also indicates that Russians feel able to respond freely in anonymous surveys about their views on the president. The 81 percent approval rating is only slightly higher statistically than the 74 percent measured during the same time period by the Levada Center, Russia's most respected independent pollster.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Russia says it wants east Ukraine to stay with Kiev under reformed constitution

(Reuters) - Moscow wants Ukraine to carry out a constitutional reform to allow more autonomy to Russian-speaking eastern regions that would then stay with Kiev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments published on Monday.

In an interview with the Interfax news agency, Lavrov said Ukraine needed a constitutional reform "with the participation of all regions and all political powers" that would allow the two rebellious eastern regions to remain part of the country.

Lavrov put the blame on Kiev for what he said was forcing the eastern regions out of Ukraine by refusing to give them more autonomy to seek ways out of the conflict that has killed more than 4,700 people since the violence started mid-April.

"I very much hope that the steps which the Ukrainian leadership is taking, provoking the tearing away of Donbass will end," he said in referring to the two eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

"...that Kiev's policy will change toward establishing dialogue with Donbass in order to work out the agreements that will allow all Ukrainians from all the regions to live in Ukraine with equality and respect."

Russia has in the past weeks called for a new round of peace talks on the conflict, which pits government troops against pro-Russian rebels fighting to split from Kiev.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Pastor’s Turn Fighting for Ukraine

PISKY, Ukraine — Sergei I. Reuta was in many ways typical of the 15,000 to 18,000 volunteers who, loosely organized in about 30 battalions, have emerged as the backbone of the Ukrainian military in the war in southeastern Ukraine.

Fired by a religious passion and a desire to remake their country, Mr. Reuta and others like him have left behind families and careers to join groups like his Dnipro-1 battalion — named for the city it came from, Dnepropetrovsk.

“I understood that as a Christian I should defend the land where God put me,” Mr. Reuta, a Pentecostal minister, said in an interview last month. “And I understood there was no escape from armed conflict.”

The militias, though, are a mixed lot. Rights groups accused one, Aidar, of illegal detentions and other abuses. Incompetence has killed volunteers and civilians alike.

In May, Dnipro-1 soldiers shot two unarmed, pro-Russian protesters. Another group, Azov, stained the new Ukrainian government’s reputation using a “wolf angel,” a Swastika-like symbol, on a flag. One Azov nationalist fights with “SS” inked on his helmet.
Ukraine underplays role of far right in conflict

(BBC)  This hyper-sensitivity and stonewalling were on full display after President Petro Poroshenko presented a Ukrainian passport to someone who, according to human rights activists, is a "Belarusian neo-Nazi".

The Ukrainian leader handed out medals on 5 December to fighters who had tenaciously defended the main airport in the eastern region of Donetsk from being taken over by Russian-backed separatists.

Among the recipients was Serhiy Korotkykh, a Belarusian national, to whom Mr Poroshenko awarded Ukrainian citizenship, praising his "courageous and selfless service".

Experts who follow the far right have strongly objected to President Poroshenko's decision.

They say Mr Korotkykh was a member of the far-right Russian National Unity party and also a founding member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Society (NSS) in Russia.

According to Ukrainian academic Anton Shekhovtsov, the NSS's main goal "is to prepare for a race war".

Mr Shekhovtsov said the Belarusian had been charged for involvement in a bombing in central Moscow in 2007, and was detained in 2013 in the Belarusian capital Minsk for allegedly stabbing an anti-fascist activist. He was later released for lack of evidence.
As Mr Korotkykh's case demonstrates, the ultra-nationalists have proven to be effective and dedicated fighters in the brutal war in the east against Russian-backed separatists and Russian forces, whose numbers also include a large contingent from Russia's far right.

As a result, they have achieved a level of acceptance, even though most Ukrainians are unfamiliar with their actual beliefs.

Run by the extremist Patriot of Ukraine organisation, which considers Jews and other minorities "sub-human" and calls for a white, Christian crusade against them, it sports three Nazi symbols on its insignia: a modified Wolf's Hook, a black sun (or "Hakensonne") and the title Black Corps, which was used by the Waffen SS.
There are significant risks to this silence. Experts say the Azov Battalion, which has been widely reported on in the West, has damaged Ukraine's image and bolsters Russia's information campaign.

And although Ukraine is emphatically not run by fascists, far-right extremists seem to be making inroads by other means, as in the country's police department.

Ukraine's public is grossly under-informed about this. The question is, why doesn't anyone want to tell them?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Putin Foe Khodorkovsky Channels Lenin to Plot Next Russian Revolution

(Businessweek)  A century after Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin plotted revolution from Zurich, Russia’s most famous ex-prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, harbors similar ambitions from self-chosen exile in the Swiss city.

Almost a year into his freedom, Khodorkovsky insists the tide is turning against President Vladimir Putin as the Russian economy heads into recession. Government revenue has been squeezed and the ruble has tumbled to record lows because of a collapse in oil prices and sanctions imposed over the Ukraine conflict.
In a scenario that Khodorkovsky acknowledges isn’t more than an outside possibility, this could open the chance for him to come back to Russia to head a transitional government that would steer the country for two-to-three years before stepping down after a free and democratic vote.

In Switzerland, where he has taken up residence with his family in a suburb of Zurich, Khodorkovsky has his office in the historic center, a short walk from the house where Lenin lived for a year before Germany sent him to Russia in a sealed train in February 1917.

“The same countries are playing the same role as they did 100 years ago,” Khodorkovsky, who was flown immediately after his release to Berlin under a deal brokered by former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, said of the historic parallels. “I hope that the methods that Vladimir Ilyich used are firmly in the past,” he added, referring to Lenin by his patronymic. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Global Consequences of Western Sanctions to Change Russian Policy Towards Ukraine

(Huffington Post)  Instead of a major change in relations with Ukraine the West will watch Putin as he reinvigorates relations between Russia, China, India, and even Iran. The way Putin is responding to the western sanctions, falling oil, and the declining ruble is going to ensure that Russia is less dependent on the West in the future. History may show that the lesson of the western sanctions was to strengthen the rest of the world and reduce America's influence on Asia.

The examples of this happening already are many, including Russia's multi billion dollar oil deal with China, and its support of India infrastructure and power plant construction. Just this week Putin made a one day stop in India to cement the a deal to use Russian resources to build 25 power plants in India.

Putin recently, mentioned that Russia expects to secure a "role of a reliable energy supplier to the Asian markets". "Historically, Russia has exported most of its hydrocarbons to the West," but that is about to change. Russia recently cancelled it's 50 billion dollar gas pipeline through Ukraine to supply Europe. Putin has articulated, "that the European consumption is increasing too the same time, the economies of Asian countries are growing rapidly". That is another way of saying that he is detaching Russian's economy from the West, which, in the end, maybe the true consequence of sanctions.
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