Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Worst Case Scenario in Ukraine

(The Nation)  Russia scholar and longtime Nation contributor Stephen Cohen joins John Batchelor to discuss the deepening crisis in Ukraine. He says that as the conflict escalates, so too does the possibility of a military confrontation between the United States-NATO and Russia: “It’s hard to imagine a civil war in Ukraine without the United States and NATO intervening on one side [and] Russia [intervening] on the other.” Cohen considers what it will take to avoid this worst-case scenario.

link to audio interview

50 Ukrainian Soldiers Join Federalists in Slaviansk

SLAVIANSK, April 16 (RIA Novosti) – Fifty Ukrainian soldiers sent to the eastern town of Kramatorsk for military operations against pro-federalization protesters have defected to the side of the demonstrators, local self-defense activists told RIA Novosti Wednesday.
“We have seen that these people are neither separatists nor terrorists, but just ordinary people and we refuse to fight them,” one of the soldiers told RIA Novosti, as the military men took down Ukrainian flags and directed their vehicles to nearby Slaviansk.
The soldiers who switched allegiances are all from Dnepropetrovsk, and came from six crews of airborne combat vehicles, several crews of infantry combat vehicles and one armored carrier.
Some of them raised Russian flags and Air Force banners. Several of their vehicles are now stationed near the Slaviansk City Council, which has been under the control of federalization advocates for several days.
Local residents are taking pictures against the backdrop of the combat vehicles and talking freely with their crews.
Several military units in Kramatorsk still remain loyal to Kiev, including tanks. In Kramatorsk the protesters also control the city council, and have erected several roadblocks. No shooting between security forces loyal to Kiev and the opposition have been reported. Protesters still control Slaviansk, with no military loyal to Kiev present in the area.

The Ukrainian army started a special operation Tuesday to crack down on self-defense activists in eastern Ukraine. The operation targeted the cities of Kramatorsk and Slaviansk in the Donetsk region.

Ukraine crisis: Military vehicles 'seized' in Kramatorsk

But the Ukrainian defence ministry says six armoured personnel carriers were captured by pro-Russian militants.
Other reports suggest the Ukrainian troops may have abandoned their vehicles or changed sides.
Tension is increasing across eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian protesters have seized public buildings.

View this video!

Recent videos by British news crews in Ukraine

Ukrainian troop defections escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine

(Washington Post)  DONETSK, Ukraine — Tensions escalated in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, with pro-Russian gunmen storming City Hall in the sprawling city of Donetsk and a cluster of Ukrainian troops meant to be restoring order in the region apparently defecting to the side of separatists.

The events suggested the challenge ahead for the pro-Western Ukrainian government on the second day of a campaign to quell the restive east, and came as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Ukraine was on the verge “of a civil war.”

A line of combat vehicles flying Russian flags rolled Wednesday morning into Slovyansk, a city of 120,000 where separatists have set up roadblocks since Saturday. One soldier named Andrei, speaking to the Associated Press, identified the men as part of the 25th Brigade of Ukraine’s airborne forces that had switched to the side of pro-Russian forces. The troops in green camouflage and packing automatic weapons and grenade launchers received a warm welcome from local separatists, AP said. The report could not be immediately verified. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Putin's Folly

More and more it looks like Vladimir the Great bit off more than he can chew.  While the protests in Eastern Ukraine are being given extensive media coverage, particularly in the Russian media, it seems most Eastern Ukrainians prefer remaining in Ukraine, not becoming part of the Russian Federation, and the infringement on minority rights has been greatly exaggerated in the Russian media,

A study by the International Republican Institute shows that 67 percent of Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the south and 61 percent of Russian speakers in the east are not experiencing infringements to their rights, and are against Russian troops being sent to protect them.

Of course you can read it as you will, but the cost of annexing Crimea is already taking a heavy toll on the Russian economy and will continue to do so throughout the year.

It didn't help at all that Russia experienced virtually no economic "bounce" from the Winter Olympics.  In fact, the huge cost of hosting the games has weighed heavily on the economy, much like Greece's Summer Games in 2004, which presaged that country's economic collapse.  The 2004 Summer Olympics cost half as much as the Sochi Olympics.

Basically, the Russian economy is in a tailspin.  Russians have already been feeling the pinch as last year was no better.  In fact, Russia's current economic crisis dates back a number of years, and has been compared to the 1970s Soviet Union.  Unless the country makes major structural changes it is essentially doomed to a long period of stagnation.

Understandable that many Eastern Ukrainians are not so excited about becoming an integral part of this sluggish economy, and would rather pursue increased trade relationships with the EU, which has recovered rapidly since the 2008 economic collapse.  Many Eastern European countries are now prospering, experiencing their largest economic growth since pre-crisis times.

Of course, Ukraine has to make some hard choices that won't sit easy with the people, but the overall feeling appears one that it is best to have your country open to both the East and the West, not one or the other.
Russian Lada 'chases tank in Sloviansk'

Proof positive that highly trained Russian Spetnaz  troops have been deployed in Ukraine and are using cutting edge Lada weapons against lightly armed Ukrainian troops sent from Kyiv.

Ukraine on a three-way junction

A Worlds Economic Forum report. As usual, optimistic, possible, and pessimistic / realistic scenarios. Click on the title for the full text (pdf).
Ukraine troops land in eastern town, then pull back to base
KRAMATORSK, Ukraine, April 15 (Reuters) - Ukrainian airborne troops landed in a town in the east of the country on Tuesday apparently at the start of a crackdown to root out pro-Russian separatists - but they pulled back into base after meeting a hostile reception from local civilians.
In Kiev, interim president Oleksander Turchinov savoured a triumph, announcing the airfield had been "liberated".

But, on the ground in Kramatorsk, a Ukrainian general who said he was the commander of the "anti-terrorist" operation had a hostile reception as he sought to reason with the crowd.

The officer, Gennady Krutov, said: "We have information that there is shooting going on in here. I came here to clarify that. There is an anti-terrorist operation going on in here. I am here to protect you. I address you as citizens of our common country," he said.

The crowd shouted: "Hands off the Donbass," a name for the surrounding region of eastern Ukraine, which is mainly Russian-speaking.

As talks grew heated, the crowd, numbering several hundred, jostled the general who at one point lost his hat in the commotion. With night falling, he and his men withdrew into the air base.

Locals, some of them holding the Russian flag, had set up barricades of sand and tyres outside the gates to the airport and prior to the troops landing some of them appeared to be preparing petrol bombs.

White House Confirms CIA Director's Trip to Kiev

WASHINGTON April 14, 2014 (AP) The White House is confirming that CIA Director John Brennan was in the Ukrainian capital over the weekend.

White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed Russian media reports of the trip to Kiev. Carney says Brennan's visit was part of a trip to Europe.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (yah-noo-KOH'-vich) is accusing the CIA of being behind the new government's decision to turn to force. But the CIA denies that Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations.
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