The Times’ Obsession with Russia: Russia Continues to Train and Equip Ukraine Rebels, NATO Official Says

World  – Europe

The Times – November 3, 2014

Rebel election officials said that Aleksandr Zakharchenko, left, had won in Donetsk  and that Igor Plotnitsky had won in Luhansk. Associated Press

Rebel election officials said that Aleksandr Zakharchenko, left, had won in Donetsk and that Igor Plotnitsky had won in Luhansk. Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of Russian troops are still training and equipping separatists in Ukraine, NATO’s top military commander said Monday, activities that are heightening tensions with the West and Ukraine’s government that were aggravated by Sunday’s elections in the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine.

As the Russian Foreign Ministry appears to be moving toward recognizing the results of the voting, which was dismissed by the United States as a “sham,” Western officials are increasingly concerned that the Kremlin may be taking the steps necessary to establish an enclave that remains outside Kiev’s control.

During a visit to the Pentagon, the commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, echoed those worries, telling reporters that “I am concerned that the conditions are there that could create a frozen conflict.”

Moscow followed that blueprint after the war with Georgia in 2008, establishing enclaves in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to ensure that the territorially compromised nation could not join NATO. It did the same earlier with Transnistria, a breakaway territory of Moldova where Russians have been stationed.

The concern now is that a buffer zone between Ukrainian and separatist forces, established as part of a September cease-fire, may become a de facto border of the new enclave. Meanwhile, the border between eastern Ukraine and Russia has remained open.

“We have seen a general trend towards a hardening of this line of demarcation and much more softening of the actual Ukraine-Russia border,” General Breedlove said.

“The Ukraine-Russia border is wide open,” he added. “It is completely porous. Russian equipment, resupply, training flows back and forth freely.”

Though the Kremlin has denied that it has sent forces into Ukraine, General Breedlove said about 250 to 300 Russian soldiers are still in the country.

“These are not fighting formations,” he said. “These are formations and specialists who are in there doing training and equipping of the separatist forces.”

And as the Sunday vote approached, he reported, some Russian military units edged closer to Russia’s border with Ukraine, an intimidating move that appeared intended to caution the Ukrainian government not to intervene.

“Some of those formations have moved closer to the border,” General Breedlove said. “We believe that was probably to bring some pressure on and make sure that the elections went according to the separatists’ plans.”

On Saturday, in another show of force, a column of about 60 unmarked military trucks drove through Donetsk.

In total, Russia has seven battalions near Ukraine, down from the 18 battalions — about 20,000 troops — it had there in August. But the forces are enough to maintain Russia’s influence in the area and to buttress Moscow’s efforts to help the separatists.

On Monday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that pro-Russian fighters had fired on one of its surveillance drones the day before as it was filming pro-Russian forces on the move near a Ukrainian checkpoint. “New drones under fire east of the contact line,” the group said in a post on Twitter.

The organization issued a statement saying the drone was flying at an altitude of about 5,000 feet near Mariupol, in the south of the Donetsk region, on the pro-Russian side of the front. It was filming a civilian truck when “a canvas covering on the back of the truck was removed, revealing a truck-mounted antiaircraft gun, which immediately fired numerous rounds” at the drone but missed.

Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, has said he does not want a crystallization of the status quo into a frozen conflict, but the Russian Foreign Ministry nevertheless issued a statement saying it would respect the outcome of separatist elections.

Russia “respects the choice made by residents of the southeast” of Ukraine, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, later told the Interfax news agency.

“Our position is that the elected representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions thereby received a mandate to hold negotiations with the central Ukrainian authorities and, acting as part of their political dialogue, tackle all the problems that have accumulated over many months,” Mr. Karasin said.

The ministry statement stopped short of recognizing the outcome of the vote, but still drew a din of criticism from European officials.

Steffen Seibert, the spokesman for Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, told reporters in Berlin that it was “incomprehensible that there are official Russian voices that are respecting or even recognizing these so-called elections.”

The turn of events in the rebellious territories ruled out any early lifting of European sanctions imposed on Russia and could lead to further sanctions if security deteriorated, Mr. Seibert said.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said in a statement, “I consider today’s ‘presidential and parliamentary elections’ in Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ a new obstacle on the path toward peace.”

The Ukrainian government has refused to negotiate directly with the rebel leadership outside of the O.S.C.E.-brokered cease-fire talks that include European and Russian officials, and it calls the separatist leadership “terrorists.” President Petro O. Poroshenko described Sunday’s elections as a farce.

The rebel central election committee in Donetsk said Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a former electrician, had won the election with about 78 percent of the vote. Mr. Zakharchenko commanded a pro-Russian militia, Oplot, until August, when the Donetsk Supreme Soviet elevated him to prime minister, replacing a Russian citizen in a leadership shuffle intended to put a local face on the movement. Mr. Zakharchenko is a Russian-speaking ethnic Ukrainian.

In Luhansk, election officials said Igor Plotnitsky, a former public health inspector, had won with about 63 percent of the vote. The elections in both regions offered few plausible alternatives, and separatist officials said the purpose of the voting was to legitimize the leadership and compel Kiev to negotiate with them.

Elected Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko: DPR Elections in Line With Minsk Agreements

PM of Donetsk People's Republic

The elected PM of Donetsk People’s Republic

Topic: Situation in the South-East of Ukraine

DONETSK, November 3 (RIA Novosti) – The elections held in the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk (DPR) do not contradict the Minsk agreements, DPR Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko has announced.

“It was said there [in the Minsk protocol] that we have the right to hold our own elections. The date was not specified,” Zakharchenko said at a press conference Sunday, adding that the elections held in the republic “do not contradict the Minsk agreements”, which have been fully fulfilled by the DPR.

According to Zakharchenko, DPR is open for dialogue with Kiev and is waiting for “adequate action” on the part of the Ukrainian leadership.

The Minsk protocol, signed September 5 by the Contact group on the Ukrainian crisis envisages a ceasefire and suggests, among other things, that Ukraine should adopt a law on granting special status to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and ensuring early elections of the heads of the self-proclaimed republics.

Elections of regional leaders and legislative bodies in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics took place on Sunday.

Kiev and several western countries said they would not recognize the results of this vote and repeatedly called it illegitimate. Russia, on the contrary, has expressed its intention to recognize the elections and emphasized that not recognizing would run counter to the Minsk protocol and undermine efforts to reach peace settlement in the country.

An Austrian observer called on Europe to acknowledge the elections held in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, RIA NOVOSTI reported.

“I believe the result will reflect the public opinion of the people here in Donetsk. My appeal is that the European countries should accept the people’s will. Please accept their will and their opinion, and please be fair about this,” Ewald Stadtler said during a press conference in the republic’s capital of Donetsk.

On Sunday, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics held elections to choose their regional leaders and representatives of legislative bodies.

A total of 100 observers from a number of European countries and the United States arrived in the region to monitor the elections.

The authorities in the European Union and the United States said earlier the elections would come against the Minsk agreement on the regulation of the crisis in Donbas, and that the international community would not recognize them.

Meanwhile, Russia has expressed its intention to recognize the elections in the self-proclaimed people’s republics, saying that the not recognizing of the elections would actually run counter to the Minsk protocol and disrupt the progress toward finding a sustainable political solution to the conflict.

Kiev Withdraws From Delineation Agreement With East Ukraine: DPR

Deputy Prime Minister of Donetsk People’s Republic Andrei Purgin

Deputy Prime Minister of Donetsk People’s Republic Andrei Purgin

 

Poroshenko faces hurdles despite big Ukraine vote win

 

DONETSK, October 29 (RIA Novosti) – Kiev has withdrawn from the delineation agreement it signed with Donetsk authorities without any explanation, the deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said Wednesday.

“A delineation was agreed between the opposing forces, but Kiev recalled the signature of its representative, Gen. Dumanskiy, from the document without giving any reason,” Andrei Purgin told reporters.

The delineation is a key condition laid down in the ceasefire agreement between Kiev and the independence supporters. It should serve as a preparatory stage for the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from both sides that will contribute to stabilizing the relations between them.

In September, the ceasefire agreement in southeastern Ukraine was reached during the meeting of the Contact Group on Ukraine. It was agreed that a 30-kilometer (19-mile) buffer zone separating Kiev forces and independence supporters of the  Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics (DPR and LPR) would be created.

DPR Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko stated on October 11 that the delineation agreement between the independence supporters and Kiev had been signed. The official said the delineation would reflect the line of contact between the two opposing sides as of September 19.

20 Oct. 2014 – RIANOVOSTI

Monday’s heavy shelling of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk undermines the negotiation process of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Kiev, DPR Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko said.

“No more talks about ceasefire, of course we are not going to sit [at the negotiating table] with Kiev,” he said.

There have been regular reports of the shelling of Donetsk ever since the Ukrainian forces and independence supporters of the eastern regions struck a ceasefire deal on September 5 in Minsk. The opposing sides have been trading blame for violating the ceasefire though the monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the truce was generally holding.

The military confrontation in the east of Ukraine started in mid-April when the Kiev authorities sent troops to suppress the independence supporters in the eastern regions of the country.

On October 19, DPR Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Purgin said the self-proclaimed people’s republic would never become part of a united Ukraine.

Shelling Kills Four Civilians, Injures Nine in Donetsk: City Council

Ukrainian soldiers load a Grad missile in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers load a Grad missile in eastern Ukraine.

Four civilians lost their lives and nine sustained injuries on Saturday as a result of shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, local authorities said Sunday.

“As a result of military action on October 18 in Donetsk, four civilians were killed and nine sustained shrapnel injuries of varying severity,” the Donetsk city council said in a statement.

“Starting 13:40 (10:30 GMT) on October 18 and until 3:00 (00:00 GMT) on October 19 shelling was carried out in the city.”

The areas most affected by the fighting were the Petrovsky, Kirov, Kuibyshev and Kievsky districts, where several houses were destroyed. Fighting continued on Saturday morning, according to the city council.

Meanwhile, deputy commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) militia Eduard Basurin told RIA Novosti that fighting continues near the Donetsk airport, the village of Nikishino and the city of Dokuchaievsk.

“The shelling is very intense. Five militiamen have been killed, 30 sustained injuries,” Basurin said.

In mid-April, Kiev launched a military operation against independence supporters in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Some 3,700 people have been killed and over 9,000 have sustained injuries since the beginning of the armed conflict, according to the latest UN estimates.

On September 5, the sides agreed to a ceasefire at a meeting in Minsk of the trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine. On September 19, the Contact Group met again to agree on more details regarding the implementation of the ceasefire. However, both sides have subsequently accused each other of violating the truce.

Poroshenko Red Eye Faces of Evil

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko

27 October 2014

Poroshenko faces hurdles despite big Ukraine vote win

 

The 49-year-old chocolate billionaire said that the drubbing handed to pro-Russian parties demonstrated “strong and irreversible backing to Ukraine’s path to Europe.”

But the near-euphoria in Poroshenko’s circles seemed to overlook the strong preference by Russian oil- and gas-dependent EU nations not to upset Moscow any further.

Some European capitals have even implied that direct membership talks with Kiev were premature — a view that folds into the Kremlin’s broader vision of Ukraine as part of its historic domain.

Then there is Poroshenko’s near-impotence on the ground. The Ukrainian president has been able to do little but express outrage at plans by the well-armed and confident pro-independence fighters to stage their own leadership polls next Sunday.

“Poroshenko and his government will have a difficult time resolving the task of moving into Europe,” said Yuriy Romanenko of Kiev’s Stratagema political research group.

“The war will also go on for a long time. The standoff there could continue for several years,” the Ukrainian analyst said.

Germany’s Berenberg Bank economist Christian Schulz said Poroshenko’s new government would have to start by “negotiating potentially unpopular compromises with the separatists” that gave them a substantial enough reason to lay down their guns.

Schulz said the poor performance by radical Ukrainian nationalists worked in Poroshenko’s favour.

But he also pointed to Russia’s ambiguous stance and the fear of it fomenting a “frozen conflict” in the vital industrial east that keeps Ukraine impoverished and destabilised for the foreseeable future.

“Moscow has said it will accept (the parliamentary) election results — but also election results in the separatist areas of Donetsk and Lugansk on 2 November,” the German economist cautioned.

The Capital Economic consultancy in London added that the Russian-speaking pro-independence leaders were not going to take kindly to the parliamentary election’s support for the shift toward Europe sought principally by their bitter rivals in the Ukrainian-speaking west.

“The election of pro-Western politicians is unlikely to appease rebels in the east of the country,” Capital Economic said.

Poroshenko may have as difficult a time convincing EU leaders. Many took turns on Monday to promise to work with his new team.

But top officials in Kiev have grumbled in private that they have so far failed to turn their words into action that keeps Kiev out of Moscow’s reach.

Ukraine this year signed an historic pact on closer relations with the EU. It was the abrupt rejection of that pact by the then Russian-backed president last year that led to his ouster and sparked the current crisis.

But western European governments — with economies stuck in or near recession — are already concerned about the political impact of workers from the poorer east moving freely into their shrinking job markets.

Ukraine further has developed a track record of failing to honour commitments to shackle a corruption problem that has made barren state budgets dependent on foreign lending and left governments here unable to plan long-term.

Poroshenko has promised to wean the public off Soviet-era subsidies and encourage competition between private firms that could introduce Ukraine to Western standards and ready it for EU membership.

Capital Economic said with a note of optimism that “with a parliamentary majority in place, Ukraine’s reformers will have the green light to continue tackling issues such as reducing energy subsidies and moving toward inflation-targeting monetary policy.”

But other analysts said Ukrainian governments and parliaments have disappointed foreign investors for too long for them to be trusted.

“Whether or not Ukraine manages to break away from the historically poor track record in delivering in economic policies and wider reforms still remains an open question,”  Moscow’s VTB Capital investment bank said.