What Russian invasion?

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September 8, 2014

by DAVE LINDORFF

The separatist rebels of eastern Ukraine and the government in Kiev that controls the Ukrainian army have reached a cease-fire in place that leaves the separatists largely in control of the Russian-majority regions of the eastern part of that country.

The agreement to stop the fighting was reached at negotiations organized and led by Russia and held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. It was reached at the same time that the US was pressing leaders of the NATO countries, at a meeting in Wales, to boost their military spending and to set up more offensive military positions in countries bordering Russia.

The one thing that did not happen as a result of the cease-fire, and that in fact never even got addressed in the Minsk talks, was a withdrawal of Russian troops from eastern Ukraine.

There was no withdrawal or even mention of those troops — said to number about 1000 by the US and the Kiev government — because there never were Russian troops invading Ukraine.

As both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have, quite logically, pointed out, if Russia had invaded eastern Ukraine, it would not have done so by just secretly slipping in 1000 troops. It would have gone in with all 20,000 of the heavily armed troops it has reportedly massed on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine, and with its overwhelming air power, and by now would be threatening Ukraine’s capital of Kiev.

The Pentagon knows this. The CIA knows it. The State Department knows it. Anyone who’s watched the Russians in prior military actions (Afghanistan, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc.) knows it. Never mind, President Obama continues talking ominously and speciously about a Russian invasion. But as I learned when I wrote a spoof piece about that “invasion” a few days ago and tried to find some photos of Russian soldiers or Russian weapons in Ukraine on-line to go with it, there is absolutely no photographic evidence of such an attack.

Oh, there were some alleged satellite photos of perfectly lined up heavy mobile artillery which the US claimed were Russian arms inside Ukraine aiming westward, allegedly targeting Ukrainian forces. But these photos, which looked suspiciously like screen shots of video game images, and not like the crisp photos we have grown accustomed to seeing provided by military and even commercial satellites, didn’t even include GPS coordinates. The weapons were also far too perfectly lined up to be actually in operation in the field under wartime conditions. There was no effort to camouflage them from aerial attack, no effort to put them in protected positions, for example in a forest. Rather they were out in what appeared to be a plowed field (one which, significantly, didn’t show any piled up ammunition around the weapons, either).

There were also those nine Russian paratroopers who were captured in Ukraine, and subsequently paraded before the media in Kiev, but they claimed they had gotten lost and had crossed the border by mistake — a thoroughly credible explanation given that a large number of Ukrainian forces have done the same thing in reverse, crossing inadvertently over into Russia, which has been letting them return home.

Where there were articles in the media about an alleged Russian invasion, it always turned out that the accompanying photos of Russian troops or Russian tanks, instead of being of invading forces, either were of Russian troops on the Russian side of the border, or were old stock photos from Crimea, where Russian troops have long been stationed under the terms of a long-term lease agreement between Russia and Ukraine. (This was another earlier lie pushed by the US — that Russian troops had swept into Crimea like Nazi stormtroopers in the Anschluss — when in fact the troops that supported Crimeans’ desire to leave Ukraine and seek to rejoin Russia, were already there legally under a treaty agreement with Ukraine. Actually, there was no way for a Russian army to “cross the border” into Crimea, given that the only way to get from Russia to Crimea, at least back then, was a small ferry across the Kerch Strait that links the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea and that separates Crimea from Russia.)

Surely if there had been a real invasion of the Donbass region by Russian troops and their equipment over the past two weeks, the US would have had plenty of incriminating photos, including really impressive satellite images, to spread around. (US spy satellites can pick out license plate numbers from space!)

The claim of a Russian invasion was so weak, that Michael Gordon, the ethically compromised and politically tainted reporter at the New York Times who, back in 2002, brought us the bogus “aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment centrifuges” story and other war-mongering lies about Iraq, and to whom the Times, either in spite or, or because of that sorry record, handed the job of ginning up a new war hysteria, this time about Russia, was stumped. In the end, he was reduced to claiming Moscow was involved in a “stealth” invasion — one which you cannot see but just know is happening.

As a group of 30 former intelligence professionals in an organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) wrote in a memo delivered to German Chancellor Angela Merkel just before the NATO summit:
“The accusations of a major Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence. Rather, the ‘intelligence’ seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the U.S.-led attack on Iraq”.
Merkel appears to have taken the VIPS memo seriously, and has backed away from her earlier solid support for more economic sanctions against Russia. She even hedged her reference at the NATO gathering to an alleged Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “supposed” invasion.

Indeed, while the US has dissed the new cease-fire agreement, huffing that there was no implementation plan included (cease-fire agreements, as opposed to peace treaties, are always works in progress, as the US surely knows, and as we saw recently in Gaza, and the important thing is just to stop the guns and bombs, so talks can take place), the NATO countries, led by Merkel, have refused to blindly cave in to US pressure to put added sanctions in place against Russia, preferring instead to approve tentative sanctions but hold them in reserve to give the cease fire a chance.

That hasn’t stopped US war-mongering. Although any sane observer knows that Russia’s support for the embattled Russian minority in eastern Ukraine, far from being a sign that Putin and the Russian government want to try and recapture the former satellite states of Eastern Europe, is rather a logical response to a US-led effort to turn Ukraine into an armed and threatening US/NATO outpost on Russia’s southern border. (Just recall how the US responded when the old Soviet Union tried to enlist Cuba in its NATO equivalent of the Warsaw Pact by installing missiles on the island!).

In any case, Russia’s support for the rebellion of the ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east (the same kind of moral, financial, tactical and military support the US has given to Chechnyan rebels, the Georgian military, Nicaraguan Contras and anti-Castro rebels) has been a smashing success. The US neo-con dream of pushing Russia out of its Crimean naval base, which would have left Russia with no navy in the Mediterranean region and scant access to the Atlantic, is gone with the annexation earlier this year of Crimea, following a plebiscite. Meanwhile, the cease-fire leaves ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in control of half of Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline, and, should the cease-fire collapse, within striking distance of the port cities of Mariupol and Odessa, which would leave western Ukraine an impoverished and landlocked nation.

The US, having seen its $5 billion plan for a NATO puppet state on Russia’s southern flank resoundingly crushed, is still pushing disconsolately for a more threatening NATO stance against Russia, with more weapons and troops posted near to Russia’s western border, for example in the Baltic states and in Poland, Rumania and Poland. But saner heads in Europe, particularly in Germany, are balking, noting that NATO and Russia have a treaty that bars the placing of permanent military bases in those countries. European NATO countries area also largely ignoring US calls for them to boost their military spending to bring it to 2% of GDP (US military spending is officially 3.8% of GDP, among the highest rates in the world, according to the World Bank, though adding in interest on war funding debt, veterans benefits and health care and the intelligence budget, it is really closer to 5%).

As a sop to Washington’s bruised ego, the NATO countries have approved a plan to pre-position weapons in the so-called “front-line” NATO states nearest to Russia, and to create a small “rapid action force” of several thousand NATO troops who could presumably gear up and go to those pre-positioned weapons within days in a crisis involving Russian aggression.

That plan, while a provocation, is unlikely to trouble Russia much, because a) Russia has no interest in trying to invade any of those countries like Estonia or the Czech Republic, and b) because if it did ever have such a plan, its 1-million-strong military would not be deterred by a few thousand NATO troops.

The Ukraine crisis is not over. The cease-fire is precarious, and the US is talking about providing arms to Ukrainian forces, and has announced plans for sending some US troops to Ukraine for “war games” with Ukrainian troops.

Hopefully, though, with its diplomatic nose already bloodied by the military successes of the separatist forces, Washington will decide not to risk having things get even worse, with Russia regaining full control of the Black Sea coast as it had under the old USSR, and Europe left with a rump “Novopoland” economic basket case to contend with.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

 

The Residents of Slavyansk have disappeared; the town is being re-populated with migrants from Western Ukraine.

Translation by Valentina Lisitsa
Edited by S. Naylor & @GBabeuf

August 7, 2014

In Slavyansk, occupied by Ukrainian troops, the local residents have practically disappeared. The town is being inundated with migrants speaking in a foreign dialect, who take over the housing of those who left to escape the Ukrainian bombing campaign.

This is reported by one of the very few residents of Slavyansk who, trusting Ukrainian official propaganda, made the decision to return to his native city. The picture that he saw is terrifying. He realized that the information about residents of Slavyansk returning home is nothing but a vile lie.

“Please, heed our plea! The people have disappeared from Slavyansk!

“I am a native of Slavyansk, residing here already for twenty-seven years. Or better to say ‘I was residing’, having left the town three months ago, when it was becoming dangerous to stay. During this time I found refuge with relatives in Odessa. I made a decision to return when all the Ukrainian media started saying that everything in Slavyansk was back to normal, that over sixty percent of residents have come back.

“In the three months of my absence my apartment remained untouched by shells from the junta’s bombardment or by its thugs. I had already started to unpack when I heard the sound of my neighbour’s doors opening across the hallway. I thought it must have been my neighbour, Sergey Ivanovich, but then I saw a young man unknown to me. To my question about his identity he replied that he was Sergey Ivanovich’s son.

“Small problem here—my neighbour’s son died in a car accident three years ago—and he happened to be my childhood friend. I decided to pay a visit to my other neighbours and ask who this guy really is, perhaps truly a son about whom I had no idea.

“Most of the apartments remained empty, but not all. And those which were occupied were occupied by people totally unknown to me. They introduced themselves as new tenants or relatives of my neighbours.

“I knew everybody in my building, but those people I saw for the first time in my life. When I wanted to visit my acquaintances elsewhere, those whom I knew had decided to stay in town under siege, I was able to find neither of them nor anybody even vaguely familiar. I was trying to locate old friends, trying all the phone numbers I knew—but nobody answered.

“Where are my friends, will you tell me, Kiev junta? As I found out from communication with others, the same experience was shared by others who had returned home after Kiev’s army occupied the town. The streets are practically devoid of people; those who do walk ther are  not locals.

“They speak Ukrainian, and if they try Russian one can spot a strong Western Ukrainian accent. Maybe we are going crazy, but it’s not only me alone who thinks the population of Slavyansk has been replaced by junta actors, for the sole purpose of hiding the fact either of extermination of the local inhabitants, or of their deportation.

“Please spread this message, everyone must know what is happening with our city after its so-called ‘liberation’! “, pleads this inhabitant of Slavyansk.

 

Ukraine: The Fall of Slavyansk, a Turning Point in the War Between Kiev and Ukrainian Separatists

By Benoît Vitkine (Slavyansk Special Correspondent)
Original: Le Monde

Graciously Translated by an Anonymous Contributor and @les_politiques
(with minor editing by Gleb Bazov)

On the road, a familiar face. Taguir, a separatist combatant from Slavyansk, is there, over thirty kilometres from his base at the Kostiantinovka checkpoint. He and four of his comrades have piled into an old Lada followed by two other cars. Heading towards Donetsk, in the south.

Taguir, always an Olympian calm, seems lost. The morning of July 5, he received the implacable order: “Evacuation”. Why? For what purpose? He does not know, but the rumor that started that morning begins to take shape: Slaviansk has been given up, the separatists are leaving.

The fall of Slavyansk marks a major turning point in the war between Kiev and the armed separatists who hold a part of eastern Ukraine. It was in Slavyansk where this war began nearly three months ago, when armed commandos emerged on April 12 to take the city, soon to be imitated in other cities by a growing number of local fighters and [volunteers] from Russia. That day, the anger that was boiling in the Donbass region since the coming to power of Maidan revolutionaries became an armed insurrection.

Slavyansk, the “Hero City,” as it is known in the East, in reference to Soviet cities devastated during the World War II; a martyr city, surrounded and besieged for two months, subject to a furious assault of the Ukrainian army, and whose population – 110,000 people in peacetime – has been paying a heavy price for this war.

“Farewell to Putin, Who Did Not Come.”

Further north we come across a column separatist of another order of magnitude. Twenty municipal city buses from Kramatorsk, filled with armed men. Trucks, a cannon and more cars. They are leaving Kramatorsk, another separatist stronghold, situated a few kilometers south of Sloviansk.

Two men at the side of the road watch the passing convoy. They too were ordered to leave, but they stay there, alone, with their Kalashnikovs.

“This is our city, we will defend it to the end. Say hello to the world from us, and farewell. Farewell to Putin, who did not come.”

How can such acaravan move without being attackedby the Ukrainianairforce? Was the surrender [of the city] and the departure of the separatists negotiated with Kiev?Certainly not.

To understand why, we must continue on our way north. Another car. Separatist checkpoints were abandoned in haste; there is food still in the bowls. One kilometer away from the town, the Ukrainian checkpoint, in place there since the beginning of May, was attacked in the night by a group of separatists who tried to break out of the city.

The fight was violent: the asphalt is riddled with craters, holes, blood. Five armored armoured vehicles lie there, ripped open. Inside a troop transport, a separatist fighter died in the explosion of the vehicle. His skull is crashed into the engine compartment. Three other corpses lie at his feet.

Ukrainian soldiers, some in uniform, others in shorts and flip flops, claim to have repelled the attack, at the cost of one killed and three wounded in their ranks. Communication is chaotic, these men do not know who controls the city.

The road is mined, we must take the small roads that pass Slavyansk to the southwest. Yet another Ukrainian army checkpoint. The men raise their fists in victory: Slavyansk has fallen. The soldiers have started to comb the city. Throughout the day, sounds of gunfire and explosions continue unabated. People hide in their houses, not a store is open.

The Separatist HQ Is Empty

At a deserted intersection, a woman raises her arm, looking for a car that would stop. She is Irma Krat, a journalist and famous Maidan activist, captured by the separatists in mid-April as she was live on the Ukrainian Channel 112.

Her body is shaking, from head to toe. That same morning, some Slavyansk residents opened the door of her cell in the basement of the town hall. Her jailers left without a word, leaving Irma wondering why no one brought her food.

She is now trying to get out of the city, holding tight against her [body] a thick notebook: the story of her detention, which she wrote in secret. On the cover, a warning: “If you find this book it means that I’m dead. But this is not important. Please send it to my husband.”

On Karl Marx street, we see the headquarters of the SBU, the Ukrainian Security Service, captured ​​by the pro-Russian militia on April 12. Part of this red brick building was burned by the start of a fire. It was there where the Military Staff of the separatist Sloviansk installed itself. It was also there where they kept their prisoners – pro-Ukrainian activists, journalists and ordinary citizens. The National Guard has installed themselves in its vicinity. Someone has yet to enter the building.

On the burned down ground floor are the offices of the officials of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk.” We look, without finding it, for the office of Igor Strelkov, the commandant of the city, whom Kiev considers to be an agent of Russian military intelligence. Official documents are scattered everywhere. In one corner, a small notebook: a list of the various commanders of Sloviansk, and pages upon pages written by hand – a physics course on explosives.

The cellars of the SBU. One of them was used as a cell. Three wet mattress thrown on the bare floor, bowls still filled with chicken broth. Socks hanging in a corner, some abandoned Bibles. Where are the hostages? Nobody knows. Other rooms have been emptied. A woman arrives in search of Vasily Nesterenko, her sister’s husband, captured while bringing food to the Ukrainian army. He has not been seen since May 6.

“Are You Going to Kill Us All?”

The Ukrainian army is now approaching the building. A resident who came by to satisfy his curiosity is arrested and interrogated. Armored vehicles are pointing their guns at the building, about fifty soldiers take up positions, their weapons pointed to the surrounding buildings. One has surgical bandages wrapped around his head. “Are there any terrorists inside?” – shouts the commander. Not far away, the explosions continue to reverberate. The first floor appears to be mined. It will be partially destroyed by an explosive charge placed by the Ukrainian army.

Now the soldiers angrily tear down the posters of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” plastered all around the building. Starting with the humiliation incurred at the beginning of the “antiterrorist operation” when, just a few kilometers away, haggard soldiers covered in black grime were stopped by crowds of civilians, the army has suffered, before raising its head. According to official statements of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, more than two hundred soldiers have died.

Another woman approaches, haggard. “Are you going to kill us all?” She thinks that she is addressing members of the National Guard, one of the military units that entered the city, formed out of volunteers and which has fueled all the horror stories.

Luisa, 28 years old, is afraid to return to her neighborhood which is still being shelled. Afraid of everything, really. She was “for Europe,” and did not vote in the self-determination referendum organized by the separatists on May 11. But she does not know yet if she should rejoice in their departure: “As long as they were here, I survived. It is too early to think about the future.” Other people come to congratulate the soldiers.

On the immense square that faces the cityhall, soldiers are now busy piling up dozens of crates and metal tubes. Heavy weapons, taken one by one from a hastily abandoned building, where Irma Krat was held: grenade launchers, bazookas, missiles …

Valerii Gueleteï, the newly appointed minister of defense has arrived. He claims that the weapons do not originate in Ukraine, and that their origin will soon be clarified.

The Battle for Donetsk is Taking Shape

The wounds of Slavyansk will be slow to heal. The city has suffered more than any other. The most important buildings have been destroyed. Many apartment buildings bear the scars of the Ukrainian army bombardments.

A resident holds in his hand small metal darts the size of a nail. He picked up “half a bucket” of them, and this is only from his apartment, where they were strewn, he said, after the explosion of a Ukrainian shell.

It is difficultto know who is toblame for the shellingthat ravagedthe city.The army,andseveral residents, claim that the residential neighborhoods affected were those from which the separatists were firing. This is without taking into account the blunders and errors from both sides. Entire apartment buildings have collapsed.

Starting in April, and as the fighting intensified, the city has emptied. Those who stayed had to live for a whole month without water, without electricity, with minimal food supplies. An officer assures that substantial humanitarian aid will reach the city very soon.

But the army, as the separatists, are already planning their next steps. The Battle of Donetsk is taking shape. Columns that were sighted in the morning, but also tanks, and also hundreds of pro-Russian fighters have entered the great city of one million inhabitants. At the Kostiantinovka checkpoint a tractor arrives. The field bordering the checkpoint is now split by a large trench.