400 US mercenaries ‘deployed on ground’ in Ukraine military op

Ukrainian troops outside the town of Andreyevskoe near Slaviyansk, Donetsk Region, where local residents blocked a column of Ukrainian Army armored personnel carriers. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

Ukrainian troops outside the town of Andreyevskoe near Slaviyansk, Donetsk Region, where local residents blocked a column of Ukrainian Army armored personnel carriers. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

About 400 elite mercenaries from the notorious US private security firm Academi (formerly Blackwater) are taking part in the Ukrainian military operation against anti-government protesters in southeastern regions of the country, German media reports.

The Bild am Sonntag newspaper, citing a source in intelligence circles, wrote Sunday that Academi employees are involved in the Kiev military crackdown on pro-autonomy activists in near the town of Slavyansk, in the Donetsk region.

On April 29, German Intelligence Service (BND) informed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government about the mercenaries’ participation in the operation, the paper said, RIA Novosti reported. It is not clear who commands the private military contractors and pays for their services, however.

In March, media reports appeared suggesting that the coup-imposed government in Kiev could have employed up to 300 mercenaries.That was before the new government launched a military operation against anti-Maidan activists, or “terrorists” as Kiev put it, in southeast Ukraine.

At the time, the Russian Foreign Ministry said then that reports claiming Kiev was planning to involve “involve staff from foreign military companies to ‘ensure the rule of law,’” could suggest that it wanted “to suppress civil protests and dissatisfaction.”

In particular, Greystone Limited, which is currently registered in Barbados and is a part of Academi Corporation, is a candidate for such a gendarme role. It is a similar and probably an affiliated structure of the Blackwater private army, whose staff have been accused of cruel and systematic violations of human rights in various trouble spots on many occasions.

“Among the candidates for the role of gendarme is the Barbados-registered company Greystone Limited, which is integrated with the Academi corporation,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “It is an analogue, and, probably and affiliated body of the Blackwater private army, whose employees have repeatedly been accused of committing grievous and systematic human rights abuses in different troubled regions.”

Allegations increased further after unverified videos appeared on YouTube of unidentified armed men in the streets of Donetsk, the capital of the country’s industrial and coalmining region. In those videos, onlookers can be heard shouting “Mercenaries!”“Blackwater!,” and “Who are you going to shoot at?”

(FILES) A picture taken on July 5, 2005 shows contractors of the US private security firm Blackwater securing the site of a roadside bomb attack near the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

(FILES) A picture taken on July 5, 2005 shows contractors of the US private security firm Blackwater securing the site of a roadside bomb attack near the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

Academi denied its involvement in Ukraine, claiming on its website that “rumors” were posted by “some irresponsible bloggers and online reporters.”

“Such unfounded statements combined with the lack of factual reporting to support them and the lack of context about the company, are nothing more than sensationalistic efforts to create hysteria and headlines in times of genuine crisis,” the US firm stated.

The American security company Blackwater gained worldwide notoriety for the substantial role it played in the Iraq war as a contractor for the US government. In recent years it has changed its name twice – in 2009 it was renamed Xe Services and in 2011 it got its current name, Academi.

The firm became infamous for the alleged September 16, 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The attack, which saw 20 others wounded, was allegedly without justification and in violation of deadly-force rules that pertained to American security contractors in Iraq at the time. Between 2005 and September 2007, Blackwater security guards were involved in at least 195 shooting incidents in Iraq and fired first in 163 of those cases, a Congressional report said at the time.

Russia at the gates? US State Dept, Pentagon grilled over NATO expansion

‘You’re moving closer to Russia and blame Russians for being close to NATO’

 

 

 

US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki and Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby have been challenged over the Department of Defense’s claims that the US must “deal” with “modern and capable” Russian armed forces on NATO’s doorstep.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu expressed “grave concern” and “surprise” at a Wednesday speech made by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference. Hagel declared that US armed forces “must deal with a revisionist Russia – with its modern and capable army – on NATO’s doorstep.”

Kirby was confronted by AP journalist Matt Lee over NATO expansion closer to the Russian borders at the State Department’s daily press briefing on Thursday. Here is their exchange:

Matt Lee, AP journalist: What did he [Chuck Hagel] mean by “revisionist Russia?”

John Kirby: Pentagon Press Secretary: I think what he was referring to there is that there appears to be in their intentions and their motives, a calling back to the “glory days of the Soviet Union”.

L: He also used the phrase that its army – he means Russian army is on NATO’s doorstep. Why is that? Is it not logical to look at this and say – the reason why Russia’s army is at NATO’s doorstep, is because NATO has expanded, rather than Russian expanding? In other words, NATO has moved closer to Russia rather than Russia moving closer to NATO.

K: I think that’s the way President [Vladimir] Putin probably looks at it – it is certainly not the way we look at it.

L: You don’t think that NATO has expanded eastward towards Russia?

K: NATO has expanded…

L: So the reason that the Russian army is at NATO’s doorstep is not the fault of the Russian army, not the Russian army that’s done it, it’s NATO that moved closer east.
K: It wasn’t NATO that was ordering tons of tactical battalions and army to the Ukraine border…

L: I am pretty sure that Ukraine is not a member of NATO, unless that’s changed…?

K: NATO is not an anti-Russia alliance; it is a security alliance….

L: For 50 years it was an anti-Soviet alliance. How can you not even see how the Russians perceive it as a threat, the fact that it keeps getting closer to their border.

K: I can tell that NATO is a defense alliance…

L: But it moved east. Correct?

K: It expanded but there is no reason to believe that the expansion is a hostile and threatening move.

L: You are moving closer to Russia and you’re blaming the Russians for being close to NATO.

K: We are blaming the Russians for violating the integral territory of Ukraine and destabilizing the security situation inside Europe.

L: Which is NOT in NATO…

Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the US Department of State: Other countries feel threatened, let’s move on!

 In terms of new threats at NATO’s borders, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said on Friday that it is the US which has been “stubbornly approaching…closer to our doors.”

Relations between Russia and NATO have been tense since the alliance accused Russia of becoming involved in the Ukrainian conflict – a claim Russia has continuously and consistently denied.

Following Crimea’s accession to Russia in March, the US and Europe bombarded Moscow with sanctions. NATO also significantly increased its military presence near Russia’s borders, especially in Poland and the former Soviet Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which have expressed concern at the potential for Russian incursions into their territories.

Foreign Minister of Russia Sergei Lavrov: No haste in MH17 tragedy probe, despite media hype

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 at the crash site in the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), some 80km east of Donetsk.(AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 at the crash site in the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), some 80km east of Donetsk.(AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

 

RT news

The report on the Malaysian jet crash is very “calm” and doesn’t provide much information about the tragedy, said Russian FM Sergey Lavrov. He added that despite all the hype around the crash, the investigators do not seem to be in a hurry.

In a Saturday interview to Russian channel TV-Center, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed he was disappointed by the latest report from Dutch experts on the reasons of Malaysia airplane crash. Malaysian airplane with 298 people on board crashed in Donetsk region July 17. Many western media outlets started accusing Russia without providing any evidence.

MH17 broke up in mid-air due to external damage – Dutch preliminary report

However, despite the political tensions, the report provided by the Dutch Safety Board from September 9 is “calm” while the investigators are taking their time with the probe.

“There are no demands that experts resume their work at the crash site,” Lavrov said. “There were also no attempts to go there to collect, as they say, the wreckage and to see how the whole plane looked like. Nobody spoke about it out loud.”

At the same time, the only side who is the moment seems actively interested in going to the site of the crash is Malaysia, whose Defense Minister is planning a soon visit.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 at the crash site in the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), some 80km east of Donetsk.(AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply )

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 at the crash site in the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), some 80km east of Donetsk.(AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply )

The Dutch report said that the MH17 crash was the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that struck the Boeing from the outside.

“Flight MH17 with a Boeing 777-200 operated by Malaysia Airlines broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside,” the Dutch Safety Board said in its preliminary report.

“I hope that we will learn the truth, but it doesn’t depend on me,” Lavrov said, dismissing the accusations that traces of a Russian BUK missile system were detected at the crash site.

“There were many ‘fiction stories’ about BUK missiles,” said Lavrov. “But that very myth was debunked. This BUK was shown on the territory controlled by Kiev troops. There were many other far-fetched theories, some of them outright lies.”

The international experts have spent at least three weeks in Kiev and talked to Ukrainian authorities, but nobody cared to answer the questions posed by the Russian side, Russian FM added.

Lavrov said Moscow is readying one more set of questions, this time coming from Russian Air agencies, on the crash. A number of important steps required in such a probe have not been taken, he added.

“I don’t know why those things have not been done. Maybe someone is comfortable with the situation when right after the tragedy there were hysteric accusations towards the irregular forces in eastern Ukraine and Russia,” he concluded. “And now when the ‘propagandist cream’ has got removed, maybe those people do not really want to investigate the plane crash.”

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.(Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.(Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)

US seeking maximal escalation in E. Ukraine

Russia is concerned with calls coming from the new Ukrainian leadership to abandon its neutral status and join NATO. Such a course in particular was proclaimed by the country’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk on August 29.

“I think he is acting not in the interest of his own people but of those who wanted to put an argument Russian and Ukrainian nations and drive a wedge between Russian and Europe,” Lavrov said.

According to Lavrov, Washington also wants to “get engaged” in the crisis.

ukraineArmy2

Ukrainian soldiers stand at a checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainian town of Pervomaysk September 12, 2014.(Reuters / Gleb Garanich)

“The actions of almost all Ukrainian radicals and extremists, including the radicals in the leading positions, get carte blanche from the USA,” the minister said. “Washington has repeatedly showed that its goal is to aggravate the crisis at a maximal level and use Ukraine as a bargaining chip to isolate and weaken Russia.”

The calls urging to look at what’s happening objectively and step for national dialogue, reconciliation and respect of the minorities’ rights – the values West promotes in any other conflict – don’t work, Lavrov added.

According to Lavrov, “there are many ‘provocateurs’ in Ukraine’s leadership, but western authorities do nothing to “curb the radicals.”

Thus, Russia prefers to work with those who represent the Ukrainian president.

“The Russian president repeatedly said that he is satisfied how his direct contact with [Petro] Poroshenko started,” he said.

 

 

 

NATO members start supplying weapons to Kiev – Ukrainian Defense Minister

Members of the military special forces sit on an armoured vehicle near Kramatorsk September 4, 2014.(Reuters / Gleb Garanich)

Members of the military special forces sit on an armoured vehicle near Kramatorsk September 4, 2014.(Reuters / Gleb Garanich)

 

Hagel said that the Ukraine crisis “has to be resolved politically.”

“And you can’t start that process until a ceasefire takes place,” he added. “But that isn’t the end. That is only the beginning, a ceasefire.”

RT NEWS

NATO member states have started supplying weapons to Ukraine, the country’s Defense Minister said on TV. His comments came a few days after a similar statement by a Ukrainian presidential aide sparked a diplomatic scandal and a rash of denials.

In an interview with Channel 5, Ukrainian Defense Minister Valery Geletey said that he had held verbal consultations with the defense ministers of the “leading countries of the world, those that can help us, and they heard us. We have the supply of arms under way.”

“This process has begun, and I feel that this is exactly the way we need to go,” the minister said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who attended the Sept. 4-5 NATO summit in Wales, announced that he had negotiated direct modern weapons supplies with a number of NATO member states.

Poroshenko claimed that some of the NATO member states said during bilateral consultations they are ready to supply Ukraine with lethal and non-lethal arms, including “high precision weapons,” as well as with medical equipment.

NATO has had repeatedly said that the alliance is not going to supply any weapons or military equipment to Ukraine. At the same time, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the alliance would not interfere if member states made decisions of their own regarding arms supply to Ukraine.

When Poroshenko’s aide Yury Lutsenko wrote on his Facebook page that the US, along with France, Italy, Poland and Norway, would supply modern weapons to Ukraine, the news prompted all the countries mentioned in Lutsenko’s post to say they had no information about supplies.

Last Sunday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was the first to deny the arms delivery, saying he was not aware of a secret deal to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons.

Hagel ‘not aware’ of secret deal to supply Kiev with lethal weapons

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at the Krtsanisi military training base outside Tbilisi September 7, 2014. (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili)

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at the Krtsanisi military training base outside Tbilisi September 7, 2014. (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili)

 

 

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he was not aware of a secret deal to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons. His words contradict earlier statements by an aide to President Petro Poroshenko that the US is backing Kiev’s military with arms.

“I’m not aware of any kind of a secret deal that was made in Wales about supplying lethal weapons to the Ukrainians,” Hagel told journalists on a visit to Turkey’s capital, Ankara.

Earlier, Poroshenko aide Yury Lutsenko wrote on his Facebook page that the US, along with France, Italy, Poland and Norway, will supply modern weapons to Ukraine.

The agreements were reached at the Sept. 4-5 NATO summit in Wales, Lutsenko wrote, adding that the West will also send military advisers to Ukraine.

However, Hagel later denied the report Sunday, saying that Washington has not made an offer of “lethal assistance” to Ukraine.

Shortly afterward, Norway, Italy, and Poland also denied the report.

NATO to give Ukraine 15mn euros, lethal and non-lethal military supplies from members

However, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has confirmed that joint US-Ukraine maritime exercises, under the Sea Breeze 2014 program, will be held Sept. 8-10 in the northwestern Black Sea.

LEBANON-POLITICS-USS-ROSS

The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) crosses the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group. March 05, 2008 (AFP Photo / U.S. Navy / Seaman Mandy Hunsucker)

“The aim [of the exercises] is to set up safety measures in areas dangerous to ships,” Col. Andrey Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, told reporters Monday.

Meanwhile, NATO is carrying out a week of military exercises in Latvia. The alliance says the drills are aimed at showing its commitment to Baltic member states in the face of an “assertive” Russia.

Following the NATO summit in Wales, a plan to create a new rapid reaction force in Eastern Europe was announced, likely numbering at least 4,000. The force will be ready to be deployed within 48 hours.

The Baltic states and Romania have already offered to host the force.

During his visit to Turkey, Hagel also said that he hopes the ceasefire will continue in the east of the crisis-torn country.

“We hope it holds,” he said. “If it can hold, then we are hopeful that that is the baseline, the beginning of an effort to move forward and resolve these issues that cannot be resolved militarily.”

Ukraine, US to conduct joint military drills in Black Sea

Hagel said that the Ukraine crisis “has to be resolved politically.”

“And you can’t start that process until a ceasefire takes place,” he added. “But that isn’t the end. That is only the beginning, a ceasefire.”

4 NATO warships to enter Black Sea before September 7 – military source

 

 

Russian Journalist missing Andrey Stenin confirmed dead in Ukraine

Andrey Stenin (Image by RIA Novosti)

Andrey Stenin (Image by RIA Novosti)

‘I’ll be home soon’: The life and work of Andrey Stenin (1980-2014)

 

Published time: September 03, 2014 08:36
Edited time: September 03, 2014 14:07

 

 
Photojournalist Andrey Stenin left for Ukraine on May 15, his mother Vera told RT after his disappearance in August. She said they last talked on the phone on July 17 – during that conversation her son said, “It’s close. I’ll be coming home soon.”

Vera Stenina had been trying for weeks to find her son, missing in war-torn eastern Ukraine. She told RT she had addressed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for help, and had urged Kiev to organize a search mission for the journalist.

“They said that they would try to look for him,” she said, adding that the Red Cross showed “understanding” of her problem.

Since Stenina was aware that “people are being tracked via their mobile phones” in Ukraine, she tried to use the internet to keep track of her son.

“I woke up in the morning and went online – to see if the photos were there, that everything was alright. That’s how I kept an eye on him, via the TV and internet,” she said.

Andrey Stenin was born in 1980 in the city of Pechora in northwestern Russia. He began his career at Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, where he was employed as a correspondent from 2003, and Gazeta.ru.

Russian Journalist Andrey Stenin kidnapped

Russian Journalist Andrey Stenin kidnapped

In 2008, Andrey took a professional interest in photography, and worked for such news media as Reuters, the Associated Press, Agence France Presse and Russia’s Itar-Tass, Kommersant and RIA Novosti.

“He is probably one of the most experienced Russian photojournalists, who has witnessed many wars. He has lived through Syria, Libya, Egypt and Kyrgyzstan. He was at numerous trouble spots, and he took pictures everywhere he went and sent really outstanding photographs, valued by various media,” political analyst Yury Matsarsky said on radio after news of Stenin’s disappearance broke in August.

Since 2009, Andrey Stenin had been employed as photo correspondent by RIA Novosti, which was transformed into Rossiya Segodnya international news agency in 2014.

Donetsk region update

In the course of his coverage, Stenin witnessed various emergencies, protests, trials and traveled into warzones. In 2010 and 2013, he was awarded the prestigious Russian Silver Camera.

Some of the photographer’s latest work

From the beginning of the Ukrainian coup, Stenin was at the center of it. He documented the events in Kiev’s Maidan Square in February, then the horrors of Odessa, the Crimean transition to Russia, and most lately the fierce fighting in parts of eastern Ukraine.

Rescue workers remove bodies of the dead and fragments of the Malaysian Boeing 777 airliner that crashed near the city of Shakhtyorsk in the Donetsk Region. Andrey Stenin/RIA Novosti

Rescue workers remove bodies of the dead and fragments of the Malaysian Boeing 777 airliner that crashed near the city of Shakhtyorsk in the Donetsk Region. Andrey Stenin/RIA Novosti

He sent photos of soldiers of the Ukrainian army captured by the armed militia, the horrific results of Ukrainian artillery shelling of militia-held cities and the crash site of the Malaysian Airlines plane that was downed over the Donetsk Region in July.

“Andrey was doing his job professionally: he covered both sides of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. His work was appreciated by colleagues and a wide audience, as it showed the world the sufferings of Ukraine and its people, no matter which side of the conflict they are,” Dmitry Kiselyov, general director of Rossiya Segodnya, said.

Malaysian Boeing crashes in Ukraine

Stenin went missing on August 5 as he was covering the Ukrainian army’s campaign against the anti-Kiev rebels in the country’s southeastern Donetsk and Lugansk Regions.

His employers at Rossiya Segodnya said they had failed to obtain any information on their journalist from the Kiev authorities. In mid-August, an adviser to Ukrainian Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said that Stenin had been arrested by the Ukrainian Security Service for “aiding and glorifying terrorism.” However, he backtracked on that statement soon afterwards.

Urging the journalist’s release, a number of events in support of Andrey Stenin took place around the world in August.

Now a selection of Stenin’s recent work is on display in the street leading to the main entrance of the news agency’s building. At a press-conference, Stenin’s grieving colleagues spoke of him as a professional photojournalist, an excellent reporter and a reliable friend, who preferred hotspots to working in an office.

“Once I asked him: ‘Why do you go to war so often?’ He replied: ‘And why did you go so often – 28 times in Chechnya?’ I said that I went for one picture and then he replied: ‘I also go there to take pictures’,” photo correspondent, Vladimir Vyatkin, who has worked for RIA Novosti since 1968, recalled. “[His] photos are very professional, necessary for history, not just ours, but history in general. Sooner or later somebody will have to answer for the atrocities that are happening now in Ukraine, and his pictures will be visual documents. Andrey did it honestly, professionally, did it great,” he added.

His colleague, Vladimir Astapkovich, a photo correspondent, also stressed that Stenin was a person you felt secure with in difficult situations.

“Stenin was someone who would help you in a critical situation. I remember one of the first unauthorized rallies Moscow. The crowd, police, everyone is running, pushing. You run with everyone else. You get knocked off your feet, you almost fall. Suddenly, someone grabs you – Andrey. And then you run together. Short break… A cigarette… A quick chat and back to work,” Astapkovich recalled.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had hoped until the last minute that Stenin was alive and would return home to his relatives.

“We hoped that Andrey [Stenin] would return to his family and friends but bitter news dashed all these hopes. He performed his professional and human duty to the last. [He] did everything so that people, the whole world learnt the truth about the tragic events that are happening in Donetsk,” said Putin’s statement on the Kremlin website.

Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev also expressed his condolences.

“It’s a terrible sorrow when the life of a young, talented man who is full of energy is taken in war. A war in which his only shots were photos! He wanted to bring us photos documenting the atrocities and injustice,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

RIP Andrey

Pictures of courage: A look at the acclaimed work of missing Russian photographer Andrey Stenin

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RT
Published time: August 07, 2014 19:54
Edited time: August 12, 2014 08:28

 
From a Friend:
“Rest in peace my friend. May the God of this world give to you the peace which we all look for in this troubled world. May he comfort your mother in this time that no parent should have to endure. May someone somewhere realize from your work the evil of war and what it does to men’s hearts. May we see the good in humankind by stopping this carnage now. I pray that the God of this world wraps his arms around you and welcomes you to your final resting place.”