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.

Pro-federalization activists take over govt buildings across Eastern Ukraine (April 2014)

 

 

Thousands of pro-federalization activists have rallied in cities across Eastern Ukraine, calling for greater sovereignty of their region from Kiev. Activists have formed militias that helped anti-Maidan protesters seize several government buildings.
Pro-federalization activists occupy city council, police HQ in Slavyansk

Activists in Slavyansk, a city in eastern Ukraine located in the north of the Donetsk region with a population of 120,000, seized the police headquarters and the city council building Saturday. Police said Anti-Maidan protesters also seized the local office of Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU.

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They hoisted a Russian flag on top of the police HQ, Slavyansk Mayor Nelly Shtepa said.

“As I negotiated with the activists today, they explained that they represent the Donetsk regional people’s militia. They said that they oppose Kiev authorities and today they are negotiating with them” she said.

 

 

Shtepa added that the people of the city support the activists’ calls for a referendum on the region’s federalization, and are urging the police to side with the people.

If the authorities in Kiev will “try to suppress the uprising, many civilians will die, this cannot be allowed,” Shtepa said.

An armed pro-Russian activists addresses supporters gathered in front of a police station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk after it was seized by a few dozen gunmen on April 12, 2014. (AFP Photo / Anatoliy Stepanov)

An armed pro-Russian activists addresses supporters gathered in front of a police station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk after it was seized by a few dozen gunmen on April 12, 2014. (AFP Photo / Anatoliy Stepanov)

There are reports that the activists in Slavyansk have taken up weapons. However, one of the members of the Donbas people’s militia told media that no one was hurt during the storm of the police HQ, adding that the government building will be under their control until a referendum is held.

Ukraine’s coup-imposed Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that the raid on police HQ was carried out by masked men with guns. He promised that the government’s answer to the raid would be “very harsh.” Avakov added that a Special Forces unit has been deployed to the scene.

Anti-Maidan protesters stopped two buses full of security forces which were heading from Donetsk to Slavyansk, Rossiya 24 TV channel reported. After negotiations, the security forces turned back to their Donetsk HQ.

“I can’t say there was a conflict between the police and activists, the latter just accompanied the Special Unit forces back to their HQ,” said a Rossiya 24 correspondent, who was at the scene.

Berkut Special Forces side with Donetsk people

In Donetsk, officers of the former Berkut special riot police unit refused to obey orders from Kiev and move to crush a pro-federalization takeover in Slavyansk. Instead Berkut officers sided with the people of the region, offering them security and protection.

Berkut forces occupied police headquarters in Donetsk. Tying St. George ribbons to their uniform, the special unit said that they supported the demands of the local population and refused to obey their command. Berkut fighters arrived at the building of the Internal Affairs building of the city.

Донецк: Донецкий беркут надел русские георгиевские ленты [Donetsk: Donetsk golden eagle wearing Russian St. George ribbons]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missouri gov. declares state of emergency ahead of Ferguson verdict

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (Reuters / Kenny Baht)

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (Reuters / Kenny Baht)

The governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency on Monday ahead of the anticipated grand jury decision surrounding Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson and the potential protests the verdict may bring to that city and others.

Citing what he called the “possibility of expanded unrest” ahead of the impending verdict, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in a declaration on Monday that the St. Louis County Police Department and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department will operate as a Unified Command “to protect civil rights and ensure public safety in the City of Ferguson and the St. Louis region”.

A grand jury is expected to announce any day if they will charge Wilson with the August killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager.

“In the days immediately following Michael Brown’s death, peaceful protests were marred by senseless acts of violence and destruction,” Gov. Nixon said last week.”That ugliness was not representative of Missouri, and it cannot be repeated.”

In addition to declaring a state of emergency, Nixon issued an executive order which in turn has activated the Missouri National Guard to assist local law enforcement.

Due to the periods of unrest that Ferguson and the St. Louis region have experienced in the wake of Brown’s death, Nixon said the state of Missouri will be prepared to respond “appropriately” in order to protect citizens and local businesses from “violence and damage.”

“I further order that the Unified Command may exercise operational authority in such other jurisdictions it deems necessary to protect civil rights and ensure public safety and that other law enforcement agencies shall assist the Unified Command when so requested and shall cooperate with operational directives of the Unified Command,” the governor wrote in the executive order.

The move follows Nixon’s decision to put the National Guard on standby in order to ensure it can support police officers and rapidly respond to any reports of violence. Elaborating on where the Guard fits into the governor’s latest action, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay suggested on Monday that it will not be the primary force at any protest.

“The way we view this, the Guard is not going to be confronting the protesters and will not be on the front line, interacting directly with the demonstrators,” the mayor said.

Nixon, meanwhile, said the executive order was needed to provide for an orderly and effective response to whatever decision the grand jury announces.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to plan and be prepared for any contingency, it is necessary to have these resources in place in advance of any announcement of the grand jury’s decision,” the governor said in a news release, according to local KSHB News. “These additional resources will support law enforcement’s efforts to maintain peace and protect those exercising their right to free speech.”

Last week, the governor said it was necessary for the state to avoid the kind of confrontation that occurred following Brown’s death.

“In the days immediately following Michael Brown’s death, peaceful protests were marred by senseless acts of violence and destruction,” he said. “That ugliness was not representative of Missouri, and it cannot be repeated.”

It’s unclear how exactly the grand jury will rule, as competing accounts of the fatal incident have surfaced. Some witnesses say Brown was surrendering to Wilson when he was shot, while others, including Wilson, say Brown had confronted the officer and went for his gun.

It’s unclear how exactly the grand jury will rule, as competing accounts of the fatal incident have surfaced. Some witnesses say Brown was surrendering to Wilson when he was shot, while others – including Wilson – say Brown had confronted the officer and went for his gun.

Even with no decision, some demonstrators have taken to the streets. A crowd of protesters staged a peaceful rally in St. Louis on Sunday, marking 100 days since the tragedy. Protesters laid down on chalk outlines representing shooting victims, pretending they had been killed.