Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko officially unveiled on June 20 his 15-point peace plan for de-escalation of the conflict in the country’s east, amid intensified clashes between pro-Russian rebels and government forces. It comes during an unpublicized visit by the president to the Donetsk region where he announced a cease-fire beginning June 20 and lasting until June 27 to give insurgents time to disarm.
Meanwhile, NATO reported a renewed buildup of Russian military forces on its border with Ukraine.
The plan calls for the release of all illegally held government buildings in Donetsk and Lugansk regions and pledges the restoration of buildings damaged during the course of the conflict. It also promises to exonerate all rebels who lay down their arms and are not guilty of serious crimes.
On the political front, the peace proposal calls for decentralization of power, granting regional authorities more autonomy, as well as the protection of the Russian language and early local and parliamentary elections.
Point four of the proposal is the creation of a 10km buffer zone on the Russian-Ukrainian border to prevent the influx of Russian arms and fighters, an element that deputy head of the presidential administration Valeriy Chaly said was crucial for the plan to succeed.
“It is impossible to implement a cease fire without having control of the dangerous sections of the border. There is no alternative,” he said, speaking at a press conference earlier in the day.
The day of the announcement was punctuated by mounting evidence of arms and military vehicles crossing into Ukraine from Russia, including a post on Facebook by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov alleging concrete proof of Kremlin involvement.
A claim by parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov that government forces had successfully sealed the border with Russia was subsequently denied by National Security and Defense Council spokesman Volodymyr Chepovy.
‘The border is not completely controlled by our law enforcers,” Chepovy told Interfax.
Turchynov’s claim also elicited a strong response from representatives of separatist forces.
“It can, of course, be said that there is a garden blooming on the moon, but we all understand that it’s not so… There is a war going on here and they have not taken anything under their control here, nor have they erected any walls or barbed wire,” said Andriy Purhin, first deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, according to Interfax.
The announcement of the peace plan follows a period of active diplomacy by Poroshenko, which culminated in a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin on June 19, during which the two leaders discussed the plan’s key points. Putin once again insisted on an immediate end to Kyiv’s military operation in the east, according to the Kremlin’s press service.
“The President of Russia expressed hope that in implementing this plan, priority attention will be given to resolving key problems that have caused strong protests by the people living in these regions,” reads the statement on the Kremlin’s website.
It is unclear whether the peace plan will bear fruit. Most notably it includes no offer of negotiation with those who have seized power in Donetsk and Lugansk.
“There can be no talks with the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Negotiations are possible only with those who share the peaceful plan of the president,” Iryna Gerashchenko, the president’s envoy for peace in Donetsk and Lugansk, said on Thursday.
A ceasefire was also flatly rejected by representatives of separatist forces when the president’s plans for a ceasefire first surfaced on June 18.
“This proposal by Poroshenko to lay down our arms is simply a tactical ploy. If people fall for it, there will be a new mopping-up operation. We will not put our weapons away,” said a spokesman for self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Myroslav Rudenko, in comments carried by Interfax.
Editors Note: “Putin once again insisted on an immediate end to Kyiv’s military operation in the east” Putin is only pushing this because he does not want any conflict when his troops, who are again massing close to the border, advance into eastern Ukraine in another attempt of annexation.
Pro-Russian militias are looking for anyone who knows how to operate tanks.
As we wrote about earlier, separatists in Ukraine have finally gotten their hands on some tanks, but there’s a hitch: they don’t have anyone to operate them. To solve that problem, the Ukrainian militia groups have taken out an ad on several media sites requesting drivers, gunners and mechanics, and even listing a number to call for more details.
So we did.
One of our Russian-speaking reporters called the number on the classified ad, and a woman answered phone. She said she worked in the press office of the Donetsk National Republic (DNR), the self-proclaimed autonomous government of eastern Ukraine.
We asked her about what we’d need to bring on our trip, who is fighting on the Ukrainian border now and how much they are paying tank crews. As the questions became more sensitive, her tone shifted from friendly to irritated.
Vocativ: “Hi, I wanted to ask what specific skills and set of experiences are you looking for?”
DNR: “We’re looking for mechanics, drivers, tank commanders.”
A Russian tank T-62 driver’s hatch.
Vocativ: “Do I need to bring my own guns?”
DNR: “No, you don’t need a gun—you’ll be arrested carrying it. Just come here and everything will be arranged on the spot.”
Vocativ: “Where should I fly to?”
DNR: “Come to Donetsk. If you’re coming from Russia, then it’s no problem. The border is open.”
Vocativ: “Should I come to your office?”
DNR: “No, when you arrive to Donetsk, the military experts will meet you.”
Vocativ: “And what’s the pay?”
DNR: “This is not for money! Do you want to come here to make money?”
Vocativ: “OK. How long should I be there?”
DNR: “Until we win.”
Vocativ: “And who’s already there? Russians, Ukrainians?”
DNR: “I don’t know every person. There are Russians and Ukrainians.”
At that point, the conversation came to its unnatural end.
“I don’t like your stupid questions,” she said before hanging up. “Everybody who should be here is already here.”
Editors Note: lol I love their sense of humour.
An armoured personnel carrier (APC) with a Russian flag drives outside the regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 21, 2014.
Forget reports that the Russian president has wound down his campaign of interference in east Ukraine. Just the opposite is true – it’s getting much worse.
When Russian tanks used to roll into a foreign country, it was known as an invasion. Today it’s known as a “failure by Russia to de-escalate a situation.” That was State Department spokesperson Marie Harf’s comment on widespread reports, since corroborated by NATO, that three T-64 tanks, along with multiple rocket launchers and armored personnel carriers (APCs), entered east Ukraine from Russia last week.
And such are the gifts of diplomatic nicety still being bestowed upon Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States continues to treat him as a recalcitrant child at reform school rather than as a lying authoritarian who still seeks to partition or balkanize Ukraine. If only he’d behave himself…
Contrary to press claims that Putin has wound down his direct and indirect interference in east Ukraine —claims which were mostly based on his seeming acceptance of Petro Poroshenko’s election as Ukraine’s president, and his brief one-on-one conversations with Poroshenko and President Obama during the D-Day anniversary in France last week —the opposite is the case.
As the West has been busy rediscovering a country called Iraq, the Kremlin has been not-so-quietly increasing its support for militants seeking to carve out satrapies in Donetsk and Lugansk. In fact, it has also cut off Ukraine’s gas supply and is now moving troops back to the Ukrainian border, a fortnight or so after belatedly withdrawing them.
For the last several weeks, my team at The Interpreter, a Russian news and analysis website, have been documenting mounting evidence of what we’ve termed Russia’s “remote controlled war” in east Ukraine. Typically, this has been a war defined by the military doctrine of maskirovka, which traffics in concealment, plausible deniability, and carefully leaked or disseminated disinformation (dezinformatsiya) designed to both confuse the enemy and deter him from predicting or responding to one’s next move. Nevertheless, every once and a while, the mask slips.
That appeared to happen on June 12, when Ukraine’s government claimed that three Russian T-64 battle tanks and several armored vehicles entered Ukraine from the Dovzhanskyy border crossing, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists calling themselves the “People’s Republic of Lugansk.” Video and photographic evidence of the tanks was circulated (and debated) online, with questions as to what model they were: T-72 or T-64 bandied about. What didn’t seem to be in dispute was their locations—they were spotted in Snizhne, a city in the Donetsk oblast, and then again in Makiivka, an industrial city in the same oblast about 40 miles to the west of Snizhne. According to NATO, which released satellite imagery to corroborate Kiev’s allegations, “The tanks do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military. In fact, they do not have markings at all, which is reminiscent of tactics used by Russian elements that were involved in destabilizing Crimea.” NATO concluded that the tanks and APCs “raise significant questions concerning Russia’s role in facilitating instability in eastern Ukraine and its involvement in the movement of military equipment from Russian territory into Ukraine.” (more…)
A girl places a candle during a memorial ceremony for the people killed when a Ukrainian military plane was shot by pro-Russian armed separatist militants on June 14, 2014, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Pro-Russian separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane at the eastern city of Lugansk, killing 49 people on board, the defence ministry said today.
The 49 members of the 25th Dnipropetrovsk Airborne Brigade never had a chance. On June 14, they volunteered to replace soldiers on the front, taking fresh supplies with them. But they all were killed when Kremlin-backed separatists shot down their transport plane with two Igla man-powered, air-defense systems on the approach to Luhansk Airport.
Family members will be able to mourn their fallen sons, fathers and husbands after Kremlin-backed insurgents agreed to let the military take the bodies through hostile territory. During a temporary ceasefire on June 18, pro-Russian gunmen met with Ukrainian military personnel on a bridge in Karlivka in Donetsk Oblast. Several trucks with the bodies were allowed to cross. On June 19, the slain soldiers were taken to Dnipropetrovsk for identification.
Memorial services have been held all over the country to mourn the bloodiest day yet in the war. People brought flowers to memorials in Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kryvi Rih and other cities. (more…)
Nato chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, says Moscow mounting disinformation campaign to maintain reliance on Russian gas
David Cameron’s home in Dean, Oxfordshire, being turned into a ‘fracking site’ in protest at shale gas development. Photograph: Kristian Buus/Greenpeace/PA
The head of one of the world’s leading groups of democratic nations has accused Russia of undermining projects using hydraulic fracturing technology in Europe.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), and former premier of Denmark, told the Chatham House thinktank in London on Thursday that Vladimir Putin’s government was behind attempts to discredit fracking, according to reports.
Rasmussen said: “I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations – environmental organisations working against shale gas – to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
He declined to give details of those operations, saying: “That is my interpretation.”
Fracking, a process that involves blasting dense shale rocks with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to release the tiny bubbles of natural gas trapped within, has been the subject of protests in the UK and other parts of Europe, and is opposed by many environmental groups.
It has been associated with methane leaks and the pollution of water sources in the US, and green campaigners fear that it will lead to a rise in the use of fossil fuels, exacerbating global warming.
Rasmussen made clear that fracking should be used, in his view, to increase Europe’s energy security, by providing a new source of gas and oil supply.
Nato’s press office said the remarks were Rasmussen’s personal views, not official policy.
Nato was originally formed at the start of the cold war as an alliance of western states, including the US and many European nations, and historically has often opposed Russia. Rasmussen himself has spoken out previously against Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Surveys in the UK have found that there is a potentially large supply of shale gas and oil, perhaps enough to fulfil gas needs for several decades, though it is unclear how much of that can be profitably extracted. No shale gas has yet been produced in the UK.
Russia, a major source of international gas supplies, recently signed a $400bn deal with China to supply gas for decades to come, and has threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, emphasising its willingness to exploit its dominant position in fossil fuel markets for political ends.
But the future of fracking in Europe is less clear than Rasmussen acknowledged.
The Polish government’s leading fracking expert recently told the Guardian that geology, rather than political concerns, was likely to be the main obstacle.
Katarzyna Kacperczyk, under-secretary of state for non-European policy and public and economic diplomacy in the Polish foreign ministry, and its leading voice on fracking, told the Guardian: “It is all about geology, whether you can extract the gas. Different parts of the world have different geologies.”
She said that there was “political will” to explore fracking in the country, but that even so there was no guarantee that Poland would be able to access its shale gas reserves. Poland is thought to have some of the best shale gas formations in Europe, but attempts to exploit it have so far come to nothing, though companies are still trying.
In the US, the development of modern fracking technology has led to a boom in gas production, but that situation may not be easily replicated in other, more densely populated countries, with differing geologies.
Green groups were swift to attack Rasmussen’s views, saying that they were not involved in any alleged Russian attempts to discredit the technology, and were instead opposed to it on the grounds of environmental sustainability.
“The idea we’re puppets of Putin is so preposterous that you have to wonder what they’re smoking over at Nato HQ,” said Greenpeace, which has a history of antagonism with the Russian government, which arrested several of its activists on a protest in the Arctic last year.
Andrew Pendleton, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, added: “Perhaps the Russians are worried about our huge wind and solar potential and have infiltrated the UK government.”