Tag Archives: Europe

#Putin Calls for Talks on East #Ukraine ‘Statehood'; #Kremlin Denies Endorsing Independence


 By Ukrainian border guards patrol near the small Ukrainian city of Novoazovsk, Donetsk Oblast on the border with Russia. © AFPUkrainian border guards patrol near the small Ukrainian city of Novoazovsk, Donetsk Oblast on the border with Russia. © AFP

MOSCOW/MARIUPOL Ukraine (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Sunday for immediate talks on “statehood” for southern and eastern Ukraine, although his spokesman said this did not mean Moscow now endorsed rebel calls for independence for territory they have seized.

The Kremlin leader’s remarks, which follow a feisty public appearance in which he compared the Kiev government to Nazis and warned the West not to “mess with us”, came with Europe and the United States preparing new sanctions to halt what they say is direct Russian military involvement in the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops and local residents were reinforcing the port of Mariupol on Sunday, the next big city in the path of pro-Russian fighters who pushed back government forces along the Azov Sea this past week in an offensive on a new front.

Ukraine and Russia swapped soldiers who had entered each other’s territory near the battlefield, where Kiev says Moscow’s forces have come to the aid of pro-Russian insurgents, tipping the balance on the battlefield in the rebels’ favour.

Talks should be held immediately “and not just on technical issues but on the political organisation of society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine,” Putin said in an interview with Channel 1 state television, his hair tousled by wind on the shore of a lake.

Moscow, for its part, he said, could not stand aside while people were being shot “almost at point blank”.

Putin’s use of the word “statehood” was interpreted in Western media as implying backing for the rebel demand of independence, something Moscow has so far stopped short of publicly endorsing.

However, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no new endorsement from Moscow for rebel independence. Asked if “New Russia”, a term pro-Moscow rebels use for their territory, should still be part of Ukraine, Peskov said: “Of course.”

“Only Ukraine can reach an agreement with New Russia, taking into account the interests of New Russia, and this is the only way to reach a political settlement.”

Rebels have rallied behind the term “New Russia” since Putin first used it in a public appearance in April. Putin called it a tsarist-era term for land that now forms southern and eastern Ukraine. Ukrainians consider the term deeply offensive and say it reveals Moscow’s imperial designs on their territory.

Moscow has long called for Kiev to hold direct political talks with the rebels. Kiev says it is willing to have talks on more rights for the south and east, but will not talk directly to armed fighters it describes as “international terrorists” and Russian puppets that can only be reined in by Moscow.

The deputy leader of the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, Andrei Prugin, said he was due to participate in talks in the Belarus capital Minsk on Monday. Past talks by a so-called “contact group” involving Moscow, Kiev and rebels have covered technical issues like access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner shot down in July, but not political questions.

NEW ADVANCE

The past week has seen Ukrainian forces flee in the path of a new rebel advance, drawing concern from Ukraine’s Western allies, who say armoured columns of Russian troops came to the aid of a rebellion that would otherwise have been near collapse.

European Union leaders agreed on Saturday to draw up new economic sanctions against Moscow, a move hailed by the United States, which is planning tighter sanctions of its own and wants to act jointly with Europe.

Some residents of Mariupol have taken to the streets of the port to show support for the Ukrainian government as pro-Russian forces gain ground. Many others have fled from the prospect of an all-out assault on the city of nearly 500,000 people.

“We are proud to be from this city and we are ready to defend it from the occupiers,” said Alexandra, 28, a post office clerk wearing a ribbon in blue and yellow Ukrainian colours.

“We will dig trenches. We will throw petrol bombs at them, the occupiers,” she said. “I believe our army and our (volunteer) battalions will protect us.”

Ihor, 42, and his wife Lena, 40, were packing their car to flee with their five-year-old daughter. They had sheltered in Mariupol after battle came to their home city Donetsk in July.

“We will not wait for another repetition of war. We did nothing to provoke it and we do not want to be a part of it,” said Lena.

TROOP SWAP

The swap of soldiers overnight at the frontier was a rare gesture to ease tension, but Kiev and Moscow have given starkly opposing accounts of how their troops came to be on each other’s territory. A Russian paratroop commander said an unspecified number of Russian paratroops were swapped for 63 Ukrainian soldiers. Kiev said the Russian soldiers numbered nine.

Kiev and its allies in Europe and the United States say the new rebel offensive has been backed by more than 1,000 Russian troops fighting openly to support the insurgents. The rebels themselves say thousands of Russian troops have fought on their behalf while “on leave”.

Reuters journalists on the Russian side of the border have seen Russian troops showing signs of having returned from battle, with their insignia removed or rubbed out.

Despite the evidence, Moscow denies its troops are fighting in Ukraine and says a small party of soldiers crossed the border by accident. Russian Major-General Alexei Ragozin said the paratroops were handed back after “very difficult” negotiations.

“I consider it unacceptable that our servicemen were detained by the Ukrainian side for so many days. Our lads are upset about everything that happened. They will all receive the necessary psychological and other kinds of help. The lads will all be OK.”

Ragozin said Russia, by contrast, had promptly returned hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers who at various times have crossed the border when squeezed by rebel forces. He said the latest group of 63 had entered Russia on Wednesday.

Kiev has in the past said some of its soldiers crossed into Russia to escape from fighting on the Ukrainian side of the frontier, behaviour that contrasts with that of the Russians it says crossed the border to wage war in Ukraine. Ukraine’s military spokesman has mocked the idea that the Russians had “got lost like Little Red Riding Hood in the forest”.

SANCTIONS

The United States and European Union have gradually tightened economic sanctions against Russia, first imposed after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March following the ousting of Kiev’s pro-Russian president by protesters.

So far, however, the measures have done little to deter Putin, who gave a typically defiant public appearance on Friday in which he described Russians and Ukrainians as “practically one people” and compared Kiev’s attempts to recapture rebellious cities with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

Russia is a strong nuclear power, and foreigners should understand that “it’s best not to mess with us”, he said.

Moscow has responded to sanctions by banning the import of most Western foodstuffs, stripping French cheese and Polish apples from store shelves and shutting down McDonalds restaurants. The moves reinforce a sense among Russians that they are isolated from a hostile world, as in Cold War days.

Agreeing the Western sanctions has been tricky, not least because the 28-member European Union must take decisions by consensus and many of its countries depend on Russian energy resources.

Nevertheless, the EU has gone further than many had predicted, agreeing to impose sanctions on Russia’s financial and oil industries last month after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over rebel territory, killing nearly 300 people, most of them Dutch.

EU leaders agreed on Saturday to ask the executive European Commission to draw up more sanctions measures, which could be adopted in coming days.

The White House praised the move to “show strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. But in a sign of the difficulty in achieving an EU consensus, the leader of tiny Slovakia said sanctions had failed so far and threatened to veto any new ones that damaged his country’s national interest.

(Additional reporting by Richard Balmforth in Kiev, Vladimir Soldatkin in Chelyabinsk, Russia and Mark Trevelyan in Moscow; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Mark Heinrich).


The New York Times.

Russian sanctions bill could spur gas transit independence


Business — by Evan OstryzniukA law to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea and military aggression in eastern Ukraine could force European gas consumers to conclude transit contracts with Ukrainian counter-parties to use the nation's vast pipeline system of 38,600 kilometers. © AFPA law to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea and military aggression in eastern Ukraine could force European gas consumers to conclude transit contracts with Ukrainian counter-parties to use the nation’s vast pipeline system of 38,600 kilometers. © AFP

When European Union member states, Turkey and Moldova buy natural gas from Russia, they contract with the Russia party at Ukraine’s western border, thereby obviating the need for a Ukrainian counterparty. But soon, Western gas consumers might have to deal with the Ukrainian side.

Changes to the rules of gas transit might enter through the backdoor should Ukraine’s parliament pass a law on sanctions against Russia on Aug. 12, which would oblige European buyers to deal with Ukrainian companies instead of Russia’s Gazprom.

Russia’s state-owned gas behemoth has a separate agreement with the Ukrainian gas transit company, the state-owned Ukrtransgaz. Kyiv receives around $3 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers, depending on a formula that is based on the price of gas itself.

In 2013, Ukraine transited 86 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to Europe for almost $3 billion, according to Gazprom. Europe receives a third of its gas from Russia, half of which passed through Ukraine.

The measure is part of the proposed law on sanctions to be imposed on 72 individuals and 65 legal entities – mostly Russian – for supporting and financing terrorism in Ukraine. It forbids Russian gas transit services via Ukraine, according to an Aug. 11 statement by state gas giant Naftogaz Ukrainy. To compensate, the company is proposing that all European and Turkish counter-parties dealing with the Russian gas company Gazprom, which would be sanctioned, to sign transit deals with Ukrtransgaz in order to maintain a constant flow.

While Russia turned off the taps to Ukraine on June 16, it continued to supply gas to Europe via Ukraine’s vast pipeline system. “Naftogaz confirms its readiness to provide the same flawless transportation of natural gas to European consumers,” said Naftogaz Chairman Andriy Kobolyev.

The transfer of right to transit from Russia to Ukraine can be seen as a way of getting gas system reforms in through the backdoor. Since June, the government of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has wanted to split up the gas system so that it would conform to the EU’s Third Energy Package, whereby the gas transit component would become “unbundled” and an independently-run entity. Then, the Europeans would have no reason not to use Ukraine’s system.

According to Andriy Chubyk, energy analyst for the Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI, “Ukraine is obliged within Energy Community membership to enact full-scale reform of Ukrtransgaz, including real obligations and rights to operate under EU energy law.”

The law to sanction Russia might also be the push Ukraine and Europe need to get the reforms moving, former presidential advisor on energy issues Bohdan Sokolobsky told the Kyiv Post. “This would force discussion on rebuilding the gas transit system,” he said.

Ukraine’s strategic gas transit system is worth $25-$35 billion, Kobolyev told journalists on July 23 at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

Should European and Turkish counter-parties begin signing gas transit contracts with Ukraine, the country could reap other benefits. This first and most obvious is that Gazprom wouldn’t have to be dealt with on transit agreements, since the sale point would shift from Ukraine’s western to its eastern border. Naftogaz and Gazprom have been at loggerheads about debts and pricing for years, leading to periodic gas shut-offs.

A second benefit is higher transit fees. Ukraine has the lowest gas transit fees in Europe, argues Sokolovsky, so Ukraine should be able to eventually raise them.

Third, this proposal might create an opportunity for Ukraine to buy gas form EU operators at the Russian border instead of reverse gas from EU, which is limited, says investment company Eavex energy expert Dmytro Churin. Gazprom has argued that large volumes of reverse-flow gas would violate contracts signed with the Slovak operator Eustream, for example.

The Yatseniuk government has been trying and mostly succeeding in contracting gas supplies from Central Europe via the reverse flow method, whereby Russian gas that had been pumped through Ukraine is sold back to the transit country via European operators. So far, the government has convinced Poland, Hungary and especially Slovakia to sell gas to Ukraine by this scheme. On April 28, the Slovak government said that combined reverse flows from Slovakia, Hungary and Poland could reach up to around 16-17 bcm annually. However, for this year the total should be just 8-10 bcm, Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said at the time.

Last year, Ukraine consumed 50 bcm of gas, of which 28 bcm was bought from Russia, 2 bcm purchased from Europe, and 20 bcm extracted domestically. This year, consumption is expected to be in the mid-40s bcm range.

But things could get complicated on the legal side. On the one hand, Naftogaz says that this deal offers a legal mechanism for Ukraine to maintain Russian gas flow to Europe in light of sanctions. On the other hand,experts argue that European counter-parties have existing contracts with Gazprom, and by extension Ukraine, and so depending on the wording these contracts might not allow the counter-parties to sign transit deals with Ukraine. “An interesting thing here is whether EU companies will be able to renegotiate transfer of ownership for Russian gas on Russian border instead of EU-Ukraine border under current scheme,” explains Eavex’s Churin.

Investment boutique Dragon Capital agrees. “Such a scheme would require amending the existing gas supply contracts between Gazprom and European companies to change the transfer point and exclude costs attributable to transit via Ukraine. Gazprom will actively oppose any steps in this direction and EU counterparties are likely to react cautiously for fear of potential supply disruptions” the company wrote on Aug 11.

The European Commission said it was looking into the details of the proposal.

(Kyiv Post business journalist Evan Ostryzniuk can be reached at ostryzniuk@kyivpost.com).


Kyiv Post.

Russia Steps Up Help for Rebels in Ukraine War


Experts exhumed four unidentified bodies from a mass grave in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on Friday. Credit Marion Thibaut/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesExperts exhumed four unidentified bodies from a mass grave in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on Friday. Marion Thibaut/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

KIEV, Ukraine — Rather than backing down after last week’s downing of a civilian passenger jet, Russia appears to be intervening more aggressively in the war in eastern Ukraine in what American and Ukrainian officials call a dangerous escalation that will almost certainly force more robust retaliation from the United States and Europe.

Russia has increased its direct involvement in fighting between the Ukrainian military and separatist insurgents, moving more of its own troops to the border and preparing to arm the rebels with ever more potent weapons, including high-powered Tornado rocket launchers, American and Ukrainian officials said on Friday.

The officials, citing satellite images and other military intelligence, said that Russia had positioned heavy weapons, including tanks and other combat vehicles, at several points along the border where there has been intense fighting. On Thursday, Russia unleashed artillery attacks on eastern Ukraine from Russian territory, officials in Washington and Kiev said. While Russia flatly denied accelerating its intervention on Friday, American and Ukrainian officials said Moscow appeared anxious to stem gains by government forces that have succeeded in retaking some rebel-held territory.

The reported Russian moves raised the prospect of a new and more perilous chapter opening in a conflict that has already inflamed the region and, with the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with 298 aboard, stunned the world. American officials blamed a Russian-provided surface-to-air missile for the explosion and hoped the shock of the episode would prompt the Kremlin to rethink its approach, but they are increasingly convinced it has not.

Obama administration officials said Russia’s rising involvement had stiffened the resolve of European leaders who have been reluctant to confront Moscow for fear of damaging their own economies. But there was no appetite for a direct military response, and it remained unclear whether the West could or would take action that may change the calculus of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as Moscow seems to devote more firepower to the fight.

American and Ukrainian officials said Russia has moved beyond simply helping separatists and is now engaging directly in the war. Multiple Ukrainian military planes have been brought down in recent days by missiles fired from Russian territory, and now artillery batteries are firing from across the border into Ukraine, the officials said.

“We have detected that firing and that does represent an escalation in this conflict,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “It only underscores the concerns that the United States and the international community has about Russian behavior and the need for the Putin regime to change their strategy.”

American officials said Russia has moved 15,000 troops near the border. Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Russia had made “imminent” plans to deliver heavier rockets to the separatists. Instead of Mr. Putin de-escalating the conflict after the Malaysia Airlines tragedy, “he’s actually taken a decision to escalate,” Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a security forum in Aspen, Colo.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine to express solidarity and pledge to coordinate with allies “about imposing further costs on Russia for its deeply destabilizing and irresponsible actions in Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.

While the United States has been hesitant to make its intelligence public, Ukrainian officials have provided a daily, running list of Russian incursions, including flights into Russian air space by fighter jets and unmanned surveillance drones, as well as mortar and rocket attacks.

“We have facts of shelling of Ukrainian positions from the territory of Russian Federation,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said at a briefing in Kiev on Friday. “We have facts on the violation of air border between Ukraine and Russia.”

The New York Times.

The #farm that comes as #flatpack #furniture


The Farmbox is 9.3m longThe Farmbox is 9.3m long

“Having your own eggs and knowing where the food comes from is really important, especially in cities,” says Bob Segers, project designer at Studio Segers in Belgium. So he has produced the Daily Needs farmbox, a modular kit that neatly incorporates a chicken coop and vegetable planter into a linear design slim enough to fit the narrowest of plots.

The pine box is composed of interchangeable compartments, so a farmer can purchase three vegetable boxes to latch together, or a string of coops, for instance. Next year, Studio Segers will be selling flat-pack versions across Europe. Future iterations will include a composting bin, a greenhouse, a rainwater collection point and a rabbit hutch. Hen-rearing instructions not included.

The farm that comes as flatpack furniture

Wired UK

Poroshenko: ‘Russian society is full of aggression today’


Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko delivers a speech to the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly in Strasbourg, eastern France, on June 26, 2014.Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko delivers a speech to the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly in Strasbourg, eastern France, on June 26, 2014. © AFP

Note: Here is the full text of the speech given by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko at the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly in Strasbourg, eastern France, on June 26, as published on the president’s official website.

Madam President!

Dear Secretary General!

Dear members of the Assembly!

Dear participants!

Thank you for the invitation to speak to the Assembly.

I am grateful for the opportunity to convey to this respected forum the voice of the Ukrainian people from different parts of Ukraine – eastern and western, northern and southern, free and occupied.

Only a month has passed since the completion of the presidential campaign in the course of which I have travelled all over Ukraine.

I saw it as a peace-loving, hospitable to everyone and European state – not only by location, but also by vocation.

Ukraine has always been a hospitable home for all who came in peace.

Unfortunately, today this home is in danger.

There is a force that came to Ukraine not in peace.

Words like “annexation”, “separatism”, “mercenaries” emerged in our everyday vocabulary again.

What can we do to stop violence and prevent its transformation into a full-scale war?

Unfortunately, today, this issue concerns not only Ukraine. It concerns the whole of Europe.

Dear members of the assembly!

It all started last November when the previous government deprived Ukrainians of their dream refusing the European integration, not asking Ukrainians and not giving anything except corruption and disregard for human dignity. Ukraine got up and the Revolution of Dignity began. The people gained victory. This victory was gained with blood and numerous victims.  Continue reading