Tag Archives: European Union

Ambassador Taylor: Russia is ‘the single greatest threat to peace in Europe’

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William G. Taylor believes America should arm Ukraine with weapons to defend itself from the Russian-backed invasion. © CourtesyFormer U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William G. Taylor believes America should arm Ukraine with weapons to defend itself from the Russian-backed invasion. © Courtesy

Note: The following is testimony by former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor speaking at a joint subcommittee hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives on July 29.

Testimony before a Joint Subcommittee Hearing

Committee on Foreign Affairs

Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats

Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade

U.S. House of Representatives

William B. Taylor

United States Institute of Peace

July 29, 2014

Chairman Rohrabacher, Chairman Poe, members of the subcommittees, thank you for the opportunity to present my views on the shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17 and the escalating crisis in Ukraine.  I commend you for this timely and important hearing.

The views I express today are solely my own and do not represent those of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not take policy positions.

The Situation Today

In my view, Russia is today the single greatest threat to peace in Europe.  If the West does not confront this threat—that is, if we appease the Russians now—we will have to confront an even larger threat tomorrow, closer to home.

Members of this committee and your colleagues are fully aware of the situation in Ukraine.  Russian support for the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk– weapons, leadership, financing, organization, personnel, fighters — is the only thing keeping the Ukrainian government from establishing security in southeastern Ukraine.  Security is needed to find the remaining victims of the missile strike on the Malaysian airliner and to complete the investigation.  Russian support allows the separatists to continue to impede those efforts.

In my view we must confront the Russian war against Ukraine.  This aggression started with the quiet invasion of Crimea last spring.  A sham, at-the-end-of-a-rifle referendum was followed by an illegal annexation.  The international community should not allow that annexation to stand.  Until that situation is resolved to the satisfaction of Ukraine, the Russian government should pay serious penalties to Ukraine for the temporary loss of income and illegally confiscated assets that would have come to Ukraine from Crimea.

The international community did not confront the Kremlin over Crimea.  As a consequence, the Russians continued their aggression in Donetsk and Luhansk.  The leaders of the separatist movement have become almost exclusively Russian, and Russian equipment flows across the border unimpeded.  This equipment—including sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons—shot down the Malaysian airliner killing 298 people.  No matter what individual separatist pushed the button to fire the weapon—let’s be clear, Mr. Chairman– the tragedy is Russian responsibility.


What should be done.

First, human decency requires the return of the victims to their families.  Further, experts need access to the crash site to complete the investigation.  If the separatists continue to impede these efforts, the international community– led by the Dutch, Australians and Malaysians; supported by other nations with victims on MH17, including the United States; and with the approval of the Ukrainians—should provide an armed, international security force to protect the investigators and allow them to find the victims and complete their investigation.  That investigation should lead to criminal prosecutions of those found responsible.

Second, the international community, led by the United States, should provide Ukraine with the means to eliminate the separatist forces in their country.  This means weapons, military advice, intelligence, and financial support to pay and equip their soldiers.

Third, the international community should follow the individual travel bans and asset freezes with harsh economic sanctions on entire sectors of the Russian economy to deter the Kremlin from continued support to the separatists, to force them to close their border to weapons, fighters and military support, and to pressure them to return Crimea to Ukraine.

Fourth, the international community, led by the United States, should provide financial support to Ukraine as it simultaneously confronts Russian aggression and undertakes serious economic and political reform.  The International Monetary Fund loans may have to be increased.  Bilateral support will have to be expanded.  Advice on economic reform—energy pricing and anti-corruption in particular—will be needed.

Fifth, the international community should respect Ukraine’s right to decide with whom to associate politically and economically.  Western political and security institutions—specifically, the European Union and NATO—should be open to membership applications from Ukraine.

Mr. Chairman, it is a tragedy that it took the shooting down of a civilian airliner over Ukraine to force the international community to confront Russian aggression.  If we don’t confront it now, it’s appeasement, and Russia will not stop at Donetsk.

Thank you.  I am happy to answer your questions.

Kyiv Post.

Editors Note: Am I the only one who thinks that this is a really bad idea? I know that the Russians are supplying the rebels but for the United States to do the same for the Ukrainians could only escalate things further and who knows what would happen next!!!

#MH17: Abbott says Australia is unlikely to follow tougher US and EU sanctions

 in Canberra
The assistant federal police commissioner Michael Outram briefing Tony Abbott. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAPThe assistant federal police commissioner Michael Outram briefing Tony Abbott. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

Australia is unlikely to follow the US and European Union in pursuing new sanctions against Russia as its focus remains on recovering the bodies of victims of the downed flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine.

Tony Abbott played down the prospect of rapidly strengthening Australia’s existing sanctions. The prime minister emphasised his priority was the 38 Australian citizens and residents who were among 298 people on the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 brought down, apparently by a missile attack, on 17 July.

A multinational team, including Australian federal police (AFP), Dutch police and personnel from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has been seeking to enter the site but the fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatist forces has made it too dangerous.

Abbott said the situation on the ground was “very fluid” and the team wanted to try again to access the site on Wednesday. The prime minister said authorities owed it to the victims and their loved ones “to make every reasonable effort”.

“If it doesn’t happen today, we’ll try again tomorrow,” he said on Wednesday. “If it doesn’t happen tomorrow, we’ll try again the next day. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

On Tuesday, Barack Obama announced new US sanctions targeted at the Russian economy including weapons, energy and finance. The US president said the measures were in response to “Russia’s unwillingness to recognise that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

The EU also announced a series of measures against Moscow to restrict Russian state-owned banks from accessing European capital markets, arguing they were a signal that “illegal annexation of territory and deliberate destabilisation” of a neighbouring sovereign country could not be accepted in 21st-century Europe.

Abbott said he was aware of the new sanctions but they were “a matter for the Europeans and others”.

“We already have some sanctions on Russia,” he said. “I’m not saying that we might not at some point in the future move further, but at the moment our focus is not on sanctions; our focus is on bringing home our dead as quickly as we humanly can.”

Abbott’s comments were consistent with his recent remark that Australia was not interested in engaging in “the politics of eastern Europe”.

In the immediate aftermath of the plane coming down Abbott made forthright criticisms of Russia, but since the passage of a UN security council resolution he has sought to emphasise the humanitarian nature of the mission to recover the bodies and secure evidence.

“We are just focused on getting onto the site as quickly as we can,” Abbott said. “We want to get in, we want to get cracking and we want to get out.”

Foreign minister Julie Bishop said the multinational team was carefully considering the risks of any potential mission to the site of the downed aircraft.

“We are assessing the situation in terms of risks day by day, hour by hour, and we will not take any unacceptable risks given that we have unarmed police as part of our humanitarian mission,” Bishop said.

Abbott has previously said the inability to access the site was frustrating and called for all parties to “be as good as their word”.

In an interview with radio 2UE on Tuesday, Abbott said the separatists, the Ukrainian government and Russia had “all said they want the fighting to stop, at least insofar as is necessary for the site to be secured, the bodies to be recovered, the investigation to be assisted and justice to be done”.

The AFP deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin also warned that ongoing fighting in the area might jeopardise the collection of potential evidence. Colvin said on Monday that Australians must prepare for the possibility that not all remains would ultimately be recovered.

The Guardian.

The Belarusians fighting on both sides of the Ukraine conflict

‘Divisions over Belarus’s future are being played out in Ukraine, where some Belarusians are volunteering to fight for Kiev’s sovereignty, while others have joined the pro-Russian separatists. BelarusDigest reports’.

Vadzim Smok for BelarusDigest, part of the New East networkDebaltsevo in Ukraine's Donetsk region was shelled by Ukrainian government forces last week. Photograph: Dzhavakhadze Zurab/Itar-Tass Photo/CorbisDebaltsevo in Ukraine’s Donetsk region was shelled by Ukrainian government forces last week. Photograph: Dzhavakhadze Zurab/Itar-Tass Photo/Corbis

For years, Belarusians have been divided over whether the future of their country should involve closer relations with Russia or the European Union.

Belarus is tied to Russia politically, economically and even linguistically. Under Moscow’s sphere of influence, maintaining the country’s independence has involved a careful balancing act for President Alexander Lukashenko since he came to power 20 years ago.

But in a poll published by the Institute for Independent Social and Economic Political Research (IISEPS) in December 2013, 36.4% of Belarusians were in favour of closer ties with Russia, against 44.6% in favour of the EU. In March, as the crisis in Ukraine escalated, that figure changed to 51.5% in favour of further integration with Russia, over 32.9% choosing integration with the EU.

With opinion divided in the way, it is perhaps unsurprising that Belarusian nationals have reportedly been appearing as volunteers on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine.

Fighting for Ukraine

Earlier this month, Belarusian and Ukrainian media reported that a Belarusian military unit called Pahonia has been training in the Volyn region of north-western Ukraine, in preparation for combat with pro-Ukrainian forces battling pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.

The would-be fighters did not reveal their names, fearing potential pressure from the KGB, Belarus’s state security agency, for themselves and those they left at home. But Ukrainian officials say many Belarusians have contacted them to join the unit.

Deputy head of the Volyn City Council, Igor Guź, told the Belarusian news agency BelaPAN that the unit was formed as part of an initiative of the Right Alliance nationalist youth organisation, which has cooperated with Belarusian opposition youth groups for years.

All of the volunteers are less than 30 years-old and many are believed to work with Belarusian NGOs. The Malady Front, an opposition organisation, also told BelaPAN that some of its members have made their way to Ukraine.

“After we announced the unit’s formation, about 50 people showed up and contacted us to join it,” Guź said. “Sure, there are members of the Belarus KGB among them, but we will figure out a way of how to deal with it [later].”

In an interview with the Russian Rosbalt news agency, an anonymous Pahonia fighter said they had crossed the Belarus-Ukraine border legally. If questioned on their return home about what they were doing in Ukraine, they will answer that they were working in Kiev, the volunteer said.

“We don’t tell anyone about it, people would not understand. Only our closest relatives know that we went to war,” he added.

It is not known whether any of these volunteers have seen combat yet, but Semion Semenchenko, leader of the pro-Ukrainian Donbass volunteer battalion, had previously confirmed that 15 Belarusians joined them in order to fight against pro-Russian forces.

The Pahonia volunteers have said they decided to help Ukrainians in the fight against Russia because they believe Belarus may face the same threat in the future:

When Georgians said that Ukraine will be the next, nobody believed them. Lukashenko is quite smart, but Moscow will do away with him sooner or later. And we hope our Ukrainian brothers will help us just as we help them now. We are not being paid any money here,” an anonymous volunteer said.

“When Georgians said that Ukraine will be the next, nobody believed them”.

Anton Herashchenko, aide to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, told independent Belarusian radio station Euroradio that “there indeed are Belarusian citizens who want to fight against the terrorists in Ukraine”, but said “Ukrainian legislation does not allow for the use of foreign units.” He said if they still wanted to fight, “they can easily obtain Ukrainian citizenship.”

Fighting for the separatists

There have also been reports of Belarusians on the other side of the conflict. They too seek to keep their identities under wraps, after the KGB threatened criminal cases against them for being mercenaries.

In May, Ukrainian security services were said to have detained a Belarusian citizen named Aleh Šabalin, who was accused of having links to pro-Russia radical groups and carrying out preparations for a terrorist act.

Belarus’s foreign ministry denied he had been detained, and said that he had been a witness in the case, not the accused. Later reports said he and others had been released. It is not possible to independently verify the claims.

However, Natallia Krasouskaja has become perhaps the most high-profile person claiming to be Belarusian in the pro-Russian camp. In YouTube videos, she claims she is from Barysaŭ, in the Minsk region, and came to Ukraine in May to support the separatist forces.

Showing her Belarusian passport and addressing Lukashenko, she proclaims in one video that the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) has the backing of the Belarusian people.

The Belarusian authorities are not as enthused. As Krasouskaja notes in a later dispatch, the Belarusian KGB called her mother to inform her that they have filed a criminal case against her. She added that other Belarusian nationals in the DNR forces have also had criminal cases opened against them.

Lukashenko’s rhetoric

Meanwhile, back in Belarus, it seems that Minsk is trying to learn as much as possible from the Ukraine conflict, and protect itself against any such violence within its own borders.

On the international stage, Lukashenko performs a balancing act between his country’s allegiance with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, while asserting Belarusian sovereignty, and maintaining good relations with Ukraine, despite Moscow’s best efforts to prevent this.

For example, though Belarus did move towards closer ties with Moscow by joining the Eurasian Economic Union of former Soviet states in May, it refused to join Russia’s trade war with Ukraine this month. Whenever he speaks about either side of the conflict in Ukraine, Lukashenko tends to be ambiguous, mainly urging all sides to end the fighting and restore Slavic unity.

At home, fear of combatants returning as ‘agents of foreign influence’ is leading Belarusian authorities to tighten security measures in an attempt to ensure stability, particularly ahead of the 2015 presidential election. Belarus has not had free elections since Lukashenko was voted in in 1994, but opposition groups are active and the situation in Ukraine may be an unwelcome complication.

In July the government amended its anti-terrorist legislation, which includes a section on financing terrorism, increased penalties for the recruitment of mercenaries as well as for training individuals with the purpose of having them participate in terrorist acts.

Lukashenko’s speeches have become increasingly loaded with security rhetoric. He has been urging the authorities to strengthen Belarusian sovereignty on the basis of a strong economy and a heightened level of international authority, as he seeks to retain full control of the domestic agenda.

On 22 April, in his annual address to the nation, Lukashenko ordered Belarusian security services to closely monitor and control those who promotes the “Russian issue” in Belarus, and immediately curb these kinds of discussions, regardless of who starts them.

A version of this article first appeared on BelarusDigest

The Guardian.

#MH17: Stronger western sanctions on Russia likely within 48 hours

Memorial outside Schiphol airport to the 289 dead of flight MH17, apparently shot down by fighters endorsed by Vladimir Putin's regime. Photograph: Sipa USA/REXMemorial outside Schiphol airport to the 289 dead of flight MH17, apparently shot down by fighters endorsed by Vladimir Putin’s regime. Photograph: Sipa USA/REX

Russia is expected to be hit with further sanctions on Tuesday after the US, Britain, France, Germany and Italy called for tougher action against the regime they believe is still shipping weapons into Ukraine despite the MH17 airliner disaster.

The western nations called on the European Union to impose new restrictions on trade with Russia’s defence, banking and hi-tech energy sectors, adding to existing asset freezes and travel bans on a list of people linked to the Kremlin.

New penalties are likely to be agreed at a meeting of ambassadors from all the EU’s 28 member states and could come into force within 24 to 48 hours. The US has already imposed similar trade sanctions and will now strengthen them, amid concerns among western nations that Moscow could still launch a full-scale cross-border intervention in Ukraine.

The joint call for Brussels to stand up to Vladimir Putin was agreed during a video conference between Barack Obama, David Cameron, President François Hollande of France, Italy’s prime minster, Matteo Renzi, and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel.

In a further warning to Russia, some Nato countries are sending troops to Poland in October to take part in a military display called Exercise Black Eagle. Britain is contributing more than 1,300 soldiers to the exercise, which Michael Fallon, the new defence secretary, said was a sign of support for the country’s allies in eastern Europe.

On Tuesday, Cameron will also meet families of some of the British victims of the disaster to express his condolences at a time when rebels are still blocking international experts from reaching the crash site.

There has been a significant toughening in the rhetoric against Russia in recent days over its suspected role in arming pro-Putin separatists in eastern Ukraine. Putin’s government denies any responsibility for the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17, killing 295 people. However, the UK, US and Ukraine have all said they suspect it was downed accidentally by rebels using a Soviet-era Buk missile.

Following the leaders’ video call, No 10 said the discussion had focused on “Russia’s ongoing efforts to destabilise Ukraine” and agreed that the immediate priority must be to secure unrestricted access to the MH17 crash site.

Downing Street said it agreed that Russia had “failed to take the steps necessary to de-escalate the crisis, such as ceasing support for the separatists; stopping the flow of weapons across the border; and using its influence to ensure the release of hostages.

“Indeed the latest information from the region suggests that even since MH17 was shot down, Russia continues to transfer weapons across the border and to provide practical support to the separatists.”

Tony Blinken, a national security adviser to Obama, also said European leaders had made clear their determination to act. He added: “We expect the European Union to take significant additional steps this week, including in key sectors of the Russian economy. In turn, and in full coordination with Europe, the United States will implement additional measures itself.”

The US indicated that the EU was also looking at broadening its criteria for sanctioning individuals in order, Blinken said, to “bring in some of the cronies of President Putin”. Blinken argued that the existing sanctions regime had already produced major strategic gains in Ukraine, leading to a new government and the signing of the EU association agreement.

However, he said US intelligence assessments indicated that Moscow continued to transfer heavy weaponry and fighters across the border and to aid pro-Russian separatists, and had stationed Russian troops near the border. He described Putin’s strategy as one of “doubling down” on support for separatist fighters.

Before the meeting, Russia said it would not retaliate with sanctions of its own or “fall into hysterics”. Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, said the penalties could even make the country “more independent and more confident in our own strength”.

“I assure you, we will overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy,” he said. “We can’t ignore it. But to fall into hysterics and respond to a blow with a blow is not worthy of a major country.”

He also denied Russian involvement in the Ukraine conflict and called for “honest, open participation of all those who have access to information about the crash”.

“Anything else we will consider as deceitful attempts to influence the investigation, putting presumption of innocence in doubt,” he said.

“I don’t want to throw accusations in advance, but I expect that no one will try to cover up evidence.”

The Guardian.

Russia says EU sanctions weaken anti-terror efforts #MH17

More bodies arrived at Eindhoven on Friday as forensic experts   continue trying to identify remains.More bodies arrived at Eindhoven on Friday as forensic experts continue trying to identify remains.

Russia says new EU sanctions against it over the Ukraine crisis will jeopardise security co-operation against terror.

The Russian foreign ministry said the EU would bear the blame for the move which sees 15 officials and 18 entities subject to asset freezes and visa bans.

The EU and US accuse Russia of backing Ukraine’s rebels. Moscow denies this.

Meanwhile, the last remains of the victims of the crashed Malaysian airliner flew out of eastern Ukraine for the Netherlands.

The departure of the aircraft from the city of Kharkiv with 38 coffins brings the total number of bodies sent for identification to 227.

The Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed on 17 July, killing all 298 people – including 193 Dutch nationals – on board.

Pro-Russian separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine have been accused of downing the plane by a missile.

Here a Ukrainian woman cries during a religious service held by villagers in memory of the victims at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight, near the village of Grabove, eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/AP.Here a Ukrainian woman cries during a religious service held by villagers in memory of the victims at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight, near the village of Grabove, eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/AP.

Russia has frequently denied sending heavy weapons into Ukraine. Moscow has suggested the plane could have been shot down by the Ukrainian military. Ukraine has denied the charge.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine erupted in April and is believed to have claimed more than 1,000 lives.

‘Threatening’ tone

In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said the new EU sanctions showed that the 28-member bloc was taking “a complete turn away from joint work with Russia on international and regional security, including the fight against the spread of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, organised crime and other challenges”.

“We believe these decisions will be greeted enthusiastically by international terrorists”.

In a separate statement, the Russian ministry also accused the US of “an unrelenting campaign of slander against Russia”.

The EU sanctions were agreed after lengthy negotiations in Brussels on Friday.

The senior Russian officials targeted include Federal Security Service head Alexander Bortnikov, foreign intelligence head Mikhail Fradkov and Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian security council.

The leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, is also on the list.

The tone of the latest Russian statement on the EU sanctions is indignant, even threatening, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Moscow reports.

Some of the victims' relatives have now arrived at the crash site in eastern Ukraine.Some of the victims’ relatives have now arrived at the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

If the aim of international sanctions was to force Russia to change its stance on Ukraine, it is clear that that so far this is not happening, our correspondent says.

Crash site talks

In Kharkiv, teams of Dutch and Australian police are waiting for clearance from both Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels to help search for the remaining bodies at the crash site near Grabove, which is controlled by the rebels.

They hope that such a deployment would allow experts, who have faced difficulties gaining access to the site, to proceed with the investigation amid continuing fighting in the region.

Malaysian PM Najib Razak has said he will fly to the Netherlands next week to discuss the issue.

Map: Fatal flight path of Flight MH17 and Area of pro-Russian rebel activity.

BBC News.