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Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. on Friday of endangering global security by imposing a “unilateral diktat” on the rest of the world and shifted blame for the Ukraine crisis onto the West.
In a 40-minute diatribe against the West that was reminiscent of the Cold War and underlined the depth of the rift between Moscow and the West, Putin also denied trying to rebuild the Soviet empire at the expense of Russia’s neighbors.
“We did not start this,” Putin told an informal group of experts on Russia that includes many Western specialists critical of him, warning that Washington was trying to “remake the whole world” based on its own interests.
“Statements that Russia is trying to reinstate some sort of empire, that it is encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbors, are groundless,” the former KGB agent declared in a speech delivered standing at a podium, without a smile, in a ski resort in mountains above the Black Sea city of Sochi.
Listing a series of conflicts in which he faulted U.S. actions, including Libya, Syria and Iraq, Putin asked whether Washington’s policies had strengthened peace and democracy.
“No,” he declared. “The unilateral diktat and the imposing of schemes [on others] have exactly the opposite effect.”
Putin, 62, has stepped up anti-Western rhetoric since returning to the Kremlin as president in 2012, helping push up his popularity ratings since the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March.
Even so, the speech was one of the most hostile Putin has delivered against the West and it appeared partly intended to show Russian voters he will stand up to the rest of the world and defend their interests.
The criticisms of a world order dominated by Washington, more than two decades after the Cold War, recalled a 2007 speech in Munich in which Putin shocked the West by lambasting Washington’s “unipolar” world view. The speech prompted many Western leaders to reassess their view of Putin.
Shifting the Blame
The annual meetings of what is known as the Valdai Club have rarely featured such open, direct and tough language in their debates on Russian policy.
Critics say the meetings have become a showcase for Kremlin policy, with the session attended by Putin shown live on state television and little discussion of Russia’s record on human rights and democracy, which is criticized in the West.
Putin rejected criticism over the Ukraine crisis, in which Moscow has sided with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, and threw the West’s criticisms of Moscow back in its face.
Repeating accusations that Western governments helped pro-Western groups stage a coup d’etat that ousted a pro-Moscow president in Kiev in February, Putin said: “No one wanted to listen to us, and no one wanted to talk to us.”
“Instead of a difficult but, I underline, civilized dialogue they brought about a state coup. They pushed the country into chaos, economic and social collapse, and civil war with huge losses,” he said.
Dismissing U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed on Moscow as a mistake, he said: “Russia will not be posturing, get offended, ask someone for anything. Russia is self-sufficient.”
He made only passing references to the decline of Russia’s $2 trillion economy, which is in danger of sliding into recession as its currency tumbles along with the price of oil, its main export item.
But he said in a question and answer session after his speech that Russia would not burn though its gold and foreign currency reserves thoughtlessly to prop up the economy.
Putin has increasingly sought to shift blame for the economic crisis onto global problems, the sanctions and the oil price. He and other Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have also used increasingly tough language to blame the West for the Ukraine crisis.
A cease-fire has been in force in Ukraine since Sept. 5, but it has been violated daily and the West says Moscow continues to have troops and weapons in east Ukraine. Russia denies this.
A destroyed armored personnel carrier BMP-2, which presumably came from Russia, is pictured on a road near Starobesheve, controlled by separatists, in eastern Ukraine, Oct. 2, 2014. Maria Tsvetkova / Reuters
The burnt-out remains of dozens of tanks and armored vehicles in fields near this small village bear witness to the ferocity of a battle that turned the tide of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Most of the tanks were used by the government forces routed in August near Horbatenko, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, a defeat so demoralizing that days later Kiev agreed a cease-fire with pro-Russian separatists.
But among the debris journalists found the blackened carcasses of what military experts have since identified as two Russian army tanks, supporting statements by Kiev and the West that the rebels were backed by troops and equipment sent by Moscow.
Moscow denies the accusations though the rebels had been on the brink of defeat until late August, when the Ukrainian government says they received an injection of soldiers and weapons from Russia.
Photographs of the two badly damaged tanks, one of which had lost its turret, were shown to four independent military experts, who said they were of a type used exclusively by the Russian army.
At least one, they agreed, was a T-72BM — a Russian-made modification of a well known Soviet tank. This version of the tank, they said, is not known to have been exported.
“It is operated by the Russian Army in large numbers, but crucially it is not known to have been exported or operated outside of Russia,” Joseph Dempsey, a military analyst for the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote in late August when a tank like that was discovered on grainy footage of rebel convoy.
“The presence of this variant in Ukraine therefore strongly supports the contention that Russia is supplying arms to separatist forces,” Dempsey said.
Such remarks clearly undermine Russian denials of direct involvement in the conflict in Ukraine to ensure Moscow maintains some influence and make governing Ukraine difficult as Kiev charts a Westward political and economic course.
The military experts shown photographs of the two tanks said the second was either the same as the first, a T-72BM, or a slightly different model, a T-72B1.
More conclusive recognition is difficult because of the extent of the damage.
The Soviet-made T-72B1, Dempsey said, is not believed to be in active service in Ukraine, making it almost impossible that the separatists captured it in battle.
Ukraine’s Security Council, which groups the country’s top political, defense and security chiefs, said in June the separatists were using T-72 tanks that could not have been captured from the Ukrainian army.
Kiev also said in late August that Russian forces had entered Ukraine and occupied Starobeshevo, five kilometers (three miles) from Horbatenko.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for more details of the decisive battles that followed soon afterwards but Ukrainian soldiers caught in the battles say they were quickly overcome.
Alexei Koshelenko, who said he was captured on Aug. 24-25 near the town of Ilovaysk, said: “We were hit by [multiple rocket launcher] Grads and after that the troops just swept us away. We were completely defeated within 20 minutes. Many of us were killed, others are missing.”
“They were Russians,” he said after being released with other prisoners of war. Referring to a city 300 kilometers (200 miles) northeast of Moscow, he said: “They said they were an airborne assault battalion from Kostroma.”
The accounts of residents of Horbatenko, a village of a few dozen inhabitants which overlooks the fields that became the battlefield, also challenge Russia’s denials of direct intervention.
Valentina Ivanovna, 75, said she was slightly wounded by shrapnel when fighting became fierce in late August.
“We saw an armored convoy coming down here,” she said. “They had white circles on the armor and white flags but whose troops they were we don’t know.”
Neither the rebels nor the Ukrainian forces have white circles as their permanent recognized emblem. But another local resident, who gave her name only as Nina for fear of retribution, said she had been told the meaning of the white circles in conversations with passing soldiers who identified themselves as Russian.
“One of them told me: white circles mean this is Russians,” she said. “He came to the last house for some water to drink and I asked how you can tell the difference between a Ukrainian or Russian. He said that if it’s us, there are white circles on the tanks.”
The two damaged tanks were too badly burned to have any recognizable insignia but a destroyed Soviet-made BMP-2 armored personnel carrier a few hundred meters away also bore a white circle on its broken turret.
Residents of areas on the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia also reported seeing armored convoys marked by white circles on Aug. 26.
Two days later Reuters spotted an armored convoy with the same insignia on the Russian side of the border.
At the end of August, Ukraine accused Russian troops of crossing the border. To support the accusations, it released videotaped interviews with Russian paratroopers captured by Ukrainian forces in a village 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Horbatenko.
They said they served in the 98th division based in the town of Ivanovo in central Russia.
President Vladimir Putin said he believed they had lost their way and crossed the unmarked segment of the border unintentionally. The captured paratroopers were later sent back to Russia.
Anti-tank missiles fired near where the tanks were destroyed also appear to have originated in Russia because various used parts of Kornet anti-tank guided missiles were left there.
Photographs of the missile parts were shown to three military experts and two of them said Ukraine does not have anti-tank guided missiles of this type.
“The presence of the Kornet ATGM is noteworthy and while it has been exported widely by Russia this list does not include Ukraine. As such, it further supports Russian involvement,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies said.
Trenches near the tanks also provided what appeared to be more evidence of foreign troops — numerous empty boxes of ready-to-eat meals that are used by the Russian army. Each box contains meals for one day.
One reporter counted 124 packages of field rations with “not for sale” labels and notes that they were produced for the Russian Defense Ministry.
A spokeswoman for Voentorg, the company in Russia that produces such meals for the Russian Defense Ministry, confirmed they cannot be sold.
About 50 empty bottles of mineral water around the tanks bore labels identifying them as being produced in Russia’s Ivanovo province, the region where the division of the Russian paratroopers captured in August is based.
Although Moscow has denied any direct involvement in the conflict, graves have been found in Russia with the remains of Russian servicemen who relatives, friends and human rights activists say were killed in Ukraine.
Moscow and the rebels have said that any acting servicemen from Russia were volunteers. Asked about the presence of Russian arms and field rations in Ukraine a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said: “We have the answer and it has been given multiple times.”
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry did not reply to a request for information about the losses near Starobeshevo.
An armed pro-Russia militant attempts to stop journalists from accessing the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Grabove, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 19, 2014 © AFP
BERLIN – Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency has concluded that pro-Russian rebels are to blame for the downing of Malaysia Airline MH17 in Ukraine in July, Der Spiegel weekly reported on Sunday, the first European agency to say so.
The crash over pro-Russian rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17 killed all 298 passengers and crew and led to a further deterioration of ties between the West and Moscow, who are in dispute over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.
Gerhard Schindler, president of the BND, told a secret parliamentary committee on security affairs earlier this month that separatists had used a Russian Buk missile defence system from a Ukrainian base to fire a rocket that exploded directly next to the Malyasia Air plane, Der Spiegel reported.
“It was pro-Russian separatists,” the magazine quoted him as saying.
The BND concluded the rebels were to blame after a detailed analysis based on satellite and other photos, Der Spiegel said. Noone at the BND was immediately available to comment.
Kiev blames the incident on the rebels and accused Moscow of arming them, but the rebels and Moscow deny the accusations.
European governments have so far refrained from openly pointing the finger, but shortly after the crash U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was strong evidence that Moscow-backed separatists had downed the plane.
The Dutch government, which has two investigations underway into the downing of the airliner, has yet to say who was responsible. Two thirds of the passengers were Dutch.
A preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board last month said the airliner crashed due to a “large number of high-energy objects” from outside the aircraft. It drew no conclusions as to where they came from.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (R) visiting the Ukrainian defence line near the town of Kurahovo, Donetsk Oblast on Oct. 10. © AFP
Pavel Polityuk reporting,
KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday he expected planned talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin next week in Italy to be difficult but said Moscow had a crucial role to play in bringing peace to his country.
Kiev and its Western backers accuse Moscow of backing a pro-Russian separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine by providing troops and arms. Russia denies the charges but says it has a right to defend the interests of the region’s Russian-speaking majority.
The Kremlin has said Putin and Poroshenko may hold talks on the sidelines of a summit of Asian and European leaders in Milan on Oct. 16-17.
“I don’t expect the talks will be easy. I’m used to this, I have a lot of experience of conducting very difficult diplomatic talks. But I’m an optimist,” Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Poroshenko as telling reporters.
Poroshenko said some European leaders might also join his talks with Putin. Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov has said a “Normandy-style meeting” could not be ruled out – a reference to talks in France in June involving Putin, Poroshenko and the leaders of Germany and France.
“The key and main question is peace. Russia’s role in the issue of providing peace, as you understand, is difficult to overestimate,” Poroshenko said. “And today we raise the issue of moving from declarations to concrete steps.”
Putin and Poroshenko are known so far to have met twice since the Ukrainian leader’s election in May, firstly in Normandy and then in the Belarussian capital Minsk in August when they agreed on the need for a ceasefire between Kiev’s forces and the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
GAS DEAL EYED
A ceasefire began on Sept. 5 and has broadly held despite frequent violations, especially around the airport of Donetsk, the biggest city of eastern Ukraine.
The European Union and the United States have imposed economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, where Moscow has also annexed the Crimea peninsula. In retaliation, Russia has banned most Western food imports.
The United Nations said on Wednesday the death toll from the conflict in eastern Ukraine now stood at more than 3,660 people.
Poroshenko also said on Saturday he hoped to make “significant progress” in Milan on resolving Ukraine’s long-running gas pricing dispute with Russia.
Russia shut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in June over what it said were more than $5 billion in unpaid bills and Ukraine faces a possibility of energy shortages this winter if no deal is reached, risking a replay of the disruptions to Europe’s gas supplies seen in 2006 and 2009.
“We believe that Ukraine’s proposals are absolutely clear, concrete and justified. We are sure that we are significantly closer to solving this issue,” he told reporters.
Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to discuss the situation in Ukraine at a meeting in Paris on Oct. 14.
Poroshenko, whose country holds parliamentary elections later this month, has faced some domestic criticism over elements of a peace plan agreed with Russia, especially his offer of autonomy to rebel-held regions of eastern Ukraine.
Interfax reported late on Friday that Poroshenko had sacked one of those critics, Serhiy Taruta, a billionaire businessman, as governor of the Donetsk region. Poroshenko has appointed in Taruta’s place as governor Oleksander Kikhtenko, a former head of interior ministry forces, Interfax said.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Donetsk; Writing by Alexander Winning in Moscow; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Gareth Jones).
Sausage and meat products, produced in Russia, are on display during the World Food Moscow 2014. Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters
Kiev’s municipal council has ordered stores in the capital to label Russian-imported goods with additional markings to warn consumers they could be supporting the “aggressor” by buying the products, media reports said.
According to the ruling approved by the city’s legislature, Russian made-goods will also have to be displayed on separate shelves to Ukrainian goods, the UNIAN news agency reported Thursday.
The purpose of the move, which comes after similar steps were taken by local administrations in Lviv, Ivano Frankivsk and Cherkasy, is “so that people don’t support the aggressor,” Kiev lawmaker Ruslan Andriyko was quoted as saying by RBC-Ukraine.
“Every kopek paid for a product that was manufactured in Russia is also a kopek that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin uses for weapons, which will be aimed against our boys, against us, against our state in eastern Ukraine,” UNIAN quoted Andriyko as saying.
Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of aiding separatists in the east of Ukraine, where fighting has raged for several months between pro-Russian rebels and the pro-Western government’s forces, though Moscow has denied the charges.