Tag Archives: Moscow

#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.

Nadiya Savchenko: Yanukovych fell, so will Putin #Savchenko #Putin #Russia


Halya Coynash.Nadiya SavchenkoNadiya Savchenko

Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian officer held in a Russian SIZO or pre-trial detention centre since her capture by Kremlin-backed militants and abducted to Russia is to face a forced psychiatric examination in the notorious Serbsky Institute in Moscow. In a statement passed to her lawyer, Savchenko has condemned the psychiatric examination as illegal and said that she will be refusing to give any testimony, answer any questions etc.

She clearly states that she “was illegally abducted from Ukraine, unlawfully brought to the Russian Federation and is being held here illegally. She considers the psychiatric examination to be carried out on her unlawful. She is therefore refusing to speak with the clinic staff; to give any kind of testimony; to answer any questions in writing or verbally; to fill in any forms or undergo any tests.

The Serbsky Institute gained notoriety in Soviet times for its application of punitive psychiatry and the fact that Savchenko is being placed there for a month is of grave concern. She herself categorically prohibits the use against her of any psychological or physical pressure; any substances added to food, injected or placed in her bed linen that has a psychological or physical effect

At the court hearing on Aug 27, Savchenko’s detention was again extended until Oct 30. This was the first occasion that she was brought to the courtroom, though kept enclosed in a glass cubicle.

As on all previous occasions Nadiya Savchenko demonstrated her courage and refusal to be cowered. She rejected any involvement in the death of Russian journalists and said that she did not understand what connection the Russian investigators and court had to events in Ukraine.

She also told the court: “You have no justice, you have no law. Thank God Yanukovych has gone. I will hope that Putin will also soon go.”

Savchenko was taken prisoner in the Luhansk oblast by militants from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic on June 17 or 18. Two days later a video appeared of her being interrogated by the militants. She demonstrated courage during the interrogation and refused to provide the information the militants demanded.

On July 2 a Russian court remanded her in custody until August 30. Russia’s Investigative Committee announced on July 9 that charges had been laid against Savchenko for alleged “complicity in the group killing of two or more people carrying out official activities in a publicly hazardous manner for motives of political hatred”.

The investigators claim that in June, as a member of the Aidar Battalion, Savchenko found out the whereabouts of a group of TV Rossiya journalists and other civilians outside Luhansk, and passed these to fighters who carried out a mortar attack which killed TV Rossiya employees Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin.

They also assert that Savchenko crossed the Russian border, without any documents, pretending to be a refugee. They allege that she was initially detained to establish her identity.

This story is totally denied by Savchenko who says she was forcibly taken across the border with a bag over her head and in handcuffs. The Russian investigators’ version is also wildly implausible. More details about the holes in the case, and the use of Russian TV to try to conceal them here.

Russia has effectively abducted five Ukrainian nationals and is holding another in custody on highly suspect grounds. Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirny are all from the Crimea and all actively opposed Russia’s annexation of their homeland. They were arrested at different times in May and after interrogation allegedly with the use of torture were taken to Moscow where they are facing positively far-fetched ‘terrorist’ charges. Chirny has also been subjected to a Serbsky Institute ‘examination’ and the NGO Open Dialogue has expressed concern that he could be the victim of punitive psychiatry. Yury Yatsenko, a final law student from Lviv has been held in custody, supposedly awaiting deportation since May. A couple of weeks ago, the Russian authorities suddenly charged him with equally dubious charges of ‘smuggling explosives’.

Halya Coynash

Information about the court hearing and Nadiya Savchenko’s statement from Hromadskie.tv


Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

Arm Ukraine If You’re Ready to Fight for It #NATO #Ukraine #Russia


Marc Champion.Ukrainian volunteer battalion DniproA member of Ukrainian volunteer battalion Dnipro holds his weapon though a hole in a truck covered in steel plates near the small southern Ukrainian city of Novoazovsk, Donetsk region, on Aug. 27, 2014. © AFP

Should the North Atlantic Treaty Organization start arming Ukraine? That’s an inevitable question following the entry of regular Russian troops, tanks and artillery into the fight there.

The answer was self-evident to a number of Ukrainians (and liberal Russians) at a conference this week in Salzburg, Austria: Of course NATO should send arms. Not only is it fair — the U.S. and European powers signed a security guarantee for Ukraine in 1994 in exchange for the government in Kiev giving up its large nuclear arsenal — it would also be proportionate to the threat.

Andrei Illarionov, a former chief economic adviser to President Vladimir Putin and now among his fiercest critics, described how the parliament in Moscow has passed legislation to enshrine Putin’s vision of a new “Russian World” stretching from the middle of Ukraine to northern Kazakhstan. To help realize this post-imperial dream, Moscow asserts the right to intervene militarily on behalf of Russian speakers in its near abroad. “The only result can be war,” he said.

Each Russian military success would breed further appetite while attracting admirers of the Putin style. Already, Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orban, has begun to talk about the appeal of Putin’s authoritarian approach compared with the perceived weakness and decline of liberal democracies.

I’m not so sure. The U.S. and Europe have made it clear that they will not go to war with Russia — a nuclear superpower — to defend Ukraine’s borders. That may not be fair, but it is rational. And no matter how many weapons the U.S. and European allies supply to Ukraine, Russia will deploy more of them, wielded by better trained troops.

The logical progression of a NATO armament program for Ukraine is broader conflict. Putin would proceed, knowing that, in the end, Ukraine’s allies would not have its back. The calculation could change if Putin decides to push his military deeper into Ukraine — realizing fears of a wider conflict while heightening the security concerns of nearby Poland. For now, however, a formal arms program seems unwise.

Absent a willingness to go to war on the part of NATO, the most potent weapons against Putin’s adventurism are economic, and long-term. Genuine, sectorwide economic sanctions that tip Russia’s economy into a deep recession may make him rethink how far he wants to go in Ukraine, or whether to repeat such belligerence elsewhere. A clear signal that Russia’s wider security would suffer may also have an impact. For example, before this year, there was minimal popular support for the idea of joining NATO in Ukraine and zero interest in pushing that idea within the alliance. A guarantee not to join the alliance could be part of any settlement, but membership can also return to the agenda if Putin continues. Similarly, nonmembers Finland and Sweden decided this month to sign a pact with NATO that will make it easier for alliance forces to deploy on their territory. None of these developments are welcome for the Kremlin.

The NATO summit next week looks set to facilitate some important decisions. For example, what level of forces should rotate “persistently” through planned logistics bases in Poland and the Baltic States? (Answer: a lot.) NATO must also decide how much money to put into four proposed trust funds dedicated to helping Ukraine cover the costs of military training, cyber-defense, logistics and other needs. (Same answer: a lot.) The U.S. and Europe should give Putin every possible signal that they are prepared to ensure Ukraine’s survival as a state, short of war.

If Illarionov and other alarmists who compare Putin’s Russia to Germany in the late 1930s prove right (and me wrong), not even war can be ruled out. For now, though, it’s up to Putin to decide how far he wants to go in triggering a new Cold War, and at what cost.

(To contact the author of this article: Marc Champion at mchampion7@bloomberg.net).

(To contact the editor of this article: Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net).


Bloomberg View.

Russian-backed rebels aim to push west along coast #RussiainvadedUkraine


PETER LEONARD and JUERGEN BAETZ
A local resident passes by camouflaged pro-Russian tank in the town of Novoazovsk, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. In Novoazovsk, pro Russian rebel fighters looked to be in firm control, well-equipped and relaxed. At least half a dozen tanks were seen on roads around the town, although the total number at the rebels’ disposal is believed to be much greater. Novoazovsk fell swiftly to the rebels Wednesday after being pounded by shelling.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)A local resident passes by camouflaged pro-Russian tank in the town of Novoazovsk, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. In Novoazovsk, pro Russian rebel fighters looked to be in firm control, well-equipped and relaxed. At least half a dozen tanks were seen on roads around the town, although the total number at the rebels’ disposal is believed to be much greater. Novoazovsk fell swiftly to the rebels Wednesday after being pounded by shelling.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits).

NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine (AP) — Their tanks bearing the flag of their would-be state, Russian-backed separatists held control Friday over this coastal town on the new front in the Ukraine conflict and announced their intention to keep pushing west toward a major port city.

None of the half-dozen tanks seen by Associated Press reporters in the town of about 12,000 people bore Russian markings, but the packaging on their field rations said they were issued by the Russian army.

The Ukrainian government the day before accused Russia of sending tanks, artillery and troops across the border, and NATO estimated at least 1,000 Russian troops were in Ukraine.

As tensions rose, European Union foreign ministers called for heavier sanctions against Moscow ahead of Saturday’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was invited to address the summit.

Captured Ukrainian border guards sit in a garage at the Novoazovsk border crossing point, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. At Novoazovsk, rebel fighters looked to be in firm control, well-equipped and relaxed. At least half a dozen tanks were seen on roads around the town, although the total number at the rebels’ disposal is believed to be much greater. Novoazovsk fell swiftly to the rebels Wednesday after being pounded by shelling.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)Captured Ukrainian border guards sit in a garage at the Novoazovsk border crossing point, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. At Novoazovsk, rebel fighters looked to be in firm control, well-equipped and relaxed. At least half a dozen tanks were seen on roads around the town, although the total number at the rebels’ disposal is believed to be much greater. Novoazovsk fell swiftly to the rebels Wednesday after being pounded by shelling.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

The rebels denied they are getting Russian military vehicles.

“We are fighting with the machinery the (Ukrainian forces) abandon. They just dump it and flee,” said a rebel commander who identified himself by the nom de guerre Frantsuz, or the Frenchman.

Although such claims of using only confiscated Ukrainian equipment are common, top rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko himself has said Russia was supplying equipment and fighters — something Moscow has steadfastly denied doing.

“Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday. “This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.”

A spokesman for the rebels in Novoazovsk, who identified himself only as Alexander, said their plan was to push westward to the major port city of Mariupol, about 35 kilometers (20 miles) away.

A pro-Russian rebel listens to the news on a transistor radio in the town of Novoazovsk, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. In Novoazovsk, pro Russian rebel fighters looked to be in firm control, well-equipped and relaxed. At least half a dozen tanks were seen on roads around the town, although the total number at the rebels’ disposal is believed to be much greater. Novoazovsk fell swiftly to the rebels Wednesday after being pounded by shelling.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)A pro-Russian rebel listens to the news on a transistor radio in the town of Novoazovsk, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. In Novoazovsk, pro Russian rebel fighters looked to be in firm control, well-equipped and relaxed. At least half a dozen tanks were seen on roads around the town, although the total number at the rebels’ disposal is believed to be much greater. Novoazovsk fell swiftly to the rebels Wednesday after being pounded by shelling.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

There was no sign of imminent movement on Friday, but Alexander’s statement underlined fears that the rebels’ eventual aim is to establish a land bridge between the Russian mainland and the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia earlier this year.

Speaking at a Kremlin-organized youth camp on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin likened the Ukrainian government’s efforts to put down the separatist uprising to the Nazi siege of Leningrad in 1941-44.

The Leningrad comparison is a powerful one for Russians and clearly aimed at portraying the Ukraine conflict in stark, good-versus-evil terms. The 872-day siege, in which at least 670,000 civilians died, is seen by many Russians as one of the most heroic chapters in the country’s history.

To stop the bloodshed, the Kiev government should open talks with the rebels, Putin said.

The death toll in the fighting reached nearly 2,600 as of Wednesday, said Ivan Simonovic, U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights. He described the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine as “alarming,” with people unable to leave cities caught up in the fighting.

The U.N. human rights office on Friday accused both sides of deliberately targeting civilians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with participants in the youth educational forum at the Seliger youth camp near Lake Seliger, some 450 kilometres (281 miles) northwest of Moscow, in Tver region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday called on pro-Russian separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with participants in the youth educational forum at the Seliger youth camp near Lake Seliger, some 450 kilometres (281 miles) northwest of Moscow, in Tver region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Friday called on pro-Russian separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

The separatists have carried out murders, torture and abductions along with other serious human rights abuses, while Ukraine’s military is guilty of such acts as arbitrary detentions, disappearances and torture, the organization said in a report.

At a meeting in Milan, several EU foreign ministers accused Russia of invading eastern Ukraine and said Moscow should be punished with additional sanctions. The diplomats were expected to draw up measures that could put before the EU heads of state on Saturday.

The head of the EU’s executive Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, warned Putin that further destabilization of Ukraine “will carry high costs.”

Putin called on the separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine. He appeared to be referring to soldiers trapped outside the town of Ilovaysk, east of Donetsk, for nearly a week.

A camouflaged pro-Russian tank seen in the town of Novoazovsk, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. In Novoazovsk, pro Russian rebel fighters looked to be in firm control, well-equipped and relaxed. At least half a dozen tanks were seen on roads around the town, although the total number at the rebels’ disposal is believed to be much greater. Novoazovsk fell swiftly to the rebels Wednesday after being pounded by shelling.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)A camouflaged pro-Russian tank seen in the town of Novoazovsk, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. In Novoazovsk, pro Russian rebel fighters looked to be in firm control, well-equipped and relaxed. At least half a dozen tanks were seen on roads around the town, although the total number at the rebels’ disposal is believed to be much greater. Novoazovsk fell swiftly to the rebels Wednesday after being pounded by shelling.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Zakharchenko, the rebel leader, said the Ukrainian troops would have to lay down their arms before they would be allowed to go “so that this weaponry and ammunition will not be used against us in future.”

A spokesman for Ukraine’s national security council, Col. Andriy Lysenko, rejected the demand: “Ukraine is not ready to surrender arms and kneel in front of the aggressor.”

Ukraine, meanwhile, got a boost from the International Monetary Fund, which said Friday it had approved payment of a $1.39 billion aid installment as part of a financial support package. The sum brings the total that has been paid out to $4.51 billion, out of $16.67 billion due over two years.

For the second day, Russian markets reacted nervously to the escalation of the conflict, with the Russian ruble sliding to the all-time low of 37.10 rubles against the dollar in early morning trading. It recovered later to 36.90 rubles.

(Juergen Baetz reported from Milan. Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Jim Heintz in Kiev, and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed reporting).


Associated Press.

Don’t mess with nuclear Russia, Putin says #RussiainvadedUkraine #NuclearRussia


BY ALEXEI ANISHCHUKPutin's Nuclear Threat

LAKE SELIGER, Russia – President Vladimir Putin said on Aug. 29 Russia’s armed forces, backed by its nuclear arsenal, were ready to meet any aggression, declaring at a pro-Kremlin youth camp that foreign states should understand: “It’s best not to mess with us.”

Putin told the assembly, on the banks of a lake near Moscow, the Russian takeover of Crimea in March was essential to save a largely Russian-speaking population from Ukrainian government violence. He said continued fighting in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists launched an uprising in April, was the result of a refusal by Kiev to negotiate.

Ukraine, and Western governments, accuse Russia of sending troops and armour to back the separatists in a conflict that has already killed over 2,000 people. Russia denies the charge.

“Russia is far from being involved in any large-scale conflicts,” he said at the camp on the banks of Lake Seliger. “We don’t want that and don’t plan on it. But naturally, we should always be ready to repel any aggression towards Russia.

“Russia’s partners…should understand it’s best not to mess with us,” said Putin, dressed casually in a grey sweater and light blue jeans.

“Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.”

Putin spoke easily with the students, many of whom looked to be asking scripted questions about demography and history. Other times he accepted gifts or, smilingly, played down their praise.

When a student said that she had not heard a single negative comment about Putin’s presidency from camp speakers, he responded with a grin that “objectivity” was important.

His tone darkened when speaking on Ukraine, blaming the United States and the European Union for the “unconstitutional” removal of Kiev’s former Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich and replacement with a pro-European government.

He said eastern Ukraine did not agree with Yanukovich’s removal and was now subjected to “crude military force” from government planes, tanks and artillery.

“If those are contemporary European values, then I’m simply disappointed in the highest degree,” he said, comparing Ukraine’s military operations in the east of the country with the Nazi siege of Leningrad in World War Two.

“Small villages and large cities surrounded by the Ukrainian army which is directly hitting residential areas with the aim of destroying the infrastructure… It sadly reminds me of the events of the Second World War, when German fascist… occupiers surrounded our cities.”

(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, Writing by Thomas Grove; editing by Ralph Boulton).


Reuters.