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Russian anti-submarine ship Severomorsk.
A fleet of Russian warships entered the English Channel on Friday but a NATO official dismissed a Russian media report that they were there to conduct military exercises.
Russian news agency RIA quoted the Northern Fleet as saying its vessels, led by anti-submarine ship Severomorsk, had passed through the Strait of Dover and were now in international waters in the Seine Bay to wait for a storm to pass.
“While it is anchored the crew are undertaking a series of exercises on how to tackle infiltrating submarine forces and are training on survival techniques in the case of flooding or fire,” RIA quoted the Northern Fleet as saying in a statement.
The Russian Navy could not reached for comment and the Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report.
France’s navy confirmed the location of the ships and said it was not unusual to have Russian warships in the Channel.
“They are not holding exercises. They’re just waiting in a zone where they can be several times a year,” said the French Navy’s information service.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jay Janzen, NATO’s military spokesman, also said the alliance was aware of the Russian ships’ location.
“Our information indicates that the ships are transiting and have been delayed by weather conditions. They are not exercising in the Channel, as some Russian headlines would have us believe,” he said.
Russia has flexed its military muscle recently, with the NATO military alliance reporting more incursions by Russian fighters and long-range bombers.
The Russian maneuvers followed months of tension over Ukraine, where Moscow has annexed the Crimean peninsula and has supported armed separatists opposed to the Kiev government.
Little Green Men, a nickname for Russian personnel operating in unmarked uniforms that Western military officials gave them after appearance in Crimea. Yevgeny Razumny / Vedomosti.
When Russians crossed the border to fight with rebels in eastern Ukraine earlier this year, Moscow said the soldiers had not been deployed but had gone on their own vacation time.
When Estonia was the victim of a cyber attack in 2007 and blamed Moscow, the Kremlin responded that it could not always control patriotic Russian hackers.
Western strategists who built their defenses to counter a massive invasion, nuclear missiles or terrorism are still trying to work out how to cope with this sort of threat that disrupts and destabilizes from behind a mask of deniability.
After soldiers without insignia took control in Crimea last March, Western military officials developed their own nickname for Russian personnel operating in unmarked uniforms or in plainclothes: Little Green Men.
NATO is considering how to counter such “ambiguous warfare” techniques should President Vladimir Putin try something similar in the Baltic member states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
It has deployed some U.S. and allied tanks and planes there to signal NATO’s commitment to defend all its members with force and is considering bolstering police there, perhaps with officers from Nordic states, to help detect any Russian infiltration.
Effective Russian Strategy
Military experts say Russia’s unconventional strategy on its western flank, especially in non-NATO member Ukraine, is proving remarkably effective, and it has recently been combined with a global show of force on a scale not seen since the Cold War.
Russian warships probed the limits of Australian territorial waters before the G20 summit in Brisbane this month and Moscow said nuclear bomber patrols which have been overflying western Europe would now reach as far as the Gulf of Mexico.
Russia’s underlying point, Western analysts say, is clear: as it reasserts its influence over countries on its borders, it is reminding the West of how cataclysmic the consequences could be if military force were used to stop them.
“Putin is taking the measure of the West’s willingness to keep exerting pressure on Ukraine,” said Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
Many officials and experts say privately that both the West and the government in Kiev ultimately will have to accept greater federalism and a Russian influence in eastern Ukraine.
The issue will then be whether Putin interprets it as a sign of weakness and a green light to consider similar tactics against NATO members like the Baltic states.
Evolving Western Strategy
“It’s not quite a new Cold War, but it’s a very different situation to where we were a few years ago,” said Elbridge Colby, a former Pentagon official and now senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security. “I don’t think we’ve yet formulated a proper strategy for dealing with that.”
The West’s biggest response to Moscow’s actions has been financial sanctions on Russian firms and individuals and the new, if limited, military deployments in eastern Europe. Further measures are now being discussed in NATO meetings.
U.S. Supreme Allied Commander Philip Breedlove makes clear covert infiltration by Russia could draw a military response under Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, which sees an attack on one member as an attack on the alliance as a whole.
“If we see these actions taking place in a NATO nation and we are able to attribute them to an aggressor nation, that is Article 5. Now, it is a military response,” he said in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt earlier this year.
The emphasis for NATO in Europe, home to more than half the world’s atomic weapons, remains detecting any Russian initiatives early and responding firmly to avert any risk of actual war.
“What you have to remember is that there is simply no option for a conventional war with Russia,” said one former official on condition of anonymity. “It is either unconventional like this or it is likely to become something much worse.”
Medical volunteers unpack individual first aid kits similar to those used by NATO during a ceremony where they were donated by Kiev’s Mayor Vitaly Klitschko in Kiev Oct. 31. Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters
Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, The Moscow Times.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Tuesday voiced what Russia wants from the West over Ukraine: guarantees that the former Soviet republic will not join NATO, an outcome that political analysts agree was already unlikely in the year-long conflict that has already claimed 4,000 lives.
“We would like to hear that NATO will stop drawing closer to Russia’s borders, that NATO will stop its attempts to disrupt the balance of power,” Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with the BBC. “Unfortunately, we have not heard these assurances, and that forces us to worry, since NATO is gradually moving closer to our borders.”
Putin cited the threat of further NATO expansion as one of the reasons for annexing Crimea from Ukraine in March, a move that infuriated the international community.
Russia’s distrust of NATO is long-standing. Putin has used many platforms to express his stance on NATO expansion, including the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest.
“A military bloc showing up at our borders would be regarded as a direct security threat,” Putin told reporters at the time. “Assurances that these moves are not aimed against us will not be accepted. National security is not built on promises.”
Ukraine’s current circumstances seem, at first glance, to already constitute a guarantee that it will not join the alliance. The country does not fulfill the alliance’s political, military and economic membership requirements. The current territorial disputes over Crimea and the Donbass also put it at odds with NATO’s charter.
Ukrainian authorities have not kidded themselves about the prospect of membership, recognizing that the country does not fulfill the organization’s criteria and that the alliance would not be willing to accept Ukraine into its fold.
“Even if we sent a request to join NATO, the bloc itself would not be ready for this,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told Bild, a German daily newspaper, on Monday. “Only when we implement reforms in Ukraine and meet the criteria will we be able to ask the population whether they want to join the alliance.”
Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty recognizes an armed attack on a member as an an assault on all of them. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that Russia was orchestrating a military buildup on its border with Ukraine, as well as on Ukrainian territory, after the alliance released satellite images it said showed Russian forces engaging in military operations on Ukrainian territory earlier this year. Had Ukraine been a member of the organization, NATO would have had to go beyond mere statements.
But circumstantial guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO in any foreseeable future are insufficient for Russia, pundits told The Moscow Times.
“Russia feels that it has been lied to by the West in many instances,” said Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies think tank. “It doesn’t want this to happen again, especially on a sensitive issue it said it was once cheated on: NATO eastward expansion. I assume Russia would request an official document with binding obligations.”
Peskov could not be reached Wednesday for clarification of the nature of the guarantee Russia had requested.
Russian authorities have claimed it was agreed during German reunification negotiations in 1990 Russia that NATO would not expand eastward. NATO denies that there was any such agreement and released a statement in April saying that “no evidence to back up Russia’s claims has ever been produced.” In the last 15 years, 12 European countries — including the three Baltic former Soviet republics — have joined the alliance.
Russian pundits agreed it was highly unlikely that Russia would obtain a written guarantee from the West that Ukraine would not join the alliance.
“Russia doesn’t trust NATO, and NATO doesn’t trust Russia,” political scientist Vladimir Yevseyev said. “Nobody trusts anyone else right now. This type of guarantee would increase mutual trust and predictability in these tense circumstances. I would view this as a positive development.”
NATO enlargement is only one of the issues Russia has used to justify its stance on Ukraine, and analysts said a Western guarantee on keeping Ukraine out of the alliance would have no effect on other lingering issues.
“A guarantee on Ukraine not joining NATO would not be enough,” Makarkin said. “It will not improve the situation in the country, nor ease tensions. There are a series of other demands Russia has made of the West regarding Ukraine, including the adoption of a special status for the east of the country. These other issues will not change regardless of any official guarantee against Ukraine joining NATO.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (R) gives a press conference with Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg (L) after talks in Kiev on November 18, 2014. © AFP
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged Russia to restart talks on de-escalation of war in eastern Ukraine. “We are inviting Russia to serious talks in some neutral territory. The United States and European Union countries are helping us in that,” Yatsenyuk said after meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Kyiv.
Yatsenyuk’s remarks came as NATO noted a further buildup of Russian or Russian-led troops both on Ukraine’s territory and across the eastern border in Russia, despite a cease-fire agreement signed in September.
“This is a serious military buildup and we call on Russia to pull back its troops,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was quoted by Reuters as saying.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who visited Kyiv on the same day to meet with the president and the prime minister, also remarked about an increase of tensions in Ukraine, and said the European Commission might arrange an international conference on economic assistance to Ukraine early next year.
“It’s most likely that the European Commission will arrange a special conference early next year to introduce economic stability in Ukraine,” Steinmeier said.
Ukraine’s industrial output declined by 9.4 between January and October, the nation’s statistical agency reported on the same day. Ukraine’s financial needs are estimated to be several fold over the $17 billion earmarked by the International Monetary Fund, and growing amid the Russia-sponsored war.
Russia has consistently denied accusations by western leaders of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, insisting that such accusations are “hot air.”Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the Ukrainian authorities to “immediately enter an all-encompassing internal Ukrainian dialog with participation of all the regions, and fulfillment of the Minsk agreements.”
The Sept. 5 Minsk agreements and follow-up protocol, signed by the Ukrainian authorities, as well as representatives of the Russian Federation, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and separatist leaders from Donetsk and Luhansk regions, laid the foundation for de-escalation of war in the east of Ukraine.
The sides agreed to move troops away from the front line to create a war-free buffer zone between the separatist-controlled parts of the territory and the rest of Ukraine. The central government agreed to give a broader autonomy to the secessionist regions in exchange for a promise to hold local elections there under the Ukrainian law in December.
However, the self-proclaimed governments of Luhansk and Donetsk regions held illegal local elections on Nov. 2, and the central government cut all budget payments to the regions as a result.
Lavrov on Tuesday condemned the move. “Unfortunately, instead of establishing lasting contacts with those who do not accept the result of the military coup, Kyiv took a course towards the social and economic worsening of the east, and threatens to renew the forceful solution of the conflict,” ITAR-TASS agency quoted Lavrov as saying.
A hunger riot in Yenakiyeve, says the caption in this Youtube video.
In the meantime, local media in Luhansk and Donetsk regions reported growing unrest in the regions, where people are running out of both cash and food. Dozens of people in Yenakieve, Donetsk Oblast, came to the mayor to demand social payments and food. Similar incidents have been reported in Torez and Makiyivka.
In Luhansk Oblast, commandant of the town of Chervonopartyzansk told the local site 05366.com.ua that the town no longer reports to the self-proclaimed authorities of the Luhansk People’s Republic.
“We have differences with the leadership of the LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic). We do not report to either them, or Novorossiya,” Denys Ponyzovy was quoted by the website as saying.
The website also noted that at least five townships in Luhansk region are talking about an autonomy and are unhappy with the self-proclaimed Luhansk leadership.
UN Security Council holds emergency meeting after Russia is accused of sending tanks and troops into ex-Soviet state.
Russia has consistently denied it has any military presence in Ukraine. [Reuters]
Last updated: 12 Nov 2014 21:31
The UN Security Council is holding an emergency session to discuss the crisis in Ukraine after NATO accused Russia of sending fresh columns of tanks, troops and military hardware into the former Soviet state.
The NATO accusation came amid growing fears of a return to all-out conflict in the region despite a two-month ceasefire which has stopped much frontline fighting but not shelling at strategic flashpoints.
US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said Russia’s actions in Ukraine were the “root of the problem”.
“If our message sounds familiar it is for a good reason,” she said at the meeting. “The situation has evolved, but the root of the problem remains the same, Russia’s flagrant disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from New York, said the UN representative had described the situation as being “on a knife’s edge”.
“The UN fears two things,” he said. “One being a frozen conflict, the other is that we could return to the situation before the ceasefire agreement in September, and indeed, the UN representative has said the situation is not that different, with it becoming more and more violent by the day.
“It is felt that securing the border with Russia is key to securing the situation in Ukraine right now.”
The emergency meeting comes following statements from NATO’s commander in Europe, US General Philip Breedlove, saying Russian military equipment was entering eastern Ukraine.
“Across the last two days we have seen the same thing that OSCE is reporting. We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops entering into Ukraine,” he said during a visit to Sofia.
That was swiftly dismissed as “unfounded” by Russia’s defence ministry. The Kremlin denies that it is involved in the fighting which has rocked east Ukraine since early April.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said it was not a good time for military action on either side.
“It is not good timing for a military offensive on either side, with winter fast approaching. This influx of military hardware is more intended to keep the status quo and stop the rebels being defeated.
“Fighting is likely to increase but it is unlikely we will see tanks in Kiev come Christmas time.”
Also on Wednesday, Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said Kiev was getting ready for a possible new round of fighting after seeing the “increased activity” by Russia and pro-Moscow rebels in the east.
“The main task I see is to prepare for combat operations. We are doing this, we are readying our reserves,” Poltorak said at the start of a cabinet meeting.
“We observe their movements, we know where they are and we expect unpredictable actions from them.”
He described the situation in the conflict zone as “complicated but stable”.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 4,000 lives since April, according to UN figures.