Tag Archives: President Vladimir Putin

As Its Forces Advance, Ukraine Says Poroshenko Will Meet With Putin

Ukrainians approach the border crossing at Donetsk on Tuesday. Credit Alexander Demianchuk/ReutersUkrainians approach the border crossing at Donetsk on Tuesday.CreditAlexander Demianchuk/Reuters

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces pushed deeper into territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels on Aug. 19, fighting street battles in the besieged city of Luhansk and pressuring the outer defenses of Donetsk in a further blow to the separatists’ crumbling virtual state.

While continuing its offensive, the Ukrainian government said it saw a real chance for a peaceful settlement after an announcement that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would meet next Tuesday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro O. Poroshenko and European Union leaders in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

“I come with positive news. I think we have a chance to switch to a real roadmap toward a peaceful process,” Valery Chaly, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, said at a news conference in Kiev.

Previous efforts toward a settlement, which included a meeting of foreign ministers last week in Berlin, have all failed, and even an agreement on when and how a Russian aid convoy could enter Ukraine has proved elusive. The convoy of more than 260 trucks remained stuck on the Russian side of the border, a week after it left Moscow. Ukrainian officials expressed bewilderment over why many of the Russian trucks appeared to be mostly empty if their only purpose was to deliver humanitarian aid.

Despite the repeated diplomatic setbacks, Mr. Chaly said the two countries’ presidents stood a better chance of a breakthrough that could bring an end to the war in eastern Ukraine. Talks have foundered on Russia’s refusal to halt or even acknowledge what Ukraine and its Western supporters say is a steady flow of fighters and military hardware into Ukraine from Russia.

“We all realize that these issues can only be solved at the highest level, at the level of president, especially in the case of Russia,” Mr. Chaly said.

On the ground, fighting raged unabated, with Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, asserting that Ukrainian forces had entered the town of Ilovaysk, about 11 miles east of Donetsk, the rebels’ biggest remaining stronghold in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials also reported fierce street battles in Luhansk, and said 15 bodies had been recovered from a refugee convoy that fled that city on Monday and was then, according to Ukraine, attacked by rebels fighting to regain control of a strategic highway leading south to the Russian border. The rebels denied hitting a caravan of refugees.

The Defense Ministry in Kiev released a video of what it said were survivors of the attack describing how the convoy of vehicles had suddenly come under fire, despite flying white flags. But no photographs or video footage have emerged of the assault.

In Donetsk, which along with Luhansk forms the core of the separatists′ fast-shrinking domain, the rebels struggled to keep control of outlying districts.

Emblematic of the tightening squeeze on the city, an artillery duel broke out Tuesday to the northeast, in Makiivka, as representatives of a rebel Parliament were trying to deliver food to an orphanage for disabled preschool children, called the Special Child Center.

In the blighted industrial area, strewn with the pipes and smokestacks of an aging coking plant, rebels took up position near the orphanage and fired mortars, oblivious to the aid delivery mission. The Ukrainians then fired back.

None of the children were hurt, but in the ensuing shelling at least three people died and the neighborhood was whipped into a panic.

In the chaotic scene, women ran through the leafy courtyard clutching the hands of the children, residents emerged from apartments lugging hastily packed bags, and gunshots and explosions echoed among the apartment buildings. On a street called Fifty Years of The Soviet Union, a dead woman lay on the sidewalk.

“They just bombarded us,” said Stanislav Nosov, a teenager crouching in the stairway to a basement. “If they are shooting here, the battle for Donetsk has begun.”

But whether Ukraine’s final push into the city was really underway was unclear.

A rebel soldier said the Ukrainian Army had not crossed a bridge over a canal that would indicate a ground assault on Donetsk, and that the din of explosions was in fact just a continuation of what in recent weeks has been a regular barrage into the city from Ukrainian positions outside.

The wounded were loaded into cars and ambulances and driven toward the center of town; after a time, the courtyard quieted and the yelling stopped.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has left at least 2,086 dead and more than 5,000 wounded, according to the United Nations. Each side blames the other for the mounting toll.

The fighting around Donetsk and inside Luhansk provided a grim counterpoint to unusually upbeat statements in Kiev about the possibility of a settlement.

“We have a busy and very exciting week ahead,” Mr. Chaly, the presidential administration official said. “We are moving from telephone communication to direct diplomacy.”

Lifted by battlefield gains in recent weeks, the mood in Kiev was lifted further on Tuesday by news that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had accepted an invitation from Mr. Poroshenko to travel to Kiev this weekend, and that the European Union was considering a new round of economic assistance. Ms. Merkel’s visit to Kiev will be her first since a popular uprising toppled the previous president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, in February and set off a revolt by pro-Russian separatists.

“We see this visit as a demonstration of solidarity at a very important time and a very important place,” Mr. Chaly said.

(Andrew Higgins reported from Kiev and Andrew E. Kramer from Donetsk, Ukraine. Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin).

The New York Times.

#Russia May Ban Car Imports If West Imposes New #Sanctions, Sources Say

By Reuters.Ilya Naymushin / ReutersRussian mechanics work on an Arctic Trucks all-terrain vehicle, based on the Lexus LX570 car, at an assembly shop of the Arctic Trucks Russia plant in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.

Russia may tighten retaliatory sanctions against Western nations to include a ban on imports of cars, among other things, if the U.S. and the EU impose additional sanctions on Moscow, business daily Vedomosti said Monday.

Following Russia’s standoff over Ukraine, Western nations imposed sanctions on Moscow including on its financial and energy sectors, and put dozens of Russians close to President Vladimir Putin on a sanctions list.

Imported vehicles accounted for 27 percent of sales of passenger cars in the first half of 2014, for trucks imports accounted for 46 percent, and 13 percent for buses, according to Vedomosti.

Russia, which denies allegations it is arming separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, may fully or partly ban imports of cars, Vedomosti reported, citing sources.

The new ban would not apply to foreign automakers’ production inside Russia, the paper said. Ford, Volkswagen, Ford Renault, Toyota and Hyundai Motor Co all have production facilities inside Russia.

The paper added that proposals for new measures had already been sent to Putin for consideration but that no decision had been taken to prepare any new sanctions yet.

New trade restrictions are possible in the event Western nations impose additional sanctions on Moscow, the paper added.

Russia has imposed a ban on certain agricultural imports from the European Union, the United States, Australia, Canada and Norway.

It has also said the government could introduce protective measures in aircraft, shipbuilding and automotive industries

The Moscow Times.

Editors Note: Is it just me or do you also think that Putin is digging his own grave? Russia’s sanctions on the west may cause a little sting to the wests economies but it is the russian people who will suffer the most, empty supermarket shelves, food shortages and now automobiles. The west on the otherhand are targeting Putin’s cronies where it hurts them most, in their wallets.

#Russia Pines for the 19th Century

Sergei Porter / Vedomosti

Speaking at the opening of a World War I memorial in Moscow earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin noted that victory in that war had been stolen from Russia.

Indeed, after the war, Russia stood to get Galicia and parts of eastern Prussia, effectively restoring rule over Poland. Moreover, France and Britain had agreed that Russia should fulfill its age-old imperial ambition by taking over the Bosporus, along with swaths of land on both banks, and gain the biggest prize of all, Tsargrad (Istanbul).

All that evaporated, however, when Lenin declared “peace without annexations” and took Russia out of the war. In his speech, Putin decried the missed territorial gains as a “betrayal of their own national interests” by the Bolsheviks.

But actually, the Bolsheviks did far more damage to Russia’s national interests by taking it out of the modern capitalist system, in which on the eve of World War I Russia had been poised to make significant gains.

In fact, all the preconditions were in place for Russia to overtake the United States and Germany as the world’s largest economy and most prosperous country. By far the largest country in the world, it had just began settling and exploring Siberia with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Russia was the breadbasket of Europe, and its grain exporters helped develop early hedging instruments on the London financial markets. It had vast natural resources feeding its growing industry in the west of the country and in the Urals. Two of the first 10 recipients of the Nobel Prize for medicine were Russians; no Russian has won it since. Russia’s educational system, put in place under Nicholas I, was excellent, albeit narrowly based. Still, literacy was spreading: It went from 28 percent in 1897 to 40 percent in 1913, with the urban population already mostly literate.

But in the name of progress, the Bolsheviks not only killed off or expelled the best and the brightest from the country, but threw Russia into some kind of a warped version of the past.

They replaced money, the driving force of capitalism, with loyalty to communist ideals, individual initiative with collectivism, competition with rigid planning, information with lies and openness with the Iron Curtain. Elections were faked and general secretaries ruled for life, much like the monarchs of old. As though to underscore the neo-feudal nature of communism, the Soviet Union was stuck with a vast land empire even as other empires crumbled.

By the end of the last century, instead of being the world’s richest nation, as it had looked set to become in 1913, Russia was one of the poorest and least developed in Europe. Finally, communism failed and the Soviet Union collapsed. Russia no doubt would have lost all the territories it could have won in World War I.

In the 1990s, Russia got a chance to rejoin the capitalist system. Instead, sky-high oil prices allowed it to coast without developing modern economic and political institutions. It never really left communism behind and now it is veering back to the past once more. It is pining away for the empire, seizing territory and even, in the words of Duma vice speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, itching to declare Vladimir Putin a kind of emperor.

And so, despite Putin’s praise for pre-Soviet Russia, the country looks set once again to embark on a road to nowhere.

(Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, lives in New York. His detective novel “Murder at the Dacha” was published by Russian Life Books in 2013).

The Moscow Times.

Russia may ask rich to help foot bill for Crimea with ‘solidarity tax’

People enjoy the sun by the seaside on a beach some 40 km of the Crimean capital Simferopol, on June 29, 2014.  © AFPPeople enjoy the sun by the seaside on a beach some 40 km of the Crimean capital Simferopol, on June 29, 2014. © AFP

(Reuters) – Russia could ask its richest citizens to help foot the bill for the annexation of Crimea by paying a “solidarity tax” proposed by a group of lawmakers.

Deputies from the State Duma lower house of parliament, which is dominated by backers of President Vladimir Putin, have drawn up a draft law that would increase income tax for people earning more than more than 1 million roubles ($28,700) a month.

It would affect less than 2 percent of the working population but the amounts could be huge for some individuals because the draft proposes they pay up to 30 percent of their earnings compared to the current flat rate of 13 percent.

“The main goal is to support regional budgets and that means also the budget of Russia’s new territories,” Andrei Krutov, the deputy leading the planned legislation, told Reuters.

His reference to the “new territories” made clear that a key intention was to help the government pay for Crimea’s absorption into Russia.

The Black Sea peninsula was annexed in March, an action seen by most Russians as righting what they considered a historical wrong by late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who gifted Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, long before the Soviet Union collapsed.

The need to help support Crimea’s economy and its 2.3 million population has put a new strain on Russia’s federal budget at a time when the country is sliding towards recession.

Some state employees say they have already been asked to donate a day’s pay to help Crimea – a demand some have balked at.

The Finance Ministry has also suggested personal income tax may have to be increased by 1-2 percent to help cover the costs and the government had already heard calls for Russia to introduce a progressive taxation mechanism.

Krutov said the draft law could be a step in that direction and played down the impact on society.

“The social burden would be minimal and the influx of cash to the budget would be significant,” Krutov said. “The economic reality and international experience increasingly show that progressive taxation is a step that Russia needs to make in the near future.”

He said the draft could go to a vote in the autumn and, if approved, could bring in 300 billion to 500 billion roubles ($8.6 billion to $14.30 billion) a year.

The small group of Russia’s rich accounts for more than a third of total personal income in the country, according to data from Federal Tax Service.

Criticism of the proposal has so far been muted – critics would risk sounding unpatriotic and uncharitable as the annexation of Crimea is widely supported and has boosted Putin’s ratings.

But an instant online poll by Snob magazine, which is aimed at the wealthy, showed 66 percent of respondents did not support the idea of a solidarity tax.


The Flight MH17 disaster creates a dilemma for Putin over backing of Ukraine’s rebels

Malaysia Airlines crash makes supplying arms to separatists a threat to the world but pulling the plug means defeat for Russia.

President Vladimir Putin. 'Russian public opinion is going off [separatism] and support inside Ukraine is less than thought,' said an analyst. Photo: Sasha Mordovets/GettyPresident Vladimir Putin. ‘Russian public opinion is going off [separatism] and support inside Ukraine is less than thought,’ said an analyst. Photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 has confronted Vladimir Putin with a dilemma he had sought to avoid: to continue to support the separatist insurgency in Ukraine in the face of a storm of international outrage, or cut the rebels off and allow them to be defeated by the government in Kiev.

Until the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile on Thursday, killing nearly 300 people, the Russian president had tried to hedge his bets according to circumstances on the battlefield and western pressure. He moved troops and tanks away from the border after the Ukrainian presidential elections in May, but moved them back in recent weeks.

Similarly, he initially appeared to distance himself from the rebels until Ukrainian forces under the newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko, made significant gains in the east, triggering a new supply of Russian equipment over the border, including anti-aircraft missiles.

The MH17 disaster forces his hand. Anything he does now will attract much more scrutiny. Arms shipments across the very porous Ukrainian border, which had until now been a threat to the Ukrainian armed forces, will henceforward be seen as a direct threat to the international community and a trigger for global outrage. But pulling the plug on the separatists would leave them vulnerable to Ukrainian forces, which can be expected to seize the opportunity to crush the revolt, handing a strategic defeat to Putin.

The early pointers suggest he is hesitating between the two options. While Russian media quickly accused Ukraine of shooting down the plane – even floating a theory that Kiev thought it was targeting Putin’s own plane – neither the president nor his top officials have followed that line explicitly.

In the fullest exposition of the Russian position so far, the country’s envoy to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, blamed the tragedy on the Ukrainian conflict in general, and Kiev and its western backers for stoking of the conflict. Churkin also questioned why Ukrainian air traffic controllers had allowed the Malaysian plane to fly over eastern Ukrainian airspace, but did not address direct responsibility for the shooting down itself. With a wealth of details emerging from the region building a compelling case against the separatists, the Kremlin has kept its powder dry. The foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, followed suit, telling Rossiya 24 TV channel: “The tragedy may sober up those who give up obligations over the political process.” He also stopped short of assigning immediate blame. Putin himself called for a new peace initiative.

It is likely that this initial demurral is intended to buy time so the international response can be measured before Putin makes a strategic choice.

It is already clear from Friday’s UN security council meeting that if the rebels are found to have carried out the outrage with a Russian weapon, Moscow will find itself more isolated than at any time in its recent history. Nobody around the council table spoke up in support of Churkin.

The concerted western response is to build the circumstantial case against the Russian-backed separatists while awaiting an international inquiry. If that investigation confirms the early suspicions, one western option would be to declare the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) a terrorist organisation, said Ben Judah, the author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin.

“Putin’s greatest worry is that [the US] Congress will deem the DNR a terrorist organisation, responsible for the worst attack on a civilian airliner since 9/11, which would make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.

“He will do anything possible to avoid that wrath, while not admitting anything,” Judah said.

“Meanwhile, this is a huge failure for GRU [Russian military intelligence], the FSB [the secret police] and the special forces. What kind of people are not capable of distinguishing a Malaysian airliner in the sky? It would not be surprising if the people involved were drunk. So heads will likely roll in the security forces.”

Stephen Sestanovich, a former US ambassador to Moscow now at Columbia University, said that Putin’s past behaviour made it difficult to predict which path he would take.

“This is the problem with Putin mind-reading,” he said, adding that Putin had alternated between prudent and reckless behaviour.

“Even before the shoot-down there were some signs of diminished Russian enthusiasm for the whole project. Russian public opinion is going off it and support for separatism inside Ukraine is less than originally thought. But Russia kept the supply of weapons going,” Sestanovich said.

“You would think that this disastrous result would wake up Russian officials and make them see this was even more of a loser than they thought. But Putin doesn’t like to be put in a corner. He’s very humiliation-conscious,”he said, “and doesn’t like to feel he’s backed down.”

The Guardian.