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Neil Buckley reporting,
Russian president Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the US of undermining the post-Cold War world order, warning that without efforts to establish a new system of global governance the world could collapse into anarchy and chaos.
In one of his most anti-US speeches in 15 years as Russia’s most powerful politician, Mr Putin insisted allegations that its annexation of Crimea showed that it was trying to rebuild the Soviet empire were “groundless”. Russia had no intention of encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbours, he insisted.
Instead, the Russian leader blamed the US for triggering both Crimea’s breakaway from Ukraine and thousands of deaths in the war in the east of the country, by backing what Mr Putin called an armed coup against former president Viktor Yanukovich in February.
“We didn’t start this,” Mr Putin said. Citing a string of US-led military interventions from Kosovo to Libya, he insisted the US had declared itself victor when the Cold War ended and “decided to … reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests”.
“This is the way the nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune – in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely … I think they have committed many follies,” he told a conference of foreign academics and journalists at an Olympic ski venue near Sochi.
The speech was one of Mr Putin’s most important foreign policy statements since he surprised the west in Munich in 2007 by accusing the US of “overstepping its boundaries in every way” and creating new dividing lines in Europe.
Some commentators speculated that it reflected Moscow’s fury after US President Barack Obama recently ranked Russia alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, and the Ebola virus among the top three global threats. But his tone surprised even supporters.
“Very tough about the US, first time so [tough],” tweeted Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the ardently pro-Kremlin RT television channel. “Our answer to B Obama.”
Mr Putin signalled he believed the US and Russia should draw a line under recent events and sit down with other big economies to redesign the system of global governance along “multipolar” lines.
While he conceded this could be a lengthy and gruelling task, Mr Putin warned the alternative could be serious conflicts involving major countries. He also evoked the danger of a new Cold War-type stand-off, saying existing arms control treaties risked being violated.
Any effort to bring the two countries together for talks, however, could be complicated by the west’s insistence that Russia’s annexation of Crimea is an illegal occupation, and by Moscow’s anger over resulting EU and US sanctions.
Mr Putin said the sanctions undermined world trade rules and globalisation, but said Russia was a strong country that could weather the measures, and would not “beg” to get them lifted.
The Russian president suggested the UN could be “adapted to new realities”, while regional “pillars” of a new system, such as Russia’s own planned Eurasian Union of ex-Soviet states, could help enhance security.
But he insisted such moves were only necessary since the US had ridden roughshod over existing rules – for example when it invaded Iraq without UN Security Council backing.
“If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances … got in the way of [US] aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition,” he said.
The strength of Mr Putin’s language also took US listeners aback. Addressing a question to the president after his speech, Toby Gati, a former White House official under President Bill Clinton, said she “did not recognise” as her own country the one the Russian president claimed to be describing.
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.
Irakly Alasania added that country will never bow to the Russians … to a ‘dictate’ from Russia on what is better for Georgia.
Georgia will defy any Russian pressure not to host a NATO training centre on its territory or to strengthen its ties with the West, according to the country’s Defense Minister.
Defense Minister says Georgia needs stability to develop the economy.
Pope Francis meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private audience at the Vatican, on Nov. 25, 2013. © AFP PHOTO POOL / CLAUDIO PERI
Thomas L. Friedman, OP-ED COLUMNIST
Reading the papers these days I find that the two world leaders who stir the most passion in me are Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.
One is everything you’d want in a leader, the other everything you wouldn’t want. One holds sway over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the other over nine time zones. One keeps surprising us with his capacity for empathy, the other by how much he has become a first-class jerk and thug. But neither can be ignored and both have an outsized influence on the world today.
First, the pope. At a time when so many leaders around the world are looking to promote their political fortunes by exploiting grievances and fault lines, we have a pope asking his flock to do something hard, something outside their comfort zone, pushing them to be more inclusive of gays and divorced people.
Yes, Francis was rebuffed by conservative bishops at a recent Vatican synod when he asked them to embrace the notion that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” adding, “are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?”
But, as an editorial in this paper noted: “The very fact that Francis ordered church leaders to address these challenges seems a landmark in Vatican history.” The pope asked that rejected language be published for all to see, while also cautioning against “hostile inflexibility — that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God.”
“Hostile inflexibility?” Whose leadership does that describe? Look at Putin’s recent behavior: His military was indirectly involved in downing a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine and his K.G.B. has not only been trying to take a bite out of Ukraine but is nibbling on Estonia, Georgia and Moldova, all under the guise of protecting “Russian speakers.”
I opposed NATO expansion because I believed that there are few global problems that we can solve without the help of Russia. By expanding NATO at the end of the Cold War, when Russia was weak, we helped to cultivate a politics there that would one day be very receptive to Putin’s message that the West is ganging up on Russia. But, that said, the message is a lie. The West has no intention of bringing Ukraine into NATO. And please raise your hand if you think the European Union plans to invade Russia.
Yet Putin just exploits these fears for two reasons. First, he has a huge chip on his shoulder — no, excuse me; he has a whole lumberyard there — of resentment that Russia is no longer the global power it once was. But rather than make Russia great again by tapping its creative people — empowering them with education, the rule of law and consensual politics to realize their full potential — he has opted for the shortcut of tapping his oil and gas wells and seizing power from his people.
And instead of creating a Russia that is an example to its neighbors, he relies on the brute force that his oil and gas can still buy him. While he rails against NATO, he is really afraid of European Union expansion — that Ukrainians would rather embrace the E.U. market and democracy rules than their historical ties to Russia because they know that through the E.U. they can realize potentials that would never be possible with Russia.
By seizing Crimea and stoking up nationalism, Putin was not protecting Russia from NATO. He was protecting himself from the viruses of E.U. accountability and transparency, which, if they took hold in Ukraine, could spread to Moscow, undermining his kleptocracy.
Normally, I wouldn’t care, but when the world is dividing between zones of order and disorder, and the world of order needs to be collaborating to stem and reverse disorder, the fact that Putin is stoking disorder on Russia’s borders, and not collaborating to promote order in the Middle East, is a real problem. What’s more worrying is that the country he threatens most is Russia. If things go bad there — and its economy is already sagging under Western sanctions — the world of disorder will get a lot bigger.
That is why Putin’s leadership matters, and so does the pope’s. I’m focused on Putin because I think he is making the world a worse place for bad reasons, when he could make a difference in Europe and the Middle East with just an ounce more decency and collaboration. America, too, has plenty to learn from the pope’s humility, but say what you will, we’re still focused on trying to strengthen the global commons, whether by protecting people from jihadists in Iraq or fighting Ebola in Africa. We could do more. Putin needs to do a lot more.
“The best leaders don’t set timid and selfish goals that are easy to meet but instead set bold and inclusive goals that are hard to achieve,” remarked Timothy Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics, who has just written a book on leadership, “Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most.” “We’re all looking for ways to make sense of a world without a center, but we’ll only find that in people who lead with authentic humility and reckless generosity.”
The Swedish minesweeper HMS Kullen is seen in the search for suspected “foreign underwater activity” at Namdo Bay, Stockholm Oct. 21, 2014
Sweden’s military is working on two new observations that could be evidence of suspected “foreign underwater activity” near the country’s capital, a senior naval officer said Tuesday.
Swedish forces have been scouring the sea off Stockholm since Friday, after what the military called three credible reports of activity by foreign submarines or divers using an underwater vehicle.
The vessels were unidentified, but during the 1980s the Swedish navy from time to time hunted suspected Soviet submarines in its waters.
“Today, I can also report that there have been two further observations which were made by members of the public that are interesting enough to require further follow-up work,” Admiral Anders Grenstad told reporters.
He would not give further details about what kind of new sightings had been made, but said they were being assessed and were not yet considered as credible as the three made earlier.
Grenstad said the operation was aimed at gathering intelligence, not military action, and could continue for some time.
“I want to stress again that this is not a U-boat hunting operation which has the aim of bringing down an opponent with military might,” he said.
He also said Sweden had no information as to which country might be behind the suspected intrusion into Swedish waters. But during the 1980s and early ’90s, Sweden’s defense forces regularly played cat and mouse with suspected Soviet submarines in its territorial waters.
Some of the incidents were later reclassified as likely to have been false alarms.
In recent months, Swedish jets have been scrambled to meet Russian planes crossing into the country’s airspace, a pattern repeated in the Baltics where NATO has responded.
Finland has complained that Russia has violated its airspace and that the Russian navy interfered with the operations of a state environmental research vessel in international waters in August and September.
The incidents come as tension between Russian and the West is rising in the region over the conflict in Ukraine. In a joint press conference on Tuesday with the leader of Estonia, Sweden’s prime minister said his country would increase spending on defense.