Tag Archives: Russia

John F. Hall Jr.: When leaders won’t lead in stopping Russia #MH17

John F. Hall Jr. writes: The nearly 300 people killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 were merely victims to Russia's ruthless efforts to tear apart an independent, sovereign nation on its border that seemingly threatened Vladimir Putin's twisted vision for a re-born Soviet Union.  © AFPJohn F. Hall Jr. writes: The nearly 300 people killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 were merely victims to Russia’s ruthless efforts to tear apart an independent, sovereign nation on its border that seemingly threatened Vladimir Putin’s twisted vision for a re-born Soviet Union. © AFP

We’re now nearly one week past the unconscionable execution of nearly 300 innocent souls aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH-17) by Russian-sponsored, Russian-trained, and Russian-armed criminals over the skies of Europe.

Many of those sacrificed to Russian-orchestrated aggression and expansionist goals in Ukraine on MH-17 were genuine humanitarians, selflessly dedicated to eradicating AIDS in the world. All of those lost were innocent men, women, children — even infants — who could have had no argument in Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

They were merely victims to Russia’s ruthless efforts to tear apart an independent, sovereign nation on its border that seemingly threatened Vladimir Putin’s twisted vision for a re-born Soviet Union.   We all know this to be true.

Most of those who were lost in this crime against MH-17 were Europeans, but European leaders have, collectively, collapsed, acquiesced, and done virtually nothing to punish Russia or to call it to account for its role in this heinous crime.

Instead, European leaders are proceeding with state-of-the-art arms sales from Paris to Russia, laundering Russian profits in London, and are forcefully tempering sanctions from Madrid, Rome, and Berlin.

Given the timidity and hypocrisy of the Free World’s response to this crime, Putin might soon reasonably expect a medal from the European Union for his leadership in this crime against humanity, which would be unprecedented, except for the fact that the Soviet Union did the very same thing itself — and behaved with the very same obstructionism and intransigence — 30 years ago, when it deliberately shot-down an unarmed civilian passenger aircraft on September 1, 1983.

History has, regrettably, now repeated itself over the formerly safe skies of Europe.

European leaders, many of whom have just shrugged their shoulders and shamefully handed over the lives of their own citizens to Putin’s aggression, are apparently more intently focused upon gas deliveries, financial windfalls, and arms-sales profits than they are upon the truth or justice in the matter.   At the same time, even the U.S. president is presently busying himself making campaign fundraising speeches, when he should be actively working with his European counterparts, demanding unified, crippling sanctions on Putin’s war-machine.

European and American leaders have apparently chosen not to lead in this crisis, in which Putin has taken the undisputed advantage.   This happened before in 1938, too, with another dictator.  It’s now up to the people of the Free World who put their purported leaders and “servants of the people” in-power to show them how to lead or to lead for them.   In this case, a few truths must be acknowledged, and a few steps must be taken — together, as allies against evil.

First, we must all acknowledge that Vladimr Putin’s criminal stooges in Ukraine are nothing more than Russian mercenaries, societal backwash, and drunkards who are only skilled in smashing ballot boxes, looting local treasuries, and shaking-down the local populace. They’ve done it superbly. They have no acumen for governing, except as a mafia governs.

Second, the reprehensible act of shooting down a commercial civil aircraft over Ukraine was an act perpetrated by Russian-led terrorists in Ukraine.  This is a fact, notwithstanding the wild — and largely absurd — propaganda of Putin’s own skilled disinformation machine in Moscow.   The people of the world, and especially of Europe, must call upon Russia to account, and the ridiculous Russian propaganda must be corrected and challenged with truth.

Third, Putin has now invaded and annexed two lesser, non-threatening, sovereign neighbors in his reign, in Georgia and Ukraine, owing solely to those nations’ efforts to join more closely with European democracies.   In both cases, Europe and the U.S. stood-by on the sidelines, watching Russia consume freedom-loving nations seeking to join with them.   U.S. and European citizens must compel their leadership to acknowledge these facts and embolden their elected leadership to act with resolve to end Putin’s hegemonic ambitions.

Fourth, Russia must be excluded from the Group of 20, as well as any other gathering of civilized nations seeking peaceful and harmonious trade and international relations. Russia is actively seeking conquest in Europe, and it’s now apparently willing to execute hundreds of innocent civilians for this goal, either by its own hand or that of its intoxicated proxies. The Group of 20 is no place for Russia.

Fifth, an immediate arms and financial embargo from the EU is overdue. The European Union’s next “big move” is to punish further Russian aggression by an arms embargo, but they still can’t decide upon it. Why wasn’t that first on Europe’s list of sanctions? It’s not in-effect because too many countries in Europe profit from the sales of arms to Russia and the laundering of illicit profits that Putin is using to destabilize Europe itself. That’s why. European citizens must must demand an end to this. U.S. citizens must likewise demand greater, more meaningful sanctions against Russia. Both the U.S. and Europe must be united in this effort.

Sixth, until Russia returns Crimea and its people to Ukraine, and until all Russian forces and all Russian-sponsored terrorists that have murdered loyal Ukrainians combatting Russian-sponsored invasion and assaults against Ukrainian freedom and independence are either out of Ukraine or behind bars, tough sanctions that will ruin Russia’s ability to wage war upon its peaceful neighbors must remain in place.

Russia unlawfully invaded Ukraine’s Crimea, in clear violation of the guarantees of Ukrainian sovereignty embodied in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which Putin has already gleefully trampled. Putin has likewise happily supported the murder of Ukrainian, Tartar, and other civilian and military people in his imperial Ukrainian gambit.

Putin’s aggression must not be allowed to stand unreversed and unresolved.

When Russia’s people finally prevail upon their corrupt leadership to behave like a responsible member of the international community, then these things can be reconsidered, and Russia can perhaps be reintroduced to the community of responsible nations. Until then, Russia can simply enjoy the company of Iran, Syria, Sudan, Cuba, China, and North Korea — militaristic, brutal, dictatorships with no regard for law, rights, or peace in the modern world.

The blood of the defenders of Ukrainian freedom and democracy — and now the blood of the hundreds of innocents of MH-17 — stains Putin’s hands, yet Putin is laughing at the West’s shameful impotence as he works to dismember Ukraine, solidify his gains in Crimea, the Donbas and Georgia, and to move further westward. Putin has the initiative. The United States and the free democracies of the world are presently doing little more than playing the role of simpering, appeasing Neville Chamberlains. All of this while Putin dictates terms.

When will Europe, whose hundreds of sacrificed citizens on MH-17 are now crying-out for justice, finally stand up?

Does it require Putin’s further invasion of Moldova, Lithuania, or even Poland, on the timeworn Soviet pretext of “protecting Russian-speaking minorities,” before the West finally realizes that they’ve — once again — come to the Soviet game too late?

When will the international community finally call “bullshit” on Putin’s lies and his irrational pretexts for Soviet aggression, and finally demand justice from Putin’s Russia?

John F. Hall is an international lawyer practicing in Washington, D.C. who has traveled to Ukraine.

John F. Hall | Kyiv Post.

UK: Arms export licences for Russia still in place despite claims of arms embargo

David Cameron told MPs on Monday: 'Future military sales from any country in Europe should not be going ahead. We have already stopped them from Britain.' Photograph: Pool/ReutersDavid Cameron told MPs on Monday: ‘Future military sales from any country in Europe should not be going ahead. We have already stopped them from Britain.’ Photograph: Pool/Reuters

More than 200 licences to sell British weapons to Russia, including missile-launching equipment, are still in place despite David Cameron’s claim in the Commons on Monday that the government had imposed an absolute arms embargo against the country, according to a report by a cross-party group of MPs released on Wednesday.

A large number of British weapons and military components which the MPs say are still approved for Russia are contained in a hard-hitting report by four Commons committees scrutinising arms export controls.

Existing arms export licences for Russia cover equipment for launching and controlling missiles, components for military helicopters and surface-launched rockets, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, body armour, and military communications equipment, the committee says. They also include licences for night sites for weapons, components for operating military aircraft in confined spaces, and surface-to-surface missiles.

The MPs demand tighter controls on weapons sales to authoritarian regimes, saying that more than 3,000 export licences for arms worth £12bn were approved for 28 countries cited by the Foreign Office for their poor human rights records. They include Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sri Lanka.

Sir John Stanley, former Conservative defence secretary and chairman of the Commons arms control committees, said there was evidence that appeared to directly contradict the prime minister’s claim that he had already stopped all arms exports to Russia.

Stanley told the Guardian that the prime minister’s statement appeared to be a “major policy change”.

Stanley had already written to Philip Hammond, the new foreign secretary, asking him to explain why, according to official figures given to the MPs, of 285 current licences for Russia, only 34 had been suspended or revoked.

They cover items worth at least £132m but almost certainly significantly more since equipment approved by “open licences” is not counted individually.

Stanley referred to a carefully-worded statement to the Commons by William Hague on 18 March, when the then foreign secretary said the UK would immediately suspend licences just for items “destined for units of the Russian armed forces or other state agencies which could be or are being deployed against Ukraine”.

In the Commons on Monday Cameron told MPs: “Future military sales from any country in Europe should not be going ahead. We have already stopped them from Britain.”

The prime minister added: “On the issue of defence equipment, we already unilaterally said – as did the US – that we would not sell further arms to Russia; we believe other European countries should do the same.”

These statements are at odds with the information given to MPs on his committees, Stanley made clear.

The MPs also say the government “would do well to acknowledge that there is an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights”.

It asks the government to explain why it has approved arms exports to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories including for “anti-riot/ballistic shields”, components for combat vehicles, small arms, sniper rifles, and military communications equipment.

The MPs say they have been unable to complete a report of its detailed scrutiny of government policy since 2004 on the export to Syria of dual-use chemicals that could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons.

They say the government has refused to disclose the names of the companies to whom export licences were granted unless the MPs undertook to take evidence from the companies in private.

They describe the Labour government’s decision to approve five export licences to Syria for chemicals which could be used for weapons between July 2004 and May 2010 as “highly questionable”. The decision of the coalition government to approve two export licences for dual-use chemicals to Syria in January 2012 after the civil war had started in Syria in 2011 “was irresponsible”, the report adds.

It says the most significant change in the government’s policy on arms exports over the past year is the dropping of the wording in the arms sales criteria that: “An export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed … by concern that the goods might be used for internal repression”.

That wording “represents an important safeguard against UK arms exports being used for internal repression” and should be reinstated, the MPs say.

The government “should apply significantly more cautious judgments when considering arms export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes which might be used for internal repression”, the report by the four Commons committees concerned with arms exports – business, defence, foreign affairs and international development – concludes.

On Tuesday night a UK government spokesperson said: “This government has never exported missiles or missile parts to the Russian military. The UK has granted an export licence for the Brazilian navy which enables their vessels to be repaired in 23 countries around the world, including Russia. This covers a wide range of equipment, including components for navy vessel missile launchers but these are exclusively for use by the Brazilian navy and not by Russian forces.”

The spokesperson added: “In March the former foreign secretary announced the suspension of all export licences to the Russian armed forces for any equipment that could be used against Ukraine. This report covers exports in 2013 before the suspension was in place. The majority of export licences that remain in place for Russia are for commercial use but we are keeping all licences under review.”

The spokesperson continued: “We will not a grant a licence where there is a clear risk the equipment might be used for internal repression.”

The Guardian.

#MH17: US intelligence says Russia ‘created conditions’ for plane disaster

US officials stop short of blaming crash directly on Moscow and say separatists likely shot down plane by accident.

Pro-Russia rebels guard the area around the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 during monitoring by investigators. Photograph: Rob Stothard/GettyPro-Russia rebels guard the area around the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 during monitoring by investigators. Photograph: Rob Stothard/Getty.

US intelligence officials accused Moscow of “creating the conditions” that resulted in the death of 298 people aboard the Malaysian Airlines jet shot down last week over a part of Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

But in a partial declassification of US intelligence on Tuesday, officials stopped short of laying the blame for the disaster directly at the door of Russia. The assessment of the US intelligence community is that the separatists shot the plane down by accident.

The newly declassified information largely reaffirmed an account given last Friday by Samantha Power, US ambassador to the United Nations, saying that a missile from an SA-11 anti-aircraft battery in separatist territory shot down the plane.

Officials said training given by Russia to its separatist proxies on air-defense weapons, which they have used in recent weeks to shoot down about a dozen aircraft, was a contributing factor. Ukrainian forces fighting the separatists have yet to fire a surface-to-air missile, intelligence officials said, as their conflict is on the ground.

MH17 shootdown graphic from US intelligence report on the downing of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine. Photograph: US intelligence communityMH17 shootdown graphic from US intelligence report on the downing of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine. Photograph: US intelligence community.

Some of the evidence provided by US intelligence – whose fiscal 2013 budget was $68bn – included Facebook posts. “After it became evident that the plane was a civilian airliner, separatists deleted social media posts boasting about shooting down a plane and possessing a Buk (SA-11) surface-to-air missile system,” a senior intelligence official said in the briefing, held on condition of anonymity. The Guardian was not invited to the briefing, a transcription of which was later made available.

Despite enormous international opprobrium placed on Moscow since the crash, intelligence officials said that they believed Russia continues to arm the separatists. They alleged that rocket launchers, other artillery pieces and tanks have transited through a “training facility” in south-west Russia associated with supplies for the separatists.

While the Guardian cannot independently confirm the allegation, satellite imagery released by US intelligence and dated Monday from the Rostov base seems to depict columns of materiel not present in a photo dated two days earlier.

Images of Russian training facility near Ukraine border, from a US intelligence report on the downing of MH17. Photograph: US intelligence communityImages of Russian training facility near Ukraine border, from a US intelligence report on the downing of MH17. Photograph: US intelligence community.

An account by US intelligence of the Buk missile’s trajectory puts its origin at the town of Snizhne, not far from the Russian border. Images posted on social media from Snizhne seem to depict a mobile Buk system.

A still from the 'social media overview' section of a US intelligence report into the downing of MH17. Photograph: US intelligence communityA still from the ‘social media overview’ section of a US intelligence report into the downing of MH17. Photograph: US intelligence community.

An investigation into the destruction of MH17 has barely got under way. Separatists handed over the flight recorder of the plane to Malaysian authorities late on Monday.

US intelligence officials indicated that their timed release of preliminary information was designed to counter claims from the Russian military they consider obfuscatory.

“We are seeing a full-court press by the Russian government to instruct affiliated or friendly elements to manipulate the media,” an intelligence official said.

On Tuesday, international experts began the process of identifying the bodies of those who died in the disaster, after a train carrying their remains arrived in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Interpol, the international police agency, said one of its teams had begun preliminary identification work on the remains, which will all be flown to the Netherlands this week for fuller identification.

The train, which included three refrigerated wagons, had been loaded by rebels and local emergency workers at Torez station, near the crash site. The rebels said there were 282 bodies and 87 “other fragments” on board and that 16 bodies are yet to be found.

However, on Tuesday night Dutch officials said only 200 bodies had arrived in Kharkiv.

The European Union said on Tuesday that it would expand its sanctions blacklist to target Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and draw up further broad measures including an arms embargo and financial restrictions on Russian businesses.

The Guardian.

BBC News: First #MH17 dead to be flown to Netherlands from Ukraine

An Australian Air Force Boeing C-17 is one of the planes assigned to the task of repatriating the bodiesAn Australian Air Force Boeing C-17 is one of the planes assigned to the task of repatriating the bodies

The first bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines plane which crashed in Ukraine last week are to be flown to the Netherlands for identification.

A day of mourning is being held to mark the occasion, more than five days after the aircraft was downed in a rebel-held area in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile US intelligence officials said they believed pro-Russian rebels had shot down the jet by mistake.

But no direct link to Russia itself had been found, they added.

The plane crashed in a rebel-held area after apparently being hit by a missile on 17 July killing all 298 people on board, most of whom were Dutch.

A refrigerated train carriage carrying around 200 bodies from the crash site arrived in the government-held city of Kharkiv on Tuesday.

The operation to find the remaining bodies and secure crucial evidence continues.

Russia has repeatedly said Ukrainian government forces are to blame for the attack, but the US officials said that Russian claims were “not plausible”.

A majority of those who died were Dutch nationalsA majority of those who died were Dutch nationals

National mourning

The first bodies from flight MH17 are due to arrive in Eindhoven at 16:00 local time (14:00 GMT) after a farewell ceremony attended by Ukrainian officials in Kharkiv.

The Dutch royal family and the prime minister Mark Rutte will meet the plane.

The bodies are then due to be taken to the Korporaal van Oudheusden barracks for identification. Mr Rutte said that process could “take weeks or even months”.

The Dutch government has declared Wednesday a day of national mourning.

In a separate process, the aircrafts flight data recorders have been handed over to Dutch authorities by Malaysian officials.

The devices, also known as ‘black boxes’, will be sent to Farnborough in the UK for analysis.

Analysis: Aleem Maqbool, BBC News, Washington

It’s a briefing by US intelligence officials that’s left many scratching their heads.

Since the crash, officials in Washington have been playing up Russia’s involvement in attacking the plane. Secretary of State John Kerry in particular pointed the finger of blame firmly at Moscow and said evidence would be produced very soon. That’s what was expected.

But while senior intelligence officials said Russia had “created the conditions” for the plane’s shooting down, there was, as yet, NO evidence of the direct involvement of the Russian government. They said that while it’s likely separatists brought down the Malaysian Airlines plane… it was by mistake.

So why would the White House want to wind down rhetoric, in the way it appears to many it has? It could be around the difficult question about what to do with Russia if there IS evidence it was directly involved. It is, after all, a country heavily involved in international diplomatic efforts regarding Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and a country a lot of Europe relies on for its gas.

For the White House, the question of how to put enough pressure on President Putin to stop his country backing rebels and undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, is still, very clearly, a troubling one.

US intelligence officials, speaking anonymously at a press briefing on Tuesday, said the “most plausible explanation” for the shooting down of the plane was that rebels mistook it for another aircraft.

“Five days into it, it does appear to be a mistake,” one of the officials said.

Experts have expressed concern that forensic evidence at the crash site could be lostExperts have expressed concern that forensic evidence at the crash site could be lost.

They went on to say that Russia was responsible for creating the conditions that led to the crash.

“It’s a solid case that it’s a SA-11 that was fired from eastern Ukraine under conditions the Russians helped create,” one official said.

However, there was no direct evidence of direct Russian involvement in the firing of the SA-11 surface-to-air missile believed to have caused the crash, the officials said.

Nor did the US know that the Ukrainian rebels possessed SA-11 missiles until after the plane was shot down, the officials added.

The officials said that their findings were based in part on social media postings and video released in recent days.

Countries directly affected by the disaster, such as the Netherlands, Australia, and the UK, have been concerned that the crash site was not properly sealed off, with the risk that valuable evidence could be put at risk.

Meanwhile, the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and rebels has continued, with reports of fighting round Donetsk and Luhansk.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Tuesday the army had captured the strategically important town of Severodonetsk, located some 140km (87 miles) from the key rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine erupted in April and is believed to have claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Fatal Flight path of flight MH17

BBC News.

EU to widen Russia sanctions #MH17

EU ministers have been meeting in Brussels to discuss tightening sanctions against Russia for backing the rebel separatist fighters blamed for shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane.

There is widespread anger over the plane crash in eastern Ukraine, in which 298 people died.

A statement after the talks said that the EU would prepare “proposals for taking action, including on access to capital markets, defence, dual-use goods, and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector”.

Gavin Hewitt reports from Brussels.