Category Archives: Ukraine

Putin’s latest Crimean gambit

Adrian Karatnycky writes: Curiously, it took Russia four full days after an alleged attack by Ukrainian special forces in Crimea to make a public statement about the event.

On August 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the airwaves to denounce “tactics of terrorism.” He stated the alleged killings of a soldier and an FSB security agency operative “will not pass idly by,” intimating a Russian military response, and he called on the United States and the European Union to rein in Kiev.

Russian news sources report that a unit of 20 Ukrainian soldiers engaged in the attack on August 6 after their plot to sabotage a Crimean highway was foiled; seven “saboteurs” are reported to have been apprehended. But the delay in reporting the event raises the question of why authorities did not make an effort to inform Crimeans of the potential danger or urge them to be on the lookout for a large number of armed men on the run.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called the accusations a “fantasy that serves as a pretext for the latest round of military threats against Ukraine.” Logic suggests that he is being truthful.

To begin with, it would be foolish for Ukraine to launch a violent attack, given the vast superiority of Russian military power. It would be even more foolish to provoke Russia at a time when its forces are mobilizing for massive military maneuvers along Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea.

Indeed, Ukraine is already on edge over signs of increased Russian military deployments near its eastern border and increased attacks on Ukrainian positions by fighters from the breakaway enclaves of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Last week, Ukraine placed its armed forces on a state of heightened readiness. On Thursday, President Poroshenko ordered these forces to be on “combat alert.” [Continue reading…]


Is Putin preparing a new attack on Ukraine?

Anders Åslund writes: Observers have greatly feared that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would start a small regional war this August. Russia has moved up its State Duma elections to September 18. Although only Putin’s parties are allowed to win, he has a predilection for “small and victorious wars” to mobilize his people.

In 1999, the second war in Chechnya preceded his rise to president. In August 2008, Russia attacked Georgia. In February 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a move that was greatly popular in Russia. Its war in Syria has been an unmitigated success. For the last two years, Russia’s economy has been in recession, giving Putin all the more reason to mobilize his compatriots around a small war.

August is the best time for Moscow’s military action because Western decision-makers are on holidays. The Berlin Wall was initiated in August 1961, the invasion of Czechoslovakia occurred in August 1968, and the Moscow coup took place in August 1991.

The parallels with the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war are striking. That conflict started with the Olympic games in Beijing. The United States president was a lame duck amid the presidential election campaign. Russia was pursuing a large-scale military exercise called Caucasus 2008 in the Northern Caucasus. The Kremlin blamed Georgia for an implausible attack.

A war in August has seemed quite likely for domestic reasons, but where? In the last week, it has become clear that Ukraine will be the target. Major Russian troop movements with hundreds of tanks and heavy artillery to the Donbas and Crimea were reported during the weekend. They were part of a big Russian military exercise named Caucasus 2016. [Continue reading…]


Fears of full-scale war return as casualties mount in Ukraine

RFE/RL reports: Framed by a tiny cutout in the fortified bunker, this particular piece of no-man’s land is tinted a blood-reddish orange by the setting summer sun.

It’s hot as hell, and it’s about to get hotter. When the sun goes down, the guns start blazing. And all that separates the men at their triggers is a grassy patch of land the size of a soccer field that is heavily mined. If you’re a Ukrainian soldier here, you don’t need binoculars to observe the enemy — you just look in his direction.

It starts with a single shot from a Kalashnikov: Ziiip. Then another: Ziiip. And three more: Ziiip. Ziiip. Ziiip. Each shot whizzes dangerously closer. In the time it takes to boil an egg, the situation escalates as the rifles are joined by .50-caliber machine guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades that explode with hollow thuds against the earth or cottages where the soldiers eat and sleep, showering everything with shrapnel. Within an hour, shells from howitzers and tanks — and eventually surface-to-surface Grad missiles, whose name is Russian for “hail” — begin pummeling the scarred steppe.

The “disco,” as the soldiers and the few residents left in this forsaken town call it, is in full effect. The relative calm that dawn brings seems a lifetime away. All are at the mercy of the darkness.

This is eastern Ukraine 28 months after the start of a conflict that once seemed unthinkable, and a year and a half after the signing of a second cease-fire deal, known as Minsk 2, that was supposed to bring lasting peace to this war-torn edge of Europe and reintegrate it with the rest of Ukraine.

But the armistice is unraveling fast as fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists has escalated to levels not seen since more furious phases of the conflict in the Donbas — where the separatists hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions — in 2014 and 2015. Casualties, both civilian and military, are mounting. [Continue reading…]


How Paul Manafort wielded power in Ukraine before advising Donald Trump

The New York Times reports: Few political consultants have had a client fail quite as spectacularly as Paul Manafort’s did in Ukraine in the winter of 2014.

President Viktor F. Yanukovych, who owed his election to, as an American diplomat put it, an “extreme makeover” Mr. Manafort oversaw, bolted the country in the face of violent street protests. He found sanctuary in Russia and never returned, as his patron, President Vladimir V. Putin, proceeded to dismember Ukraine, annexing Crimea and fomenting a war in two other provinces that continues.

Mr. Manafort was undaunted.

Within months of his client’s political demise, he went to work seeking to bring his disgraced party back to power, much as he had Mr. Yanukovych himself nearly a decade earlier. Mr. Manafort has already had some success, with former Yanukovych loyalists — and some Communists — forming a new bloc opposing Ukraine’s struggling pro-Western government.

And now Mr. Manafort has taken on a much larger campaign, seeking to turn Donald J. Trump into a winning presidential candidate.

With Mr. Putin’s Russia, and its interference in Ukraine, becoming a focus of the United States presidential campaign, Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine has come under scrutiny — along with his business dealings with prominent Ukrainian and Russian tycoons.

After disclosures of a breach of the Democratic National Committee’s emails — which American intelligence officials have linked to Russian spies — both men are facing sharp criticism over what is seen as an unusually sympathetic view of Mr. Putin and his policies toward Ukraine. That view has upended decades of party orthodoxy toward Russia, a country that the previous Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, called “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

On Sunday, Mr. Trump even echoed Mr. Putin’s justification of the annexation of Crimea, saying the majority of people in the region wanted to be part of Russia, remarks that were prominently featured on state news channels in Moscow. [Continue reading…]


30 years after Chernobyl disaster, containment nears completion but authorities turn a blind eye to logging

The Washington Post reports: An international effort to seal the destroyed remains of the nuclear reactor that exploded in Ukraine 30 years ago is finally close to completion, and remarkably, considering the political revolution and armed conflict that have rocked the country since 2014, it’s close to being on schedule.

The completion of the New Safe Confinement, often called the “arch,” could contain the radiation from mankind’s worst nuclear catastrophe for a century, says the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which has led the project. But it will also mark a handover to Ukraine’s fractious and underfunded authorities, who are expected to tackle future waste management at their own expense.

That may not reassure Nadiya Makyrevych.

For three decades, she has been living with the consequences of Chernobyl explosion. She can recall that morning in late April 1986, and the small signs that something was wrong in the workers’ town where she lived: the tinny, metallic taste in her mouth. The way her 6-month-old daughter slept so deeply after breast-feeding. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The road through the forest, abandoned, is at times barely discernible, covered with the debris of fallen tree limbs, vines, leaves and moss pushing up through cracks in the crumbling asphalt.

The moss is best avoided, says our guide, Artur N. Kalmykov, a young Ukrainian who has made a hobby of coming here to the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, set aside in perpetuity after the catastrophe in 1986. It can be radioactive, having carried buried radiation to the surface as it grew.

Above all, he says, watch out for windblown dust, which could well be laced with deadly plutonium.

Despite the dangers — which are actually minimal these days, except when the wind is howling — and the risk of arrest, Mr. Kalmykov is at home here. “In Kiev my head is full,” he said. “Here I can relax. I could hang out in Kiev. But this is more interesting.”

What Mr. Kalmykov and fellow unofficial explorers of the Chernobyl zone, members of a peculiar subculture who are in their 20s and call themselves “the stalkers,” have found is more interesting still: vast tracts of clear-cutting in the ostensibly protected forest. [Continue reading…]


Russophobia is a problem of Putin’s own creation

Lucian Kim writes: If Russian officials are to be believed, the reason people worry about what Russia might do next is because they suffer from Russophobia, an irrational fear of all things Russian.

In February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assailed the “fashion of Russophobia in certain capitals” during a visit to Germany. Then Russia’s defense ministry accused General Philip Breedlove of Russophobia. The commander of U.S. forces in Europe had testified that the United States and its allies were “deterring Russia now and preparing to fight and win if necessary” following the Kremlin’s military adventures in Ukraine and Syria.

“Russophobe” has become a convenient label for anyone who disagrees with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behavior at home and abroad. You are not criticizing an authoritarian leader and his erratic policies; you are instead attacking the Russian nation.

Russia’s state media churns out reports on how enemies are tirelessly seeking to isolate the country — when in fact it is Putin’s own actions that are closing off Russia. [Continue reading…]


Questions remain over Russia’s endgame in Syria, Ukraine and Europe


The New York Times reports: The partial truce that Russia and the United States have thrashed out in Syria capped something of a foreign policy trifecta for President Vladimir V. Putin, with the Kremlin strong-arming itself into a pivotal role in the Middle East, Ukraine floundering and the European Union developing cracks like a badly glazed pot.

Beyond what could well be a high point for Mr. Putin, however, lingering questions about Russia’s endgame arise in all three directions.

In Syria, Russia achieved its main goal of shoring up the government of President Bashar al-Assad, long the Kremlin’s foremost Arab ally. Yet its ultimate objectives remain murky, not least navigating a graceful exit from the messy conflict.

In Ukraine, Russia maintains a public commitment to put in place a year-old peace agreement. Renewed fighting in the Russian-backed breakaway regions, however, suggests that Moscow seeks to further destabilize the Kiev government, already wobbly from internal political brawling.

In Europe, Mr. Putin wants to deepen cracks in the European Union, hoping to break the 28-nation consensus behind the economic sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Kremlin recently cranked up its propaganda machine to malign the German chancellor, Angela Merkel — viewed here as the central figure in the confrontation against Moscow — portraying her as barren and her country as suffering violent indigestion from too many immigrants.

The target audience for these achievements is the Russian populace, partly to distract people from their deepening economic woes.

“On screen we can see that we are so strong, we are so important, we are so great,” Nikolai Petrov, a professor of political science at the Moscow School for Higher Economics, said sarcastically. [Continue reading…]


Russia warns of new Cold War as east Ukraine violence surges and the U.S. is outmaneuvered in Syria

The Washington Post reports: Violence in eastern Ukraine is intensifying and Russian-backed rebels have moved heavy weaponry back to the front line, international monitors warned Saturday, as Moscow responded by accusing the West of dragging the world back 50 years.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described East-West relations as having “fallen into a new Cold War” and said NATO was “hostile and closed” toward Russia, in the latest sign that peace efforts have made scant progress almost two years since Moscow annexed Crimea.

“I sometimes wonder — are we in 2016 or 1962?” Medvedev asked in a speech to the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Western governments say they have satellite images, video and other evidence to show that Russia is providing weapons to the Ukrainian rebels and that Moscow has troops engaged in the conflict. Russia denies such accusations. [Continue reading…]

The Observer reports: Moscow is back as a big player in the Middle East, while Washington looks humbled, a shadow of the great power that once dominated events in the region. The cold war is back, as the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, said on Saturday – and for now Russia seems to be in the ascendancy.

Critics warned from the day the ceasefire was announced that Moscow had outmaneuvered Washington and was simply using the negotiations and the deal to consolidate gains, a tactic honed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The US may have lost more than political capital. The ceasefire risks costing them the trust of the few moderate opposition groups left on the ground, who feel abandoned by a country that promised support.

“The people that the Americans had been trying to sponsor are now targets of an enemy that bombs without mercy or discretion, and the Americans don’t have a problem with that?” said one Free Syrian Army member in Aleppo, who declined to be named. “They never deserved our trust.”

Russia, by contrast, has doubled down on Assad. Around the time Lavrov was handing down his grim prognosis for the ceasefire, a missile cruiser left the naval base in Sevastopol in Crimea. It was heading towards the Mediterranean to join the Russian fleet there, a public shoring up of an already strong military presence. Refugees who had recently fled Isis rule said that the failure to challenge Assad and Russia could even put the west’s main goal in Syria – the routing of Isis – at risk. If other opposition groups are driven out, it will shore up the claim of Isis to be champions of the country’s Sunnis. “You will not find anyone in this camp, especially those who have arrived this month, who supports Isis,” said the man, who gave his name only as Jameel. “But most of them accept that at least they tried to protect us, Syrian Sunnis, who the world has abandoned. It is very dangerous to let them fill this role. And I think the world is blind to the immorality of it.” [Continue reading…]


The war in Ukraine is back — so why won’t anyone say so?

Pierre Vaux reports: Russia’s dirty war in Ukraine is far from frozen, and despite the deteriorating situation, the West appears keen to turn a blind eye.

While the fighting in southeast Ukraine has rumbled on incessantly throughout the winter, inducing conflict fatigue and a drop in media coverage, the last weeks have seen a marked spike in the number of attacks.

Ukrainian officials are reporting up to 71 attacks a day, with most of the fighting concentrated around the separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Gorlovka, as well as the countryside east of the Azov port city of Mariupol.

Both sides accuse each other of daily using heavy mortars, which were supposed to have been withdrawn in accordance over a year ago in accordance with the first Minsk agreement. [Continue reading…]


The cyberattack on Ukraine’s power grid is a warning of what’s to come

By Nilufer Tuptuk, UCL and Stephen Hailes, UCL

When more than 100,000 people in and around the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk were left without power for six hours, the Ukrainian energy ministry accused Russia of launching a cyberattack on the country’s national energy grid.

Now reports released by security researchers from the SANS Industrial Control Systems team and the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team confirm their belief that a cyberattack was responsible for the power cut, making the incident one of the first significant, publicly reported cyberattacks on civil infrastructure.

This is a rare event, of which the most famous example is the Stuxnet malware used to destroy equipment in the Iranian nuclear programme. Many consider Stuxnet so sophisticated that national governments must have been involved. But as is frequently the case, attributing responsibility for Stuxnet has proved difficult, and it’s likely that, despite circumstantial evidence, it will be the same in this case. While the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and the international press were quick to blame Russian state-backed hackers, Moscow has remained silent.

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What many fear Trump could do, Putin has already done

Garry Kasparov writes: Putin has spent years actually DOING things that the Western media worry American politicians are even thinking about, and yet Putin still has an endless supply of apologists at every level in the West. Putin has destroyed democracy and civil society in Russia, invaded two neighboring countries, annexed two million Ukrainians in Crimea, and launched a coordinated assault against the institutions that make up much of the modern world order. His global propaganda network constantly smears American and European leaders and society.

And yet even today Putin is still treated as a potential partner in Syria, courted by John Kerry (headed to Moscow again next week) and politicians in Germany and France despite blatantly and repeatedly lying to them and openly acting against their nations’ stated interests of containing ISIS and ending the slaughter in Syria. Even during my book tour over this past month I’ve been told by so-called experts and pundits that, for example, Russia is a “poorly functioning democracy”. You can read this week on that the Russian middle class is “happy” with Putin. How would you know after 15 years of his decimating all opposition and turning the media into a propaganda machine? If you’re actually popular you can have a free media and free elections. Putin knows very well he cannot permit either.

I was taunted and criticized for a decade for pointing out the trends of Putin’s Russia toward dictatorship. Now only the most pitiful Putin bootlickers deny what he has done. Only when he invaded neighboring Ukraine on the darkly familiar pretexts of racial unity and national pride, right on the heels of Olympic glory in Sochi, did my comparisons to Germany in the 1930s become too obvious to roll eyes at. Soon they were being echoed widely (even by Hillary Clinton) and now the “H-word” is again in the mainstream thanks to Trump’s call for religious discrimination on a global scale.

Donald Trump gets more attention and condemnation for sounding like Hitler than Vladimir Putin gets for acting like Hitler. But there is a reason for this paradoxical behavior. Trump has no power, Putin does. [Continue reading…]


Putin’s politics of uncertainty: How the Kremlin raised the stakes

Alexander Morozov writes: ‘Russia is returning to the political arena as a global player,’ that’s what the commentators are saying today—even those who don’t support Vladimir Putin.

Whether this return is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, whether it’s a threat to the world or not, these commentators are simply stating a fact: Russia has kicked off military operations far beyond its borders. A ‘regional power’ doesn’t have this kind of reach.

Celeste Wallander, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia on the US National Security Council, calls Putin’s strategy ‘mistaken’, but the tactics ‘brilliant’. Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice also finds room for ‘praise’ in her recent, and highly critical, evaluation of Putin’s foreign policy in The Washington Post: ‘The fact is that Putin is playing a weak hand extraordinarily well’. It’s worth pausing on what that hand has been so far.

Indeed, the calling card of the European press reaction to Russia’s moves over the past year has been the assertion that the Kremlin is strategically weak, but tactically successful.

These assertions are put to Putin too, who sees that his ‘politics of increasing uncertainty’ are bringing results. Earlier this year, observers declared that the Kremlin would have to suddenly change the agenda in order to find a way out from the conflict in Ukraine. This is exactly what he’s done in Syria.

Despite western leaders’ frequent statements that the independent, or even coordinated, participation of Russia in the war against ‘Islamic State’ will not influence their position on Crimea’s annexation or the Minsk accords, it is clear that Putin has made a successful move, and is continuing to play his game.

This game is a bad one, but it allows Putin to stay in motion. We often see figures on the differing resources of the US and Russia, the consequences of falling oil prices and sanctions on the Russian economy. Putin, it seems, doesn’t have the resources to continue raising the stakes. But while this assertion is correct, the timeline is unclear—perhaps seven or ten years of economic sanctions will lead to catastrophic economic collapse in Russia. You can achieve a lot in that time.

At the beginning of his administration, Putin wanted to play the ‘good boy’ in international relations. He was worried by what other people thought of him. Now though, Putin isn’t afraid of earning the reputation of a ‘bad boy’. Moreover, there are now millions of television viewers who, in a world ‘of American hegemony’, believe that anyone designated ‘bad’ is in fact ‘good’, and that all our real enemies are sitting in Washington and Brussels. [Continue reading…]


Possible Russia-West rapprochement over Syria stokes fears in Europe’s east

RFE/RL reports: France’s surprise embrace of Russia in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris has raised concerns across the former Soviet bloc that Moscow wants to leverage the fight against Islamic extremists in Syria to secure Western concessions over Ukraine.

Just days after the massacres in the French capital killed 129 people and injured hundreds of others, President Francois Hollande called for the formation of a grand coalition — including Russia — to destroy the Islamic State (IS) group, which claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Putin followed by ordering his navy to cooperate with the French Navy in the eastern Mediterranean, where Russia has a base in the Syrian port of Tartus.

Hollande’s push for cooperation with Russia was a major pivot for France, which has been a loyal partner in the multinational U.S.-led coalition fighting IS militants in Syria and Iraq.

The French government had also objected vehemently when Russia began its Syrian air campaign on September 30, saying Moscow’s ulterior motive was to keep embattled President Bashar al-Assad in power.

Former Ukrainian diplomat Bohdan Yaremenko told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service on November 18 that following the Paris attacks, Putin had “created the opportunity for dialogue with the West that he had lost due to the situation in Ukraine.” [Continue reading…]


Assad goes to Moscow to thank Putin for bombing Syria

The Associated Press reports: President Bashar Assad has traveled to Moscow in his first known trip abroad since war broke out in Syria in 2011, meeting his strongest ally Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The two leaders stressed that military operations in Syria— in which Moscow is the latest and most powerful addition— must lead to a political process.

The surprise visit Tuesday reflects renewed confidence from the embattled Syrian president after Russia and Iran, another staunch ally, dramatically escalated their support recently as Moscow began carrying out airstrikes on Syrian insurgents and Tehran sent hundreds of ground forces.

A Syrian official confirmed Wednesday that Assad had returned to Damascus. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Putin said he had invited Assad, thanking him for “coming to Moscow despite a tragic situation in your country.”

Assad flashed wide smiles as he shook hands with Putin and other officials. “We thank you for standing by Syria’s territorial integrity and its independence,” Assad told Putin. [Continue reading…]

While in Moscow, Assad received tips on the opportunities Russia has to offer for former presidents in exile.


Putin’s holy war in Syria

Ian Bateson writes: Since the start of his third term, Putin has fostered a close alliance with the Church, relying on it to champion his decisions in overwhelmingly Orthodox-identifying Russia. Religious justifications for actions have become an increasingly important part of Putin’s propaganda strategy at home. Last year Putin justified annexing Crimea by declaring it “sacred” and “like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Muslims and Jews” — despite the fact it was only incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1783.

Russian media has been adding to the religious connection by applying the same arguments it used to support separatists in Ukraine. The loosely-defined “Russian world” that the Russian media claimed to include parts of Ukraine has now been expanded to make room for Syria. On a Russian debate program a member of Russian parliament, Semyon Bagdasarov, argued that there was “no Orthodoxy or Russia without Syria” and that the historical tradition of Orthodoxy in now-Muslim-majority Syria makes it a “holy land” for Russians and “their” land.

In his weekly televised monologue Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the government-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya, linked Russia’s military actions in Syria to the Soviet’s Union’s fight against Nazi Germany. He has made similar comparisons before, accusing Ukraine’s pro-Western government of being a fascist junta that needed to be opposed like Hitler’s Germany. This time he referred to Putin’s claim that the Islamic State posed a Nazi-like threat and required a similar coalition of opponents, calling it a “very precise” rationale for bombing Syria.

Russian media, however, seemed to reach new levels of absurdity when one anchor gave a weather report for Syria, emphasizing that the low winds and minimal precipitation had made October an ideal time for Russian airstrikes. The message seemed to be that even the weather was cooperating with Russian military intervention in Syria.

Many of the people justifying Russia’s involvement in Syria are playing to a system that requires and rewards supporting Putin’s actions once he has declared them. As Putin has re-centralized power in Russia, most governmental, media and civil society organizations function first and foremost to support him. [Continue reading…]


ISIS bomber’s father: My son was radicalised in Ukraine

Al Jazeera reports: The father of a Jordanian youth, who blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq last week, has told Al Jazeera that his son joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group after he was brainwashed by recruiters.

Jordanian Member of Parliament Mazen Dalaeen said on Sunday that his son, Mohamed, was recruited by an Azerbaijani couple living in the northeastern Ukrainian town of Kharkov.

The couple was actively recruiting young impressionable Muslim students to join the ranks of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, he said.

The bereaved father said that the active network that brainwashed his son consisted of a man who went by the name of “Ibrahim” and his wife, who recruited women and went by the name of “Sumayah”.

Mohamed and his Ukrainian wife joined ISIL along with a Chechen and Tunisian couple. [Continue reading…]


Is Putin using Syria to distract Russians from hardships at home?

Alan Philps writes: In Moscow, enormous efforts are in hand to raise spirits. During the balmy evenings, spectacular sound and light shows are projected on to such monuments as the Bolshoi Theatre and St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square, all with a strongly patriotic soundtrack.

With people enjoying the last of the warmth before the onset of winter, it is hard to detect a sense of impending doom. But the storm clouds are gathering. With inflation at 16 per cent, the oil price low and Russia unable to borrow from western financial markets, the only real prospect is gradual impoverishment of the poor and middle classes. The super rich can move their wealth abroad and speak confidently of Russia’s “resilience”, which they say is always underestimated by the West.

So far the grim economic prospects have been cushioned by the undeniable popularity of the annexation of Crimea, territory that most Russians believe is a historic part of the Motherland and came under Ukrainian rule by accident. For the past year, the mood has been: there may be no cheese – or even worse, there may be cheese made with palm oil – “but at least Crimea is ours”. Television, a powerful tool of state propaganda, has pumped out the story of American and European connivance with Hitler-loving Ukrainian “fascists” to threaten Russia.

But Mr Putin’s Ukrainian adventure is stuck. The separatists he has supported in the east of the country are a rough and unruly bunch, and incapable of uniting the local population. As he tries to focus attention away from Ukraine, he has found a new enemy and new adventure in Syria. [Continue reading…]

The Daily Beast reports: Until recently, one-third Russians said they had no interest at all in Syria. Just 18 percent welcomed the idea of providing military support to Bashar al-Assad, according to a national survey this month by Levada Center pollsters.

Public opinion did not seem a significant factor in Vladimir Putin’s decision-making Wednesday: No sooner had the Russian president returned from his meetings and speech at the United Nations in New York then he asked the Russian senate to allow him to use the country’s military for foreign combat missions.

Yet not many understood the purpose and targets. “Here is what’s going on,” Aleksei Venediktov, editor in chief of Echo of Moscow radio, told listeners while broadcasting from New York. “There are two countries where ISIS is fighting. They cross two borders in Iraq and in Syria. Putin told us straight away, at the United Nations, about Iraq—that Iraqi authorities asked for its participation in the coalition because ISIS comes and goes from Iraq and back to Iraq, so the planes would fly to the Iraqi border. That is why the foreign countries are not specified.”

While senators voted in favor of the president’s decision, Echo of Moscow listeners had their own vote online. The vast majority—81 percent—did not approve of Russian military participation in Syria’s civil war. [Continue reading…]


Ukrainian president mocks Putin in front of United Nations

The Washington Post reports: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sought to return his country’s long-running conflict with Russia to center stage Tuesday, telling the United Nations General Assembly that Russia has been waging an aggressive war of occupation against Ukraine.

The Russian delegation was not present in the General Assembly Hall for Poroshenko’s speech, an apparently deliberate boycott. On Monday, the Ukrainian delegation pointedly left the hall when Russian President Vladimir Putin started speaking.

Though he did not mention Putin by name, Poroshenko openly mocked the Russian president’s call for an anti-terrorism coalition to fight radicals in Syria, characterizing it as “double-tongued.”

“Cool story,” he said, his voice dripping in sarcasm. “But really hard to believe.

“How can you urge an anti-terrorism coalition if you inspire terrorism right in front of your own door? How can you talk peace and legitimacy if your policy is war via puppet government? How can you speak for freedom for nations if you punish your neighbor for this choice? How can you demand respect for all if you don’t have respect for anyone?”

Many Ukrainians fear their confrontation with Russia, which began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, has been sidelined under a blizzard of international crises, particularly the war raging in Syria. [Continue reading…]