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Power User
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« Reply #100 on: September 05, 2014, 11:30:19 AM »

Yes, Zbig got that right in 1994.  Who knew Russia would still have an eye on re-taking Ukraine and any/all of its old empire that it could!

Here is Krauthammer writing on the same mess today.  These 3 opinion pieces, VDH on deterrence, George Will on Putin acting like Hitler and Charles Krauthammer on the surrender of Ukraine should be read together IMO.  Quoting Krauthammer,

"...what NATO did not do. It did not create the only serious deterrent to Russia: permanent bases in the Baltics and eastern Poland that would act as a tripwire. Tripwires produce automaticity. A Russian leader would know that any invading force would immediately encounter NATO troops, guaranteeing war with the West.  Which is how we kept the peace in Europe through a half-century of Cold War. U.S. troops in West Germany could never have stopped a Russian invasion. But a Russian attack would have instantly brought America into a war — a war Russia could not countenance."

SEPTEMBER 4, 2014 8:00 PM
Obama Writes Off Ukraine
Putin’s invasion may be nothing new to Obama. For Ukraine, it changed everything.
By Charles Krauthammer

At his first press briefing after the beheading of American James Foley, President Obama stunned the assembled when he admitted that he had no strategy in Syria for confronting the Islamic State. Yet it was not nearly the most egregious, or consequential, thing he said.

Idiotic, yes. You’re the leader of the free world. Even if you don’t have a strategy — indeed, especially if you don’t — you never admit it publicly.

However, if Obama is indeed building a larger strategy, an air campaign coordinated with allies on the ground, this does take time. George W. Bush wisely took a month to respond to 9/11, preparing an unusual special ops–Northern Alliance battle plan that brought down Taliban rule in a hundred days.

We’ll see whether Obama comes up with an Islamic State strategy. But he already has one for Ukraine: Write it off. Hence the more shocking statement in that August 28 briefing: Obama declaring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — columns of tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and a thousand troops brazenly crossing the border — to be nothing new, just “a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now.”
And just to reaffirm his indifference and inaction, Obama mindlessly repeated his refrain that the Ukraine problem has no military solution. Yes, but does he not understand that diplomatic solutions are largely dictated by the military balance on the ground?

Vladimir Putin’s invasion may be nothing new to Obama. For Ukraine, it changed everything. Russia was on the verge of defeat. Now Ukraine is. That’s why Ukraine is welcoming a cease-fire that amounts to capitulation.

A month ago, Putin’s separatist proxies were besieged and desperate. His invasion to the southeast saved them. It diverted the Ukrainian military from Luhansk and Donetsk, allowing the rebels to recover, while Russian armor rolled over Ukrainian forces, jeopardizing their control of the entire southeast. Putin even boasted that he could take Kiev in two weeks.

Why bother? He’s already fracturing and subjugating Ukraine, re-creating Novorossiya (“New Russia”), statehood for which is one of the issues that will be up for, yes, diplomacy.

Which makes incomprehensible Obama’s denial to Ukraine of even defensive weapons — small arms, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Indeed, his stunning passivity in the face of a dictionary-definition invasion has not just confounded the Ukrainians. It has unnerved the East Europeans. Hence Obama’s reassurances on his trip to the NATO summit in Wales.

First up, Estonia. It seems to be Obama’s new red line. I’m sure they sleep well tonight in Tallinn now that Obama has promised to stand with them. (Remember the State Department hashtag #UnitedforUkraine?)

To back up Obama’s words, NATO is touting a promised rapid-reaction force of about 4,000 to be dispatched to pre-provisioned bases in the Baltics and Poland within 48 hours of an emergency. (Read: Russian invasion.)

First, we’ve been hearing about European rapid-reaction forces for decades. They’ve amounted to nothing.

Second, even if this one comes into being, it is a feeble half-measure. Not only will troops have to be assembled, dispatched, transported and armed as the fire bell is ringing. The very sending will require some affirmative and immediate decision by NATO. Try getting that done. The alliance is famous for its reluctant, slow, and fractured decision-making. (See: Ukraine.) By the time the Rapid Reactors arrive, Russia will have long overrun their yet-to-be-manned bases.

The real news from Wales is what NATO did not do. It did not create the only serious deterrent to Russia: permanent bases in the Baltics and eastern Poland that would act as a tripwire. Tripwires produce automaticity. A Russian leader would know that any invading force would immediately encounter NATO troops, guaranteeing war with the West.

Which is how we kept the peace in Europe through a half-century of Cold War. U.S. troops in West Germany could never have stopped a Russian invasion. But a Russian attack would have instantly brought America into a war — a war Russia could not countenance.

It’s what keeps the peace in Korea today. Even the reckless North Korean leadership dares not cross the Demilitarized Zone, because it would encounter U.S. troops and trigger war with America.

That’s what deterrence means. And what any rapid reaction force cannot provide. In Wales, it will nonetheless be proclaimed a triumph. In Estonia, in Poland, as today in Ukraine, it will be seen for what it is — a loud declaration of reluctance by an alliance led by a man who is the very embodiment of ambivalence.
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« Reply #101 on: November 15, 2014, 09:19:17 AM »


Following the separatist elections in Donetsk and Luhansk on Nov. 2, the political entities representing both regions -- the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic, respectively -- have established what is likely to be yet another long-term frozen conflict in the former Soviet periphery. Ukraine's inability to retake these regions by force, combined with continued weapons and personnel support from Russia, mean they are here to stay.

Russia will have difficulty propping up these new breakaway territories at a time when Moscow is under growing economic and political strain. Still, Russia has strategic interests in supporting these territories as a check against Ukraine's Western integration efforts. Along with its history of subsidizing other breakaway territories in the region, Moscow has shown with its efforts in Ukraine that it will be willing to incur the financial and political costs of backing the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics.

The breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine trace their origins to the Western-backed uprising in Kiev and the subsequent Russian response to this uprising. From pro-Russian demonstrations in Donetsk and Luhansk, Moscow-backed rebel militias and the political entities representing them simultaneously emerged. In Donetsk, activists who occupied administration buildings declared the establishment of the Donetsk People's Republic on April 7, while in Luhansk a similar declaration was made for the establishment of the Luhansk People's Republic on April 27. Both groups subsequently held referendums on May 12 on the issue of declaring independence from Ukraine, and according to the local referendum organizers (international observers were not allowed), both received over 95 percent of votes in favor of secession.

Russia Maintains Supply Flow to Ukrainian Separatists
Click to Enlarge

Following the military gains made by the rebels at the expense of Ukrainian security forces in the ensuing months, the territories controlled by the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics did not take part in Ukraine's political process, including the presidential election in May and parliamentary elections in October. Instead, the separatists held their own parliamentary elections Nov. 2, which essentially solidified the existing leadership of Alexander Zakharchenko in the Donetsk People's Republic and Igor Plotnitsky in the Luhansk People's Republic. While most of the international community did not recognize the elections, the polls further cemented the reality that Ukraine was no longer in control of these territories.
From Rebellion to Administration

With the separatists having achieved territorial control, the question now is how the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics will manage the administration of their territories. Together, the people's republics control nearly 16,000 square kilometers (a little less than 6,200 square miles) of territory -- roughly 30 percent of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts combined. Donetsk and Luhansk are two of the most densely populated regions of Ukraine, and Kiev estimates that nearly 65 percent of the Donetsk oblast's population and 50 percent of the Luhansk oblast's population (or around 1.5 million and 2 million people respectively) are under separatist rule. The separatists also control both regional centers, the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Administering these territories therefore represents quite the undertaking for the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics. This is especially the case since both regions have experienced significant dislocations from the conflict, both in terms of outflows of population and economic disruption. An estimated 800,000 people have been displaced as a result of the conflict, with nearly 400,000 seeking refuge across the border in Russia. While some of the population has started returning to the area, anecdotal evidence suggests that many of those returning are middle-aged or elderly, while the younger and more productive members of the population have so far chosen to stay away. Adding to these problems, the Ukrainian government recently decided to stop paying social benefits -- including pensions in certain cases -- to residents in these areas.

Donetsk and Luhansk historically have been two of the most economically productive regions of Ukraine, jointly making up the Donbas industrial belt, but much of their industrial production has been hurt by the military conflict. Coal mining is a major part of the economy in the rebel-controlled territories, and over 50 percent of the coal plants and steel mills there have halted production or are producing under capacity. Those that are still producing, such as the coal mines controlled by oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, have refused to pay taxes to the separatist governments (though according to sources, there may be kickbacks being paid to the rebels under the table). Without an effective mechanism for tax collection, much of the local revenue the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics have collected has come from soliciting local businesses.

Furthermore, if and when industrial production in these regions does pick back up, the separatist governments will find it difficult to legally export products abroad -- or at least to Europe, which has placed sanctions on the breakaway territories. Additionally, the banking systems in these territories have been frozen, and most workers reportedly have been receiving their salaries in cash.
Russia Continues Its Support

The economic prospects for these breakaway regions -- at least for the short to medium term -- are not particularly bright. The territories have only one viable option for sustaining themselves -- Russia. Indeed, Moscow is already playing a significant role in propping up the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics. First and foremost, Russian aid has come in the form of military supplies -- including tanks and heavy weaponry -- and flows of personnel to assist in the battle against Ukrainian security forces. Russia has also sent humanitarian convoys with food and other supplies to the parts of the rebel territories that have been most damaged in the conflict zone, such as areas around the city of Luhansk.

Moscow's direct financial and economic assistance to these territories, however, is more opaque. Though the rebels have admitted that they have not yet been able to set up a reliable tax collection system, sources have said they are still getting paid, which reportedly comes in part from cash transfers from Russia. The self-declared republics also reportedly receive aid from businessmen close to the Kremlin, such as Konstantin Malofeev.

Additionally, there are other important economic activities in the separatist-controlled territories. There have been reports of coal supplies from the breakaway regions being smuggled into Russia, with Moscow then selling these supplies back to Ukraine and channeling revenues to the rebels. There also have been reports of the continuing production of machines that service the coal and steel sector as well as the agricultural production of wheat, corn and sunflower seeds, which could allow Russia to increase its imports of these goods from the rebel territories. Finally, Moscow could choose to subsidize energy exports, given that pipeline infrastructure is directly integrated across the border.
Costs and Benefits to Russia

Still, Russia's ability to directly finance the breakaway territories or absorb their products is not infinite. Moscow is already experiencing significant economic problems as a result of the Ukraine crisis, including capital flight, a depreciating ruble and financial restrictions caused by Western sanctions. Russia has had its own internal debate over budgetary expenditures for social and defense spending, which declining oil prices have only exacerbated. Projections of stagnant growth or even mild recession for 2015 do not suggest a dramatic improvement in Russia's economic position.

Nevertheless, the total amount of financing needed to sustain these regions is unlikely to cost Russia more than a few billion dollars per year, especially since much of the economy will be operating in the grey zone. Furthermore, Russia's ability to project power into its periphery has traditionally outstripped the country's economic weaknesses. Indeed, even in the chaos of the 1990s, Russia militarily and financially supported a number of breakaway territories throughout the former Soviet space, including Transdniestria in Moldova and Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. Moscow continues to support these territories to this day, both in terms of subsidizing local economic production and providing direct budgetary assistance to the breakaway governments. Russia has only increased such support, given that Moldova and Georgia have attempted to get closer to the West as a result of the crisis in Ukraine.

Ultimately, the benefits of backing the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics will outweigh the financial and political costs for Moscow. The uprising in Ukraine and the subsequent pro-Western government it has produced in Kiev is a fundamental threat to Russia's national security interests. Supporting the breakaway territories in Donetsk and Luhansk not only gives Russia direct military and political influence in these regions but also serves as a check against Ukraine's Western integration efforts. This explains why, despite sanctions from the West and its own economic difficulties, Moscow has not stopped supporting the breakaway territories and continues to be the main power player in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia has redrawn the borders, and the new breakaway territories are here to stay.

Read more: Russian Interests Reshape Ukraine's Borders | Stratfor
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Posts: 32606

« Reply #102 on: December 11, 2014, 07:39:07 PM »

Note date

Analytic Guidance: Why Russia Would Intervene in Ukraine
August 6, 2014 | 22:04 GMT Print Text Size
Analytic Guidance: Why Russia Would Intervene in Ukraine
Ukrainian soldiers patrol Debaltseve, a city in the eastern region of Donetsk, on Aug. 3. (ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's Note: The following is an internal Stratfor document produced to provide high-level guidance regarding the conflict in Ukraine. This document is not a forecast but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions for areas of focus.

With 20,000 troops positioned on its border with Ukraine, Russia has all the pieces in place to launch a direct, limited ground intervention in eastern Ukraine without having to make any additional preparations. Of course, that kind of military invasion would cost Moscow a lot of political capital, but Russian policymakers may believe the high price of intervention is justified in certain scenarios. Those scenarios are as follows:
The Humanitarian Crisis Worsens

On Aug. 5, Russia officially requested to lead a humanitarian mission in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide aid for civilians in eastern Ukraine. Parts of Donetsk and Luhansk are experiencing food, water and electricity shortages, but so far Kiev has rejected Russia's offers of assistance, arguing there is no humanitarian crisis to end. The civilian death toll has increased steadily as fighting moved from the countryside into the cities. If more civilians die, Russia may decide to intervene.
The Ukrainian Military Threatens Rebel Strongholds

Over the past few weeks, the Ukrainian military has tallied several notable victories in its fight against the rebels, one of many factors that guided Russia's decision to amass troops along the border. However, Ukrainian forces have not been able to move into the urban areas surrounding the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk; in addition to general difficulties associated with urban warfare, some rebels have already started a counteroffensive. If the Ukrainian military seriously threatens to take these important rebel strongholds, Russia may intervene.
Analytic Guidance: Why Russia Would Intervene In Ukraine
Click to Enlarge
NATO Deploys More Assets

After Russia's annexation of Crimea, NATO initiated new rotational exercises in Poland and the Baltics; however, no additional measures have been taken since then to increase the security of the alliance's members in the region. Any serious push to build up combat power in areas adjacent to Ukraine — including Poland, Romania, the Baltics and Turkey — may indicate that NATO and the United States believe a Russian intervention is imminent. (Meanwhile, Russia could see the congregation of NATO and U.S. forces as a sign that the West plans to intervene.) U.S. naval movement in the Mediterranean or Black seas is also important to watch.
The United States Arms the Ukrainian Military

U.S. aid to Ukraine has been limited to nonlethal equipment and rations, but many in Russia attribute the Ukrainian military's recent gains to advising from the U.S. military. If Washington supplies the Ukrainian military with weapons or trains or assists soldiers more overtly, Russia may respond by intervening.
More Sanctions Are Imposed

The Kremlin has reacted to the latest round of Western sanctions by restricting some food and agricultural imports from the United States and the European Union. But the application of additional, more severe sanctions, especially those targeting Russia's financial and energy sectors, could provoke Russia to invade Ukraine, especially if Moscow believes it has nothing else to lose.
Russian Public Opinion Changes

The majority of Russians oppose direct military intervention into Ukraine. The factions within the Kremlin, including the typically hawkish security circle, are divided on the issue, too. This opposition has constrained the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wants to maintain his popularity levels among his constituents and retain the loyalty of his supporters within the government. If Putin can disguise the intervention as a peacekeeping or humanitarian mission, he may be able to sell it to the Russian public more effectively, giving him more freedom to act.
The Ukrainian Government Collapses

The Kremlin's goal is for Ukraine, an important buffer state, to become at least a neutral territory between Russia and the West. After the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and Ukraine's decision to sign the EU association and free trade agreements, the Kremlin hoped that the new government in Kiev would be unable to remain stable and united and fail to implement the International Monetary Fund-mandated austerity and reform measures. So far, internal divisions have not affected the government's ability to implement reforms and make military decisions. But the emergence of more significant internal divisions over policy, especially security policy, is key to watch. If the government in Kiev fails on its own, Russia will have no need to intervene. 

Read more: Analytic Guidance: Why Russia Would Intervene in Ukraine | Stratfor
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« Reply #103 on: December 24, 2014, 11:44:30 AM »
Power User
Posts: 32606

« Reply #104 on: February 02, 2015, 10:31:05 PM »

Several developments over the weekend related to the Ukraine crisis indicated that the standoff between Russia and the West could soon reach a turning point. Fighting continued between Ukrainian security forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine while the latest round of peace talks in Minsk collapsed in a matter of hours. Shortly after the talks failed, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic announced that a general mobilization of up to 100,000 fighters would occur within two weeks. Meanwhile, a report from The New York Times published on Sunday suggested that the United States is seriously considering providing the Ukrainian military with lethal weapons. The United States is characterizing this as a defensive move, but the pro-Russian rebels and Russian government are not likely to agree.

All of these events point to an acute risk of escalation in the conflict over Ukraine. The main question is where this escalation will lead. During the crisis, which has dragged on for more than a year now, there have been several ebbs and flows, as demonstrated by numerous declarations and breaches of cease-fires that occurred while political dialogue between various representatives continued. One thing that is clear is that all options remain on the table in this evolving standoff, including the potential for a larger military conflict.

There are two broader perspectives from which to view the crisis in Ukraine. One is that of the West, which sees the origins of the conflict in Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine — illegal and illegitimate responses to what was considered a democratic revolution in Kiev in February 2014. The West regards Russia's actions as a violation of Ukraine's territorial sovereignty and believes that the appropriate response are sanctions against Russia and the backing of a pro-Western government in Kiev. The other view is that of Russia, which sees the February 2014 uprising as an illegal coup d'etat orchestrated by the West. The annexation of Crimea and the eastern Ukrainian insurgency are viewed as legitimate reactions that had substantial support from the local population and were an appropriate response to a conflict the West started as a means of containing and weakening Russia.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.

Russia's view of the West's intentions existed long before the uprising in Kiev. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has witnessed what it perceived as deliberate efforts at containment by the West. One was the expansion of NATO into the former Soviet bloc in the late 1990s and early 2000s; with the inclusion of the Baltic states, the Western military alliance expanded to within 161 kilometers (100 miles) of St. Petersburg. Another was the wave of "color revolutions" that swept the former Soviet space in the mid-2000s, most notably the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which brought Western influence even closer to the Russian heartland. The 2014 uprising in Ukraine was, from Moscow's perspective, merely the latest chapter in the same story of the West's attempts to contain Russia in the former Soviet borderlands.

This thinking has framed Russia's actions in Ukraine. If Ukraine is aligned with the West it poses an existential threat to Russia, so Moscow feels that it must do whatever is necessary to prevent this alignment. Following the Orange Revolution, Russia used several tools, including energy cutoffs and political connections in Ukraine, to undermine the pro-Western government in Kiev and eventually got a Russian ally in power in 2010. However, the current iteration of Moscow's standoff with the West has left the Russian economy isolated by Western sanctions just as it is reeling from a dramatic drop in oil prices. Meanwhile, the United States and NATO have increased their military presence and commitment to countries in Central Europe, with plans to pre-position equipment and forces in the Baltic states, Poland and Romania. Now the West is signaling its intentions to increase military assistance to Ukraine significantly.

This leaves Russia in a difficult position. A weakening economy puts Russian President Vladimir Putin under pressure at home, and although most Russians oppose a direct, overt military intervention in Ukraine, being seen as capitulating to the West on an issue as strategic as Ukraine could have dire consequences. The issue is particularly delicate given Putin's limitations within the Kremlin as he juggles different power circles' interests.

These circumstances lend greater importance to the intensification of fighting in key areas such as the Donetsk airport and Mariupol. These moves could be meant to demonstrate Russia's capabilities in degrading Ukraine's forces on the battlefield while steering the negotiations over Ukraine's future toward a diplomatic settlement. But the United States and Russia's neighbors cannot discount the possibility that these actions are precursors to a wider Russian military offensive. The West has increased its support to Kiev since the crisis started, and the Times report about possible U.S. weapons sales to Ukraine shows that Russia cannot assume that the West's commitment will not grow. Therefore, Putin could be calculating that if any major military action is to be launched, it would be best to do it before the West increases its presence and assistance in Ukraine and nearby states.

This is not to say that a broader war is looming or inevitable. There are a number of possible outcomes in the range between a negotiated settlement and a full-scale military conflict over Ukraine. The conflict could continue for a long time. But the fact remains that Putin must survey his options, and continuing with the current tactics might not be one of them.
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« Reply #105 on: February 16, 2015, 09:58:54 AM »

by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Feb. 13, 2015 6:59 p.m. ET

The meeting was scheduled for that very evening—the evening before the Minsk summit this week—in Petro Poroshenko’s office at the presidential palace in Kiev. But the moment my colleague Gilles Hertzog and I arrive at the Kiev airport and step on the tarmac, my phone rings.  It is Valeriy Chaly, the Ukrainian president’s deputy chief of staff, who is already in Belarus for the summit.

“Stay where you are. Whatever you do, don’t go into town. I can’t tell you anything on the phone. Protocol is coming to pick you up.”

We sit in a deserted waiting room where a converted duty free is selling bad coffee and bars of the Rohsen chocolate, ubiquitous in Ukraine, on which Petro Poroshenko made his fortune.  After two hours, the security ballet begins—men in black, headsets in the ear, long, ultra-slim briefcase in hand, a routine that several decades in the planet’s hot spots have taught me signifies the imminent arrival of the Boss.

From there, everything moves quickly. The men in black assume battle stations as we charge back onto the tarmac, where a jet sits with its twin engines running. We scramble up the ramp at the rear. A security man leads us to the forward cabin, where Petro Poroshenko is waiting. The Ukrainian president is barely recognizable in his khaki T-shirt, camouflage pants and military boots—but mostly because of an almost worrisome pallor, something that I have not seen on him before.

“Sorry about all the mystery, but except for him”—Mr. Poroshenko gestures to Gen. Viktor Muzhenko, the Ukrainian army’s commander in chief, who is also in uniform—“nobody knows where we’re going. Security reasons. But you’ll see. It’s awful. And I want you as witnesses.”

The flight, headed southeast, lasts an hour.

We are headed to the Donetsk region, where, the president tells me, vicious shelling of a civilian area has just claimed several dozen victims.

The conversation turns to the summit in Minsk, Belarus, where the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine will meet.

“Tomorrow at this time you’ll be face to face with Putin. What are you going to say to him?”

“That I will yield on nothing,” Mr. Poroshenko replies. “That neither Ukraine’s territorial integrity nor its right to Europe are negotiable.”

“And if he persists? If he won’t abandon his idea of federalizing the areas now in the hands of the separatists?”

“Then I’ll walk out and submit the question to public opinion and to the United Nations. We are not Ethiopia in 1935 or Czechoslovakia in 1938 or one of the little nations sacrificed by the great powers at Yalta. We’re not even your friend [Alija] Izetbegovic, who accepted the partition of Bosnia in Dayton.”

I tell him that the difference this time is that France, under François Hollande, is with him. He says he knows that.

I remind him that Germany contracted an ineradicable debt with respect to Ukraine (seven million dead in World War II alone) and that Chancellor Merkel cannot fail to honor it. He nods as if to say that he knows that, too, but is a little less sure of it.

In any event, he feels strongly that his country has paid too dearly for its freedom and independence to accept any form of diktat. “I am hoping with all my heart for a peace agreement, but we are not afraid of war. Didn’t your General de Gaulle say that great people, in dark times, have no better friends than themselves?”

We spend the rest of the flight discussing the formal statement that he will make at the opening of the summit, where the fate of his country will be hanging in the balance. It is a little after 10 p.m. when we land in Kharkov.

About 30 armored vehicles are waiting for us near the plane.

And off we go in convoy across the deserted plains of the Dnieper to Kramatorsk. After three hours of fairly easy going, the last 30 miles are a frozen track rutted by military convoys.

No lights to be seen.

Not a soul stirring.

The chilling atmosphere of a dead city.

And then, suddenly, a clutch of poor people warming themselves around a fire.

Here, the middle of the city had been the target of a Smerch rocket fired from a distance of more than 30 miles in the early afternoon.

Here, and within a radius of about 900 yards, the giant antipersonnel weapon released its rain of minirockets, killing 16 people and wounding 65.

And here I discover another Petro Poroshenko: no longer the military leader from the plane; still less the billionaire president that I accompanied to the Élysée Palace a year ago; but a ravaged man, livid in the floodlights illuminating the scene. He listens as survivors recount the hellish whistle of the rocket, the women returning from the market who were mowed down by the deluge of pellets, the panic in the streets as people rushed for shelter, tripping over bodies, the brave mother who covered her child with her body and was killed, the arrival of rescuers, the anguish that another rocket could follow.

“What a disaster,” he groans.

He repeats it several times: “What a disaster . . . We are kilometers from the front. There’s no one here but civilians. This isn’t war—it’s slaughter. This isn’t a war crime; it’s a crime against humanity.”

And then, standing at the edge of the crater formed by a rocket that had failed to explode, Mr. Poroshenko—suddenly immense and strangely colossal because of the bulletproof vest that his aides had him don under his jacket—points at the engine of death as if it were his personal enemy and adds: “A monster of that size, outlawed by the Geneva Convention, the separatists don’t have those. That could only be the Russians.”

He repeats, a grim smile freezing his features. “The Russians. When I think that the Russians will be there in Minsk tomorrow and will have the audacity to talk about peace . . .”

A doctor, his arms bare even though the temperature is well below zero, approaches to escort us to the nearby hospital emergency room.

The president lingers at the bed of each of the injured, sometimes asking questions, sometimes offering sympathy, sometimes, with the hardiest, trying to joke. I think I even see him give a quiet blessing to an old woman as she hands him the fragments that had been removed from her legs, saying, “Here, Petro, you give these to Putin. Tell him they’re from Zoya in Kramatorsk.”

We make a last stop, far from the city, at the military headquarters of the general staff of the Donetsk region. In a vast building entirely covered with camouflage net are dozens of officers, helmeted Herculeses, their faces furrowed and exhausted, some asleep on their feet with their backs to the wall, still clutching their weapons. And there Mr. Poroshenko resumes the role of war leader. He disappears into the map room with his top officers, where he gives orders for the counteroffensive that will have to be launched if the Minsk summit fails.

It is 3 a.m.

Military intelligence fears the launch of another rocket attack. In any event it is time to go. We take the same route back, though it seems even more desolate.

Once we return to the plane, I tell President Poroshenko that I had dinner the night before in Paris with a former ambassador to Ukraine who is advocating deliveries of weapons—and who believes that the Ukrainian armed forces are in a tough spot, especially in the Debaltsevo pocket, where thousands of troops are menaced on three sides.

“He’s not wrong there,” Mr. Poroshenko responds with a smile, digging into the cold cuts that the flight attendant has just brought to him. “But make no mistake: The time is long past when the navy at Sebastopol and the barracks at Belbek and Novofedorivka gave up without firing a shot. That’s the only advantage of war: You learn how to wage it.”

I also tell him that many in the U.S. and Europe doubt the capacity of his soldiers to make good use of the sophisticated weapons that eventually may be delivered to them. At this, he guffaws and, after exchanging a few words in Ukrainian with his chief of staff, says:

“Well, tell them, please, that they’ve got it wrong. We would need a week, no more, to take full possession of the equipment. Know that, because we had no choice, our army is about to become the best, the bravest, and the most hardened force in the region.”

From that point on, he darkens again only when I mention the uphill battle that his American friends will have to fight before any equipment can be delivered: Congress will have to reapprove the Ukrainian Freedom Support Act that it first passed on Dec. 11. It is an appropriation bill to release the $350 million in military aid that was approved. Final approval will be needed from President Obama, whose tendency to procrastinate in such matters is well known. And a decision will need to be made about whether the equipment can be taken from existing stocks or will have to be manufactured, which would take even more time.

“I know all that,” Mr. Poroshenko mutters, closing his eyes. “I know. But maybe we’ll get a miracle. Yes, a miracle.”

That reminds me that Petro Poroshenko is a practicing Christian, a deacon in civilian life. On the presidential campaign trail last year, in Dnepropetrovsk and elsewhere, before every meeting, I watched him find the nearest church and take a moment to kneel and pray.

The idea also crosses my mind that the skilled strategist that he has become—the civilized man whom circumstances have obliged to join the admirable club of reluctant heroes who make war without wanting to—is possibly thinking that what he most needs now is to gain time. Perhaps gaining a few weeks would be the chief advantage of the accords that, without for an instant trusting Vladimir Putin’s word, he is going to sign.

Minsk. Is it a fool’s bargain?

Will the agreement he signs be a false one that, like last September’s, stops the war for just a month or two?

Of course. Deep down, he knows it. His statement after the signing of the accord was simple: “The main thing which has been achieved is that from Saturday into Sunday there should be declared without any conditions at all a general cease-fire.”

For the time being, the nightmare will recede a bit.

It is nearly dawn when we finally land in Kiev. And President Poroshenko has only a few hours to make it to that summit where, one way or another, he has a rendezvous with history.

Mr. Lévy’s books include “Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism” (Random House, 2008). This article was translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.
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« Reply #106 on: February 18, 2015, 07:46:48 AM »


Despite Russia's annexation of Crimea and fighting in Ukraine's east, Ukraine and Russia remain economically intertwined. Kiev has lobbied Western governments to impose sanctions on Russian companies and advocated reducing dependence on Russia natural gas imports. However, Ukraine's banking and energy sectors are tied to Russia, giving the Kremlin several options with which to influence Kiev.

Russia and Ukraine have substantial trade ties in addition to closely integrated industrial sectors. Before the crisis began, Russia provided 6.8 percent of foreign direct investment in Ukraine, though the real figure may be higher. Formally, 33.4 percent of FDI to Ukraine in 2013 came from Cyprus, raising the possibility that Russian investment has passed through Cypriot banks and corporations. In 2014, with the onset of the crisis, the share of both Russian and Cypriot FDI flows to Ukraine decreased to 5.9 percent and 29.9 percent, respectively. At the same time, German FDI flows to Ukraine increased to 12.5 percent from only 10.9 percent a year earlier.

Moreover, Russian firms such as Rosneft and Lukoil were active in Ukraine before hostilities broke out. Fighting in the east and pressure from the new, pro-Western authorities, however, has led some Russian firms to cut back on their operations. In July 2014, Lukoil sold one of its subsidiaries, Lukoil-Ukraine CFI, which controlled 240 filling stations in Ukraine, to Austrian company AMIC Energy Management.

Ukraine's banking sector is still closely connected to Russia without these investments. Ukraine's fifth-largest bank in terms of total assets is Prominvestbank, a subsidiary of Russia's Vnesheconombank. Moreover, subsidiaries of Russia's Sberbank, Alfa-Bank and VTB Bank constitute Ukraine's eighth-, ninth-, and 10th-largest banks, respectively. Together these Ukrainian subsidiaries hold over $6 billion in assets. Because the Russian state owns Vnesheconombank and is a majority shareholder in Sberbank and VTB, the Kremlin indirectly controls a significant portion of Ukraine's banking sector. According to Ukraine's Finance Ministry, in the beginning of 2015, Ukraine's total direct and guaranteed debt to the Russian state and Russian banks totaled over $4 billion, the equivalent of about 12 percent of the country's external debt.

However, Russia's own banking sector has experienced difficulties over the past month. Some banks, including VTB, are even seeking state aid, motivating the Kremlin to avoid using its banks to destabilize Ukraine's banking sector. Still, Russia's strong presence does give the Kremlin another opportunity to influence the country's financial markets and pressure Kiev.

In addition to banking, Ukraine's energy sector is also closely tied to Russia. VS Energy International, a Russian firm, owns stakes in eight of Ukraine's 27 regional energy supplier companies, including power distributors in the Odessa and Kiev regions. Electricity shortages resulting from the loss of some of Ukraine's coal resources have led the country to begin importing electricity from Russia as well to fill the projected 10 percent shortfall. Indeed, in late December, Ukrainian energy company Ukrinterenergo signed a one-year contract to purchase up to 1,500 megawatts from Russia (Ukraine currently uses the total 26,000 megawatts it generates). With Russian firms controlling about 30 percent of Ukraine's regional power distribution companies and beginning to export electricity to the country, the Kremlin is positioned to continue playing a role in Ukraine's energy sector.

Kiev knows how dependent it is and has made moving away from relying on Russian natural gas a top priority. Ukraine is buying natural gas reverse flows from Slovakia and has purchased supplies from Poland and Hungary in the past. Also, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced Feb. 14 that his country would borrow $1 billion in order to build up new natural gas and oil reserves.

But Ukraine will have to continue relying on Russia because Slovakia, Poland and Hungary are unable to provide sufficient natural gas supplies to meet demand during winter. Furthermore, the temporary deal between Ukraine's Naftogaz and Russia's Gazprom is set to expire at the end of March. Kiev will have to come to at least another temporary agreement with Gazprom before the summer months when Ukraine must begin filling up its storage facilities in preparation for winter.

On the surface, it appears the crisis has lessened Ukraine's economic and financial ties to Russia. The truth, however, is that Russia is still a significant player in the country's banking and energy sectors. In addition, it is maintaining its long-standing trade and industry ties. Moscow will continue using the subsidiaries of Russian firms, as well as Russian exporters, to apply pressure to Kiev and maintain influence within Ukraine's struggling economy. Nevertheless, Russia's own economic vulnerabilities to the West persist and will impact how the Kremlin wields its leverage over Ukraine.
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« Reply #107 on: February 24, 2015, 01:45:06 PM »

By Robert Wall in Abu Dhabi and James Marson in Moscow
Updated Feb. 24, 2015 2:06 p.m. ET

Ukraine said it would buy what it called defensive weapons from the United Arab Emirates, bypassing the West’s reluctance to provide arms to help Kiev’s forces against Russia-backed rebels.

President Petro Poroshenko, speaking Tuesday at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi, didn’t specify what type of equipment Ukraine would buy or in what quantities, but said they would help Ukraine protect its territory from the separatists.

The U.A.E. Defense Ministry couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. It didn’t include any Ukraine-related arms deals in its daily contract update for the exposition.

Ukraine has for months requested lethal weapons from its backers in the West, but run into stiff resistance especially from Germany, France and Britain, which fear an escalation in the nearly yearlong conflict.

The Obama administration recently began reconsidering supplying Javelin antitank missiles, small arms and ammunition to Ukraine, but delayed a decision during the latest European peace efforts, which brought a cease-fire agreement on Feb. 12.  Like a similar agreement in September, the truce has failed to fully take hold, as militants overran the strategic, Ukrainian-held town of Debaltseve last week.

In Washington on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia has repeatedly lied about the presence of Russian troops and weapons in Ukraine, and it is still “a question mark” on whether the U.S. will step up sanctions or provide lethal aid. The U.S. still wants to see the cease-fire agreements implemented, he told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

“Russia is engaged in a rather remarkable period of the most overt and extensive propaganda exercise that I’ve seen since the very height of the Cold War,” Mr. Kerry said. “And they have been persisting in their misrepresentations, lies, whatever you want to call them about their activities there, to my face, to the face of others on many different occasions.”

Col. Andriy Lysenko, a government security spokesman, said militants continued to shell Ukrainian positions on Tuesday, with one serviceman killed and seven injured in the last 24 hours.

He said that although the frequency of shelling had decreased, a full cease-fire needed to hold for two days before Kiev would pull its heavy weapons from the front lines—the next stage of the peace agreement.

Eduard Basurin, a rebel army commander, said his fighters had withdrawn heavy weapons from some towns on the front lines, but Col. Lysenko said the militants were regrouping elsewhere.

Russian President Vladimir Putin , who helped broker the Feb. 12 truce, said in a television interview in Moscow that “the situation will gradually normalize” if the full cease-fire deal is implemented. That includes a decentralization of power that would hand rebel-held areas greater powers, including the right to create their own police force and appoint prosecutors and judges.

Foreign ministers from Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France reaffirmed their commitment to the accord hashed out by their leaders, calling for “strict implementation” of all provisions.

Meeting in Paris, the envoys discussed the violence around Debaltseve and Mariupol—a Ukrainian port that has also been targeted by separatists—demanding that international monitors receive full access to the disputed areas.

“We call on all parties to cooperate,” the ministers said afterward, without saying which side was preventing the monitoring.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is looking to bolster its armed forces, which mostly use aging equipment from the Soviet era, after losing its Crimea region to Russia in March 2014, and then large swaths of its Donetsk and Luhansk regions to pro-Moscow separatists.

But the fighting has caused havoc in the local weapons industry, which has suffered the loss of some facilities as it tries to maintain production of items such as armored combat vehicles.

Mr. Poroshenko said a “practical dialogue” remained under way with the U.S. to provide defensive weapons, including communications gear and the ability to counter artillery fire that has been heavily used by rebels in eastern Ukraine.

“We hope that in the very near future we have the decision,” the Ukrainian president said. EU leaders have urged the U.S. not to provide lethal weapons, apparently fearing it would lead to more bloodshed.

The U.S. has provided Ukraine with nonlethal military aid, such as protective vests, night-vision goggles and counter-mortar radar systems.

U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon on Tuesday announced additional nonlethal support “in light of continued Russian-backed aggression,” including medical, logistics, infantry and intelligence capacity-building. He said up to 75 British troops would conduct the training from mid-March in Ukraine, but “well away” from the conflict area.

Prime Minister David Cameron told a parliamentary committee that Britain was “not at the stage of supplying lethal equipment” to Ukraine.

After a meeting with senior U.A.E. officials, Mr. Poroshenko said military technical-cooperation agreements were signed to bolster Ukraine’s arms industry, which he said also managed to secure several export orders. He called the deals “extremely important so we have the money to modernize our armed forces.”

Ukraine has been forced to scrap some foreign orders as it diverts items intended for export to fighting at home, said Lukyan Selsky, spokesman for UkrOboronProm, which represents most of Ukraine’s defense industry. “We had to put all the vehicles in the fight in eastern Ukraine,” he said.

Some production facilities in Crimea and eastern Ukraine also are no longer under government control, he said. Ukrainian officials believe some of the equipment has been relocated to Russia, though they lack proof.

Some personnel who worked in eastern Ukraine have been relocated to other plants. The ability to manufacture explosive powder, for instance, is being rebuilt after a key production site fell into rebel hands, Mr. Selsky said.

Ukraine also is trying to balance military needs with its limited financial resources. The country, for instance, can’t afford its own Oplot main battle tank, Mr. Selsky said. It has decided to continue their export and instead take older tanks that were in storage and upgrade them.

Write to Robert Wall at and James Marson at
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« Reply #108 on: February 26, 2015, 12:28:03 PM »

 An Arms Deal for Ukraine Serves to Warn Russia
Geopolitical Diary
February 25, 2015 | 21:58 GMT
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A day after Tuesday's announcement of an arms deal between Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates, the dust is beginning to settle and the details are starting to become clear. Much attention has been given to the potential for U.S. involvement in this deal and the possibility that the agreement is a way to indirectly transfer U.S. weapons Ukraine, a move that would cross a red line for Russia. However, UAE weapons cooperation with Ukraine is not likely to be that incendiary. For now, the deal serves the political purpose of signaling to Moscow that there are consequences for its actions — not only in Ukraine, but also in Iran and the rest of the world.

Stratfor sources have indicated that UAE military supplies to Ukraine are likely restricted to lower-profile items such as armored vehicles rather than "game-changing" technology. Using the United Arab Emirates simply as a conduit for U.S.-produced arms makes little sense because of the permission required from Washington to transfer critical U.S.-produced systems to a third party. Such a move would not give the United States any more political cover than a direct delivery to Ukraine would.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.

Defense deals between Abu Dhabi and Kiev are not new. Even during the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates delivered armored vehicles to the Ukrainian military that have been used in active operations. The United Arab Emirates has developed a modest defense industry, and securing export deals for these armored vehicles is a normal practice.

But the timing of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's claim that the countries signed a contract worth tens of millions of dollars on Tuesday is critical. In recent weeks, the United States has issued a deluge of statements about retaining the option to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, and Russia has responded with a deluge of warnings. Abu Dhabi is not seeking to antagonize Moscow, but right now, defense-related cooperation with Ukraine at any level inadvertently affects relations with Russia. Poroshenko's invitation to the IDEX 2015 defense industry convention in the United Arab Emirates is certain to have caught Russia's eye. The invitation follows a recent visit to Iran by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that put the delivery of Russian air defense systems to Iran back on the table. The delivery of the S-300 air defense system has been a source of diplomatic controversy for some time and would exacerbate Abu Dhabi's concerns about Iran's military capabilities and nuclear program. In this context, displaying some degree of defense cooperation with Ukraine would serve as a reminder to Moscow that the United Arab Emirates can deliver weapon systems to places sensitive to Russian interests.

However, any weapon in and of itself will not reverse Ukraine's fortunes in the war. A weapon system has a capability, but that capability can only be used for a certain set of specific tasks on any given battlefield, whether they be offensive or defensive — a distinction the Russians will not make about any weapons sold or transferred to Ukraine. A weapon can have a massive impact on the battlefield if its capabilities neutralize or destroy the enemy's strength or exploit a weakness, if it is present in enough numbers and if the troops wielding it have been properly trained. All of this requires money — something the Ukrainians do not have much of, leaving them largely dependent on third-party largesse and a geopolitical context that rises above just fighting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

This explains the level of noise surrounding any potential weapons transfers to Ukraine. The separatists, with heavy Russian support, have had much success on the battlefield against a fairly weak Ukrainian military, predominantly by using armor and artillery. But the United States and its allies possess some weapons systems that could impose painful costs if they are fielded in large enough numbers and the Ukrainian military is trained in their use. The Javelin anti-tank guided missile is an oft-cited example of such a system. It may not win the war, but it could result in a higher attrition rate for Russian tanks, and that is why Russia has warned it would respond if significant weapons deliveries occur.

There is a context and timing to all of this noise as well. It grew louder when the separatists and their Russian backers looked like they could seriously expand their territorial holdings in eastern Ukraine. The threat of weapons deliveries from the United States was meant to deter such thinking. In other words, the United States has been telling Russia that the conflict in eastern Ukraine will get much more painful if Moscow continues using the combat situation as leverage in negotiations with Kiev. This strategy seems to have worked, to a point; a cease-fire has been implemented, albeit slowly and painfully.

A deterrent like the threat of arms deliveries does not go away. The combination of U.S. threats and the secretive UAE deal with Ukraine has opened up all levels of speculation. This deal seems to be more about low-level transfers and subtle messaging for now, but many options remain open as the conflict continues. All sides are likely to continue discussing and speculating about negotiations as well as any future arms deals with Ukraine as long as the status of eastern Ukraine remains in doubt.
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« Reply #109 on: March 02, 2015, 05:45:40 PM »

I have no idea whether this is true or not.
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