Americans ‘not ready to admit they cannot run the show’
The coup-appointed Kiev government’s order to use force against Ukrainian citizens is “criminal,” the Russian Foreign Minister told RT. He also denied claims that there is Russian military presence on Ukrainian territory.
In an interview with RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze, Sergey Lavrov called acting Ukrainian President Alexander Turchinov’s order to reinitiate an anti-terror operation in East Ukraine, a criminal act.
Referencing the four-sided talks between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine that took place in Geneva on April 17, Lavrov accused Kiev’s coup-appointed government of going back on its pledge to put a stop to all violence.
“In Geneva we agreed there must be an end of all violence. Next afternoon [interim Ukrainian President Aleksandr] Turchinov declared almost a state of emergency and ordered the army to shoot at the people.”
Turchinov announced the resumption of the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday. Moscow has decried the operation and urged the Ukrainian government to refrain from using force on civilians living in the region.
The Russian Foreign Minister said the buildup of troops on the border with Ukraine was within the bounds of international law and denied the presence of Russian troops in East Ukraine. Lavrov said the troops were participating in routine military drills, something that has been verified by international inspectors.
Describing a worst case scenario in the Ukrainian crisis, Lavrov said Russia would be forced to respond if it were attacked.
“If we are attacked, we would certainly respond. If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law,” he said.
“Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” he told RT.
Referencing Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s trip to the Vatican on Wednesday, Lavrov said the acting Prime Minister would do better to visit the South of Ukraine and actually meet with the anti-Maidan protesters.
The foreign minister also spoke about American involvement in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, accusing Washington of trying to manipulate the situation.
“There is no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show,” said Lavrov, referencing US Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to Kiev and its coincidence with the renewed counter-terror operation on activists in eastern Ukraine.
“It’s quite telling they chose the moment of the Vice President of the US’ visit to announce the resumption of this operation because the launching of this operation happened immediately after [head of the CIA] John Brennan’s visit to Kiev,” said Lavrov.
The situation in Ukraine is just another example of Washington trying to gain ground in the geopolitical fight, the minister said.
“Ukraine is just one manifestation of the American unwillingness to yield in the geopolitical fight. Americans are not ready to admit that they cannot run the show in each and every part of the globe from Washington alone,” said Lavrov, adding Washington’s “ready-made solutions” cannot remedy a crisis that it does not understand.
The Russian government does not recognize Kiev’s interim government, which took power on February 22 following weeks of deadly protests ending with the ouster of President Victor Yanukovich.
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There is now a pattern to New York Times “investigative” stories that seek to pin the blame on some nefarious foreign enemy, as in the 2002 article on Iraq buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges; the 2013 “vector analysis” tracing sarin-laden rockets to a Syrian military base; and now a photographic analysis proving that Russian soldiers are behind unrest in eastern Ukraine.
All these stories draw hard conclusions from very murky evidence while ignoring or brushing aside alternative explanations. They also pile up supportive acclamations for their conclusions from self-interested sources while treating any doubters as rubes. And, these three articles all involved reporter Michael R. Gordon.
The infamous aluminum tube story of Sept. 8, 2002, which Gordon co-wrote with Judith Miller, relied on U.S. intelligence sources and Iraqi defectors to frighten Americans with images of “mushroom clouds” if they didn’t support President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The timing played perfectly into the administration’s advertising “rollout” for the Iraq War.
Of course, the story turned out to be false and to have unfairly downplayed skeptics of the nuclear-centrifuge scenario. The aluminum tubes actually were meant for artillery, not for centrifuges. But the article provided a great impetus toward the Iraq War, which ended up killing nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Gordon’s co-author, Judith Miller, became the only U.S. journalist known to have lost a job over the reckless and shoddy reporting that contributed to the Iraq disaster. For his part, Gordon continued serving as a respected Pentagon correspondent.
Gordon’s name also showed up in a supporting role on the Times’ botched “vector analysis” of Sept. 17, 2013, which nearly helped get the United States into another Mideast war, with Syria. That story traced the flight paths of two rockets, recovered in suburbs of Damascus after the Aug. 21 sarin gas attack, back to a Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away.
The article became the “slam-dunk” evidence that the Syrian government was lying when it denied launching the sarin attack that killed several hundred people.
However, like the aluminum tube story, the Times’ ”vector analysis” also ignored contrary evidence, such as the unreliability of one azimuth from a rocket that landed in Moadamiya because it had struck a building in its descent. That rocket also was found to contain no sarin, so it’s inclusion in the vectoring of two sarin-laden rockets made no sense.
But the Times’ story ultimately fell apart when rocket scientists analyzed the one sarin-laden rocket that had landed in the Zamalka area and determined that it had a maximum range of about two kilometers, meaning that it could not have originated from the Syrian military base.
Now, the New York Times has led its Monday editions with an article supposedly proving that Russian military special forces are secretly directing the popular uprisings in eastern Ukraine in resistance to the Kiev regime, which took power after the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22.
The Times based its story on grainy photographs provided by the Kiev regime supposedly showing the same armed “green men” involved in actions with the Russian military earlier and now with the pro-Russian protesters who have seized government buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine.
From the New York Times graphic package of photos in support of its article accusing Russia of sending special forces soldiers into eastern Ukraine
The Times reported:
“Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.”
The Times apparently accepts the photos as legitimate in terms of where and when they were taken, but that requires first trusting the source, the post-coup regime in Kiev which has a strong motive for making this argument as a prelude to violently crushing the eastern Ukrainian protests.
Secondly, one has to believe that the fuzzy photographs of the circled faces are the same individuals. They may be, but it is difficult to be sure from what is displayed. The principal figure shown is a man with a long beard and a cap sometimes pulled down over his forehead. He could be a Russian special forces soldier or a character from “Duck Dynasty.”
And the resemblance of some uniforms to those worn by Russian soldiers is also circumstantial, since military gear often looks similar or it could have been sold to civilians, or the men could be veterans who kept their old uniforms after leaving the military. The fact that these men are adept at handling weapons also could mean that they have prior military experience, not that they are still active.
For the Times to cite the Obama administration’s endorsement of the Kiev regime’s claims as some kind of verification is also silly. Anyone who has followed the Ukraine crisis knows that the U.S. government is wholeheartedly on the side of the post-coup regime, trumpeting its propaganda and dismissing any counterclaims from the Yanukovych camp or from Moscow.
There’s other silliness in the Times article, such as the notion that the Russians are unusual in “masking” their special forces when U.S. military and intelligence services have been doing the same for decades. In contradicting Russian denials that the Kremlin has dispatched undercover soldiers, the Times wrote:
“But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say.”
Is it possible that the Times’ reporters, including Pentagon correspondent Gordon, don’t know that U.S. Special Forces and CIA officers routinely grow beards and wear local garb to blend in when they are operating in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Central America, etc.?
When I was covering Central America policy in the 1980s, I knew American mercenaries, including former U.S. Special Forces soldiers, who provided training and other assistance to the region’s security forces. Sometimes, these veterans coordinated their actions with the U.S. government and sometimes they were simply making money.
More recently, there have been the various permutations of Blackwater, a private security firm that employs former U.S. military personnel and makes them available to governments around the world, sometimes in support of American interests but sometimes not.
All these are factors that should be considered when making claims about whether military men who show up in Kiev or eastern Ukraine or anywhere else are on assignment for a specific government or are working for a local “oligarch” or are simply inspired by nationalism. But these nuances are missing from the Times story as it jumps to its preferred conclusion.
Plus, you have to wonder how skillful the Russians really are at “masking” if they have their special forces troops wear uniforms that can be so easily traced back to Russia.
That is not to say that these “green men” might not be Russian special forces. I have one longtime source who is convinced that they are Russian soldiers (though he has not seen any proof), and another source who insists that the Russian government did not want the uprisings in eastern Ukraine and did not dispatch these men.
But the Times should have learned from its previous blunders and taken care to include alternative scenarios or point to evidentiary holes in what the Kiev regime claimed. Instead, the Times has again acted like a prosecutor determined to make a case, not a fair-minded judge weighing the evidence.
It is also an indictment of the Times’ professionalism that this newspaper of record can’t seem to detect neo-Nazis in the post-coup regime, when some have open histories of pro-Nazi behavior, while it goes to dubious lengths to discredit the eastern Ukrainians who are resisting the imposition of authority from an unelected administration in Kiev.
Just like the “aluminum tube” story that justified killing so many Iraqis and the “vector analysis” that almost unleashed a devastating U.S. bombing campaign on Syria, the Times’ “green men” piece may be the prelude to a bloodbath in eastern Ukraine. [For more on the U.S. propaganda, see “Ukraine. Through the US ‘Looking Glass.’”]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
The Russian Foreign Minister says the US should take responsibility for those whom they put in power instead issuing ultimatums to Moscow.
“Before giving us ultimatums, demanding that we fulfill demands within two or three days with the threat of sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully accept responsibility for those who they brought to power,” said Lavrov during a press conference with his colleague from Mozambique, Oldemiro Baloi.
All attempts to isolate Russia will lead to a dead end because Russia is “a big, independent power that knows what it wants,” he added
Meanwhile, the Russian FM also criticized statements from Western countries and Kiev’s authorities, which “invent possible and impossible arguments against Russia,” claiming that a large amount of Russian arms in the conflict zones proves Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs.
He called the statements absurd as Ukraine has traditionally used Russian-made arms.
“This statement is ludicrous. Everyone has Russian arms in Ukraine,” Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, he also said that TV outlets have reported that US arms were also found in Ukraine and illegal armed groups, not the Ukrainian army were in possession of these American arms.
Speaking about the crisis situation in eastern Ukraine and Kiev’s crackdown on the Donetsk region, Lavrov also said that Kiev authorities don’t want or maybe cannot control the extremists who continue to control the situation in the country.
“The authorities are doing nothing, not even lifting a finger, to address the causes behind this deep internal crisis in Ukraine,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lavrov also said that the Kiev coup-appointed government has violated the Geneva agreements of April 17, after the four-sided talks between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine.
“The Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) group has been “running the show” in the streets of central and western Ukraine and is trying to affect eastern regions,” he said, adding that buildings in Kiev seized by the protesters haven’t been freed and the streets haven’t been cleared.
“However, Kiev authorities say that “Maidan” is acting legally which is totally inadmissible,” he said.
Meanwhile, the attack by militants on the checkpoint in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on Easter Sunday is a crime beneficial only for those who want to derail the Geneva agreements, said the Russian FM.
“The fact that extremists started to shoot at unarmed civilians is unacceptable,” he added.
Meanwhile, he also criticized the attitude of Kiev to foreign journalists in Ukraine as journalists in the country are being arrested and the authorities won’t let them into the regions for them to observe what is happening.
He also stressed that one of the Geneva agreement’s points is to amnesty political prisoners and participants in the protests.
“Instead of releasing the Donetsk governor, Pavel Gubarev, Kiev authorities continue to arrest activists in southeastern Ukraine,” said Lavrov.
According to Lavrov, the Kiev authorities are still spinning out the implementation of constitutional reform in the country.
“Why were they waiting for so long to speak about the necessity of constitutional reform? Why are they spinning out the process?” he asked at the conference.
Lavrov also stressed the necessity of restoring order in the crisis-torn country. By this he meant stopping extremism and religious intolerance, starting constitutional dialogue and disarming the illegally armed groups.
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed outrage over the deadly gun battle on Saturday night in the protester-held city of Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine. It said Kiev must deliver on its commitment to de-escalate the violence.
Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU agreed this week in Geneva on a roadmap to calm tension down in protest-gripped eastern Ukraine. The agreement includes disarmaming paramilitary groups on both sides of the conflict.
Yet on Saturday night an apparent raid by a Right Sector radical paramilitary unit ended with up to 6 people killed in Slavyansk, a city in Ukraine’s Donetsk region controlled by anti-Kiev protesters.
Moscow condemned the violence on Sunday and said it indicates Kiev’s unwillingness to implement the Geneva agreement.
“The Russian side is outraged with the provocation, which indicates that Kiev is unwilling to put in check and disarm nationalists and extremists,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry added that Moscow “insists on the strict implementation by the Ukrainian side of its commitments to de-escalate the situation in southeastern Ukraine.”
The Geneva document agreed on Thursday after marathon negotiations is aimed at defusing the Ukrainian political crisis. In addition to disarming paramilitary groups, it provides for an amnesty for protesters not involved in violent crimes and preparation of constitutional reform to provide greater autonomy for Ukrainian regions.
A letter urging the Jews of Donetsk to get registered, which the US Secretary of State cited in Geneva, is a fake says a man whose signature appears on the communication.
Following the four-side meeting on the Ukrainian crisis in Geneva on Wednesday, John Kerry lashed out at a letter that was allegedly sent to Jewish citizens in Ukraine’s eastern town of Donetsk, asking them to register and report all their property, or be stripped of citizenship and face expulsion.
“In year 2014, after all of the miles traveled in all the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it’s grotesque… beyond unacceptable,” he stated.
Images of the letter have been circulating online.
The letter was stamped and signed by Denis Pushilin, who was identified on it as the “People’s Governor.”
However, Pushilin denied he had anything to do with the letter, claiming it was a fake.
“There are similar letters not only addressed to Jews, but also to businessmen, foreign students, people of certain other occupations,” he told RT. “This is actually a fake, and not a good one. There’s a sign “People’s Governor”. First of all, no one calls me by that title, no one elected me. Secondly, the stamp is the former mayor’s. Everything’s photoshopped.”
Although the letter’s authenticity is questionable, the fact that it was mentioned by a top US official has quickly sent the “Letter to Jews” story viral. It struck a very sensitive chord with audiences worldwide and cast a grave shadow over anti-government protesters in Donetsk.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian MP who has visited the turbulent region, Boris Kolesnikov of the Party of Regions, has urged that information coming from Ukraine should be double-checked.
He believes that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies aren’t being totally honest when they describe the people participating in the protests and claim there are Russian servicemen among them.
Kolesnikov specifically referred to a video which earlier appeared online. In it a man in a military uniform told police officers, who switched sides in the city of Gorlovka and joined protesters, that he was Russian lieutenant-colonel from Simpheropol, Crimea. The man was later identified by Gorlovka residents as the former director of a local cemetery.
“Officially, I’ve only seen one Russian serviceman,” Kolesnikov said. “The next day he appeared to be the ex-director of the Gorlovka cemetery, fired 2 years ago for selling 38 fences, stealing a monument and extorting money from old women for new graves. There are Interior Ministry and intelligence services in the country, which should give us truthful information.”
He added it was quite obvious that the protesters in Donetsk did not represent any danger to civilians and called for negotiations with the activists. These talks would explain Kiev’s position and that the government is ready to make amendments to the constitution.
The US appears to be relying on information from Kiev, while ignoring alternative points of view. And so it seems that a top US official picked up and railed about a letter of questionable authenticity.
Earlier in April, spokesperson for the US Department of State, Jen Psaki, said that protest events in eastern Ukraine “appeared to be a carefully orchestrated campaign with Russian support.”
She was then asked if the department was only relying on Kiev in its assessment of the situation, or was using some independent sources.
“Well, of course we remain very closely in touch with the Ukrainian Government, and that’s who we work closely with, and of course, they are on the ground, so their information is often very relevant and current,” was the reply.
The media refers to the document that emerged out of today’s four party talks as an “agreement”. This is not strictly correct. The text of the document is here.
As its text makes clear what this document is in reality is not an an agreement to settle the Ukrainian crisis or even an outline of such an agreement but rather a statement of basic principles around which an agreement should be negotiated. The real agreement (if it comes about) will emerge from negotiations based on the principles set out in this document.
A number of points:
1. Kiev’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the statement that “all sides must refrain from all violence, intimidation and provocative actions” clearly rules out the “anti terrorist operation” in the eastern Ukraine that Kiev launched on Sunday;
2. As Lavrov has correctly pointed out the provisions in the third paragraph that require the disarmament and dissolution of armed groups is clearly intended to refer as much to Right Sector and the Maidan Self Defence Force as it does to the protesters in the east. Note specifically that the statement calls for a general amnesty except for those who have committed capital crimes (ie. murder). So far no protesters in the east have murdered anyone. Even Kiev admits that none of its soldiers have so far been killed. The same obviously cannot be said of Right Sector and of the Maidan Self Defence Force even if one disregards their likely responsibility for the sniper killings in Kiev on 20th February 2014;
3. The document clearly refers to Maidan itself, which it says must be cleared. Specifically alongside illegally occupied buildings the document refers to “all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities”. The reference to “squares” clearly is intended to refer to Maidan, which the militants in Kiev have said they will continue to occupy at least until the elections on 25th May 2014 and even beyond;
4. Importantly there is NO time line in the document. There is no demand therefore that buildings be evacuated by any particular date or time. That has to be agreed and coordinated with the OSCE monitors on the ground. The people in the eastern Ukraine are therefore entirely within their rights to stay in the buildings at the moment until a timeline is agreed with the OSCE monitors, one requirement of which will surely be parallel evacuations of occupied squares and buildings in Kiev and the west including Maidan.
5. The referral to the OSCE as the enforcement and mediation agency between the regime and its opponents gives Russia a formal role in the process since it is a member of the OSCE. By contrast the negotiations which took place before 21st February 2014 were negotiated and mediated by the EU of which Russia is not a member;
6. The reference to the fact that in the negotiations concerning constitutional changes there should be “outreach to all the Ukraine’s regions and constituencies” (note especially use of the word “constituencies”) gives a role to the protesters in the east in the negotiations and not just to those formal official bodies currently recognised by Kiev.
This document on its face therefore represents a shift towards the Russian/east Ukrainian side. Indeed it basically sets out principles Russia has been arguing for ever since Yanukovitch was deposed on 22nd February 2014.
Unfortunately that does not mean this road map is going to be successfully followed. Already Kiev is trying to argue that the “anti terrorist operation” it has ordered is somehow exempt from it (it isn’t) whilst the US is threatening to impose more sanctions on Russia if following the weekend Russia fails to impose pressure on the eastern Ukrainians to evacuate buildings they occupy without the US undertaking to put any corresponding pressure on its clients in Kiev (shades of Syria here). It is very easy to see how the US and its allies could then blame Russia for the failure of the road map whilst having caused that failure themselves.
However the Russians do have a number of strong cards to play of their own:
1. The growing unrest in the Donbass, which will almost certainly spread to more regions of the eastern Ukraine unless some serious concessions are made. The events of the last few days have exposed Kiev’s difficulties in suppressing this unrest. Significantly no further step in pursuit of the “anti terrorist operation” seems to have been taken today as Kiev reels from the military defections of yesterday;
2. Russia as Putin pointedly reminded everybody in his television marathon today can always refuse to recognise the results of the Presidential elections on 25th May 2014 if the negotiations are failing to make progress and also has authority from the Federation Council to send troops into the eastern Ukraine if the situation there deteriorates further. A refusal to recognise the results of the election will further undermine the legitimacy of whoever is elected. It is now clear that there will be no significant military resistance from forces loyal to Kiev if the Russian army moves into the eastern Ukraine. If that happens the likelihood is that Kiev will lose the eastern Ukraine forever (note Putin’s pointed reference to “Novorossiya” in his television marathon today) – a nightmare scenario for both Kiev and the west though not one Russia is pursuing at the moment;
3. It is now clear that without Russia’s assistance the possibility of stabilising the Ukraine’s economy quite simply does not exist. The last paragraph specifically refers to the importance of the Ukraine “financial and economic stability” to “the participants” and says “the participants…. would be ready to discuss additional support as the above steps are implemented”. The most important of the “participants” in this regard is Russia. It bears repeating (as Putin has recently pointed out) that Russia is the only participant so far providing any economic assistance to the Ukraine at all. The US is only offering $1 billion in loan guarantees and the EU is offering just 1.6 billion euros none of which have so far been provided. What this document in effect therefore says is that whilst Russia is prepared to assist in the stabilisation of the Ukraine’s economy its help is conditional on the fulfilment of the provisions of the road map;
4. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is growing resistance within the EU to further sanctions against Russia. The fact that a process has now been launched to settle this crisis will redouble European reluctance to introduce more sanctions and will increase pressure within the EU for the process to be treated seriously so that it can succeed.
In conclusion, we are not out of the woods or anywhere close. This is not the beginning of the end of the crisis. But we may be a small step closer to that point. A lot will depend on what happens next and the key decisions will be made on the ground in the Ukraine itself.
Russia, the US, the EU and Ukraine have adopted a joint document on the de-escalation of the Ukraine crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, after talks in Geneva. It calls for all illegal armed groups to lay down arms and a wide amnesty.
The document calls for an “immediate start of a nationwide national dialogue within the framework of the constitutional process, which must be inclusive and accountable,” Lavrov said.
The most important agreement reached during the talks, according to Lavrov, states that the Ukrainian crisis “must be resolved by the Ukrainians themselves concerning an end to the conflict” including those related to “detaining protesters, occupying buildings” and, in the long run “the start of true constitutional reform.”
“Among the steps that have to be taken are: the disarmament of all the illegal armed groups, and the return of all the occupied administrative buildings,” Lavrov told journalists at the Thursday briefing.
“An amnesty for all the protesters must take place, except of those who committed grave crimes,” the Foreign Minister added.
The issue of illegal armed groups and seized buildings concerns all the regions of Ukraine, Lavrov stressed.
“It is impossible to solve the problem of illegally seized buildings in one region of Ukraine when the illegally seized buildings are not freed in another,” he said.
“Those who took power in Kiev as a result of a coup – if they consider themselves as representing the interests of all the Ukrainians – must show the initiative, extend a friendly hand to the regions, listen to their concerns, and sit down with them at the negotiation table,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov said the document does not give any guidelines on the future political system of Ukraine.
“We did not use any terms… There are federations where the rights of the regions are limited, and there are unitary states in name only where the regions have broad authority,” he explained.
The goal of the meeting was to send a signal to the Ukrainians that they are responsible for stability in the country and must ensure that “each region can protect its history and language,” Lavrov stressed.
“Only then will Ukraine be a strong state, a proverbial bridge between the East and the West,” Lavrov said.
The Russian side on Thursday provided US and EU representatives with documents passed on from south-eastern Ukrainians, which contain “a thorough vision of how their interests should be reflected in the new [Ukrainian] constitution.”
The OSCE’s (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) monitoring mission must play “the leading role” in assisting the Ukrainian authorities to resolve the crisis, Lavrov stressed, adding that Russia “will support” the mission’s work.
The Geneva meeting has given Russia “hopes” that “the US and the EU are genuinely interested in a trilateral cooperation with Russia aimed at convincing the Ukrainian to sit down at the negotiation table,” Lavrov said.
According to the Russian top diplomat, the Americans now have a “decisive influence” on the Kiev authorities, which should be used for resolving the crisis.
Russia “does not want to send any troops to Ukraine,” Lavrov stressed, answering journalists’ questions. Moscow’s chief concern is that the rights of all the Ukrainian regions, including those with Russian-speaking majorities, must be taken into account in the constitutional reform.
“We have absolutely no wish to send our troops to Ukraine, to the territory of a friendly state, to the land of a brotherly nation. This is against the fundamental interests of the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said.
Calling the recent NATO statements on Ukraine’s neutrality “unacceptable,” Lavrov stressed that pushing for changes in the country’s non-aligned status will “undermine the efforts to resolve the crisis” in Ukraine.
“The fact that Ukraine has chosen non-aligned status and enshrined it in its law must be respected by all and there should not be any attempts to doubt it or to erode its meaning,” the Russian Foreign Minister stressed.
Ahead of the quadrilateral talks, Lavrov met US Secretary of State John Kerry, while EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton saw Ukraine’s acting Foreign Minister Andrey Deshchytsa. Both meetings were held behind closed doors.
There is no large Russian military presence in East Ukraine, head of EU intelligence, Commodore Georgij Alafuzoff, has said. The spy chief has dismissed multiple accusations from the West alleging Russian involvement in the unrest in the region.
In an interview with Finnish national news broadcaster, Yle, Alafuzoff said the Russian military had nothing to do with the seizing of government buildings in eastern Ukraine.
“In my opinion, it’s mostly people who live in the region who are not satisfied with the current state of affairs,” said Alafuzoff, referring to the situation in East Ukraine. He went on to say that the people are worried for the welfare of those who speak Russian as their first language in the region.
Alafuzoff echoed the words of the Russian government which has categorically denied interfering in the ongoing unrest. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a press conference on Monday that Moscow is not interested in destabilizing Ukraine and wants the country to remain united.
Anti-Kiev activists in the southeast of Ukraine have seized local government buildings as a mark of protest against the coup-appointed Ukrainian government. In response to the unrest, Ukraine’s interim President Aleksandr Turchinov announced the beginning of an “anti-terrorist” operation in eastern Ukraine.
On Tuesday, military hardware and troops began to mass on the outskirts of the eastern city of Slavyansk. Sightings of groups of military vehicles have been reported in the neighboring Kharkov and Lugansk regions, where pro-Russian and anti-Kiev sentiment is high.
Moscow has condemned Kiev’s operation as “anti-constitutional” and “criminal” and indicative of the government’s unwillingness to open dialogue with the regions.
“We are deeply concerned over the military operation launched by the Ukrainian Special Forces with support by the army. There have already been victims,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
Anti-Kiev sentiment is, meanwhile, spreading across Ukraine. On Wednesday the anti-Maidan movement in the city of Odessa called for a day of protests and declared the creation of a “people’s republic” in the region.
“From this day on, the Odessa region is declared the Odessa People’s Republic where the power belongs only to the people who live there. Tomorrow at 4pm [13:00 GMT] Odessa should grind to a halt, literally!” read a message on the Odessa Anti-Maidan movement’s website.
The protest movement in southeast Ukraine is rejecting Kiev’s coup-appointed government that was established in February following weeks of violent protests.
The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have made significant progress in setting up structures that would serve as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are dominated by the U.S. and the EU. A currency reserve pool, as a replacement for the IMF, and a BRICS development bank, as a replacement for the World Bank, will begin operating as soon as in 2015, Russian Ambassador at Large Vadim Lukov has said.
Brazil has already drafted a charter for the BRICS Development Bank, while Russia is drawing up intergovernmental agreements on setting the bank up, he added.
In addition, the BRICS countries have already agreed on the amount of authorized capital for the new institutions: $100 billion each. “Talks are under way on the distribution of the initial capital of $50 billion between the partners and on the location for the headquarters of the bank. Each of the BRICS countries has expressed a considerable interest in having the headquarters on its territory,” Lukov said.
It is expected that contributions to the currency reserve pool will be as follows: China, $41 billion; Brazil, India, and Russia, $18 billion each; and South Africa, $5 billion. The amount of the contributions reflects the size of the countries’ economies.
By way of comparison, the IMF reserves, which are set by the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), currently stand at 238.4 billion euros, or $369.52 billion dollars. In terms of amounts, the BRICS currency reserve pool is, of course, inferior to the IMF. However, $100 billion should be quite sufficient for five countries, whereas the IMF comprises 188 countries – which may require financial assistance at any time.
BRICS Development Bank
The BRICS countries are setting up a Development Bank as an alternative to the World Bank in order to grant loans for projects that are beneficial not for the U.S. or the EU, but for developing countries.
The purpose of the bank is to primarily finance external rather than internal projects. The founding countries believe that they are quite capable of developing their own projects themselves. For instance, Russia has a National Wealth Fund for this purpose.
“Loans from the Development Bank will be aimed not so much at the BRICS countries as for investment in infrastructure projects in other countries, say, in Africa,” says Ilya Prilepsky, a member of the Economic Expert Group. “For example, it would be in BRICS’ interest to give a loan to an African country for a hydropower development program, where BRICS countries could supply their equipment or act as the main contractor.”
If the loan is provided by the IMF, the equipment will be supplied by western countries that control its operations.
The creation of the BRICS Development Bank has a political significance too, since it allows its member states to promote their interests abroad. “It is a political move that can highlight the strengthening positions of countries whose opinion is frequently ignored by their developed American and European colleagues. The stronger this union and its positions on the world arena are, the easier it will be for its members to protect their own interests,” points out Natalya Samoilova, head of research at the investment company Golden Hills-Kapital AM.
Having said that, the creation of alternative associations by no means indicates that the BRICS countries will necessarily quit the World Bank or the IMF, at least not initially, says Ilya Prilepsky.
Currency reserve pool
In addition, the BRICS currency reserve pool is a form of insurance, a cushion of sorts, in the event a BRICS country faces financial problems or a budget deficit. In Soviet times it would have been called “a mutual benefit society”, says Nikita Kulikov, deputy director of the consulting company HEADS. Some countries in the pool will act as a safety net for the other countries in the pool.
The need for such protection has become evident this year, when developing countries’ currencies, including the Russian ruble, have been falling.
The currency reserve pool will assist a member country with resolving problems with its balance of payments by making up a shortfall in foreign currency.
Assistance can be given when there is a sharp devaluation of the national currency or massive capital flight due to a softer monetary policy by the U.S. Federal Reserve System, or when there are internal problems, or a crisis, in the banking system. If banks have borrowed a lot of foreign currency cash and are unable to repay the debt, then the currency reserve pool will be able to honor those external obligations.
This structure should become a worthy alternative to the IMF, which has traditionally provided support to economies that find themselves in a budgetary emergency.
“A large part of the fund goes toward saving the euro and the national currencies of developed countries. Given that governance of the IMF is in the hands of western powers, there is little hope for assistance from the IMF in case of an emergency. That is why the currency reserve pool would come in very handy,” says ambassador Lukov.
The currency reserve pool will also help the BRICS countries to gradually establish cooperation without the use of the dollar, points out Natalya Samoilova. This, however, will take time. For the time being, it has been decided to replenish the authorized capital of the Development Bank and the Currency Reserve Pool with U.S. dollars. Thus the U.S. currency system is getting an additional boost. However, it cannot be ruled out that very soon (given the threat of U.S. and EU economic sanctions against Russia) the dollar may be replaced by the ruble and other national currencies of the BRICS counties.
The satellite images released by NATO that allegedly show a current build-up of Russian troops near Ukrainian border were taken in August 2013 amid military drills, a source in the General Staff of the Russian Army has said.
NATO’s top military commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, on Wednesday claimed that there is evidence of what he says are 40,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, tweeting a link to satellite images.
The images, some of them colored and some black and white, appear to show multiple Russian tanks, helicopters, fighter jets and a “special forces brigade” with locations and dates added to them. The dates marked range from March 22 to March 27, 2014. Another image not available on the original webpage but used by some Western media has “April 2, 2014” stamped on it.
Upon looking at the photos, a senior official at the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces has confirmed to RIA Novosti the troops shown are indeed Russian ones and that they were photographed in the south of Russia.
There is one problem, though: the images were taken some eight months before the stated date, the source said.
“These shots, which were distributed by NATO, show Russian Armed Forces units of the Southern Military District, which in the summer of last year were taking part in various drills, including near the Ukrainian border,” the General Staff official told RIA Novosti.
Large military drills held in the south of Russia last year included Combat Commonwealth 2013 – a joint air defense exercise of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Back then, Ukrainian troops participated in the international drills.
NATO on Thursday continued ramping up allegations of possible “Russian invasion” into Ukraine, with NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen claiming that 40,000 Russian troops are still amassed on the Ukrainian border “not training but ready for combat.”
Rasmussen’s “message to Russia” was then “to stop blaming others for your own actions, to stop massing your troops, to stop escalating this crisis and start engaging in a genuine dialogue.”
Meanwhile, General Breedlove on Wednesday said that US troops may soon be deployed to Europe to “reassure” the NATO allies – a notion, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called a flagrant breach of the bloc’s international obligations.
The Ukrainian coup-imposed government has also stepped up its rhetoric on Russia’s military presence, even claiming there is “military activity on behalf of the Russian Federation… on the territory of Ukraine” in an invitation to the Netherlands via OSCE network.
Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich on Thursday responded to the allegations by stressing that “on the territory of Ukraine, there is no military activity conducted by Russia.”
“This has been confirmed by the group of inspectors from Denmark, Germany, Poland, Austria and Sweden, who were in Ukraine from March 20 to April 2 and visited Kharkov, Donetsk, Mariupol, Nikolaev and Odessa regions,” Lukashevich stated.
Suggesting the territory mentioned in the diplomatic note might have been that of the Crimean Republic, the spokesman said the related activity there has to do with transferring of the ships and military hardware to Ukraine, as well as with the “inventorying of the military installations.” As soon as this process is finished, the international inspectors are welcome to the territory of the peninsula – provided they send a request to Moscow, not to Kiev, he stressed.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov says Moscow will act in accordance with United Nations rules and not US regulations on sanctions against Iran in conducting any “oil-for-goods” transactions with Tehran.
“We act on the basis of the decisions made by the United Nations that set sanctions, set product groups which would be sanctioned and we operate within those decisions,” Siluanov told reporters during the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings in Washington on Friday.
“There is a nuance. Our American partners have their own legislation which differs somewhat from the provisions set by the United Nations and they follow their own rules,” he added.
On Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned the Russian minister that any possible oil-for-goods deal between Moscow and Iran in the future could run afoul of US sanctions.
Lew also said it would run counter to an interim deal reached between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, China, France, Britain and the US – plus Germany over Tehran’s nuclear energy program.
Iran and the six nations reached an interim nuclear deal on November 24, 2013, in the Swiss city of Geneva. The deal took effect on January 20.
Under the Geneva deal, the six countries agreed to provide Iran with some sanctions relief in exchange for Iran agreeing to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities during a six-month period. It was also agreed that no nuclear-related sanctions would be imposed on the Islamic Republic within the same time frame.
Ukraine should recognize Crimea’s independence, reform the country’s constitution, regulate the crisis in its eastern regions and guarantee the rights of Russian speakers if it wants to get financial help from Moscow, Russia’s finance minister has said.
“If Ukraine fulfils these four conditions, then Russia will be able to propose further steps on additional help both on financial and gas issues,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said after meeting with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schauble, in Washington.
Deescalating tensions in eastern Ukraine should be peaceful, based on Ukraine’s legislation, “without discrimination against Russian-speaking population, without victims and bloodshed,” Siluanov said.
It is necessary for Ukraine to conduct constitutional reform, hold legitimate presidential elections and “form a government with which one may negotiate,” he said.
Ukraine’s gas debt is now estimated at over $2.2 billion. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin wrote letters to the leaders of 18 European countries, including Germany and France, warning that Ukraine’s debt crisis had reached a “critical” level and could threaten transit to Europe. He also called for urgent cooperation, urging Russia’s partners in the West to take action.
According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel “there are many reasons to seriously take into account this message […] and for Europe to deliver a joint European response.”
In total, Moscow has subsidized Ukraine’s economy to the tune of $35.4 billion, coupled with a $3 billion loan tranche in December. Due to Ukraine’s gas debts, Gazprom revoked all discounts and is now charging $485 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, a price Ukraine says it will not be able to pay.
The deteriorating economic situation is coupled with escalating tensions in Ukraine. The country’s Interior Ministry promised a harsh response to the riots in the east, especially in the “separatist regions” of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkov. The coup-appointed authorities said they would arrest all violators, “regardless of the declared slogans and party affiliation.”
Eastern and southern Ukraine have been showing discontent with the new government in Kiev for weeks. Tensions escalated Monday when protesters in several cities started seizing local administration buildings. Major protests took place in the cities of Donetsk, Kharkov and Lugansk, while smaller actions and some clashes were reported in Odessa and Nikolayev.
After Donetsk activists proclaimed the region independent and demanded a referendum on its future status, Ukraine’s coup-imposed president Aleksandr Turchinov ordered the sending in of armed personnel and armored vehicles to the east.
At least 70 activists have been arrested in the course of the crackdown launched by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry in the eastern city of Kharkov. Most of them remain in prison, with 62 people detained for at least two months.
Sanctions are ‘counterproductive’ for all
At the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Washington, sanctions against Russia’s alleged interference into Ukraine’s affairs dominated the background. While speaking with journalists, Siluanov said that he was against US and EU sanctions against Russian and that the widening of such sanctions would be “counterproductive” for all sides.
In the latest series of sanctions, leading Crimean officials were targeted; those, according to the US Treasury, who were responsible for organizing the March 16 referendum, which led to the peninsula leaving Ukraine and joining Russia.
Among the seven officials forbidden from entering the US or engaging in economic activity with America-based companies are acting Sevastopol governor Aleksey Chaliy, the head of the Crimean security service Pyotr Zima, and Mikhail Malyshev, the head of the electoral commission that oversaw the poll.
Additionally, US-based assets of Chernomorneftegaz, the former subsidiary of the Ukrainian state gas company located on the Crimean peninsula, will be frozen.
The US, the EU and several international groups have imposed sanctions on senior Russian officials. The US also introduced measures including a ban on exporting defense items and services to Russia to pressure Moscow over recent events in Ukraine.
The G7 group has voiced its readiness to introduce additional sanctions against Russia, if Moscow continues to “escalate” the turmoil in neighboring Ukraine, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry and parliament have repeatedly denounced the policy of sanctions as inappropriate and counter-productive.
Some Russian MPs have suggested the possibility of retaliatory sanctions against US businesses, but these ideas have not been implemented as they might harm all the countries.
“Sanctions hurt all countries. We do not intend to introduce reciprocal sanctions,” Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told reporters during the International Eastern Forum in Berlin.
Meanwhile, the meeting between Russia, Ukraine, EU and the US to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine will take place on April 17 in Geneva, the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said. Proposals for Ukraine’s constitutional reforms will also be presented in Geneva. However, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday expressed concern that Ukraine’s southeastern regions were not being invited to take part directly in the discussions on a new constitution for the country.
Siluanov said that similar concerns were voiced on Friday during a meeting with Treasury Secretary Lew.
He added that “Russia is ready to participate in supporting Ukraine together with the IMF and the European Union.” He also told Lew that Russia was concerned about Ukraine’s unpaid debt for supplies of natural gas.