We will not forget.

We will not forgive.

 

Ukraine in the Aftermath of Maidan

The American Conservative

One year after the first protests, Western interests and Ukrainian lives have been sacrificed at the altar of democratic idealism.

But you must believe me, one cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelet is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. – Isaiah Berlin

Friday, November 21 marks the one-year anniversary of the anti-government protests on Kiev’s Independence Square. Much has happened since then, nearly all of it detrimental to the deteriorating European economy and to U.S. and European security interests. The standard narrative of events which posits that the battle between pro-European Kiev and revanchist Russia is nothing less than a battle for the future, indeed, the soul of Europe, though widespread, is incorrect.

As is by now well known, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a EU Association Agreement at last November’s EU summit in Vilnius was, of course, the spark that set off the conflagration. In a narrow sense, the aims of the Euro-Maidan protests have been met: Yanukovych was overthrown in February, a new government of an ostensibly pro-European cast was subsequently formed, a new President (Poroshenko) was elected in May, and he ultimately signed the Association Agreement in June. Yet all of this came at an enormous price. The long-term ramifications of Kiev’s “European choice” are still as yet unclear.

Since the mid-19th century, Russians—due to their tumultuous political history—have had cause to raise two particular questions in the aftermath of this or that debacle. In 1845 Alexander Herzen asked, “Who is to be blamed?” (Kto vinovat?), and nearly a generation later Nikolai Chernyshevsky asked, “What is to be done?” (Chto delat?).

In assessing the Obama administration’s role in the Ukraine crisis, perhaps it might be worth asking a number of questions along similar lines.

Was it worth it?

It would be difficult to answer in the affirmative. While the goals of the protesters in Kiev were indeed met, the aftermath suggests that an alternative solution similar to the one Vladimir Putin suggested to the German chancellor in the lead-up to the Vilnius summit could have and should have been pursued. On the one hand, Kiev got its Association Agreement. On the other hand, the costs of the ensuring crisis are staggeringly high: roughly 4,100 war dead, thousands more wounded, nearly 1 million people displaced, the loss of Crimea and the de facto partition of Ukraine. Further, a new Cold War between the U.S. and Russia is now well underway while intra-European comity is beginning to fray over whether or not to continue the sanctions regime against Russia.

Who in the Obama administration has been held to account?

For helping to engineer the worst foreign policy debacle since the second Iraq war, and possibly—though it is still too early to say—since Vietnam, not one of the President’s men or women have been called to account. As of this writing key members of the national security team and the principal architects of our Russia/Ukraine policy, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and CIA Director John Brennan, remain firmly ensconced in their posts. And for his part, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken was just promoted to Deputy Secretary of State.

Where do things stand now?

Three recent developments should concern us. First, the much-praised Ukrainian parliamentary elections that took place on October 26 have only served to strengthen the hand of the hardliners in Kiev. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s faction is ascendant; he will have a free hand to pursue projects like the building of his very own Berlin Wall between Russia and Ukraine. A project such as this, smacking as it does of Mr. Yatsenyuk’s latent authoritarianism, receives little to no coverage from our wondrously pliant media. Second, the Ukrainian crisis is splitting Europe. The governments of Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia are turning against the sanctions. Serbia is, naturally, pro-Russian. Germany and France are increasingly ambivalent regarding the sanctions while Poland, the UK, Sweden, and the Baltics (no doubt with much American encouragement) are all for isolating and punishing Russia. Third, a renewed push to arm Ukraine will emerge as the GOP takes control of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. This week the incoming chairman of Armed Services, Sen. John McCain released a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham calling (again) for the Obama administration to send arms to Kiev.

Why did the Obama administration feel compelled to get involved in all of this?

This brings us to the introductory quote courtesy of Isaiah Berlin. A curious aspect to this whole affair is the seeming insistence on the part of policymakers and pundits alike that all of the foregoing is solely the fault of Vladimir Putin. Yet the question remains: why did the U.S. and EU think that Russia would stand idly by as it tried to wrench Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit? For 15 years, inordinately powerful neoconservatives and their liberal internationalist enablers have been comparing Putin to Stalin and/or Hitler. Did they not believe their own rhetoric?

Perhaps not. But as was too often the case in the blood-soaked 20th century, a set of particular (to say nothing of peculiar) set of ideas can sometimes become the driver of events, and in the case of the year-long Ukraine crisis, it has been the Washington establishment’s misguided and ultimately dangerous belief that “democracy” is some sort of panacea for what ails developing nations.

The Ukraine crisis illuminates a central problem of contemporary political theory and practice: the steadfast denial by policymakers and pundits of a certain stripe that something as seemingly virtuous as “democracy” could lend itself to destructive ends. Further, our elites have the sequencing backwards: democracy is not viable in the absence of accountable, stable, institutions, and a political culture that values the rule of law. Democracy is not a midwife to these things.

And even if Ukraine did possess the requisite institutions and political culture conducive to parliamentary democracy, we still lack both the right and the ability to transplant democratic norms elsewhere. Yet democratic peace theory, entrenched and sacrosanct, is a line of belief, to borrow a line from the eminent historian of Europe, that grows more dangerous the more sincerely it is believed.

What the last year has shown is that our foreign policy has become hostage to our illusions. And, tragically, for thousands of Ukrainians those illusions have proved to be fatal.

James Carden is a TAC contributing editor, and served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.

Source: ""The American Conservative" Ukraine in the Aftermath of Maidan

The European Union Isn't Going To Bail Out Ukraine

Forbes

The European Union has had a pretty rough run over the past seven years. Economically, things are simply catastrophic. The Eurozone is not only experiencing an output slump that is even worse than the great depression, it is also teetering dangerously close to outright deflation. Unemployment remains persistently higheverywhere except Germany: it is still above 25% in both Greece and Spain, and above 10% in Portugal, Italy, and France. The forecasts are hardly encouraging, with expectations of little or no growth in 2014 and an exceedingly modest rebound predicted for 2015. The situation is so desperate and hopeless that respected economists like Tyler Cowen have started to compare the performance of the more sclerotic European economies with the de-industrialization of 19th century India.

Politically, things aren’t a whole lot better. The most recent elections to the European Parliament in late May saw Euroskeptics and radicals of various stripes storm to unprecedented victories. Even The Economist, which has been relentless in its promotion of the EU, sounded the alarm, admitting that the previous “bastion of European federalism” was set to become a “beachhead for all sorts of anti-Europeans.” There’s also the small matter that Viktor Orban, Hungary’s president, has all but declared war on “liberal democracy.” This is just a little bit awkward because Hungary is a member of an organization explicitly founded on liberal democratic concepts. The EU is now in the unprecedented position of needing to confront an avowedly “illiberal” regime within its own ranks.

As I hope the above makes clear, the EU is barely holding itself together. Even in a relatively optimistic scenario, it will have experienced a “lost decade” of economic growth, and tens of millions of Europeans will have had their professional lives deeply and negatively impacted by the European elite’s inability to effectively respond to the crisis. Political radicalism has already been strengthened to a frightening degree, and its anyone’s guess where the process will lead. In such a situation the EU is pretty obviously not in a position to bail anyone else out. Economically the EU doesn’t have the money and, politically, there is no will for further “expansion.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who is well known for his extensive use of social media and for his support of Ukraine’s integration into European institutions, hasn’t gotten the message though. The other day he tweeted the following:

Important that Germany Chancellor Merkel now raises the issue of EU help in rebuilding of Donbass region. Will be needed. And expensive.

To the extent that Bildt convinces anyone in Ukraine that the EU will ride to the rescue he is being cruel. There is no other word for it. The EU is not going t help rebuild the Donbass. Full stop. Even if the EU (read: Germany) had sufficient funds at its disposal for this sort of effort, which is increasingly doubtful, the recent election made clear that popular enthusiasm for the EU project is evaporating almost in real time. There is precious little enthusiasm among the German public for bailout of other Eurozone members. The idea that Germany will consent to spending tens of billions of dollars rebuilding Eastern Ukraine is completely and totally divorced from political reality. Can anyone seriously imagine Angela Merkel, whose country recently had its 2014 growth estimate downgraded to a mere 1.5%, going in front of the German public to demand a substantial outlay for Ukrainian infrastructure? It would be political suicide, and Merkel is clearly a clever enough politician to understand this.

Ukraine and its political leadership needs to understand that, regardless of Bildt’s musings, the country’s “European choice” is not going to be underwritten by anyone else. Basic political reality in Germany and the EU, particularly the rapid growth of Euroskepticism, means that no help will be forthcoming. Kiev will have to chart its own course, and will need to find a way to pay for the (enormous!) expenditures of repairing its Eastern industrial heartland.

Source: "Forbes" The European Union Isn't Going To Bail Out Ukraine

Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault

Foreign Affairs

According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, annexed Crimea out of a long-standing desire to resuscitate the Soviet empire, and he may eventually go after the rest of Ukraine, as well as other countries in eastern Europe. In this view, the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 merely provided a pretext for Putin’s decision to order Russian forces to seize part of Ukraine.

But this account is wrong: the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine -- beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 -- were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president -- which he rightly labeled a “coup” -- was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.

Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly. Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics. They tend to believe that the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy.

But this grand scheme went awry in Ukraine. The crisis there shows that realpolitik remains relevant -- and states that ignore it do so at their own peril. U.S. and European leaders blundered in attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border. Now that the consequences have been laid bare, it would be an even greater mistake to continue this misbegotten policy.

U.S. and European leaders blundered in attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border.

THE WESTERN AFFRONT

As the Cold War came to a close, Soviet leaders preferred that U.S. forces remain in Europe and NATO stay intact, an arrangement they thought would keep a reunified Germany pacified. But they and their Russian successors did not want NATO to grow any larger and assumed that Western diplomats understood their concerns. The Clinton administration evidently thought otherwise, and in the mid-1990s, it began pushing for NATO to expand.

The first round of enlargement took place in 1999 and brought in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. The second occurred in 2004; it included Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Moscow complained bitterly from the start. During NATO’s 1995 bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs, for example, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said, “This is the first sign of what could happen when NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation’s borders. ... The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe.” But the Russians were too weak at the time to derail NATO’s eastward movement -- which, at any rate, did not look so threatening, since none of the new members shared a border with Russia, save for the tiny Baltic countries.

Then NATO began looking further east. At its April 2008 summit in Bucharest, the alliance considered admitting Georgia and Ukraine. The George W. Bush administration supported doing so, but France and Germany opposed the move for fear that it would unduly antagonize Russia. In the end, NATO’s members reached a compromise: the alliance did not begin the formal process leading to membership, but it issued a statement endorsing the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine and boldly declaring, “These countries will become members of NATO.”

Moscow, however, did not see the outcome as much of a compromise. Alexander Grushko, then Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said, “Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which would have most serious consequences for pan-European security.” Putin maintained that admitting those two countries to NATO would represent a “direct threat” to Russia. One Russian newspaper reported that Putin, while speaking with Bush, “very transparently hinted that if Ukraine was accepted into NATO, it would cease to exist.”

Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008 should have dispelled any remaining doubts about Putin’s determination to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was deeply committed to bringing his country into NATO, had decided in the summer of 2008 to reincorporate two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But Putin sought to keep Georgia weak and divided -- and out of NATO. After fighting broke out between the Georgian government and South Ossetian separatists, Russian forces took control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow had made its point. Yet despite this clear warning, NATO never publicly abandoned its goal of bringing Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance. And NATO expansion continued marching forward, with Albania and Croatia becoming members in 2009.

The EU, too, has been marching eastward. In May 2008, it unveiled its Eastern Partnership initiative, a program to foster prosperity in such countries as Ukraine and integrate them into the EU economy. Not surprisingly, Russian leaders view the plan as hostile to their country’s interests. This past February, before Yanukovych was forced from office, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the EU of trying to create a “sphere of influence” in eastern Europe. In the eyes of Russian leaders, EU expansion is a stalking horse for NATO expansion.

The West’s final tool for peeling Kiev away from Moscow has been its efforts to spread Western values and promote democracy in Ukraine and other post-Soviet states, a plan that often entails funding pro-Western individuals and organizations. Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, estimated in December 2013 that the United States had invested more than $5 billion since 1991 to help Ukraine achieve “the future it deserves.” As part of that effort, the U.S. government has bankrolled the National Endowment for Democracy. The nonprofit foundation has funded more than 60 projects aimed at promoting civil society in Ukraine, and the NED’s president, Carl Gershman, has called that country “the biggest prize.” After Yanukovych won Ukraine’s presidential election in February 2010, the NED decided he was undermining its goals, and so it stepped up its efforts to support the opposition and strengthen the country’s democratic institutions.

When Russian leaders look at Western social engineering in Ukraine, they worry that their country might be next. And such fears are hardly groundless. In September 2013, Gershman wrote in The Washington Post, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.” He added: “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

CREATING A CRISIS

Imagine the American outrage if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico.

The West’s triple package of policies -- NATO enlargement, EU expansion, and democracy promotion -- added fuel to a fire waiting to ignite. The spark came in November 2013, when Yanukovych rejected a major economic deal he had been negotiating with the EU and decided to accept a $15 billion Russian counteroffer instead. That decision gave rise to antigovernment demonstrations that escalated over the following three months and that by mid-February had led to the deaths of some one hundred protesters. Western emissaries hurriedly flew to Kiev to resolve the crisis. On February 21, the government and the opposition struck a deal that allowed Yanukovych to stay in power until new elections were held. But it immediately fell apart, and Yanukovych fled to Russia the next day. The new government in Kiev was pro-Western and anti-Russian to the core, and it contained four high-ranking members who could legitimately be labeled neofascists.

Although the full extent of U.S. involvement has not yet come to light, it is clear that Washington backed the coup. Nuland and Republican Senator John McCain participated in antigovernment demonstrations, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, proclaimed after Yanukovych’s toppling that it was “a day for the history books.” As a leaked telephone recording revealed, Nuland had advocated regime change and wanted the Ukrainian politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister in the new government, which he did. No wonder Russians of all persuasions think the West played a role in Yanukovych’s ouster.

For Putin, the time to act against Ukraine and the West had arrived. Shortly after February 22, he ordered Russian forces to take Crimea from Ukraine, and soon after that, he incorporated it into Russia. The task proved relatively easy, thanks to the thousands of Russian troops already stationed at a naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Crimea also made for an easy target since ethnic Russians compose roughly 60 percent of its population. Most of them wanted out of Ukraine.

Next, Putin put massive pressure on the new government in Kiev to discourage it from siding with the West against Moscow, making it clear that he would wreck Ukraine as a functioning state before he would allow it to become a Western stronghold on Russia’s doorstep. Toward that end, he has provided advisers, arms, and diplomatic support to the Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, who are pushing the country toward civil war. He has massed a large army on the Ukrainian border, threatening to invade if the government cracks down on the rebels. And he has sharply raised the price of the natural gas Russia sells to Ukraine and demanded payment for past exports. Putin is playing hardball.

THE DIAGNOSIS

Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend. A huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany all crossed to strike at Russia itself, Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance to Russia. No Russian leader would tolerate a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West.

Washington may not like Moscow’s position, but it should understand the logic behind it. This is Geopolitics 101: great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it. Logic aside, Russian leaders have told their Western counterparts on many occasions that they consider NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine unacceptable, along with any effort to turn those countries against Russia -- a message that the 2008 Russian-Georgian war also made crystal clear.

Officials from the United States and its European allies contend that they tried hard to assuage Russian fears and that Moscow should understand that NATO has no designs on Russia. In addition to continually denying that its expansion was aimed at containing Russia, the alliance has never permanently deployed military forces in its new member states. In 2002, it even created a body called the NATO-Russia Council in an effort to foster cooperation. To further mollify Russia, the United States announced in 2009 that it would deploy its new missile defense system on warships in European waters, at least initially, rather than on Czech or Polish territory. But none of these measures worked; the Russians remained steadfastly opposed to NATO enlargement, especially into Georgia and Ukraine. And it is the Russians, not the West, who ultimately get to decide what counts as a threat to them.

To understand why the West, especially the United States, failed to understand that its Ukraine policy was laying the groundwork for a major clash with Russia, one must go back to the mid-1990s, when the Clinton administration began advocating NATO expansion. Pundits advanced a variety of arguments for and against enlargement, but there was no consensus on what to do. Most eastern European émigrés in the United States and their relatives, for example, strongly supported expansion, because they wanted NATO to protect such countries as Hungary and Poland. A few realists also favored the policy because they thought Russia still needed to be contained.

But most realists opposed expansion, in the belief that a declining great power with an aging population and a one-dimensional economy did not in fact need to be contained. And they feared that enlargement would only give Moscow an incentive to cause trouble in eastern Europe. The U.S. diplomat George Kennan articulated this perspective in a 1998 interview, shortly after the U.S. Senate approved the first round of NATO expansion. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies,” he said. “I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anyone else.”

The United States and its allies should abandon their plan to westernize Ukraine and instead aim to make it a neutral buffer.

Most liberals, on the other hand, favored enlargement, including many key members of the Clinton administration. They believed that the end of the Cold War had fundamentally transformed international politics and that a new, postnational order had replaced the realist logic that used to govern Europe. The United States was not only the “indispensable nation,” as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it; it was also a benign hegemon and thus unlikely to be viewed as a threat in Moscow. The aim, in essence, was to make the entire continent look like western Europe.

And so the United States and its allies sought to promote democracy in the countries of eastern Europe, increase economic interdependence among them, and embed them in international institutions. Having won the debate in the United States, liberals had little difficulty convincing their European allies to support NATO enlargement. After all, given the EU’s past achievements, Europeans were even more wedded than Americans to the idea that geopolitics no longer mattered and that an all-inclusive liberal order could maintain peace in Europe.

So thoroughly did liberals come to dominate the discourse about European security during the first decade of this century that even as the alliance adopted an open-door policy of growth, NATO expansion faced little realist opposition. The liberal worldview is now accepted dogma among U.S. officials. In March, for example, President Barack Obama delivered a speech about Ukraine in which he talked repeatedly about “the ideals” that motivate Western policy and how those ideals “have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power.” Secretary of State John Kerry’s response to the Crimea crisis reflected this same perspective: “You just don’t in the twenty-first century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.”

In essence, the two sides have been operating with different playbooks: Putin and his compatriots have been thinking and acting according to realist dictates, whereas their Western counterparts have been adhering to liberal ideas about international politics. The result is that the United States and its allies unknowingly provoked a major crisis over Ukraine.

BLAME GAME

In that same 1998 interview, Kennan predicted that NATO expansion would provoke a crisis, after which the proponents of expansion would “say that we always told you that is how the Russians are.” As if on cue, most Western officials have portrayed Putin as the real culprit in the Ukraine predicament. In March, according to The New York Times, German Chancellor Angela Merkel implied that Putin was irrational, telling Obama that he was “in another world.” Although Putin no doubt has autocratic tendencies, no evidence supports the charge that he is mentally unbalanced. On the contrary: he is a first-class strategist who should be feared and respected by anyone challenging him on foreign policy.

Other analysts allege, more plausibly, that Putin regrets the demise of the Soviet Union and is determined to reverse it by expanding Russia’s borders. According to this interpretation, Putin, having taken Crimea, is now testing the waters to see if the time is right to conquer Ukraine, or at least its eastern part, and he will eventually behave aggressively toward other countries in Russia’s neighborhood. For some in this camp, Putin represents a modern-day Adolf Hitler, and striking any kind of deal with him would repeat the mistake of Munich. Thus, NATO must admit Georgia and Ukraine to contain Russia before it dominates its neighbors and threatens western Europe.

This argument falls apart on close inspection. If Putin were committed to creating a greater Russia, signs of his intentions would almost certainly have arisen before February 22. But there is virtually no evidence that he was bent on taking Crimea, much less any other territory in Ukraine, before that date. Even Western leaders who supported NATO expansion were not doing so out of a fear that Russia was about to use military force. Putin’s actions in Crimea took them by complete surprise and appear to have been a spontaneous reaction to Yanukovych’s ouster. Right afterward, even Putin said he opposed Crimean secession, before quickly changing his mind.

Besides, even if it wanted to, Russia lacks the capability to easily conquer and annex eastern Ukraine, much less the entire country. Roughly 15 million people -- one-third of Ukraine’s population -- live between the Dnieper River, which bisects the country, and the Russian border. An overwhelming majority of those people want to remain part of Ukraine and would surely resist a Russian occupation. Furthermore, Russia’s mediocre army, which shows few signs of turning into a modern Wehrmacht, would have little chance of pacifying all of Ukraine. Moscow is also poorly positioned to pay for a costly occupation; its weak economy would suffer even more in the face of the resulting sanctions.

But even if Russia did boast a powerful military machine and an impressive economy, it would still probably prove unable to successfully occupy Ukraine. One need only consider the Soviet and U.S. experiences in Afghanistan, the U.S. experiences in Vietnam and Iraq, and the Russian experience in Chechnya to be reminded that military occupations usually end badly. Putin surely understands that trying to subdue Ukraine would be like swallowing a porcupine. His response to events there has been defensive, not offensive.

A WAY OUT

Given that most Western leaders continue to deny that Putin’s behavior might be motivated by legitimate security concerns, it is unsurprising that they have tried to modify it by doubling down on their existing policies and have punished Russia to deter further aggression. Although Kerry has maintained that “all options are on the table,” neither the United States nor its NATO allies are prepared to use force to defend Ukraine. The West is relying instead on economic sanctions to coerce Russia into ending its support for the insurrection in eastern Ukraine. In July, the United States and the EU put in place their third round of limited sanctions, targeting mainly high-level individuals closely tied to the Russian government and some high-profile banks, energy companies, and defense firms. They also threatened to unleash another, tougher round of sanctions, aimed at whole sectors of the Russian economy.

Such measures will have little effect. Harsh sanctions are likely off the table anyway; western European countries, especially Germany, have resisted imposing them for fear that Russia might retaliate and cause serious economic damage within the EU. But even if the United States could convince its allies to enact tough measures, Putin would probably not alter his decision-making. History shows that countries will absorb enormous amounts of punishment in order to protect their core strategic interests. There is no reason to think Russia represents an exception to this rule.

Western leaders have also clung to the provocative policies that precipitated the crisis in the first place. In April, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden met with Ukrainian legislators and told them, “This is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution.” John Brennan, the director of the CIA, did not help things when, that same month, he visited Kiev on a trip the White House said was aimed at improving security cooperation with the Ukrainian government.

The EU, meanwhile, has continued to push its Eastern Partnership. In March, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, summarized EU thinking on Ukraine, saying, “We have a debt, a duty of solidarity with that country, and we will work to have them as close as possible to us.” And sure enough, on June 27, the EU and Ukraine signed the economic agreement that Yanukovych had fatefully rejected seven months earlier. Also in June, at a meeting of NATO members’ foreign ministers, it was agreed that the alliance would remain open to new members, although the foreign ministers refrained from mentioning Ukraine by name. “No third country has a veto over NATO enlargement,” announced Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general. The foreign ministers also agreed to support various measures to improve Ukraine’s military capabilities in such areas as command and control, logistics, and cyberdefense. Russian leaders have naturally recoiled at these actions; the West’s response to the crisis will only make a bad situation worse.

There is a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, however -- although it would require the West to think about the country in a fundamentally new way. The United States and its allies should abandon their plan to westernize Ukraine and instead aim to make it a neutral buffer between NATO and Russia, akin to Austria’s position during the Cold War. Western leaders should acknowledge that Ukraine matters so much to Putin that they cannot support an anti-Russian regime there. This would not mean that a future Ukrainian government would have to be pro-Russian or anti-NATO. On the contrary, the goal should be a sovereign Ukraine that falls in neither the Russian nor the Western camp.

To achieve this end, the United States and its allies should publicly rule out NATO’s expansion into both Georgia and Ukraine. The West should also help fashion an economic rescue plan for Ukraine funded jointly by the EU, the International Monetary Fund, Russia, and the United States -- a proposal that Moscow should welcome, given its interest in having a prosperous and stable Ukraine on its western flank. And the West should considerably limit its social-engineering efforts inside Ukraine. It is time to put an end to Western support for another Orange Revolution. Nevertheless, U.S. and European leaders should encourage Ukraine to respect minority rights, especially the language rights of its Russian speakers.

Some may argue that changing policy toward Ukraine at this late date would seriously damage U.S. credibility around the world. There would undoubtedly be certain costs, but the costs of continuing a misguided strategy would be much greater. Furthermore, other countries are likely to respect a state that learns from its mistakes and ultimately devises a policy that deals effectively with the problem at hand. That option is clearly open to the United States.

One also hears the claim that Ukraine has the right to determine whom it wants to ally with and the Russians have no right to prevent Kiev from joining the West. This is a dangerous way for Ukraine to think about its foreign policy choices. The sad truth is that might often makes right when great-power politics are at play. Abstract rights such as self-determination are largely meaningless when powerful states get into brawls with weaker states. Did Cuba have the right to form a military alliance with the Soviet Union during the Cold War? The United States certainly did not think so, and the Russians think the same way about Ukraine joining the West. It is in Ukraine’s interest to understand these facts of life and tread carefully when dealing with its more powerful neighbor.

Even if one rejects this analysis, however, and believes that Ukraine has the right to petition to join the EU and NATO, the fact remains that the United States and its European allies have the right to reject these requests. There is no reason that the West has to accommodate Ukraine if it is bent on pursuing a wrong-headed foreign policy, especially if its defense is not a vital interest. Indulging the dreams of some Ukrainians is not worth the animosity and strife it will cause, especially for the Ukrainian people.

Of course, some analysts might concede that NATO handled relations with Ukraine poorly and yet still maintain that Russia constitutes an enemy that will only grow more formidable over time -- and that the West therefore has no choice but to continue its present policy. But this viewpoint is badly mistaken. Russia is a declining power, and it will only get weaker with time. Even if Russia were a rising power, moreover, it would still make no sense to incorporate Ukraine into NATO. The reason is simple: the United States and its European allies do not consider Ukraine to be a core strategic interest, as their unwillingness to use military force to come to its aid has proved. It would therefore be the height of folly to create a new NATO member that the other members have no intention of defending. NATO has expanded in the past because liberals assumed the alliance would never have to honor its new security guarantees, but Russia’s recent power play shows that granting Ukraine NATO membership could put Russia and the West on a collision course.

Sticking with the current policy would also complicate Western relations with Moscow on other issues. The United States needs Russia’s assistance to withdraw U.S. equipment from Afghanistan through Russian territory, reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, and stabilize the situation in Syria. In fact, Moscow has helped Washington on all three of these issues in the past; in the summer of 2013, it was Putin who pulled Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire by forging the deal under which Syria agreed to relinquish its chemical weapons, thereby avoiding the U.S. military strike that Obama had threatened. The United States will also someday need Russia’s help containing a rising China. Current U.S. policy, however, is only driving Moscow and Beijing closer together.

The United States and its European allies now face a choice on Ukraine. They can continue their current policy, which will exacerbate hostilities with Russia and devastate Ukraine in the process -- a scenario in which everyone would come out a loser. Or they can switch gears and work to create a prosperous but neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow. With that approach, all sides would win.

Source: Foreign Affairs Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault

Ukraine's Nightmare Drags On

The National Interest

In recent weeks, the American media has seemed focused on reporting on nearly every newsworthy event—except the Ukraine crisis.

Recent events in Missouri, Iraq, Gaza and, yes, even Hollywood, have emerged in quick succession over the past couple of weeks to provide Washington’s courtier press with a near perfect alibi for its rather marked unwillingness to report on the unfolding humanitarian crisis engulfing the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

The numbers, as they often do, help tell the tale. According to UN spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly, the number of fatalities in eastern Ukraine has doubled from 1,129 on July 26 to 2,086 over the past two weeks. According to what the UN has described as these “very conservative estimates,” 5,000 people have been wounded and there are now well over 110,000 internally displaced people (IDP’s) who have fled their homes, while Moscow reports that roughly 730,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed the border into Russia.

By way of comparison, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that 1,948 Palestinians and sixty-six Israelis have been killed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, and yet one would be hard pressed to find any coverage of the mounting death toll in the Donbas on our puerile cable news outlets. And given the OSCE’s estimable on-the-ground reporting in Ukraine, the media’s collective decision to overlook the ongoing humanitarian crisis is all the more egregious. Take, for instance, this report from Donetsk by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) on August 7:

Two hundred meters from the high rise buildings [two residential high-rise buildings had been shelled in the city center], the SMM observed that all the windows on the second floor of a public hospital had been destroyed. On entering the hospital, the SMM observed that the entire second floor had been destroyed…with only rubble remaining. The SMM saw many evidently traumatized and crying civilians and medical staff.


On August 8, the SMM filed this from Luhansk, which had a prewar population approaching half a million people:
. . . the city was without electricity, water, and a mobile connection, and was being shelled practically non-stop from 4a, to 2am . . . drinking water and bread were almost impossible to buy and tap water was unpurified. The IDP’s also reported that people were burying bodies in gardens, since funeral service no longer operated . . . only people who were looking after bedridden relatives, or those without money, wished to stay in the city.

More evidence of the ensuing humanitarian crisis emerges in the SMM’s report of August 12 from the city of Pervomais’k, some 45 miles west of Luhansk:

10,000 of Pervomais’k’s 80,000 inhabitants remained in the town. The town, they said, was being shelled by both Ukrainian military forces and irregular armed forces groups. The result, they said, was that almost all apartment blocks in the town had sustained damage and only 30% of detached houses were intact. They said that 200 people had been killed in the town and more than 400 wounded since the shelling allegedly started on 22 July, with the dead being buried in courtyards.

The OSCE reports are also—not surprisingly—painting a picture of an increasingly polarized Ukrainian society. Reports of dueling pro and antigovernment protests in the eastern city of Kharkiv on August 10 put paid to the notion, tirelessly put forward by pro-Maidan mouthpieces, that Vladimir Putin has unwittingly ‘unified’ Ukraine as never before. The SMM report of August 12 notes that IDP’s from the east are facing discrimination in housing and other incidents of harassment from their Western compatriots. A director of a real estate concern in Kiev told the SMM that “many landlords in the capital city did not want to rent their apartments to IDP from Donbas for economic reasons and differences in mentality.” The result is that many IDP’s are living in temporary camps, which, according to the report, are ill equipped for the coming winter.

While the reaction of the American media to the OSCE reports has been to ignore them, the response by State Department automaton Marie Harf has been to dismiss them, all the while endeavoring to absolve Kiev of any responsibility whatsoever for the humanitarian crisis.

Consider this exchange at a State Department briefing on July 30:

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that, as you have said with Israel, that they [Kiev] are not living up to their own high standards? Are you – do you have the same concerns in Ukraine, that the Ukrainian military is not doing enough to prevent civilian casualties?

Ms. Harf: Well, look, we are going to also hold them to their commitments on – particularly with – when we talk about exclusion zones, right, when we’ve talked about ceasefires, but also in protecting civilian casualties, we’ve seen them exercise extraordinary restraint in the face of incredible opposition from the Russians, and we’ll continue working with them. (emphasis added).

QUESTION: Okay, when you say the Ukrainians have a responsibility to protect their citizens in their own country, does that apply to all Ukrainians, all people in Ukrainian soil?

MS. HARF: What – I don’t understand the crux of your question.

Sadly, one can’t help but believe her.

Yet on the other hand, perhaps it’s more comfortable for her to feign ignorance than acknowledge what the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies undoubtedly know: that ill-trained, far-right paramilitary forces have played a crucial role in the latter stages of Kiev’s military operation in the east. According to a report last week in The Telegraph, battalions that espouse neo-Nazi, white supremacist and anti-Semitic views with “several thousand men under their command” are acting as the tip of the spear in the Donbas campaign. One such battalion, the Azov, is said to have attracted fighters with similar neofascist views from as far afield as Ireland and Sweden.

Sunday’s talks in Berlin between the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany yielded little in the way of progress toward a cease-fire, much less toward any sort of negotiated settlement. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces have again started shelling the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, while the rebels reportedly shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet on Sunday. So while the crisis seems primed for a major escalation, the response from the American media and our ever-complacent Commander-in-Chief has been to simply turn a blind eye towards this rapidly unfolding catastrophe.

James W. Carden is a contributing editor of The American Conservative.

Source: The National Interest Ukraine's Nightmare Drags On

America Cleanses Southeastern Ukraine of Ethnic Russians

Globalresearch

The Western news media have not been showing the footage of this action by the U.S. Administration, but U.S. news media also covered up the Administration’s constant lies about “Saddam’s WMD” (which the U.N. had quietly verified were completely destroyed in 1998), and so Americans supported invading Iraq on the basis of outright lies, and we did so: the U.S. is no longer an authentic democracy, which requires an honest press. America is now doing something that might be even more shocking than that — outright modeled upon the Hitler-movement. The present news report is being distributed to all U.S. news media, so that we’ll all get to see which U.S. media suppress this information, and which ones break the U.S. silence about it — the first-ever blatant ethnic-cleansing program carried out in any foreign country by U.S. Government agents or under U.S. control.

Here are photos of what we (our nation’s appointed agents in Ukraine) have been doing since 18 February 2014, and which is being backed up by U.S. tax-dollars under the fake rubric of “national security.” These still-photos are all taken from live videos many of which the present reporter has previously provided the links to, and all of which have been checked thoroughly and verified to be authentic by this reporter, and none of these photos has been found to be doctored. The only organization that checks for doctored “evidence” regarding the situation in Ukraine is Stopfake.org, a website that was recently established by an independent group of journalism students in order to defeat propaganda that is being created and spread by both sides (almost entirely by “our” side) in the Ukrainian civil war; these students are doing this so that honest news reporting can be separated out from that which is based upon, and spreading to the public, lies.

They are performing a terrific service in this matter, and all honest journalists owe them a debt of gratitude. So: here are these still shots, of what we, through our national government, have been doing, while the U.S. “news” media have been focused on other matters, and have speculated wildly in order to suggest a very different reality in Ukraine than these pictures show. Please note that all bombs that are being dropped in Ukraine come from government planes and helicopters; the residents in southeastern Ukraine have no control over the Ukrainian military; this is quite simply a war upon the people who live there, and their attempt to form their own local governments there does not empower them with any such military — they simply don’t have that:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bqa0MVLIUAAw8xU.jpg:large (The above is a composite from videos that were taken at recent bomb-sites.)

http://revolution-news.com/the-bombing-of-civilians-in-lugansk-by-the-kyiv-government-graphic-behind-ukraines-walls-of-fire-iv/ Here’s how the Western “news” media covered that bombing:

http://cips.uottawa.ca/media-bias-frames-western-reporting-on-ukraine/ And here is how Russian TV, which is the only TV network that is covering this in the English language, is reporting the events as of June 20th:


When one looks at that Russian TV report, and listens to the victims and sees the bombed houses, the only way to not believe it would be to be assuming lots of things that are not so, because that was about the prior 24-hour’s events, and even if the doctoring of a still photo can be done fast (within 24 hours), and even if the creation of a fictional video can be very persuasive if done slow (as a major studio production with hired actors, etc.), this doesn’t look like that at all, and appeared immediately after the event. Moreover, the present reporter has researched extensively the history and events leading up to today’s reality in Ukraine, and the TV news report that is presented there on Russian TV fits 100% with that solidly documented background and history.

So, some of those prior news reports will be listed and linked-to here, to provide that background and history, so that a reader can understand not only why Russian Television is covering the American-run ethnic cleansing operation in southeastern Ukraine, but also why the U.S. aristocracy’s “news” media (and those of allied aristocracies) do not.

To subscribe to, or otherwise pay for, “news” in the United States, is to purchase propaganda; it’s to pay for the “privilege” of being deceived by the national (and/or local) aristocracy. True news can be found free online, and the reader can check its sources instantly by just clicking on its links.

TV, magazines and newspapers are so passé. If one wants lies, one doesn’t have to pay to be deceived; one can just go to that operation’s website. And if one wants truth, one can get it just by checking out the links. Any news story that doesn’t have links isn’t worth reading, because lies are then being intentionally made difficult to detect.

The only way to avoid being deceived is to spot-check an article’s sources.

In the new economy, either the reader is in control, or the reader is a fool. No authentic democracy can be a nation of fools. The U.S. is no longer a democracy; the aristocracy has simply taken over. If the people don’t fight back by boycotting liars, they are willing fools and don’t care about their own country.

Source: Globalresearch America Cleanses Southeastern Ukraine of Ethnic Russians

A sign of where Ukrainian conflict could lead? Victims of mortar attack stand before their

flaming home, like a scene from the Eastern Front in the Second World War

Daily Mail

Devastated residents have been forced to flea their burning homes in Ukraine following mortar attacks in scenes reminiscent of the Eastern Front during the Second World War.

Suburban buildings were engulfed in flames and shell craters dotted the ground as strategic positions along the border with Russia were targeted.

The image of devastation in Lugansk is a sign of the escalation in military tensions between Kiev and the Kremlin following the end of a 10-day ceasefire.

But the pictures, which strongly resemble the trail of destruction left by Hitler's forces in the Soviet Union 70 years ago, are also a worrying sign of how the conflict could develop.

Devastation: Victims stand outside a burning house in the village of Nikolayevka in Lugansk in the aftermath of a mortar attack which left a Ukrainian border guard dead

Trail of destruction: A woman fleas her home in Russia after being set alight by Hitler's forces in 1943


Ukraine's border guards service says a serviceman was killed and eight were wounded when a post on the border with Russia came under heavy mortar attack.

In a statement, the service says the attack took place before dawn Wednesday at the Novoazovsk post in the southeastern part of the Donetsk region. Donetsk is one of two eastern regions where Ukrainian forces are fighting pro-Russia separatists.

A 10-day unilateral cease-fire by the Ukrainian side expired late Monday after separatists rejected calls to lay down their weapons.

Border posts have become key positions, as Ukraine claims the rebels are receiving support and reinforcements from Russia. It is similar to the strategy used by the Germans in 1941 during Operation Barbossa, the offensive which began a three-year military campaign on the Eastern Front.

Homes in the region, which was part of the USSR at the time, were attacked first from the air by the Luftwaffe and then by ground troops.

Pictures taken at the time show swathes of villages covered in flames.

This week, Ukraine says it retook control of one border post from rebels. The guards service said Wednesday the insurgents had mined the post with explosives.

In the wake of the new attacks, foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France have also agreed on series of steps for a resumption of the cease-fire.

Escape: A helpless man keeps his dog on a leash as his home burns in the background in Lugansk

Aerial warfare: This home, captured in 1941, would have been hit during an air raid during the three-year offensive on the Eastern Front

Landmark: A local resident sits near a shell crater following an air strike carried out by Ukrainian armed forces on Stanitsa Luganskaya in Lugansk, Ukraine

Ground forces: A German soldier looks over a home engulfed in flames in 1942 as part of a German campaign to destroy homes by setting them on fire

Aftermath: Debris surrounds a burning house in Stanitsa Luganskaya, a village in Lugansk, which was targeted by shells

Scene: A woman grabs onto a metal fence as a house in Lugansk, Ukraine, burns in the background

Today, Ukraine is continuing its 'massive artillery and air offensive' against rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk regions amid unconfirmed claims of heavy casualties among insurgents.

But separatists have already claimed to have shot down a Sukhoi Su-27 over Luganskaya village in Lugansk region.

Yesterday, fighting resumed in the country after Kiev President Petro Poroshenko refused to extend a shaky ten-day ceasefire in the conflict with rebels, vowing: 'We will attack'.

At the same time, Putin claimed he could not dictate to the pro-Moscow insurgents to lay down their arms, with his spokesman declaring: 'Russia's influence on the militia should not be overestimated.'

Shortly after Poroshenko ended the ceasefire, a five-hour gunbattle erupted in eastern Ukraine's largest city, resulting in the Interior Ministry headquarters falling to pro-Russia separatists.

The cease-fire had given European leaders 10 days to search for a peaceful settlement, and its end raised the prospect that fighting could flare with new intensity in a conflict that has already killed more than 400 people since April.

In Donetsk, the capital of Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, streets were deserted and gunfire filled the air yesterday as rebels besieged the Interior Ministry building.

The rebels eventually captured the compound, leaving the body of a undercover police officer on the street outside.

Damage: A woman examines her house after shelling in the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, on Monday

Fire:L A fireman tries to extinguish a burning house after Slovyansk came under shelling from the government

'I was driving and some people appeared with automatic weapons,' a man named Vitaly, who said he was too fearful to give his last name, told the Associated Press.

'They put me and my girlfriend on the ground and then they said: "Run away from here!"

'I don't know who is fighting whom. We are standing here. We are afraid and shaking.'

It was not clear what prompted the rebel attack on the Interior Ministry headquarters, which houses regional police, who have peacefully coexisted with the rebels even though they still officially answer to the central government in Kiev.

Announcement: Fighting has resumed in Ukraine after Kiev President Petro Poroshenko refused to extend a shaky ten-day ceasefire in the conflict with rebels, Above, Poroshenko ends the ceasefire yesterday

Today, foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are set to meet in Berlin to continue searching for a settlement.

In Brussels, the European Union's 28 governments decided yesterday they were not ready to hit Russia with a new round of sanctions over Ukraine.

They have put off a decision until Monday, according to an EU official.

Source: Daily Mail A sign of where Ukrainian conflict could lead? Victims of mortar attack stand before their flaming home, like a scene from the Eastern Front in the Second World War

Thousands of Ukrainian Refugees Flee to Russia for an Uncertain Future

The Wall Street Journal

Rancor Among Refugees in Russia Shows Challenges Facing Kiev

DMITRIADOVKA, Russia—When the neighbor's dog was killed by artillery fire, it was time to go.

Oksana Vasilieva was in the kitchen of her home on Comintern Street in the Ukrainian city of Slovyansk in late May as the shelling of her neighborhood began. She screamed for the children to run outside and then herded them into the cellar.

When they emerged, the neighbors' house had been hit. So had their sandy-brown dog, its dead body mangled in the remnants of a destroyed metal fence. She boarded an evacuation bus and fled to Russia.

"I'm not going to return," Ms. Vasilieva, 36 years old, said outside the one-room bunk she has been sharing with her mother and daughter in a refugee facility at a summer camp on the Azov Sea. "It's a dead city."

Ms. Vasilieva is one of tens of thousands of people from Ukraine's southeast Donetsk and Luhansk regions who have fled to Russia in the 2½ months since fighting between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces started.

Many of them, feeling alienated, resentful and afraid, are vowing to build their lives anew in Russia, despite the dread and uncertainty of starting over with next-to-nothing.

According to the United Nations, 110,000 Ukrainian refugees have gone to Russia since the start of the year and 54,000 more have left their homes and moved elsewhere in Ukraine.

The rancor among those fleeing to Russia is palpable, and shows the broken nature of Ukrainian society even if the government manages to retake control of the separatist-held areas.

Many in southeast Ukraine feel alienated from the country's western half, which is oriented more toward Europe, culturally and economically. Russian propaganda has reinforced that division and suggested that as Russian speakers, they were only Ukrainian by an accident of history.

President Vladimir Putin himself has adopted some of the language of the separatists, using the tsarist term Novorossiya (New Russia) in April to refer to regions such as Donetsk and Luhansk, which were given to Ukraine in the 1920s by the Soviets. "Why they did that, God knows," he said on Russian television.

Ukraine's new pro-Western government has failed to persuade the locals otherwise or win their trust.

As a result, some refugees traversing the Russian border expressed a conviction that Ukrainian forces had moved in not to neutralize separatists but to force people like them out. Chistka was the word on their lips, the Russian term for purge that has become a buzzword in reports by Russian state news.

"To them, we have always been Moskaly," said Ms. Vasilieva, using the Ukrainian slur for Russians.

She and others looked on with envy when Russia took control of Crimea, hoping that their region, too, would become Russian. "We always considered ourselves Russians," she said.

Those who feel otherwise generally have fled in the other direction. Ukrainian cities such as Kiev, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk are also coping with an influx of refugees. Polls conducted before the insurgency showed a bulk of the southeast's residents wanted toremain part of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is guaranteeing amnesty for those who put down their weapons and haven't committed grave crimes, but many refugees don't believe the promise.

Some of those arriving in Russia expressed worries that Ukrainian authorities, should they regain the territory, would hunt down locals who voted in a May separatist referendum or punish friends and relatives of rebel militants.

Ukraine has accused Russia of inflating the number of refugees—the speaker of Russia's upper chamber of parliament last month cited a figure nearly four times the U.N. estimate—and of sparking the crisis by supporting the separatists in the first place. Russian officials have shot back by criticizing Ukraine and its Western allies for turning a blind eye to a humanitarian crisis they blame on the Ukrainian military.

Nowhere in Russia has seen a more dramatic influx than the Rostov region, which borders the heaviest conflict zone. According to the local branch of Russia's Ministry of Emergency Services, the region had registered 15,802 displaced people from Ukraine as of June 26, more than 6,000 of them children. There are likely many more who haven't registered.

Most are living with friends, relatives or volunteers, but more than 3,600 are staying in government-issued facilities such as college dorms and the Dmitriadovka summer camp where Ms. Vasilieva landed.

Many of the summer facilities aren't winterized, so they will have to move come autumn, but they don't know where. Ukrainians technically can stay in Russia only for 90 days at a time. Russia has announced plans to modify the rules, but the new regulations have yet to become clear.

The biggest worry among many, apart from finding jobs, is where they can enroll their children in school in the fall given the mass influx of children.

Russian officials already are dispatching them to other regions, including the restive north Caucasus.

Many of the Ukrainian refugees have lost hope that their hometowns can be restored.

"If it is possible, I don't know how many years it would take," Ms. Vasilieva said of Slovyansk, where she lived her whole life. She is intending to take her 14- and 6-year-old daughters as well as her mother to start over somewhere in Russia. Where—she doesn't know.

Months ago, she was picking out clothes for her younger daughter to start first grade and planning for the other's higher education. Now she says she's thankful for a bed, water and a working toilet. She shrugged. "Who knew that life would take this kind of turn?"

Source: The Wall Street Journal Thousands of Ukrainian Refugees Flee to Russia for an Uncertain Future

In Ukraine, the US is dragging us towards war with Russia

The Guardian

Washington's role in Ukraine, and its backing for the regime's neo-Nazis, has huge implications for the rest of the world. Why do we tolerate the threat of another world war in our name? Why do we allow lies that justify this risk? The scale of our indoctrination, wrote Harold Pinter, is a "brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis", as if the truth "never happened even while it was happening".

Every year the American historian William Blum publishes his "updated summary of the record of US foreign policy" which shows that, since 1945, the US has tried to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them democratically elected; grossly interfered in elections in 30 countries; bombed the civilian populations of 30 countries; used chemical and biological weapons; and attempted to assassinate foreign leaders.

In many cases Britain has been a collaborator. The degree of human suffering, let alone criminality, is little acknowledged in the west, despite the presence of the world's most advanced communications and nominally most free journalism. That the most numerous victims of terrorism – "our" terrorism – are Muslims, is unsayable. That extreme jihadism, which led to 9/11, was nurtured as a weapon of Anglo-American policy (Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan) is suppressed. In April the US state department noted that, following Nato's campaign in 2011, "Libya has become a terrorist safe haven".

The name of "our" enemy has changed over the years, from communism to Islamism, but generally it is any society independent of western power and occupying strategically useful or resource-rich territory, or merely offering an alternative to US domination. The leaders of these obstructive nations are usually violently shoved aside, such as the democrats Muhammad Mossedeq in Iran, Arbenz in Guatemala and Salvador Allende in Chile, or they are murdered like Patrice Lumumba in the Democratic Republic of Congo. All are subjected to a western media campaign of vilification – think Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, now Vladimir Putin.

Washington's role in Ukraine is different only in its implications for the rest of us. For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last "buffer state" bordering Russia – Ukraine – is being torn apart by fascist forces unleashed by the US and the EU. We in the west are now backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler.

Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington's planned seizure of Russia's historic, legitimate warm-water naval base in Crimea failed. The Russians defended themselves, as they have done against every threat and invasion from the west for almost a century.

But Nato's military encirclement has accelerated, along with US-orchestrated attacks on ethnic Russians in Ukraine. If Putin can be provoked into coming to their aid, his pre-ordained "pariah" role will justify a Nato-run guerrilla war that is likely to spill into Russia itself.

Instead, Putin has confounded the war party by seeking an accommodation with Washington and the EU, by withdrawing Russian troops from the Ukrainian border and urging ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine to abandon the weekend's provocative referendum. These Russian-speaking and bilingual people – a third of Ukraine's population – have long sought a democratic federation that reflects the country's ethnic diversity and is both autonomous of Kiev and independent of Moscow. Most are neither "separatists" nor "rebels", as the western media calls them, but citizens who want to live securely in their homeland.

Like the ruins of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ukraine has been turned into a CIA theme park – run personally by CIA director John Brennan in Kiev, with dozens of "special units" from the CIA and FBI setting up a "security structure" that oversees savage attacks on those who opposed the February coup. Watch the videos, read the eye-witness reports from the massacre in Odessa this month. Bussed fascist thugs burned the trade union headquarters, killing 41 people trapped inside. Watch the police standing by.

A doctor described trying to rescue people, "but I was stopped by pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals. One of them pushed me away rudely, promising that soon me and other Jews of Odessa are going to meet the same fate. What occurred yesterday didn't even take place during the fascist occupation in my town in world war two. I wonder, why the whole world is keeping silent."

Russian-speaking Ukrainians are fighting for survival. When Putin announced the withdrawal of Russian troops from the border, the Kiev junta's defence secretary, Andriy Parubiy – a founding member of the fascist Svoboda party – boasted that attacks on "insurgents" would continue. In Orwellian style, propaganda in the west has inverted this to Moscow "trying to orchestrate conflict and provocation", according to William Hague. His cynicism is matched by Obama's grotesque congratulations to the coup junta on its "remarkable restraint" after the Odessa massacre. The junta, says Obama, is "duly elected". As Henry Kissinger once said: "It is not a matter of what is true that counts, but what is perceived to be true."

In the US media the Odessa atrocity has been played down as "murky" and a "tragedy" in which "nationalists" (neo-Nazis) attacked "separatists" (people collecting signatures for a referendum on a federal Ukraine). Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal damned the victims – "Deadly Ukraine Fire Likely Sparked by Rebels, Government Says". Propaganda in Germany has been pure cold war, with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung warning its readers of Russia's "undeclared war". For the Germans, it is a poignant irony that Putin is the only leader to condemn the rise of fascism in 21st-century Europe.

A popular truism is that "the world changed" following 9/11. But what has changed? According to the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, a silent coup has taken place in Washington and rampant militarism now rules. The Pentagon currently runs "special operations" – secret wars – in 124 countries. At home, rising poverty and a loss of liberty are the historic corollary of a perpetual war state. Add the risk of nuclear war, and the question is: why do we tolerate this?

Source: The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/13/ukraine-us-war-russia-john-pilger)

Ukraine’s Festering Divisions

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — As the polls closed during last month’s snap presidential elections in Ukraine, violence broke out in the east of the country. Insurgents took over Donetsk airport and the government responded with airstrikes.

Eastern Ukraine has become a breeding ground for an armed insurgency. And if a comprehensive political settlement isn’t reached soon, Ukraine could descend into outright civil conflict. Western governments should make working with the Ukrainian authorities to pursue such an arrangement their top priority.

Until now, the West has prioritized holding a free and fair presidential election and is now celebrating a mission accomplished. As a senior American official put it, “It was a spectacular day for the people of Ukraine who went out in force to choose a new president and to say to their government and to the world that they want a future that is unified, that is democratic, that is prosperous and that is rooted in Europe.”

Without question, having a legitimate head of state is a positive development — all the more so since the president-elect, the oligarch Petro Poroshenko, won over 50 percent of the vote and therefore avoided a second-round runoff (always divisive in Ukraine) for the first time since 1991.

But Western pronouncements, particularly America’s, have misleadingly portrayed the violence as merely an unfortunate backdrop to otherwise successful elections, not as a symptom of an emerging rupture in the Ukrainian polity that could have profound consequences.

While noting the difficulties of voting in Donetsk and neighboring Lugansk, and praising the “courage and determination” of those who worked the polling stations there, a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry on the election did not even condemn the bloodshed, even though the death count in fierce battles between the Ukrainian military, backed by the newly formed (and poorly trained) National Guard, and armed insurgents had already reached triple digits.

Any government has the right to assert its writ on its own sovereign territory. But this “anti-terrorist operation” is being conducted in regions where the population was already overwhelmingly opposed to the government in Kiev. A mid-April poll found that over 70 percent of the population in both Donetsk and Lugansk consider that government “illegal.” A separate survey indicated that 80 percent believe it does not represent all of Ukraine.

The government’s assault on these regions has almost certainly hardened these views. As the Russian government’s first war in Chechnya or the Turkish government’s campaign against Kurdish separatists demonstrate, counterterrorism missions can be deeply counterproductive when the civilian population has as much or more sympathy for the alleged terrorists than it does for the military doing battle with them.

The Ukrainian government and its Western partners need to focus on three priorities that would do far more to stabilize and unite Ukraine than the recent presidential poll: an end to the “anti-terrorist operation” and a good-faith attempt at a negotiated settlement with separatists in the east; formation of a more inclusive government; and constitutional reform that decentralizes power.

Rather than escalate the assault on the insurgents, thus ensuring more killing of Ukrainians by Ukrainians, the government in Kiev needs to halt it and make a good-faith, high-profile effort at a negotiated solution. The crackdown should resume only if the government can credibly demonstrate to the local population that the separatists refuse to accept a reasonable compromise.

Second, the Ukrainian government must bring regional balance to a government that is currently dominated by representatives from western Ukraine: About two-thirds of ministerial-level and higher portfolios have gone to those regions, which represent only 12 percent of the population. The presidential elections demonstrated that the cabinet is not only regionally skewed, it’s also politically unrepresentative; the far-right Svoboda party, whose leader got less than 2 percent of the vote, has a third of the senior portfolios. Some of these should be allocated to southerners and easterners.

Finally, the constitutional reform package currently being negotiated and debated could transform Ukraine’s diversity into a source of strength. The drafting process must be treated as a top priority by the Ukrainian government and its Western partners. The country desperately needs a decentralized political system so that no Ukrainian feels that his or her way of life is threatened by a change in power in Kiev.

That can only happen through empowering regional governments with direct elections and far greater authority for decision-making on matters other than foreign and defense policy. Unfortunately, the current draft constitutional amendments don’t allow for direct election of governors.

At the same time, the Ukrainian government must avoid policies that aggravate regional divisions. Unfortunately, the United States and the European Union appear poised to assist Kiev in doing precisely that by pushing ahead with Ukraine’s rapid institutional integration into the West.

This agenda continues to be highly divisive in Ukraine. When asked in mid-April about which political and economic orientation — Russia, Europe or both — would be better for the country, Ukrainians were divided: In the west, 82 percent preferred Europe, only 2 percent preferred Russia and 9 percent favored both, while in the east only 16 percent preferred Europe versus 46 percent for Russia and 26 percent for both.

Ukraine’s presidential election was a positive step. But it has not come close to resolving the country’s multifaceted crisis or bridging its deep regional divides. It would be a strategic error for Western policy makers to soft-pedal the other, far more important steps needed to unify Ukraine, or to drive an agenda that pulls it further apart. Samuel Charap is senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Source: The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/opinion/ukraines-festering-divisions.html?_r=1)

The Propaganda War About Ukraine: How Important It Really Is

OpEdNews.com

Recently, Germany's Der Spiegel featured a lengthy editorial damning Russia regarding Ukraine; it was titled "How Russia Is Winning the Propaganda War," and it made many allegations, none with documentation, and not a single one with a link to assist the magazine's online readers to reach easily the presumed (but unidentified) sources. They don't want to facilitate a reader's checking out the veracity. It was the type of propaganda for which Fox "News" in the U.S. has become famous, though Spiegel is centrist (not "right wing").

The 2,500-word Spiegel article ignored Obama's lies about Ukraine, and ignored the solid and voluminous evidence that the February 22nd overthrow of the democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was engineered in Washington with assistance from rabidly anti-Russian Polish officials, and with the additional assistance of some fundamentalist far-Right Israeli-Ukrainian Jews who were willing to work with Ukrainian neo-Nazis to get this done. The May 2nd massacre in Odessa that started Ukraine's civil war was masterminded by the person (Ihor Kolomoyski) who was appointed by the person (Yulia Tymoshenko) whose ally (Arseni Yatsenyuk) was chosen by Obama's agent (Victoria Nuland) to lead the post-coup government, as the interim Prime Minister. None of that interested the editors at Spiegel.

Yatsenyuk, it should be noted, was quietly retained in office, as the permanent Prime Minister, not replaced, by the elected President, Petro Poroshenko, who continues Yatsenyuk's policies now, under his title as Ukraine's "President." The regime-change was the coup itself, not after; the coup placed Washington in control, which is why Obama did it. And behind even that motivation is the U.S. aristocracy's need to continue the dollar as being the global exchange -- or "reserve" -- currency. That's what basically motivates this.

The major media present a very different picture than you see documented in those damning and factual links just given here. (This is not propaganda, such as at Spiegel and elsewhere; so, it's written to be checked out, not to be accepted on faith. Any religion is preparation for mental enslavement, and sometimes even "non-religious" people are also people of faith. It's why aristocrats promote and fund all sorts of faith.) Voltairenet pointed out how blatantly the major media lie about what is happening in Ukraine. Headlining, "Kiev regime bombs civilians in eastern Ukraine," they noted that those bombings were shown "only on Russian TV channels" even though "The OSCE mission in Ukraine has confirmed that the incident involving the administrative building in Lugansk was indeed an airstrike." Moreover, "To this day, the Western media have 'refrained' from broadcasting the images of the civilian victims killed at the Lugansk administrative headquarters, despite their being available on Russian television and on the internet." Our major "news" media can be accepted only on faith.

The links in the article that you now are reading are mainly to videos, and to articles with links to videos and tapped phone-conversations, which document in remarkable depth a shocking "You Are There" impossible-to-deny reality, which is the exact opposite of the filth that Spiegel editorially dumped upon its readers, and that's "reported" in the New York Times, TV "news," etc. That political PR basically contradicts established facts, while providing no coherent -- much less, rationally credible -- explanation of them, in order to promote the Obama-Nuland four-Party Ukrainian coalition, of two neo-Nazi parties and two merely fascist parties: the Ukrainian coalition that Obama placed into power there, and that was extended in the recent election, which was held between candidates of only those far-Right Parties. It's as if an "election" in America had been held in which the only candidates were a regular Republican, a Tea Party Republican, a Militia activist, and a member of the Hitler-admiring Stormfront White supremacists. Should "democracy," anywhere in the world, come down to a "choice" like that? If it does, then should the U.S. be threatening war against Russia to support this resulting fascism, in Russia's own next-door -- a security threat to Russia -- a rabidly anti-Russian fascist Ukraine? Is this really the consequence of democracy in America? Or is it instead the result of democracy having ended in America?

America's media, with very few exceptions (all of which have only small audiences) are refusing to publish the articles that I have been doing on Ukraine (including the ones I link to here), which expose the lies in America's, and some foreign, "news" media. Something's wrong.

War against Russia, initiated by the United States, is no mere game. It could kill virtually all of the public, even if the aristocracy might just fly off to one of the ten mansions they own elsewhere, and their financial paperwork at Cayman Island, Zurich, etc., will still remain in perfectly functioning order. The aristocracy who own and control those media are mentally robotizing the public via lies, in order for commoners to serve as pawns in their global chess-game.

The public in the West are being played for fools, and it's now becoming so blatant, even worse than the lies that produced the scandalously vile invasion of Iraq (which our aristocratically controlled media also fooled the masses into supporting), so that the result will be either masses in "democratic" countries who really are fools, and who don't at all hold the press to account for having raped their minds, or else it will be mass boycotts of the major "news" media, to protest it, and to change it -- so as to restore democracy to America.

If boycotts of the press don't soon start, democracy has already ended here, because, ever since we invaded Iraq in 2003, we're already way past the time when there should be a mass boycott by Americans of their major "news" media -- media that lie to them so brazenly, and so repeatedly, for so long.

We're already dangerously close to being like Ukraine, where even fewer oligarchs control even more of the government, and of the economy.

Ukraine isn't becoming more like America. America is becoming more like Ukraine. Will the American public finally put their collective "foot" down? And, if not now, then when?

Though we don't see such a movement developing, the public is responding to the lies by the government and by the aristocracy behind it. An excellent example of the general trend of this response is the video on youtube, "Why I'm burning my last bridge with Obama," in which a former liberal and Obama-supporter lists Obama's lies, declares him to be even worse than Bush because he used liberals (like her) to become George Bush II (who didn't even pretend to be a liberal), and she then declares herself to be, essentially, a libertarian, which can only warm the cockles of the Koch brothers' black hearts. She is now as anti-government, or as "Tea Party"ish, as the Kochs and their ilk want all of the public to be, which is great for the aristocracy, since everything then becomes privatized, and they own it directly, without even having to worry about regulation by the EPA, FDA, etc., or any possibility that they'll need to pay fines, much less to be subject to imprisonment, as commoners would be who perpetrated the massive harms that they do (which they don't).

A response like that, by the public, is worse than hopeless: it's playing right into the aristocracy's hands. If that's to be the public's response to the aristocracy, the game is already over, and they have won; the public has jumped right into the mental bondage that our fascist rulers want.

It's 1984. Unless a better response is forthcoming.

The present news report is distributed to the news media throughout the United States and English-speaking world, including, but not limited to: New York Times, Washington Post, U.S. broadcast and cable-news networks, Huffington Post, Salon, Alternet, CommonDreams, MediaMatters, Fair, Foreign Policy, TIME, McClatchy Newspapers, Associated Press, Truthout, Rolling Stone, OpedNews, The Atlantic, Harpers, Mother Jones, National Review, Drudge, Washingtonsblog, Voltairenet, GlobalResearch, Washington Monthly, Bloomberg, The Guardian, BusinessInsider, Zerohedge, The Nation, Firedoglake, Progressive, NationalMemo, Dawn, New Yorker, Truthdig, DailyCaller, Counterpunch, and American Prospect. All of them have previously likewise received the articles to which I have linked, and so they are well aware of the information that is contained herein. At a few of them, their readers have likewise been made aware of this information, by means of publishing those news reports. But the others, it seems, don't want their readers to know. Yet again, they are being offered the opportunity to inform them, to bring them up-to-date. Let's see how many of them publish this. Let's all see if it really is 1984, in 2014.

Just google the phrase (with quotation-marks) "The Propaganda War About Ukraine," and the answer will be evident.

Source: OpEdNews.com (http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Propaganda-War-About-U-by-Eric-Zuesse-Obama-Administration_Peace_War_President-Barack-Obama-POTUS_Propaganda-140616-116.html)

Pinned to the ground by blizzard of bullets

As Ukraine’s new president prepared to meet Putin in Paris, Mark Franchetti joined a militia flushing out a border post in the east. Then all hell broke loose

Mark Franchetti of The Sunday Times: ‘We had fallen into a deadly trap’

My face is pressed so hard into the ground I can taste the dirt. I am wearing a brand new flak jacket and helmet, but I feel completely exposed.

Around me a fierce battle is raging between Ukrainian soldiers defending a border crossing with Russia and pro-Moscow separatists fighting to capture it. Dmitry Beliakov, a photographer for this paper, and I are caught in the middle.

Bullets whizz around us, cutting the air with a distinctive whistle and a metallic ping as they repeatedly hit an armoured personnel carrier (APC) a few yards away from us already riddled with holes.

The ground shakes as rocket-propelled grenades are fired from behind our backs; rockets send a succession of heat waves towards us.

In faraway Paris, as world leaders mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Petro Poroshenko, the new Ukrainian president, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin prepare for a meeting that might eventually lead to a diplomatic solution to the West’s most serious confrontation with Moscow since the end of the Cold War.

Here, on the border between the two countries, it is chaos. There is shouting, screaming and swearing, drowned out by a relentless exchange of heavy blasts from mortars and anti-aircraft guns and the crackle of at least 200 AK-47s. Most distinctive of all is the swish of snipers’ bullets.

The firing is so intense that we are pinned down. Whether or not we get hit is purely a matter of luck. The longer we stay put, the more likely it is that one of us will get hit. But move and we risk being caught in the crossfire or picked off by a sniper.

For Dmitry it is a photographer’s worst nightmare: in the thick of it but unable to take a picture. Raising his head only a few inches would be suicide.

“I hope you’re getting some good pictures of the grass,” I joke. He is not amused.

Behind us bullets ricochet off an armoured steel plate the separatists have welded to the front of a truck. There is a loud hiss as a tyre is struck.

The fuel tank of an abandoned truck a few yards away is on fire, spewing black smoke into the bright blue sky. Fearing it will explode, one of the separatists risks enemy fire to clamber into an APC and ram it away from us.

Inch by inch we begin to slowly crawl back, our movements hampered by the thick flak jackets. We roll into a ditch next to Alexander Khodakovsky, the commander of Battalion Vostok, the proRussian militia we have followed into this battle.

A former special forces officer, he is one of the few members of the battalion with any military training. He seems relieved that the two journalists with him are still alive. “You okay?” he shouts.

“Oh sure, all fine, no problems, and you?” I’m struck by how absurd my words sound.

“You wanted to see something interesting. There you have it,” he replies.

The barrage of gunfire is getting worse. I stand up and sprint 100 yards down the slope, hurling myself behind thick shrubs. I slide into a deep ditch, joining several Vostok fighters armed with machine-guns and grenade launchers.

Their faces are covered in sweat and grime. One, who has been hit in the hand, lies in the dirt as a comrade ties gauze around his wound. Another stabs a wounded friend in the thigh with an anti-shock syringe.

To my left Lyudmilla, the only woman to join the fighters, a trained nurse now in combat fatigues, is desperately using both her hands to stop a fighter called Sergei from bleeding to death.

He was hit in the groin by a sniper’s bullet that smashed his artery. He is howling in pain and his face has turned yellow. “I can’t feel my legs,” he moans.

“Hang on in there, you’ll make it, you’ll make it,” Lyudmilla keeps telling him, her hands smeared in his blood.

As the fighting rages around us I can see Khodakovsky, crouching behind shrubs on the edge of our ditch, frantically shouting into a mobile phone, asking someone in vain for help to get his wounded men across no man’s land and over to the Russian side of the border.

Dmitry, his forearms covered in deep scratches, crawls into the ditch. Two fighters shout at him as he points his camera at Sergei, now in agony. “Put that down now, mother f*****, or I’ll shoot you,” barks one.

More than two hours in, the firefight shows no signs of dying down. Behind us the grass and shrubs are on fire. The heat is searing. My mouth feels like sandpaper.

A noise in the sky announces my worst fears. “Planes, planes!” shouts Mamai, a burly volunteer from the Russian region of North Ossetia, who rarely leaves Khodakovksy’s side.

The day’s mission had seemed straightforward enough that morning at Vostok’s base on the outskirts of Donetsk, the regional capital.

The separatists had received intelligence that Ukrainian border guards at the Marinovka crossing point with Russia — 90 miles to the east — were demoralised, disenchanted with the government in Kiev and ready to abandon their post without a fight. All that was needed was a show of force.

The task fell to Vostok (East), which was founded two months ago by Khodakovsky and made up mostly of pro-Moscow civilians from eastern Ukraine and volunteers from Russia.

Khodakovsky, 41, who until recently had headed a Donetsk anti-terrorism special forces command, was sent with his unit to Kiev in January to help quell pro-western demonstrations against Viktor Yanukovych, then president.

“I saw with my own eyes how extremist those demonstrators were, attacking the police and hurling petrol bombs at them,” he recalled.

“When Yanukovych was ousted, I understood they would come here to the east to fight. So I founded Vostok to fight them back.”

The battalion, which has fewer than 400 men, first attracted attention last month when it lost some 50 men — mostly volunteers from Russia — in a fierce battle for control of Donetsk airport. Last week’s firefight at Marinovka was only its second battle.

As Khodakovsky barked orders, 200 fighters — brave, enthusiastic but without basic training — lined up in the yard of Vostok’s base.

“I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing when I saw the violence spreading,” said Viktor, 36, a car mechanic.

“We’re protecting our homes from a bunch of fascists who are backed by the West.”

A bearded Orthodox priest in black robes and carrying an icon blessed the fighters who, after several false starts, set off in a convoy of 15 vehicles.

Khodakovsky led the way at the wheel of a four-wheel-drive. Mamai sat next to him, cradling an AK-47. Dmitry and I were in the back.

Following us were an APC, three military trucks, vans and a few Ladas crammed with fighters, mortars and crates of ammunition. Then came two trucks mounted with anti-aircraft heavy machineguns. One had to be push-started by dozens of men and broke down after a few miles on the outskirts of Donetsk, bringing our ragtag military column to a halt.

“You f****** son of a bitch,” Khodakovsky shouted into his mobile phone to the man who had supplied the truck. “You’ve given me a piece of shit! Any man we lose today is on your conscience.”

The men pushed the truck onto a petrol station forecourt and offloaded the gun on to another vehicle.

As we drove, we were waved through several separatist checkpoints and did not encounter any Ukrainian government forces — proof that, despite the recent escalation of its “anti-terrorist campaign”, Kiev has lost control over large parts of the east.

Dmitry and I knew little of Vostok’s mission when we set off. We had asked Khodakovsky to let us see his men in action and he had suddenly called us, giving us time only to grab our flak jackets and rush to the base.

Nearly three hours after setting off we stopped in a deserted country lane and our convoy was joined by a group of local armed separatists.

Khodakovsky donned a flak jacket and helmet and reached for his automatic weapon and pistol. He ordered us to put on our protective gear. A few miles down the road he parked his car and we joined him on the back of the APC.

On the horizon, on top of a gentle hill surrounded by vast open countryside, the Marinovka border crossing soon came into view. The men took the covers from the two anti-aircraft guns. Leaving the road we squeezed into three trucks that took us across farmland towards the post.

“We’ll approach it from the side, moving right along the border,” Khodakovsky told his men. “They’ll think twice before sending in any fighter planes as they’d be hitting the Russian side of the border.”

From my vantage point behind Khodakovsky on the back of the lead vehicle, our slow approach through open fields seemed suicidal. A single airstrike could take out the entire convoy.

From afar the border post seemed abandoned. The APC smashed through two lines of barbed wire and roared on into no man’s land. A few seconds later I spotted a few Ukrainian soldiers calmly walking away and vanishing behind shrubs.

We had fallen into a deadly trap. The intelligence Vostok had been fed by the locals could not have been more misleading — whether deliberately or not remains unclear.

Far from relishing the chance to surrender, the Ukrainian border guards had been reinforced with professional soldiers — including at least two snipers — and their post beefed up with heavy machineguns.

They had been expecting us since early morning. A single shot from an AK-47 rang out — but from the Ukrainian side. “Who’s shooting?” demanded Khodakovsky, baffled.

The shot set off a fierce firefight, which lasted nearly four hours but surprisingly killed only two Vostok men and wounded several.

Several Ukrainian soldiers were wounded but it is not clear if any were killed in the fighting, which all but destroyed the post.

Three hours into the firefight, following Mamai’s plane alert, Dmitry and I took our chance to sprint across the open fields deeper into no man’s land, as did dozens of Vostok fighters.

Further on we met several fighters who had dragged the injured Sergei across the tarmac and into a ditch. It was there that he died.

Lyudmilla broke down in tears. “Don’t cry, sister,” one of the other fighters told her. “He’s gone to heaven.”

Suddenly the sky echoed to the sound of a fighter jet launching rockets that blasted the ground further up the hill.

“Retreat! Retreat!” yelled fighters scattering away from the Ukrainian border. “Towards the Russian side!”

Bullets were still whizzing by a few minutes later as I ran down the gentle slope of the field towards the Russian positions.

The jet — this time clearly visible only a few hundred yards from the ground — reappeared, screaming across the bright blue sky.

It flew into Russian airspace, then turned sharply towards the Ukrainian side, aiming low as it launched several rockets at the fields.

Four hours after the firefight had begun, Dmitry and I, accompanied by 80 Vostok fighters — several of them wounded — finally reached the Russian side of the border.

We were met by Russian border guards, who now had a problem. The Kremlin has repeatedly been accused by America and Ukraine of taking the side of the separatists whom, it is claimed, they allow to move with weapons across the porous border.
The border guards at this, the Kuybyshevo crossing, may have sympathised with the Vostok fighters, but did not welcome them as heroes.

Instead they were disarmed at once. The wounded were taken to hospital. The others, including us, were taken to a hangar where we spent a sleepless night being questioned by law enforcement officers.

One exhausted fighter who had been close to Sergei wept in a corner as his comrades tried to comfort him. Many were seriously concussed and deafened by the explosions. One fainted, hitting his head hard on the cement floor.

Yesterday, in response to calls from G7 countries, Putin ordered the FSB security service to tighten border security to stop illegal crossings.

The move followed attempts in recent weeks by the Kremlin to distance itself from the separatists. But could our misadventure have also played a part in the decision?

Dmitry and I were released the next day; Russian authorities did not prosecute us for crossing a border illegally as our lives had been in danger.

The men from Vostok were not so fortunate. Earlier one had told me they planned to smuggle themselves back into Ukraine. Instead they were loaded onto coaches. Russian authorities said they were being sent to a remand jail.

The fighters’ anger was intense. “We were set up, it was a f****** trap,” said one. “We were sent head first into a meat grinder.”

Source: The Sunday Times (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/world_news/Ukraine/article1420283.ece)