March 2015


25 March 2015

Governor of key eastern region steps down

Over the past few days, Dnipropetrovsk Region Governor Igor Kolomoisky has suddenly made news headlines in a dispute over control of two companies – Ukrnafta and UkrTransNafta. Ukrnafta is Ukraine’s largest producer of oil and gas, while UkrTransNafta manages the transportation of oil and gas through Ukraine’s pipeline network. The scandal has resulted in Mr. Kolomoisky’s ouster as governor.

Ihor Kolomoisky

Ihor Kolomoisky

On Sunday, March 22nd, Kolomoisky sent a detachment of armed, private security guards to block entry to the Ukrnafta building and put a fence around it. Journalists and an MP from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc showed up to question the governor about what he was doing, and received the answer that he was guarding the building against a takeover by pro-Russian forces. Kolomoisky’s group of companies – the Privat Group – owns 42% of Ukrnafta, with 50% plus a share owned by the state. After parliament passed a bill on Thursday to reduce the quorum at joint stock companies from 60% to 50%, Kolomoisky’s control over Ukrnafta was threatened. This state of affairs is widely interpreted as the incentive for the attempted armed raid.

Also on Sunday, the government attempted to replace the UkrTransNafta’s manager, an ally of Kolomoisky, and the governor showed up in person with a squad of armed security personnel. When asked by the press and media what he was doing there, Kolomoisky erupted in a slew of expletives, saying he had come to protect the firm from seizure by agents of Russia.

The following day, accusations were leveled at Kolomoisky from prominent figures in the government. As the English-language Kyiv Post reported at midday on March 24th:

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, head of Ukraine’s Security Service loyal to President Petro Poroshenko, suspects that Dnipropetrovsk Oblast deputy governors Gennady Korban and Svyatoslav Oliynyk are involved in an organized crime ring responsible for abducting law enforcement officials, a claim which would implicate Kolomoisky at least indirectly because the people named are close to him.

Similarly:

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said that the armed men outside the companies’ offices were actually private guards, and all of the volunteer battalions were accounted for at the front lines. ‘None of the private security companies, according to the laws of Ukraine, has the right to carry weapons,’ Avakov said on his Facebook page.

Late morning, Monday, March 23rd, President Petro Poroshenko, dressed in military fatigues, appeared in public flanked by the Minister of Defense and other senior military officials, declaring:

No governor shall have his own pocket armed forces.

Petro Poroshenko on March 23rd

Petro Poroshenko on March 23rd

The message was quickly becoming clear that Kolomoisky had become too much of a threat. Indeed, since his appointment as governor by the interim Ukrainian authorities almost immediately after the Maidan Revolution in March 2014, Kolomoisky’s power had seemed to loom out of proportion to his official role as regional governor. Suspicions immediately began to arise that this was simply another war between Ukraine’s rich men – ‘oligarchs’ – and that the more politically senior (Poroshenko) had had enough. By the evening of Tuesday, March 24th, the announcement had been made that Poroshenko had signed an official presidential degree ‘granting the request’ of Kolomoisky to be relieved of his official duties.

Presidential Decree 173/2015 relieving Kolomoisky of his duties as governor

Presidential Decree 173/2015 relieving Kolomoisky of his duties as governor

The news is worrying for many reasons. First, Kolomoisky had served as a kind of guarantor of security and stability in eastern Ukraine. Soon after the Maidan uprising, signs of separatist sentiment had begun to make themselves visible in Dnipropetrovsk, a serious worry for a fledgling, unstable regime. Kolomoisky financed and equipped several battalions, reputedly spending $10 million of his own money on the Dnipro-1 battalion (a de facto police force for Dnipropetrovsk Region), but also supporting other battalions, including Dnipro-2, Aidar, Azov and Donbas to fill the security void in the area and indeed in the country. Dnipropetrovsk – though bordering both Luhansk and Donetsk regions – has not witnessed separatism or pro-Russian insurgency with Kolomoisky as governor.

Now that Kolomoisky is gone, he has said publicly that there is a real possibility of an uprising in Dnipropetrovsk, and that he ‘wouldn’t want it,’ but ‘anything is possible.’ Whether this is a veiled threat remains to be seen. He still has many allies in the Verkhovna Rada (national parliament), and there is already talk of them forming a separate faction to defend their patron. Perhaps most unfortunately, the rift may play into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. One MP from Poroshenko’s own party – Andrey Denysenko – has suggested that the sacking of Kolomoisky was part of a ‘secret protocol’ agreed to in Minsk between Putin and Poroshenko, whereby the Putin – who once described Kolomoisky as a ‘unique crook’ – would be willing to grant more concessions in exchange for Kolomoisky’s ouster. The world can only wait, watch and hope that this is not a sign of serious fracture in the nascent Ukrainian state, and a repeat of the historical split between Left-Bank (East) and Right-Bank (West) Ukraine.

*****

18 March 2015

NightWatch: Update on Russia and Ukraine

KGS (Kforce Government Solutions, Inc.), which provides technological innovation and other services to clients, features a section on its website called ‘NightWatch,’ which will soon be available on a paid-only basis. The following features an update on Russian military exercises in Crimea and around the western borders of Russia, and also political developments in the ceasefire zone of eastern Ukraine for the night of March 17th…

Link: NightWatch

For the night of 17 March 2015

Russia: Exercise update. The Russian military exercises expanded on the 17th. The major commands in western Russia joined the drills. New participants included the Baltic Fleet at Kaliningrad, the forces in Crimea and forces in southern Russia. All went to full combat readiness for training.

In the Northern Fleet area, the Defense Ministry said the Fleet expanded the number of its combined-arms naval task groups from three to five. It also ordered them to expand their operational areas into parts of the Norwegian Sea.

Russian anti-submarine warfare aircraft prosecuted a simulated submarine hunt in the Barents Sea. Naval surface assets and air units participated in an air defense exercise in coordination with the anti-submarine warfare task group, on the 18th. Airborne units deployed to the Arctic as part of the exercise.

In Kaliningrad, Russian news said that Russia intended to send nuclear-capable Iskander missiles. The press said the missile units will be delivered by large landing ships. Russia also is redeploying combat aircraft to Kaliningrad Oblast.

In the Western Military District, an armored regiment also joined the training, according to the media. The report provided no location.

In Crimea, Russia deployed Tu-22 bombers. An engineering brigade south of Ukraine went on alert. One news report said 10,000 artillery troops in the south, north of Georgia, participated in the training.

One Russian news service reported that the Eastern Military District began a large communications exercise. Air defense training began on 12 March in the Far East. Last week Pacific Fleet surface combatants engaged in live firing drills in the Sea of Japan.

Map of FSU

Comment: This is a large expensive exercise. The Russians must have been preparing it for quite some time, especially the command and control aspects. It appears to be a test of all forces that have the mission of blocking NATO expansion under the new doctrine, as well as those in other regions, such as the Far East, that would have a defense mission against US forces.

Lots of activity is occurring, but, except for the Northern Fleet, most of the action is by crisis reaction units. While expansive, this exercise involves only a fraction of the activity that would be associated with general mobilization or real war preparations, even in a limited theater. It is a showy, but important test of crisis reaction forces.

The main focus, however, continues to be the Arctic islands and the Barents Sea. The Northern Fleet and Command are rehearsing defense of Russian Arctic resource claims. The activity in Crimea and Kaliningrad seems mostly for demonstration.

Ukraine: On 17 March, the Ukrainian parliament passed changes to the legislation that authorizes greater autonomy for the eastern regions that have been in rebellion. The modifications specify that “the special order on local government” will only become effective after the eastern regions hold new local elections. The elections must comply with Ukrainian law and occur under international observation. The changes call for the withdrawal of all illegal armed groups.

In a separate action the Ukrainian parliament passed a resolution that describes the eastern regions as “temporarily occupied territories.”

The rebel leaders in the east rejected the legislation and the resolution.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Kyiv government is ignoring the provisions of the Minsk ceasefire agreement that require it to hold negotiations with the rebels concerning local elections.

Comment: The effect of the requirement for local elections before the devolution of authority from Kyiv is legislative sleight-of-hand to negate the current autonomous status of the rebellious territories. It makes local government authority a grant from Kyiv, rather than a right won in battle.

Ukrainian Poroshenko repeatedly has said he would never accept Crimea’s alienation nor the independent status of Donetsk and Luhansk. The parliament backs him in this, which ultimately dooms the ceasefire, but not yet.

Status of the ceasefire. The daily Ukrainian situation map shows the ceasefire continues to hold. This map is a product of the Ukrainian Defense and Security Council. The most active area is northwest of Donetsk. Some clashes also continue east of Mariupol, near the coast.

Ceasefire Map

Link: NightWatch 20150317

Nightwatch Logo

*****

16 March 2015

Analysis: Who’s turned against Putin – and why

From March 5th to 16th, Putin was apparently out of sight of the world public. This unprecedented occurrence generated many theories about what was happening in Moscow. Now that the Russian leader has reappeared, questions still linger. If a palace coup did not occur, has there been a restructuring or reorganization of the arrangement of power in the Kremlin? Who stands to gain, and who to lose? In the last Journal posting (Analysis: Is a palace coup under way in Moscow?), a Ukrainian analyst suggested that the ‘old guard’ of the Russian (read Soviet) security services had openly opposed Putin’s domestic and foreign policy, perhaps causing the Russian strongman to pause or stumble. Below, an opinion from an Israeli analyst brings a dimension of the equation further into the forefront: the battle between republic elites for control of the North Caucasus region of Russia.

Who’s turned against Putin and why

15 March 2015 ~ Avraham Shmulevich

The quest for the Russian ‘throne,’ or at least for control over it, is in full swing.

Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov

Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov

What is happening in the Kremlin right now is shrouded in darkness – the ruling regime in Russia, like any criminal gang, does not like publicity. However, after analyzing the events and comparing facts, we can already make adequate conclusions.

First is which groups are fighting each other in the Kremlin. We can argue about the reasons for this struggle, but the fact is that a conflict exists, and there is an open confrontation between the various law enforcement agencies and the authorities, which is visible to the naked eye.

Security Services ‘for’ and ‘against’ Putin

The most significant event that Putin missed during his disappearance was not even the Astana summit, and certainly wasn’t the signing of the pact with South Ossetia, but rather the annual collegium of the FSB, the main event in the life of the agency. In all his years in power, Putin has never ignored it. Moreover, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave some obscure explanation about it – saying he didn’t want to come, so he didn’t come, as if it were some kind of party.

Alexander Bortnikov (Photo: AP)

Alexander Bortnikov (Photo: AP)

It was precisely the FSB [Federal Security Service – Ed.] that put out information concerning Kadyrov’s involvement in the murder of Nemtsov, and did so clearly against the will of Putin himself. The head of the Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov – the biggest heavyweight – almost openly opposes the ‘patron.’ A second security service is connected to the FSB: drug control. Its personnel, I recall, detained the main suspects in the Nemtsov case. The authorities of Ingushetia and Dagestan are in alliance with them.

Nikolai Patrushev

Nikolai Patrushev

Against them and on the side of Putin stand Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and, of course, the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Patrushev pointedly met with Kadyrov, and thus endorsed his work. Such a division into ‘camps’ is also witnessed by the fact that Bortnikov did come to the board meeting of the Security Council, even though he was obligated to be present there as a member of staff.

It is also interesting that the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta published the first interview with Patrushev, in which he told of how wonderful Kadyrov was, and of how they are battling terrorism together. And then – two articles, which laid out the official version of the Nemtsov’s murder, according to which Kadyrov’s guardsman Dadayev carried out the killing with accomplices, and on Islamic grounds, while the authorities had already rejected the ‘Islamic trail’ version of events.

So, apparently, the two warring factions still have equal access to the main mouthpiece. This indirectly evidences that nothing is finished yet, and there is still no talk of dismissing Putin from power, but that there is a struggle to do so.

What could be the reason for this power struggle? Firstly, the killing of Nemtsov, no matter who organized it, was very much a game changer in the Russian elite.

The security of Yeltsin and his team (or ‘Family’) was the main condition for Putin coming to power. Almost none of those who were with Yeltsin (Berezovsky never quite belonged to the team) suffered. Putin abided scrupulously by this arrangement.

And Nemtsov – this was a man from the Yeltsin team who remained close to the ‘Family’ after the death of the first president. In general, Nemtsov had a very warm personal relationship with Yeltsin, who thought of him as a son. After the death of the President, Boris Nemtsov maintained contact with his widow.

It should be noted that Nemtsov, for his part, also complied with the unwritten agreement. His opposition was actually very conditional. He did nothing to channel protest in such a way that really threatened Putin. That is, he operated completely within a sort of systemic opposition called ‘His Majesty’s Opposition.’

Hence, Nemtsov made no mention of any compromising material [on Putin – Ed.] that he should have had, for example, about fraudulent financial schemes spinning in Petersburg during the times of Sobchak and Yeltsin. Nemtsov also surely could have told a lot about how Putin came to power, his financial situation before and after, about his relationships, about how he developed the first and second Chechen wars. He was in government then. So he faithfully observed his part of the bargain, just like Putin – before the murder of Nemtsov. But now they have removed Nemtsov, and the people of the Yeltsin team around Putin, who considered themselves (and indeed were) untouchable, have reason to become worried and take some sort of action.

North Caucasus elites

As for the other part of this group – the North Caucasus elites – here’s another story. The elites of practically every North Caucasus republic have an interest in weakening – or better yet, overthrowing – Kadyrov.

This is because the head of Chechnya has repeatedly staked a claim to the entire North Caucasus. This is especially true of the neighbors – Ingushetia and Dagestan. Chechnya has territorial claims on these republics.

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov (Source: The News Chronicle)

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov (Source: The News Chronicle)

It was the first time the Security Council of Ingushetia had named Kadyrov’s security forces as suspects in the murder of Nemtsov. They were arrested on the territory of Ingushetia. I recall that in Soviet times, Chechnya and Ingushetia were one, and they are related peoples. And recently, the Chechen parliament formally declared a piece of the territory that is part of modern Ingushetia to be its [Chechnya’s] territory. Kadyrov also repeatedly tried to displace the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.

The second territory to which Kadyrov has repeatedly staked a claim is Dagestan. True, the current head of Chechnya is not a pioneer: in 1999, Chechen units of the so-called ‘Islamic Peacekeeping Brigade’ (Islamist militants) invaded Dagestan, which served as the formal pretext for the second Chechen war. Kadyrov, by the way, was one of the closest to [Shamil] Basayev in the first Chechen war.

For Kadyrov, the most coveted territory is Khasavyurt – one of the richest cities in the Caucasus and the third largest city of Dagestan, where the country’s largest wholesale market serves as an outlet for all small- and medium-sized Chechen businesses. Until 1944, a part of the territory adjacent to Khasavyurt was densely populated with Chechens and formed a Chechen autonomy within Dagestan. In 1944, Stalin deported the Chechens and Ingush from the Caucasus, including from the district of Khasavyurt, and they returned under Khrushchev. But some localities in which Chechens lived before the deportation remained occupied by Dagestanis. Now, Khasavyurt is about 30% Chechens, another 30% Kumyks, and 30% Avars – representatives of the Dagestani nations.

In principle, Kadyrov considers the whole of Dagestan to be his potential ancestral lands. Maybe it’s not obvious, but the regime Kadyrov has built is copying Imam Shamil in many ways, in the sense that it imitates the religious regime of Imam Shamil. And the Imamate of Shamil included the territory of Chechnya and Dagestan.

The top leaders of Chechnya publicly lay claims to the territory of Dagestan on the border between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, including Khasavyurt and Kizlyar. Kadyrov is pushing hard for his people to enter positions of power in the republic [of Dagestan – Ed.]. The Chechen authorities are looking at the lands of Kabardino-Balkaria and even ‘Russian’ Stavropol and Krasnodar territory. Everyone in the Caucasus knows about the territorial appetites of ‘Putin’s Grunt.’

At the same time, there has been talk for quite a long time about how to make Kadyrov governor of the Caucasus – i.e., presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District. This means that Kadyrov will become the master of the entire North Caucasus. It is clear that the people who are in power in other North Caucasus republics are not craving these changes.

Saigidpasha Ukmakhanov (Source: The Caucasian Knot)

Saigidpasha Ukmakhanov (Source: The Caucasian Knot)

Shaa Turlaev

Shaa Turlaev

Vivid proof of that was the February 17th verdict issued in Dagestan in the case of the attempted assassination of Khasavyurt Mayor Saigidpasha Umakhanov, who has held the post for 18 years and is considered one of the most influential people in the North Caucasus. Shaa Turlaev, personal special adviser to Kadyrov, was charged in the attempt. Previously, the Austrian authorities had accused the adviser to the head of Chechnya in the murder of a former bodyguard of Kadyrov, who gave testimony in Vienna on political killings. Turlaev was even officially on the [Russian] federal wanted list, which did not prevent him from occupying the position of Special Advisor to the head of Chechnya. And now it is not some Austrian court, but an indigenous Russian court that has named this person as the official organizer and contractor of the attempted murder of a public official – the mayor of a Russian city. Thus, the Dagestani elite has challenged Kadyrov.

But after all the elimination of Kadyrov is impossible without the elimination of Putin – this is how the political system is constructed.

It should be noted that the authorities of other North Caucasus republics also have the resources and reasons for challenging Kadyrov, meaning also Putin.

It is also possible that some forces dissatisfied with Kadyrov are inside Chechnya itself. Because Chechnya, unlike what Russian propaganda says, is not a monolith. There are a huge number of people, including those in Kadyrov’s immediate entourage, who hate him and are ready to grab him by the throat at the first opportunity. A very corrupt regime has been built in Chechnya: there are no jobs there, and there is nothing to do but work for Kadyrov, doing nothing. There is no economy in Chechnya, and everything is in his hands. But the Chechens are not the kind of people who love to march in formation. And Kadyrov is preoccupied with the fact that this is contrary to their nature, and is causing great dissatisfaction.

In addition, in Moscow there are also quite influential pro-Moscow Chechens who nevertheless consider themselves quite worthy to assume the post of head of Chechnya, or that Kadyrov has too gone too far and his actions are dangerous for the Chechen people, as they make the Chechens hostages to Russia’s internal power struggle.

And on Russian television, meanwhile, they have begun to talk again about the Chechens as criminal elements. It is they, not some abstract ‘persons of Caucasian nationality,’ who are robbing and raping – this is what is again being said on the current news topics. Harsh anti-Chechen propaganda has arisen.

So, through the smokescreen of rumor and misinformation, several facts are visible: the FSB, drug control forces, and the elites of Ingushetia and Dagestan have clearly gone against the will of the ‘national leader.’ The Security Council, headed by Patrushev, and Kadyrov support [Putin]. Other centers of power and politically important figures remain publicly silent. Although this does not mean that all of these structures present a united front ‘for’ or ‘against’ Putin, it is quite possible and even very likely that there is a split and a struggle between them.

The quest for the Russian ‘throne,’ or at least control over it, is in full swing. Who will win is difficult to judge. But the outcome is close at hand. Revolutions can occur overnight, but rarely last for weeks.

Кто и почему пошел против Путина

*****

14 March 2015

Analysis: Is a palace coup under way in Moscow?

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s absence from the public eye for over a week has generated a raft of creative conspiracy theories on the internet. But it is time to examine seriously the possibility that a change of power is under way in Moscow. Below is an interesting scenario proposed by a Ukrainian political analyst, Pavlo Praviy, writing in the Nova Ukraina publication, suggesting that veterans of the Soviet and Russian security services may be actively attempting to implement a peaceful transfer of power in the Kremlin…

Pavlo Praviy: Primakov’s ultimatum in action?

13.03.2015 22:43:00. Suspіlstvo

And so, the disappearance of Putin from political radar screens: what does this mean and how does it threaten all of us? If you don’t pay attention to the fantastic versions of his death, which the dictator’s inner circle is hiding, and also the military coup, there are several more-or-less realistic scenarios. Without claiming to be the ultimate truth, I suggest one of these.

It is possible that a peaceful political revolution is now in the making in Russia, something like the story of Boris Yeltsin’s resignation. The President is tired, he’s sick, and has voluntarily gone on vacation, moving from the Kremlin to the palace complex in Gelendzhik. What evidence is there to support this version? None. However, let’s not forget the performance of Yevgeny Primakov on January 13th, 2015 in the elite ‘Mercury Club,’ where he criticized Putin’s policies root and branch.

Primakov unambiguously came out in support of the Donbas as part of Ukraine, against the isolation of Russia, and in favor of developing a real economy and exiting the position of ‘world gas station.’ Primakov also recognized the fact that Russia now has a huge problem with anti-Semitism, chauvinism and neo-Nazism.

Putin once described himself and Medvedev as ‘nationalists in the best sense of the word.’ And here, Primakov punched Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin]:

‘Of particular importance is the distinction between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is not limited to the protection of the cultural and historical features of this nation, and the need to defend its interests. This would be acceptable if the essence of nationalism did not consist of opposition to other nations, upon which nationalists usually look down.’ (http://tpprf.ru/ru/news/v-tsentre-mezhdunarodnoy-torgovli-moskvy-sostoitsya-zasedanie-merkuriy-kluba-i61924/).

What do you mean? Mr. Primakov explained:

‘… There is no reason to consider the readiness of the executive branch to offer a reasonable project, based on specifically planned actions, for the reorientation of the country toward diversification of its economy and its growth on this basis…’ (ibid)?

Primakov (right) with Henry Kissinger

Primakov (right) with Henry Kissinger

And all of this would have amounted to nothing – well, some academic of the Russian Academy of Sciences has criticized the regime… But there are two things.

Firstly, the ‘Mercury Club’ is not some kind of eatery, even elite, where politicians and nouveau riche pump French cognac. This is the World Trade Center, which unites the state’s political and economic elite. And Yevgeny Primakov is the president of the club.

Sergei Stepashin (Photo: Sergey Grachev / The St/ Petersburg Times)

Sergei Stepashin (Photo: Sergey Grachev / The St. Petersburg Times)

Secondly, and what is most important – Yevgeny Maximovich Primakov is not simply an academician. He is a rank-and-file ‘Chekist’ [agent of the security services – Ed.]. And not just a rank-and-file ‘Chekist’ – he is the patriarch and de facto leader of the old KGB nomenklatura. If a reader asks himself another question: who brought this greyness to power, then please get acquainted – one of those who stands behind the scenes of Putin’s power is Pan Yevgeny [‘Pan’ a title in Polish and Ukrainian meaning, roughly, ‘Mr.’ – Ed.] Yevgeny. The second of them is Sergei Stepashin [also a former prime minister and head of the security services – Ed.]. It is they, among others, who gave Putin power, and who can take it back any time.

In fact, the performance of Yevgeny Primakov (be sure to see the full version of it) was an ultimatum to Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin]. Judging by [Putin’s] subsequent actions, he either did not accept this ultimatum or else did not pay any attention to at all (which is a little hard to believe, because he’d have had to be a cretin with a stamp of quality), and for this, apparently, he would have to pay.

What is interesting is that from the time of the announcement of Yevgeny Primakov’s speech in the ‘Mercury Club’ to Putin’s mysterious disappearance from TV and the wave of fantastic rumors about it, exactly two months have passed. If we consider early next weekend – March 14, 2015 [the Ides of March!!! – Ed.] – as the finish line, at which point some global events in Russian politics will be announced – it is 60 days. Or nights.

And now: attention. Let’s see what’s happened during the time that Putin has not been shining on the political radar:

– Ukrainian doctors were allowed to see Nadezhda Savchenko (for the first time!);

– ‘Novorossia,’ the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ suddenly disappeared from state television, to be replaced by ‘Lugansk and Donetsk regions’;

– A ‘purge’ of the cohort of ‘irreconcilable’ field commanders in the area of the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation]: Mozgovoy, Pavlov-Motorola;

Pro-Russian separatist rebel leader Aleksey Mozgovoy (Photo: Maria Terechenkova)

Pro-Russian separatist rebel leader Aleksey Mozgovoy (Photo: Maria Terechenkova)

– Separatist groups in the Donbas have come to be known as ‘gangs’ by Russian media groups;

– Two (!) additional humanitarian convoys have been urgently sent to the Donbas. This time, the humanitarian convoy may not be in ‘quotation marks,’ because it is hoped that there will finally be humanitarian aid in it. But time is necessary to form these ‘unexpected additional’ humanitarian convoys…

Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu (left) with Putin

Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu (left) with Putin

And here’s another interesting ‘coincidence’: just when Putin disappeared from the radar (March 10), someone sent Defense Minister [Sergey] Shoygu and Minister of Internal Affairs [Vladimir] Kolokoltsev to Crimea, leading a huge delegation of heads of law enforcement agencies (as much as 40 people), thus removing them from the cartridge clip.

Coincidence? Is the result of this match here it is:

‘According to a source in the press service of the President of Russia, a major announcement is being prepared in the near future, and for this reason, the heads of relevant media have been asked to be ready in the next few days for a possible press conference’ (http://lifeinvest.com.ua/index.php/u-sviti/3461-gotovitsya-vazhnoe-zayavlenie-administratsii-prezidenta-putina-istochnik)?

It is therefore likely we can now watch the last waning days of political star V. V. Putin. The backstage players can leave him in a chair, beat down ‘his’ people (in this case, Medvedev’s government will be dissolved and Putin’s security chiefs fired), or maybe send him into honorable retirement – to nurse Kabaeva’s newborn child. [Alina Kabaeva is the former Olympic gymnast who is Putin’s young mistress, and who is rumored to have given birth to the president’s child. – Ed.] They may even contribute (as an extreme variant) to his death ‘from a cold.’

Wait and see. It is clear that from the point of view of common sense, the Russian political and economic elite must end the war in the Donbas – and ‘not pull’ Russian into an arms race against the United States, China and the EU, as opposed to participating in it (Putin has spoken of how troubled his is by such a scenario) – ‘like death.’ The people involved in the regime may not even understand this. But it’s from the point of view of common sense…

And it may happen that these are my thoughts are not even worth the price of the three sheets of paper on which they could be printed. In fact, I recently wrote (see here) that Putin and his offspring in Russia have raised a few million, not just nationalists, but Nazis, for whom he is already not a strict enough Führer for the ‘enemies of the Rus Nation.’ Then Piontkovsky – who says that in Moscow right now the ‘party of a lot of blood’ is breaking – is right. [Andrey Piontkovsky is a Russian scientist and political writer – Ed.]

Then God save us all.

And the whole world together with Ukraine…

But I’m an optimist by nature, in what I wish for you, my friends.

Together – we will win!

Pavlo Praviy

Pavlo Praviy

Pavlo Praviy

Павло Правый: Ультиматум Примакова в действии?

*****

14 March 2015

Russian army strike force identified 80 km from Kharkiv

While it is difficult for civilians to get an up-to-date idea of Russia’s military movements in and around Ukraine, occasionally a report comes out that seems to offer insight. Ukrainians have the advantage of Russian language in espionage, meaning they can move around in enemy territory more easily than Russians, most of whom do not speak or understand Ukrainian. Here is one such report, republished from the InfoResist website.

01-Dude

*****

10 March 2015

In Belgorod, on the territory of the Russian Federation, the Russian Ministry of Defense has gathered a group of forces composed of units of the 23rd Motor Rifle Brigade from Samara and the 7th Tank Brigade from Chelyabinsk.

02-Aerial View

The Russian troops are stationed in 79.5 km from Kharkiv, reports InformNapalm.

03-Map

‘It seems that our fears are finding new confirmation: in the Belgorod region the Russian military command is putting together a new group aimed at Ukraine’s Kharkiv region. In particular, in the northwestern suburbs of Belgorod, a base camp of Russian troops has been identified, in which several units are located at the moment,’ the statement says.

04-Street

‘It was possible to identify the consolidated unit from the 23rd Motor Rifle Brigade of the Central Military District – mil. unit 65349; place of dislocation – Samara.’ the newspaper writes.

05-Workout

The article notes that the consolidated unit of the 23rd Motor Rifle Brigade is represented in the form of a battalion-tactical group (BTGr) – infantry battalion (in BTR-82a – [armored personnel carrier – Ed.]), and also mortars (ACS ‘Nona’ on BTR), anti-aircraft gunners (SAM ‘Wasp’), scouts and snipers, and all sorts of software.

07-Tents

In addition to the BTGr of the 23rd Brigade, the presence of a self-propelled artillery unit (‘Acacia’152 mm self-propelled guns), presumably from the 7th Armored Brigade of the Central Military District – military unit 89547, place of dislocation Chebarkul, Chelyabinsk region (information being verified), tankers and gunners, which in autumn 2014 were observed as part of the Rostov groups invading forces.

08-Trucks

In Belgorod is part of the training section of military unit 27898. But Russian army soldiers are living in a temporary field camp in tents on the outskirts of the city.

09-Thumbs-Up Dudes

В 80 км от Харькова сосредоточена ударная группировка армии России

*****

13 March 2015

Seven Russian cities that are dying

One aspect of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula that especially troubles outside observers is the needlessness of the act itself. Russia is not only the largest country in the world by far in terms of territory. It also has many serious domestic problems of its own. Surely the absorption of yet more territory and mouths to feed has very disturbing implications. Yet, somehow, Russia’s leader and masses behave triumphally, as if the additional costs to the nation involved in this blatant act of aggression are genuinely worth celebrating. A look around the rest of Russia makes the Kremlin’s policy in Ukraine positively mystifying.

In the following article, some anonymous journalists have covered seven of the most ailing Russian municipalities for the Russian Big Picture website. The style of writing is customarily sarcastic, cynical and derisory, but the underlying theme is far from funny: Russia is internally very sick. This is not merely a case of urban crime and run-of-the-mill social ailments: all Western countries have these, and none can afford to pontificate too much. But those of us who have traveled widely in Russia know that the ghastliness on display there appears to exceed anything visible in the West in terms of desolation, decrepitude, degradation and disease. Perhaps most importantly, much (if not most) of Russia is an ecological nightmare posing tremendous health risks for ordinary people.

The following article, entitled ‘Seven Russian cities that are dying,’ gives an idea of what things look like, and a sense of why Ukrainians are keen to establish their independence from the Russian Federation once and for all.

Seven Russian cities that are dying

What’s happening in Russian cities outside Moscow and St. Petersburg? How hard is life there? What are the challenges of crime and the environment? In the first part of our urban investigation, we identified the most unsafe places to live – seven Russian cities, which – if you happen to be there – you would best leave immediately.

1) Novokuznetsk

Founded: 1618
Population: 550,213

Novokuznetsk

Central Novokuznetsk

As a cultural and economic center of Siberia, Novokuznetsk couldn’t be a city of dreams even within its own region, not to mention on a Russia-wide scale.

It’s difficult to combine the title of ‘powerful Russian metallurgical and coal mining center’ with ‘ecological paradise.’ Lawbreakers aren’t asleep either: in the last year, 11,971 crimes have been committed (for comparison: in Grozny, which is ranked 1st overall in living safety, there were only 1,117). It’s mostly small robbery and theft, but even for a medium-sized city, this is still a situation.

Novokuznetsk Panorama

Novokuznetsk Panorama

Novokuznetsk can’t boast of natural rates of growth either: the number of emigrants from Novokuznetsk approximately equals the number of people who come here and nourish hopes of building a bright future in the city.

Oddly enough, the townspeople themselves are very satisfied with the actions of the executive authorities and consider them most effective. Maybe the golden rule of Pushkin applies here? The smaller the number of residents we love, the more they like us. Either that or this is some kind of city of masochists.

'Hanging out' in Novokuznetsk district (Photo: Stuart Griffiths)

‘Hanging out’ in Novokuznetsk district (Photo: Stuart Griffiths)

Anonymous:

The ones who leave are those who think about health, not those who are afraid of work. There’s a full boat with ecology in ‘Kuzne.’ Schoolchildren already have scoliosis because there’s this composition of chemical elements in the air that leaches calcium from the body. I think the authorities should strictly control the situation so that treatment facilities work the way they’re supposed to and not according to the whims of the administration of hazardous industries. We’re one of the top three most polluted cities in the country. Shame!

Novokuznetsk Hotel (Photo: WilsonFly)

Novokuznetsk Hotel (Photo: WilsonFly)

Anna:

They did the right thing, those who left: I fully support them, and I myself would like to leave in the near future. Novokuznetsk is dirty, hopeless, and oriented only toward metallurgy and coal. High crime rate, deteriorating higher education, bribery. Conclusion: more problems for another ten years.

2) Lipetsk

Founded: 1703
Population: 509,719

Lipetsk Aerial View

Lipetsk Aerial View

Why Lipetsk, it would seem? The city, founded by Peter the Great with a favorable climate and considerable cultural base, was doomed to become a haven for all those who weren’t in a hurry and appreciated the tranquility. But no. The NLMK [Novolipetskii Metallurgicheskii Kombinat, or Novolipetsk Steel – Ed.] Open Joint Stock Company is complicating the environmental situation. Emission of harmful substances into the atmosphere can often be observed, and if the wind changes direction, the inhabitants of bedroom communities can enjoy the scent of hydrogen sulfide. According to Rosstat, the level of crime in Lipetsk occupies 46th place in Russia. The natural growth rate is not the city’s strong point, and in general giving birth here is not trendy. Apparently, the first task is self-actualization. Nevertheless, in its region Lipetsk is a city of opportunities: nearly 2,000 more people arrive here to take up permanent residence than leave.

Novolipetsk Steel

Novolipetsk Steel

Alex Andreyeff:

I came here a month ago, for the first time in 2 years, and NOTHING has changed: crowds of gopniks, people dressed identically in leather jackets with ‘gandonku’ on their shaved heads, queues in shops for ‘Priyatel’ (‘Buddy’) beer in plastic stein glasses, almost universal poverty, smoke-belching NLMK, dirty air (much harder to breathe than in the center of Moscow). The authorities, which do not change, are the same ‘elected figures’: Korolev, Gulevsky, Sinyuts. Mass propaganda for ‘United Russia’ on the Lipetsk TV channels, the local government’s affirmation that Lipetsk is almost Eden – a garden city – and everything along those lines. Nightlife? Shit. The clubs suck compared to the capital. Really, like the club ‘Fairy Tale,’ which is going to open soon, can compete with the clubs in the capital. Education? I don’t want to remember the infernal vypendrezhnuyu 44th school. The quality of teaching is really mediocre, but there are a lot of braggarts: ‘It’s a lyceum! Where are the replacements for the stolen goods? We don’t put them out on the street! Why aren’t they up to scratch? Ah, but we have lyceum TV!’ But this is the best school in Lipetsk!”

Lipetsk Loch

Lipetsk Loch (Photo: Artemy Lebedev)

Yevgeni Mukushev:

In Lipetsk you fear getting killed for nothing or a purse with 2 rubles in it)))) I thought it was supposed to be better now that the 1990s had passed, but all the same I arrived recently, and in Lipetsk they’ve just dawned… Apart from that, of course Lipetsk is a great city, I really love it, and don’t pay attention to what I just wrote. It’s a fly in the ointment so they don’t relax )))

3) Magnitogorsk

Founded: 1929
Population: 417,057

An evening out in Magnitogorsk

An evening out in Magnitogorsk

To understand what is available in Magnitogorsk, it is at once enough just to look at its minimalistic flag. The black triangle could become an ornament of the Tretyakov Gallery, but it’s only a symbol of ferrous metallurgy.

Night Panorama of Magnitogorsk

Night Panorama of Magnitogorsk

The fact that Magnitogorsk is always on the priority list of Russian Federation cities with the highest level of air pollution eliminates any further questions about the environment. Magnitogorsk has suffered the same tragic fate of all cities where an industrial giant has become the main enterprise. The crime situation leaves much to be desired: 9,678 crimes a year. Despite having a low birth rate and taking 28th place in the number of abortions, an increase in the city is – by some miracle – still observable. People are not hurrying to leave the capital of ferrous metallurgy, possibly having already resigned themselves to the blows of fate.

Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine

Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine

Paul:

Those who call Chelyabinsk a ‘harsh’ city have probably never been to Magnitogorsk. I don’t like this city, even though I’ve lived here for about 30 years. And in truth, I’ve never met people who really love Magnitogorsk. At best, they tolerate it, get used to it. The ‘monocity’ is a legacy of socialism. The population is barely growing, so whoever can leave here does. Development is barely noticeable, and more likely to the contrary, there are signs of decline. These are evident even in the little things. You almost never see municipal buses, only marshrutki [private minibuses used as taxis – Ed.]. Before, even in the 1990s, there were normal city buses. They canceled the Magnitogorsk-Chelyabinsk train – for me, that’s uncivilized. However, while the plant is alive, there’s work in the city. But it’s mainly specialized work.

Magnitogorsk Panorama

Magnitogorsk Panorama

Oleg:

I quite like Magnitogorsk. It’s not true that the city is grey. It was, but now it’s transformed. There’s well-developed culture here. It has its own distinct theaters. The administration [of the metallurgy plant – Ed.] holds various events. About the environment… MMK [Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine – Ed.] is constantly upgrading its production so that emissions are reduced. Generally, there’s a sense that talk about the terrible ecology is a kind of myth. There are, of course, places where it’s impossible to live. But this isn’t the whole city. They’re building the city up a lot, with the cost of local production making houses much cheaper than in other cities with a similar average salary. In general, if there’s nothing to fear from the combine – you can move safely. The city is quite comfortable and interesting. There’s somewhere to relax and spend time.

4) Artyom

Founded: 1924
Population: 102,405

Artyom Reservoir

Artyom Reservoir

This was once a city of miners, but now it’s practically a bedroom community of ​​Vladivostok. Among the iconic companies here, the ‘Vladivostok’ International Airport and the Artemovskii Thermal Power Plant achieve distinction. In 2000, Artyom closed the last mine, and this had a positive impact on the ecology of the city but shattered the economy. And I must say that the air, according to research, has become slightly cleaner.

Artyom Panorama

Artyom Panorama

Artyom is in fifth place in Russia in the number of thefts committed per year (1,279). Crimes in connection with drug trafficking are popular. People seek to escape from the harsh reality. The gloomy prospects are obvious to everyone, and the residents are not happy that the authorities have forgotten about their existence to some extent. So they’re slowly migrating to Vladivostok – only 50 km away.

GARRY6490:

As far as logic, knowledge and description help me – Artyom still sits on coal-fired boilers. This is not a fountain. The climate is really bad. Also, I know how the boys in the army have suffered.

Artyom Residential Area (Photo: Андрей Токарев)

Residential Street in Artyom (Photo: Андрей Токарев)

marinaV:

There is both a station and an airport nearby… just no money to travel very far or fly. We drink water that comes through a filter – we did not drink that way before – and none of my friends drink from the tap. But now they want to build all sorts of harmful enterprises here in Primorye [the name of the southern Pacific Coast region of Russia – Ed.], even nuclear power plants are somewhere not far from here. We also have nuclear submarines here, and the background radiation isn’t very nice…

5) Norilsk

Founded: 1935
Population: 176,559

Norilsk Panorama

Norilsk Panorama

Norilsk is a city of miners and metalworkers, the site of activity of the disreputable Russian reality movie The Hope Factory. The harsh, sub-arctic climate is one of the curses of Norilsk, but the harsh climatic conditions are exacerbated by environmental ones. According to the Blacksmith Institute, Norilsk remains one of the most polluted cities in the world, and in 2010 Rosstat recognized it as the most polluted city in Russia. The air is saturated with harmful substances, and residents regularly complain of breathing difficulties. It is a paradox, but nevertheless everyone comes to the region to live, hoping that a high salary will block out Norilsk’s gloom. Everyone seems to be happy.

Norilsk Residential Area

Norilsk Residential Area

Alexander:

Creepy climate… in some cities they complain about the wind, in some about the frost. In Norilsk, it’s a ‘two in one,’ and snow in July is the bonus… In fairness, I should note that if you want to tan your body, in Norilsk, your May tan isn’t washed off by any peeling and holds at least until August. The almost complete absence of the ozone layer has its ‘pros.’ Norilsk is a city where work is done in shifts: it isn’t designed for human life, only existence. Do not come here in any case. Up to retirement you’ll remain like most people, but after retirement you’ll live on the land for 5 years at best. Wages compared to other cities may be higher, except that the prices of everything are also at least 4 times higher. And what remains of the big salaries? Not a sausage.

6) Irkutsk

Founded: 1661
Population: 612,973

Irkutsk Panorama

Irkutsk Panorama

The ‘Cultural Capital of Eastern Siberia’ was a favorite place for exiles, since life in Irkutsk was considered intolerable and thus suitable punishment for citizens who were inconvenient to the regime. The proximity of the famous Lake Baikal endowed the city with not only a periodic influx of tourists, but also the threat of seismic activity. The bad ecology is a sore subject here too, but the citizens aren’t used to complaining, convincing themselves that Baikal is still the cleanest place on the planet and that the city isn’t threatened by any kind of environmental disaster. But what is really a matter of debate is security. In a year, 19,727 illegal acts were committed. The high levels of crime can be explained by the fact that there are many prisons around. Fortune favors the brave, so quite a lot of people are moving to Irkutsk. Perhaps these new residents come from not-so-remote places, and they probably won’t give up their ‘hobbies.’ But the fact is, people are going to Irkutsk.

Irkutsk Central Street (Photo: londontoaustralia)

Irkutsk Central Street (Photo: londontoaustralia)

Dmitri:

The city is plainly criminal. This is partly because we have a lot ‘zones’ [penal colonies – Ed.] around. A freed criminal often comes here as a point of transfer before deciding where to go next. He will often stay here. For those who want a quiet peaceful life, who aren’t accustomed to all sorts of clashes, this city will probably seem very sad. I was born here and have lived here more than 30 years. I know whereof I speak. Enough people are living on concepts, a lot of Mongolian people in other words )))

Yulia:

Irkutsk is a beautiful and lovely city, but… no one ever develops it! The local officials are deeply ineffectual! The quality of the roads is terrible, and it’s a dirty city, with garbage everywhere. There’s no single development plan – it’s an awful wreck interspersed with modern skyscrapers. Burned homes have long been able to remain standing for a couple of years before demolition, and that’s in the center of Irkutsk! Many firms pay wages illegally, and you can only get into good companies like ‘Irkutskenergo’ by bribery. I don’t want to insult or offend anyone. I wrote my vision of a person who has lived here 30 years. I would like to stay and live here, but there are no attractive prospects here. And almost 90% of my friends have gone to other cities and countries. I am grateful to the city for my education, and we definitely have a good standard! And for the good people in my life!

7) Chita

Founded: 1653
Population: 335,760

Chita Panorama

Chita Panorama

Known in the criminal lexicon of the 1990s as ‘Chitago,’ the city, despite an abundance of natural resources, according to the residents, ‘does not live, but survives.’ Yet the main thing is that local creativity on the city’s coat of arms – the bull, very much like the logo of the Chicago Bulls – hasn’t died. Chita is situated in a valley at the foot of the hills, resulting in high levels of dust in the air in summer. In winter, people suffer from harmful chemicals. The sharply continental climate also does its job, complicating the already unsweet life of the Chitans. ‘Criminal’ and ‘Chita’ are almost synonymous. Per 1,000 people, there are 39 crimes, almost the highest rate in Russia. Chita is first in Russia in terms of accepting bribes, and second in the number of rapes. Nothing fun about it.

Chita City Center

Chita Rail Station District

Vasin:

After Chita, any city seems like a surprisingly great place. Is life bad in Chita? No! We can say that everyone finds themselves here. There’s a special flavor to Chita. It’s in everything – in conversation, in life outside the law, in street-hardened kids in leather caps with rosaries in their hands. Who are you in life? What do you breathe? The Chitan needs to know the answers to these ‘basic’ questions before learning to speak. And you know what a khimka [artificial narcotic made in the kitchen – Ed.] is and how to cook it – they’ll teach you that in school, and in college you’ll also know what a bulbuliator [a slang Russian term for a homemade device constructed out of a plastic bottle for smoking marijuana. Ed.] is and how to extort frightened people for cash. This knowledge is very useful because without it, they’ll extort you.

Lenin Square, Chita

Lenin Square, Chita

Natalia:

Chita is a SINK, which you still have to search for!!!! Not only that, the standard of living is extremely low, the climate is simply awful – continental with a huge drop in day and night temperatures!!! In the summer, the heat gets up to 50 degrees [Celsius – Ed.], and in the winter the insane cold gets as low as minus 40!!!! In Chita there aren’t just low temperatures, but very low atmospheric pressure – an average of 690 mmHg – and recently it’s been getting abnormally even lower, because of which in the morning headaches are stable, among both the elderly and the young!! The city is located on the slopes of a pit, and because of this geographical position, in summer Chitans breathe dust and the stench of garbage dumps. The rest of the year they inhale a ghastly smog of pesticides!!!! The town’s very dirty, there’s little snow in winter and it’s black, and the roads are like after a bombing!!! There’s no work, the 1990s rule in remote areas, and crime is flourishing!!! People are angry and sullen, apparently from Chita life!!

7 российских городов, которые вымирают

*****

10 March 2015

Stratfor: Scenarios for Russian military escalation in Ukraine

Those of us familiar with Ukraine’s demographics and geography – its international borders, waterways, coastlines – have envisioned many scenarios for an escalation of Russian military activity in the country. The geo-strategic analysis firm Stratfor Global Intelligence has put three main ones into one of its recent reports. It is useful reading for anyone trying to guess Russia’s next move in Ukraine. Gaming a Russian Offensive is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Gaming a Russian Offensive 

Analysis ~ MARCH 9, 2015 | 09:23 GMT

Summary

Editor’s Note: As part of our analytical methodology, Stratfor periodically conducts internal military simulations. This series, examining the scenarios under which Russian and Western forces might come into direct conflict in Ukraine, reflects such an exercise. It thus differs from our regular analyses in several ways and is not intended as a forecast. This series reflects the results of meticulous examination of the military capabilities of both Russia and NATO and the constraints on those forces. It is intended as a means to measure the intersection of political intent and political will as constrained by actual military capability. This study is not a definitive exercise; instead it is a review of potential decision-making by military planners. We hope readers will gain from this series a better understanding of military options in the Ukraine crisis and how the realities surrounding use of force could evolve if efforts to implement a cease-fire fail and the crisis escalates.

Russia’s current military position in Ukraine is very exposed and has come at a great cost relative to its limited political gains. The strategic bastion of Crimea is defensible as an island but is subject to potential isolation. The position of Ukrainian separatists and their Russian backers in eastern Ukraine is essentially a large bulge that will require heavy military investment to secure, and it has not necessarily helped Moscow achieve its larger imperative of creating defensible borders. This raises the question of whether Russia will take further military action to secure its interests in Ukraine.

To answer this question, Stratfor examined six basic military options that Russia might consider in addressing its security concerns in Ukraine, ranging from small harassment operations to an all-out invasion of eastern Ukraine up to the Dnieper River. We then assessed the likely time and forces required to conduct these operations in order to determine the overall effort and costs required, and the Russian military’s ability to execute each operation. In order to get a baseline assessment for operations under current conditions, we initially assumed in looking at these scenarios that the only opponent would be Ukrainian forces already involved in the conflict.

Analysis

Land Bridge ScenarioOne of the most discussed options is a Russian drive along Ukraine’s southern coast in order to link up Crimea with separatist positions in eastern Ukraine. For this scenario, we assumed that planners would make the front broad enough to secure Crimea’s primary water supply, sourced from the Dnieper, and that the defensive lines would be anchored as much as possible on the river, the only defensible terrain feature in the region. This would in effect create a land bridge to secure supply lines into Crimea and prevent any future isolation of the peninsula. Russia would have to drive more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) into an area encompassing 46,620 square kilometers, establish more than 450 kilometers of new defensive lines, and subdue a population of 2 million.

Taking this territory against the current opposition in Ukraine would require a force of around 24,000-36,000 personnel over six to 14 days. For defensive purposes, Russian planners would have to recognize the risk of NATO coming to Kiev’s assistance. Were that to happen, Russia would have to expand the defensive force to 40,000-55,000 troops to hold the territory.

Planners must also consider the force needed to deal with a potential insurgency from the population, which becomes decidedly less pro-Russia outside of the Donbas territories. Counterinsurgency force structure size is generally based on the size of the population and level of resistance expected. This naturally leads to a much wider variance in estimates. In this scenario, a compliant populace would require a force of only around 4,200 troops, while an extreme insurgency could spike that number to 42,000. In this particular case, no extreme insurgency is expected, as it would be in cities such as Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkiv or Kiev. The defensive force could overlap with the counterinsurgency force to some degree if there were no external threat, but if such a threat existed the forces would have to be separate, potentially doubling the manpower required to secure the territory.

Video: http://bcove.me/g49ykcaw

A similar scenario that has been considered is the seizing of the entire southern coast of Ukraine in order to connect Russia and its security forces in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transdniestria to Crimea. The logic goes that this would cripple Kiev by cutting off access to the Black Sea and would secure all of Russia’s interests in the region in a continual arc. In terms of effort required, Russia essentially would be doubling the land bridge option. It would require an attacking force of 40,000-60,000 troops driving almost 645 kilometers to seize territory encompassing 103,600 square kilometers over 23-28 days. The required defensive force would number 80,000-112,000. This would also add a complicated and dangerous bridging operation over a large river. Moreover, the population in this region is approximately 6 million, necessitating 13,200-120,000 counterinsurgency troops.

Coastal Scenario

These first two scenarios have a serious flaw in that they involve extremely exposed positions. Extended positions over relatively flat terrain — bisected by a river in one scenario — are costly to hold, if they can be defended at all against a concerted attack by a modern military force. Supply lines would also be very long throughout the area and, in the scenario that extends beyond the Dnieper River, rely on bridging operations across a major river.

Eastern Ukraine ScenarioA third scenario would involve Russia taking all of eastern Ukraine up to the Dnieper and using the river as a defensive front line. When it comes to defending the captured territory, this scenario makes the most sense. The Dnieper is very wide in most places, with few crossings and few sites suitable for tactical bridging operations, meaning defending forces can focus on certain chokepoints. This is the most sensible option for Russia if it wants to take military action and prepare a defensive position anchored on solid terrain.

However, this operation would be a massive military undertaking. The force required to seize this area — approximately 222,740 square kilometers — and defeat the opposition there would need to number 91,000-135,000 troops and advance as much as 402 kilometers. Since the river could bolster defensive capabilities, the defensive force could remain roughly the same size as the attacking force. However, with a population of 13 million in the area, the additional troops that might be required for the counterinsurgency force could range from 28,000-260,000. Russia has approximately 280,000 ground troops, meaning that the initial drive would tie down a substantial part of the Russian military and that an intense insurgency could threaten Russia’s ability to occupy the area even if it deployed all of its ground forces within Ukraine.

One positive aspect would be that this operation would take only 11-14 days to execute, even though it involves seizing a large area, because Russia could advance along multiple routes. On the other hand, the operation would require such a vast mobilization effort and retasking of Russian security forces that Moscow’s intent would be detectable and would alarm Europe and the United States early on.

Two remaining options that we examined were variations on previous themes in an effort to see if Russia could launch more limited operations, using fewer resources, to address similar security imperatives. For example, we considered Russia taking only the southern half of eastern Ukraine in an effort to use decidedly less combat power, but this left the Russians with an exposed flank and removed the security of the Dnieper. Similarly, a small expansion of current separatist lines to the north to incorporate the remainder of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to make the territory more self-sustaining was considered. Both operations are quite executable but gain little in the grand scheme.

The final scenario we considered was the most limited. It involved Russia conducting small temporary incursions along the entirety of its border with Ukraine in an effort to threaten various key objectives in the region and thus spread Ukraine’s combat power as thin as possible. This would be efficient and effective for the Russian military in terms of the effort required. It could accomplish some small political and security objectives, such as drawing Ukrainian forces away from the current line of contact, generally distracting Kiev, or increasing the sense of emergency there, making the Ukrainians believe Russia would launch a full invasion if Kiev did not comply.

For all of the scenarios considered, the findings were consistent: All are technically possible for the Russian military, but all have serious drawbacks. Not one of these options can meet security or political objectives through limited or reasonable means. This conclusion does not preclude these scenarios for Russian decision makers, but it does illuminate the broader cost-benefit analysis leaders undertake when weighing future actions. No theoretical modeling can accurately predict the outcome of a war, but it can give leaders an idea of what action to take or whether to take action at all.

Non-subscribers to Stratfor can read the second part of this report by following the instructions at this link: Part 2: What the West Could Do

The current report can be viewed here: Part 1: Gaming a Russian Offensive

*****

9 March 2015

Dead Euphoria: Over 60% of Crimeans want to live in Ukraine – poll

Could it really be, only a year after Crimea became a de facto member of the Russian Federation? Popular opinion in the former Soviet Union can be fickle, as revealed by very frequent elections, referendums and surveys, but a poll conducted by a Crimean newspaper ‘Crimean Truth’ has revealed that over 60% of 4,510 people participating now prefer the idea of their peninsula once more being formally part of Ukraine. As ‘Crimean Truth’ has – at least traditionally – been associated with the Communist Party, it is presumably not hostile to Moscow (the Communists throughout Ukraine tended to be sympathetic to Russia in the post-Soviet era), and would have no reason to distort its findings. If true, Moscow has just cause to be concerned about the fate of its new prize…

Surprisingly, 60% of Crimean said they want back in Ukraine

The Crimean peninsula

The Crimean peninsula

A year after the annexation of the Crimea by Russia, the euphoria of the inhabitants of the peninsula is almost gone. The miracle did not happen. Moreover, in addition to old problems, there are a number of new ones, and Crimeans have started to see things clearly. This is according to a survey conducted on the website of Russian newspaper Crimean Truth, reported Patriots of Ukraine with reference to Krym.Realii. Thus, according to the survey, 61% of respondents would vote for “wider powers for Crimea as part of Ukraine,” if a referendum was held today. Meanwhile, only 19% would vote for unification with Russia, and 20% “would not turn out for a referendum.” The survey, “How would you answer the question on an all-Crimean referendum today?” was published on the website March 5th, 2015, and by 8:00 on March 9th, 4,510 people had taken part.

In late February, early March 2014, troops in unmarked uniforms were transferred from Russia and the Crimean bases of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and occupied the peninsula. On March 16th, 2014, the so-called referendum on the status of the peninsula in Crimea and Sevastopol was held, as a result of which Russian included Crimea as one of its constituent parts. Neither Ukraine nor the EU recognized this vote and believe that Russia annexed the Crimea. After that, the US and the European Union introduced a series of economic sanctions against Russia. The West continues to insist that Crimea is part of Ukraine.

Несподівано: 60% кримчан заявили, що знову хочуть в Україну

 *****

09 March 2015

‘Death Camps’ of the USSR: Putin’s nostalgia bodes ill for ex-Soviet nations

'Chemists' - functionaries of the 'Cheka' or 'Extraordinary Commission' - in the 1920s. The Chekists implemented the terror decreed by Moscow throughout the Soviet Union.

‘Chekists’ – functionaries of the ‘Cheka’ or ‘Extraordinary Commission’ – in the 1920s. The Chekists implemented the terror decreed by Moscow throughout the Soviet Union. The Cheka was the original name of the Soviet KGB, in which Vladimir Putin once worked.

The Internet features several interesting pieces of historical research into the Soviet period by Russians using materials from the State Archives of the Russian Federation (SARF). These include detailed, footnoted accounts of Soviet atrocities, including the Red Terror and the terror-famine of 1932-33 (known in Ukraine as the ‘Holdomor’). Most of these have not been translated into English.

One such report, published in November 2011 by Corporatelle on the Livejournal blog platform and republished on the argumentua.com website, is entitled, ‘How they killed our grandfathers: Compared to the Chekists, the SS were angels.’ The author cites data from the documents of the Nuremberg Tribunal and materials from the BundesArchiv in Germany, the State Archives of the Russian Federation, and data corresponding to 19th century prisons from the Pan-European Prison Congresses and other sources.

The report is a comparative analysis of two concentration camps – one Nazi, the other Soviet – and examines a simple, generally overlooked phenomenon: the mortality rates in labor camps in the USSR, which, in peacetime, exceeded those in Nazi German labor camps – often even during wartime. The author is quick to note that, while Buchenwald is often labeled a ‘death camp,’ it was not technically of this category. The ‘death camps’ included Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, and others, and these were involved in systematic extermination of inmates. In other words, they reached mortality rates of 100% during WWII. Buchenwald, by contrast, was a forced labor camp. Though administered by the SS [Schutzstaffel or ‘Protection Squadron,’ the political police of the Third Reich and paramilitary ‘praetorian guard’ of the Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler – Ed.] like the other camps, and inmates died at horrific rates from a variety of terrible causes there (including execution), Buchenwald was first and foremost a slave labor camp.

The author chooses to compare Buchenwald with a little-known Soviet concentration camp called ‘Sazlag,’ short for Central Asian Correctional-Labor Camp. The author says that he/she could have chosen any number of other camps in the Soviet GULAG (Main Administration of Camps) system to compare with Buchenwald, but Sazlag’s obscurity in the historical record made it particularly illustrative. Levels of mortality at Sazlag were so ‘phantasmagorical’ [sic] that the very anonymity of the camp made it more interesting as a subject of study. Furthermore, Sazlag was not the worst of the Soviet camps, but more ‘middle of the road’ in terms of conditions and number of victims.

As the author notes:

The German Buchenwald camp was a “mid-level monstrosity” in terms of mortality, i.e., conditionally better than the spooky Mauthausen. There are no statistics on Mauthausen, and it is really only known that the mortality rate there reached 50% during the war. By contrast, in the Soviet Union, only two camps were roughly comparable to Mauthausen in mortality rate: Ryblag [located in Rybinsk, Yaroslavl region – Ed.] and Kotlaslag [in Kotlas, Arkhangelsk region – Ed.] in 1942-1943, and these were significantly worse than the ordinary prisons of the Third Reich.

In other words, Buchenwald and Sazlag both represented a ‘median’ in their respective systems, but while Buchenwald is notorious in world history (and deservedly so), Sazlag is unknown and not associated with any great evil.

It is well known that the commandant of the Third Reich’s Buchenwald ‘death camp’ was sentenced to death by hanging. But the heads of the Soviet Union’s ‘Sazlag’ – a ‘Russian-style Buchenwald’ – lived and worked quite successfully, going on vacations to relax at the public’s expense, buying sausage in the special shops of the OGPU [Joint State Political Directorate, or Soviet secret police from 1933-34 – Ed.], receiving salaries and bonuses, and rising through the ranks.

Buchenwald supplied labor for the defense industry of the Third Reich – companies such as DAW, BMW, I. G. Farben, Ford, Cologne Fordwerke, and others. Some of the prisoners were used to test vaccines, and many for experiments. It is estimated that 154 prisoners died from being used in medical experiments at Buchenwald. By reputation, it seems as though Buchenwald was a place where a concerted effort was made by the SS to kill inmates.

The author supplies charts of the number and rate of death of Buchenwald prisoners over a period of several years. They are divided into 7 columns representing several months in the years 1937, 1943 and 1944. Each month an increase in the number of prisoners is visible in the second column, followed by four columns representing the decrease from discharge, transit, and death. The column on the far right shows the total number of prisoners for the given month.

02-Chart02-Chart-1

From this data, the author concludes a relatively low mortality rate for 1937 (2%), which he describes a ‘significantly lower than in most of the Soviet camps of the peaceful 1930s,’ and adding that the ‘most ferocious horror and nightmare in the German concentration camps began during the war.’ The author includes a couple of photos of the Buchenwald camp facilities:

This is the way the barracks for prisoners at Buchenwald appeared in the relatively vegetarian year of 1937:

Barracks at Buchenwald

Point of delivery of clothing for prisoners:

04-Pic

In 1939, Buchenwald’s mortality rate was 14.7%. In 1940, it rose to 21.4%, then fell in 1941 to 19.7%. In 1942, a typhus epidemic generated a mortality coefficient of 33%.

In 1943, a catastrophically high mortality rate was observed at Buchenwald: 3,516 people dead (17-18% of the average annual number). In 1944, the death rate decreased in relative terms to 15%, but increased in absolute terms due to the overflow of the camp, continuing to be monstrously high. Towards 1945, after the final chaos of logistics and supply, hell reigned in the camp.

Here’s what the prisoners liberated from Buchenwald looked like in the spring of 1945:

05-Pic

US soldiers around the pile of corpses of Buchenwald prisoners (spring 1945):

06-Pic

Next, the author turns his/her attention to Sazlag (also known as Sazulon), which existed from 1930-1943. Sazlag was set up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to fulfill a Soviet government resolution to use convict labor in colonizing remote areas of the USSR and exploiting their natural resources. Sazlag inmates worked on Soviet state farms (sovkhozy), mostly cotton, and in land reclamation, Aral Sea water transport and consumer goods production. The camp was initially subordinate to the OGPU, until that state organ was absorbed by the NKVD in 1934. The camp commandant, D. I. Litvin, was seconded in 1930 to the OGPU for the post of ‘Chief of the Re-organized Central Asian Camps of the OGPU.’

As the author points out, there are no photos available of Sazlag, a fact he explains by saying: ‘They greatly disliked cameras in the GULAG, and this was even more the case in the Sazlag.’ As such, only a photograph of the so-called ‘NKVD Commandant Firing Squad’ – who directly carried out sentences – is available (below). The person in the center is quite possibly Litvin.

07-NKVD Firing Squad

The ‘NKVD Commandant Firing Squad’ at Sazlag

The population of Sazlag grew from 2,660 people in June 1930. It reached is peak in October 1938 with 36,601 (7,739 of whom had been convicted of ‘counterrevolutionary crimes,’ and 12,904 as ‘socially dangerous and socially harmful elements’). In January 1940, the camp had 31,807 prisoners according to the official data of the accounting and distribution department of the GULAG). This number had fallen to 12,034 by January 1941 but grew steadily until 36,125 inmates populated the prison in January 1943.

The below chart from SARF indicates mortality rates at Sazlag. The second column represents the absolute number of deaths in each year, while the third column shows both the percentage and the number per thousand prisoners:

08-Chart

As the author writes:

As we can see quite clearly recorded by statistics, Sazlag was a camp of permanent disaster as concerned the mortality rate of prisoners for a representative period of 10 (!) years, with indicators sometimes far worse than the colonial prisons of Vietnam or Guyana. I repeat: 10 years.

To put these numbers in perspective, a chart on mortality in the colonial prisons of French Guyana, known for their abominable conditions, compares favorably to its Soviet counterpart:

09-Chart

By contrast with the colonial prisons of French Guyana, Sazlag records mortality rates much higher – at 10.5%, 26%, 27% and 8% in 1937, and 14% in 1938.

It is striking that even in peaceful Sazlag during a period when there was no famine, a catastrophically high mortality rate is observed – roughly at the level of statistical indices of Japanese camps for civilians during the war of 1941-1945.

09-Japs

And in the prisons of colonial Guyana in 1924-1926 – absolutely catastrophic and negative places of detention by world standards – it was almost comparable with the level of Buchenwald from 1934-1944.

The most terrible and unprecedented mortality in Sazlag was in the famine years of 1932-1933, when all the camps exhibited plainly repulsive rates of mortality. Throughout the Soviet Union, as the death rate rose to 115 per thousand, almost every sixth person in the Soviet Union died behind bars.

During these years, Sazlag ‘surpasses’ Buchenwald in a bad sense by almost doubling the wartime sample of 1943-1944 in relative terms. Of course, the death rate in the German camp is completely monstrous. But what then can we say about the death rate in Sazlag in 1932-1933, which in relative terms was almost twice as bad as Buchenwald during the most terrible, typhoid-stricken years of 1943-1944, when logistics started to become serious for the Germans, and supply of the camps began to develop slowly into total chaos?

In the peaceful, non-starving Sazlag of 1934, an extremely high, catastrophic mortality rate of 8% continued (the level of the colonial prison barbarically operated by Vietnam), and only in 1935 did mortality decrease to 6.5% (the level of colonial prisons in Guyana), and up to 1938 it held at about the 5% mark. In fact, a 5% mortality rate in the 1930s looked quite horrible even by the standards of GULAG. In peaceful non-starving 1938, another catastrophe occurs: mortality jumps to 14%. Almost every sixth prisoner in Sazlag dies (!).

Let me remind you that it was this mortality level that the odious Buchenwald reached during its worst period, during the Second World War in 1944… Think for a second: in 1938, there was no hunger or war, but on Soviet soil there was a camp which knocked out the world anti-leaders in terms of mortality rate, i.e., the mortality at Sazlag was worse than the average death rate in colonial prisons, and corresponded to the level of mortality of Buchenwald during the war…

In 1939-1940 (the last period for which data are available), mortality again falls to the level of 5%, remaining abnormally high. Undoubtedly, during the war Sazlag’s mortality continued to be high.

At first glance, these swings of the annual mortality between 27% and 5% may give the wrong impression – that in Sazlag there were relatively positive period in terms of mortality. Unfortunately, this is an illusion that occurs due to an uncritical acceptance of relative magnitudes.

After all, what is a 5% mortality rate for prison systems of the 1930s? How is it right to interpret this seemingly small specific value? Here a comparative approach will help.

Firstly, it is pointless to compare Sazlag with prisons of the modern industrialized countries. Suffice to say that, in the US prisons in 1930s and 1940s, relative mortality rates fluctuated at around 1%. (See US Department of Justice data). You can do the simple math yourself.

The author then goes on to compare mortality at Sazlag in the 1930s and 1940s with various 19th century prison regimes in Europe – Prussia in the 1860s, and Denmark, Belgium, France and Sweden in the 1880s – and finds mortality rates in the low single digits.

Findings and Conclusions

The chart compares the two individual camps (Sazlag and Buchenwald) with average coefficients of prison systems. The red line represents mortality per thousand inmates at Sazlag. The dark blue line is Buchenwald. Purple is French Guyana. Green is the Japanese concentration camps of WWII. Light blue is US prisons, and orange represents a prison in the Russian Empire (1895-1914).

10-Chart

The author concludes that, in relative terms, for a period of ten years there was no respite in mortality for prisoners in the Sazlag concentration camp:

In other words, it was disastrous (1931-1934, 1938) or just very bad (1935-1936, 1937, 1939-1940). Thus, we can more likely characterize Sazlag as a camp of permanent disaster in the mortality of prisoners with varying intensity.

Undoubtedly, in the Soviet Union there were far more prosperous places of detention (Norillag, Dallag) but Sazlag was not the only one – Svirlag, Solovki, Sevvostlag, Kuloylag, Kargopollag, Temlag, and many others have shown themselves to be comparable in some years to Sazlag in their terrible mortality.

The essential conclusion of the study is disbelief that so few people in the Russian Federation or anywhere in the world know the details of the Soviet camps of Central Asia, which could easily be labeled ‘death camps’ to the extent that Buchenwald can (and is). The author also highlights the tendency of people to assume that, if such excesses and atrocity did occur in the GULAG, it would have been punished by the Stalinist leadership (especially today, when most Russians view Stalin favorably).

Well, where is the punishing hand of Moscow? Where are the pillories of shame in the squares with the words: ‘Lt. of State Security Levin achieved the mortality rate of a Nazi camp in Sazlag?’ …

Here is a picture of the commandant of Buchenwald – SS Standartenführer Hermann Pister. He was sentenced to death by hanging, and died in prison shortly before the execution. Anyone who has studied Buchenwald and seen the faces of the prisoners understands the validity of this sentence.

SS Standartenführer Hermann Pister, Commandant of Buchenwald

SS Standartenführer Hermann Pister, Commandant of Buchenwald

But, for contrast, study the fate of a colleague of Pister and ‘talented administrator,’ effective manager, employee of the OGPU-NKVD Nikolai Alexandrovich Grotov – exactly when there was a completely unprecedented monstrous mortality rate in Sazlag, at the level of Buchenwald.

Grotov, writes the author, went on to serve in leadership positions in the Soviet NKVD after leaving Sazlag, and served without significant risk to his life in the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (WWII), where he will have received several medals before retiring in 1946. Similarly, another commandant of Sazlag, A. E. Solonitsyn, was consumed by the Stalinist Great Purge in 1938, but prior ot tha the became the Deputy Commissar of Internal Affairs for Karelia – an autonomous republic of the USSR – and held leading positions in the NKVD for 7 years.

OGPU functionaries (1932)

OGPU functionaries (1932)

Never, not even in the far-from-ideal Tsarist prisons starting in the 1880s, did prisoners die in such absolute terms and in such percentages. Yes, there were terrible Siberian transit prisons for 200-300 people in the 1880s, and it was by no means a perfect servitude with its 2-3-4% annual mortality rate for the interval of 15 years and 6% mortality for 1912. But never anywhere in a place of detention during the reign of the Russian emperors did 3,000 people die with 230 per thousand as died some years in Sazlag in the 1930s…

The camp stands in a cohort that is completely analogous to the level of mortality in wartime Buchenwald and Dachau.

Those of us in the West who have studied the Stalin era – including its murder, terror, famine and mass repression – can feel touched by the exasperated tone of a Russian writing about the results of his/her research into the Soviet GULAG system. The horror has been known to many of us outside Russia for a long time. But inside Russia, it is either unknown to members of the public, or else rationalized by the authorities – who today serve as apologists for the Stalin era – as an evil that was necessary in the course of building a better future. In light of the Putin regime’s overt nostalgia for the Soviet era and the consequent rise in the popularity of Stalin, Western observers of today’s Russia would do well to remember the tragedy of the GULAG, and inconvenient details such as those featured in this study. This is especially true given that the current Russian regime has seen fit to conceal the deaths of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine from the general Russian public. Ukrainians have good cause to resist Moscow’s aggression, and Putin’s attempt to rebuild the USSR by force.

Как убивали наших отцов и дедов: эссэсовцы в сравнении с чекистами были ангелами

NKVD functionaries (1935)

NKVD functionaries (1935)

NKVD functionaries (1940)

NKVD functionaries (1940)

Credit for photos of Chekists, and OGPU and NKVD functionaries is given to: http://humus.livejournal.com/2719955.html

*****

7 March 2015

Gruesome interview with Donbas terrorist

The Politolog.net website claims that the online version of Russia’s ‘Snob’ magazine has interviewed a Donbas separatist and citizen of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic.’ In the presence of his grandparents, the rebel recounts the grisly tale of how he destroyed a Ukrainian tank and proudly held the decomposing leg of a Ukrainian soldier in his hands, like a trophy.

Russia’s ‘Snob’ publication interviews ‘DNR rebel’

6 March 2015

Igor Grebtsov (left) in fighting mode

Igor Grebtsov (left) in fighting mode

The Internet site of Snob has published an interview with Igor Grebtsov, who fought on the side of the separatists in the Donbas. He fought under the nom de guerre “Summer” in the “Motorola” group [‘Motorola’ is the nom de guerre of a separatist rebel unit commander. – Ed.], he told the reporters of Snob. For 34 years of his life he has worked as a journalist and assistant to a legislator, in order to participate in the operation to annex Crimea, and to destroy a Ukrainian tank near Donetsk airport. With awe, Igor shows fragments of the Grad rocket that wounded him and proudly recalls how he obliterated the Ukrainian tank, in which Ukrainian soldiers were burned alive. As he is telling the story, he stops at an episode about a Ukrainian’s soldier’s severed leg, which he and his friends took from the battlefield as a trophy:

“We brought in anti-tank missile personnel, instructors,” continues the grandson. “Instructors were brought from Russia. I do not know where they took Motorola… We were taught by two majors. They came to the citizenry, trained us and drove away,” says the terrorist. And he continues, telling another tale: “Heavy shelling started, and I was in the shit a little bit to begin with. In the smoke I couldn’t see a damn thing, and I hear that our guys have babahnulo something, and there’s flames. And I sent a rocket into the flame and…”

“And – HERO!” sums up the operator.

Igor tells his grandma further details.

“The tankers were burned alive. Then they brought me the leg.”

“What?” asks Nina Vasilievna (his grandmother – or thereabouts – Ed.)

“They brought me the leg of one of them. They said: ‘Igor, look how the khokhly’s feet stink.’ Three days it had been lying out there, decomposing.” [‘khokhly’ is a derogatory term used by Russians to refer to Ukrainians – Ed.]

“Oh…”

“Yes.”

“It’s a pity for people,” says the grandmother. “This war is so meaningless, no one needs it.”

“Grandma, they wanted to kill us like that, but we – in order to stay alive – have killed them…”

Igor Grebtsov's passport from the 'Donetsk People's Republic'

Igor Grebtsov’s passport from the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’

He does not hide the fact that he took part in the events in Crimea in winter 2014. The aim of the event was to overthrow the government in Ukraine. He shows off a lot of photos from Crimea, with great satisfaction, indicating people whom he and his companions beat up for their pro-Ukrainian positions and views. He also recognizes that the referendum on the peninsula was a step toward war. Both he and people like him wanted this war, just as he considers Ukraine a “piece of Russia.”

He also believes that “there is no Ukraine.” There is no war between Russia and Ukraine… “But there is a war between Russia and the United States, and the Ukrainians are only pieces of meat.” Because any country for which Russian blood was shed, he thinks, should be part of Russia.

In addition, Grebtsov separately focuses on the looting and plundering of the Donbas. He focuses on children’s drawings from Ukraine, which he has brought with him to his town, Lesnoy. He doubts that the Ukrainians are fascists, but he continues to call them that just because he likes it, because it is convenient to call enemies Nazis. This makes it easier to kill them:

Video of Grebtsov from Dozhd (Russia’s last independent TV outlet) visible here: Издание Сноб взяло интервью у одного из «ополченцев ДНР»

 *****

06 March 2015

Kremlin sadism: from Stalin to Putin

The fate of the captured Ukrainian army pilot Nadiya Savchenko, whose hunger strike in a Moscow pre-trial detention cell has continued for over 80 days, has once again put an international spotlight on Russia’s badly flawed judicial system. Here, two authors writing in the Russian-language press (one in the banned-in-Russia publication Grani, the other on his personal blog) examine the enduring legacy of cruelty and bullying of the defenseless in Russia and draw a line of continuity from the tyrant Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to today’s Russian head of state, Vladimir Putin.

Kremlin sadism: from Stalin to Putin

10 February 2015 ~ 

Stalin-Putin

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and Russian President Vladimir Putin

The tragic stories of two women who fell under the Moloch of the Kremlin best exemplify the spirit of Russia, its true “buckles” and the continuity of its sadistic relationship to Humanity. Ilya Milshtein and Boris Akunin have written on what Stalin and Putin have in common.

In Grani (‘Faces’), a publication banned in Russia, Ilya Milshtein explores the question of why Putin is holding Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko hostage in Russia.

There is no vacation in war

The mysterious visit to Moscow of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande could have been done another way – equally vague on geopolitical issues, but with a note of optimism. This note would have been loud and full-bodied if the foreign guests had taken Nadezhda Savchenko with them – to Munich, for example, with its beautiful clinic, where the Ukrainian aviatrix could have recuperated after a long, exhausting hunger strike.

And they certainly raised this issue – both Merkel and Hollande. They appealed to the humanity of the host side. They pointed out the legally questionable charges – what’s called an artificial case in diplomatic-speak. We remind you that we are talking about life and death. It seemed there might be a chance – contrary to everything Putin had said earlier about the case.

The court will handle it? Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] knows the price of his judges and – if necessary – of intervening in their work, for which even President Medvedev once gave him a scolding. The severity of the so-called accusations? Well, we remember that Khodorkovsky had “blood on his hands,” and that a third case was being prepared, when suddenly before the Olympics Putin released him. In general, the actions of the President from time to time have manifested a certain trait that could be described as pragmatic mercy.

Or even the desire to surprise, to act contrary to his established reputation and in a steadfast way. And when the remnants of our civil society, stunned by the arrest of Svetlana Davydova, collect signatures in defense of the accused spy and mother of many children, he is able to suddenly soften his heart. As if for no apparent reason.

However, he does not want to let Nadezhda Savchenko go, even though pragmatic considerations – not to mention sudden impulses of the heart – should suggest otherwise. A young woman known to be innocent, courageous, a living symbol of resistance and courage – is a uniform disgrace for Putin and Putin’s Russia. In particular, from the propaganda point of view, this is what the Kremlin is so sensitive about. And if it is pointless to plea for humanity in this case, then it does not follow that you should forget about PR. But they forget.

Maybe there is something personal here. He also said once, on another occasion, that “a real man should always try, but a real woman should resist.” Resist, but eventually yield to the rapist – so this historic phrase was read. But Savchenko is not inferior, and this probably infuriates the national leader, who has never had to break, humiliate or force a confession out of this kind of person before.

Bummer. This is an unpleasant event in the life of this man.

But still, maybe there is a more peculiar calculation at work. Nadezhda Savchenko is his hostage, and while she languishes in a pre-trial detention cell, he is trying to solve several problems at once. For example, if there is ever any talk about her fate, Vladimir Vladimirovich can easily turn the conversation to the topic of sanctions. Say, when you cancel them and generally acknowledge Crimea as integral part of Russia, and then we can talk about Savchenko.

The price of her freedom could become the Donbas as a territory of Novorossia, the ruble exchange rate, oil prices, and the rejection of American arms deliveries to Ukraine. All this seems like madness, but in our times, disturbed ideas are like a norm of political life that it is high time we abolished, or else we will never understand what’s going on. For only the worst predictions come true, and the most unbelievable stories take on reality, flesh and blood.

However, the main goal of the Russian president is to maintain utmost tension in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine and the West, and if the fate of Nadezhda Savchenko causes pain for millions of Ukrainians and deep concern among Western leaders and deputies of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the game – in his opinion – is worth a candle. And if you need any more proof that Putin never intended to make peace with anyone and, signing various agreements, had no intention of fulfilling them, it is sufficient to recall the captive pilot.

Here, his character is fully reflected in the whole breadth of its sadistic inclinations, and only in this way is Putin genuine. To the contrary, his endless mantra about the tragic fate of civilians in the Donbas and about Russia – which is not involved in the conflict eastern Ukraine – is empty, hot air. These words are calculated to mock unsuspecting Russian observers and Western partners with particular gusto.

On January 29th another criminal case was brought against Nadezhda Savchenko, accusing her of illegally crossing the Ukrainian-Russian border (with a hood over her head).

Yesterday, dismissal of the first case – for “complicity in murder” – was denied. And this piece of news is much more important than all others associated with the negotiations in Moscow, the performances in Munich, the prospects for the peace process and the promised meeting in Minsk, where Savchenko certainly will be remembered again without much hope of hearing human words in response. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember and remind people of her, literally every day. As with any hostage in the hands of terrorist groups. This is very important – for her and for us.

***

In his Livejournal blog, Boris Akunin has published a horrific story characterizing the Stalin regime’s cruelty and absence of principles.

In our town, on the outskirts…

I don’t really understand why this tale is not by far the most terrible crime of Stalinism, as it is to me. There is something completely unbearable in it.

And it’s not that I’ve developed any sympathy for the Communists of the 1930s. If we compare them with the Nazis, of course the latter were worse. But that doesn’t mean the former were better.

On August 23rd, 1939, the German fascists and Soviet communists decided (and rightly so) that they had more in common with each other than with the Western democracies. The signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the beginning of World War II, and the nightmare began. In comparison with that, the incident at Brest-Litovsk on May 2nd, 1940, should seem a trifle. But apparently it isn’t.

Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (seated) signs the Nazi-Soviet Pact as Nazi German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (standing, 2nd from left) and Joseph Stalin (second from right) look on.

Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (seated) signs the Nazi-Soviet Pact as Nazi German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (immediately behind Molotov) and Joseph Stalin (second from right) look on.

As you know, Stalin was terribly pleased with himself. He had outsmarted everyone. He would get a piece of the Baltic states, a piece of Poland, Romania and Finland (Finland would be a tough nut, and as yet he had no idea); bleed the Europeans among themselves, and again – as in 1914-1918 – they would exhaust themselves with interminable war, and he would be the rejoicing third party.

Oh, my head!

How happy he was that everything was going so well in front of his new friend Hitler. He, it must be said, also rejoiced (and had more substantial grounds to do so). The Führer had even generously offered to release the Soviet Communist leader Ernst Thälmann. Stalin refused politely: “What do you mean? What are you talking about? Is it worth bothering with this little nuisance at a moment when we’re all so happy?” (Then he just refused to save Richard Sorge).

As an additional courtesy, Stalin proposed handing over to Berlin political refugees from Germany and Austria (his fellow communists), who were lucky even to have escaped and not to have wound up in Nazi concentration camps.

True, in 1937-38 most of them (during that time they didn’t discriminate among foreigners) ended up in the Gulag instead, and even in front of the firing squad. But they rounded up five hundred Communists anyway, and Hitler gratefully accepted the gift of goodwill.

The story is generally well known, and it is not news to me. Just the other day I stumbled upon an interview with a very old lady on a European TV channel and listened to how it all happened. Well, some details stabbed me in the heart.

The lady’s name (that is, what she was called back then, as she died long ago, and the interview was old) was Barbara Neumann. She was the widow of one of the leaders of the German Communist Party who was executed by Stalin. Of course, she was incarcerated somewhere as the wife of an enemy of the people. It was the full routine: hunger, beatings, humiliation. And suddenly she was urgently taken away from the Karaganda labor camp – not for interrogation, but to a sanatorium. A lot of old friends were there, all Communists. The conditions were paradise – medical treatment, proper meals. Most of all, Barbara – who was unaccustomed to human treatment – was touched by the care of the doctors and staff. It was just like having contact with one’s own relatives.

In general, they fattened her up, treated her and dressed her nicely – the women were given fur coats. They put them on a train and carried them west. Rumor has it that they went first to Lithuania or Latvia, and from there – to all four corners.

But no. The train arrived in Brest-Litovsk. And on the other side of the bridge, people in SS uniforms were waiting…

These accompanied them…

Soviet secret police functionaries

Soviet secret police (NKVD) officers

… and these greeted them…

Nazi German political police (SS) officers

Nazi German political police (SS) officers

Almost none of those who were on that train came out of the concentration camps alive. Barbara was one of the very few lucky ones.

Barbara was this sort of person then:

Margarete Neumann

Margarete Neumann

What’s the most disgusting thing of all here? Why, the ‘resort,’ of course. And after all, it’s unnecessary to explain this strange and seemingly unnecessary break between one concentration camp and another, as one might have to do with a foreign audience. And all so as “not to offend the state”! In order not to lose face in front of foreigners – yes, even foreigners from such a respectable organization as the Gestapo. The Soviets had their own pride. In our country, even the convicts – thank the Lord – are well-fed and well-dressed. Because our cup runneth over.

I listened to the story of the old lady, and from some kind of Young Pioneer camp past, the idiotic song of the “orphan” genre swam out of me:

In our town, on the outskirts

They found a baby in the garbage.

They washed its hands and washed its feet,

And again they put it in the trash.

And here is something by way of farewell to you. Enjoy:

Survey: More than 50% of Russians support Stalin

Stalin and Lenin

Stalin and Lenin

As the BBC reports, more than half of Russians believe that Joseph Stalin played a positive role in the country, according to a new poll by the “Levada-Center”. Stalin’s popularity rating (52%) in 2015 is higher than in all the years it has been measured.

The survey entitled “The role of personalities in the history of Russia” was held at the end of November 2014. It was attended by 1,600 people in 134 settlements of 46 regions of the country, reports the sociological service website.

Respondents were asked to evaluate the roles of Nicholas II, Rasputin, Lenin, Trotsky and the “Whites” in the Civil War.

Mikhail Gorbachev is mentioned on the list of issues related to the “Brezhnev era” and “the collapse of the USSR.”

Survey participants were not asked to evaluate the roles of other personalities, including Nikita Khrushchev, Yuri Andropov and Vladimir Putin.

Stalin: popularity rating stable

Assessments of the role of Joseph Stalin, “Great Leader of the People” and Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, from December 2006 to December 2014 had fluctuated slightly.

According to a fresh survey, 52% of Russians believe that Joseph Stalin played a positive role in the life of the country.

Those who expressed the best opinions of Stalin were citizens over 55 years old – with answers such as “definitely positive” and “rather positive” yielding 26% and 43%, respectively.

Most of his admirers were in the countryside, the residents of which gave “unconditionally positive” (21%) and “rather positive” (43%) evaluations of Stalin.

Stalin was least liked among young people aged 18 to 24 years. 14% of respondents evaluated his role as “definitely negative.” Muscovites gave the lowest rating, with 22% of the capital of Russia describing Stalin’s role as “definitely negative.”

Sociologists said earlier that Russian society still exhibited no consensus about the role of Stalin in the country’s history.

Some human rights activists, in turn, noted that an implicit rehabilitation of the “Great Leader” had begun in Russia with the arrival of President Vladimir Putin.

In February 2013, experts at the Carnegie Endowment published a report – on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the death of the leader – also noting the growing popularity of Stalin.

According to experts, if in 1989 Stalin’s popularity rating as a statesmen who had the greatest influence on the history of the Fatherland was only 12%, then in 2012 he was already in first place with 42%.

The experts of the foundation also associated this tendency with Vladimir Putin’s tenure in power.

Кремлевский садизм: от Сталина до Путина

*****

5 March 2015

The Murder of Boris Nemtsov: real “contractor” and executioner named

Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian MP, fierce critic of Putin and opponent of Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine, was assassinated in central Moscow on the night of 27 February 2015. As the information war between Russia and the West heats up, theories as to the culprits swirl. But the Kavkaz Center website – which boasts a network of sources in the Caucasus – claims that the identity of the killers is already known…

3 March 2015

The person who carried out the murder of Nemtsov has been revealed…

Adam Delimkhanov

Adam Delimkhanov

Late last night, Kavkaz-Center received information from Chechnya concerning who carried out the murder of Boris Nemtsov. He was killed by Adam Delimkhanov, cousin and personal hit man of [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov, and a member of Putin’s “Duma RF” state gang.

Ramzam Kadyrov

Ramzam Kadyrov

This is the one who personally killed Movladi Baysarov, former friend of Kadyrov and leader of the “Highlander” unit, in the center of Moscow, under the eyes of the Russian cops. He also organized the murder of Sulim Yamadayev in Dubai and, earlier in 2008, his older brother, also near the Kremlin, reports Joinfo.ua quoting kavkazcenter.com.

Sulim Yamadaev (left) with Kadyrov

Sulim Yamadaev (left) with Kadyrov

This information leak is not simply rumor or gossip. The fact is that the Chechens’ have extensive kinship and friendship ties, and sometimes even the most sensitive information gets uncontrollably distributed “among their own.” In this case, it is necessary to take into account the hit team’s members’ confidence in their actions, because the order to eliminate the “enemy of the state” came through the Putin-Kadyrov-Delimhanov chain.

Sources say that the support team of the killer Adam Delimkhanov is still in Moscow. They have not left. There is information that on Sunday they were celebrating the successful operation magnificently in an apartment in Moscow.

The Kadyrovites who assisted Adam Delimkhanov in the murder of Nemtsov live permanently in Moscow. In Chechnya, they practically do not exist.

Adam Delimkhanov-2

Adam Delimkhanov

Delimkhanov and his team were promised full freedom of action. The place of the murder was pre-cleared by police and surveillance. Outdoor advertising was removed.

The place of the murder – by the Kremlin walls – was not chosen by chance either. Thus, Putin and his gang had a pre-prepared “alibi”: supposedly, the killing of Nemtsov was a provocation directed personally against Putin.

Anna Politkovskaja

Anna Politkovskaya

This is an old and time-worn KGB tactic: eliminate opponents whose murder formally “harms the authorities.” Like, are we such fools to expose ourselves?

Alexander Litvinenko shortly before his death

Alexander Litvinenko shortly before his death

Putin has developed this focus: killing Politkovskaya (his famous phrase that the death of the journalist was more damaging to the authorities than her human rights advocacy). Polish President Kaczynski and the entire anti-Russian Polish elite were killed in Smolensk. Litvinenko was murdered in a radioactive terrorist attack in central London. Berezovsky was hanged in his bathroom. Natalia Estemirova was murdered.

Khamzat Edelgiriev

Khamzat Edelgiriev

By the way, the killers of Estemirova are living quietly in their homes. In Chechnya, everyone knows that she was killed by Khamzat Edelgiriev and his cousin (nicknamed ‘Dantes’), members of the “Kurchaloevsky Police Department” gang.

Even the murder scene is known by everyone: the Kadyrovites’ base in the village of Yalkhoy-Mohk.

Natalia Estemirova

Natalia Estemirova

It’s a secret only to the Russian media, but not for Chechnya.

Estemirova’s killers no longer work in the “Police station.” They were dismissed for some offense to Kadyrov. But they live quietly at home, although the so-called “Prosecutor’s Office” knows perfectly well that they killed the human rights activist.

On the body of the deceased, traces of DNA were found. When checking the members of different gangs, Kadyrov did not allow the DNA of these two killers to be verified even formally.

There’s a joke in Chechnya. They should hang a sign on building of the “general prosecutor,” reading: “Caution! Blind People.”

Убийство Бориса Немцова: названо имя реального исполнителя “заказа” и палача

*****

04 March 2015

Kharkiv: Loyal Ukrainian bastion or pro-Russian 5th column?

A couple of weeks ago, the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv (‘Kharkov’ in Russian) was rocked by an explosion at a pro-Ukrainian demonstration. Four people died as a result of the bomb, and while conspiracy theory seems to be part of the national culture in all former Soviet republics, this attack appeared to be directed against the pro-Western forces now governing Ukraine. Renewed fears about Kharkiv going the way of the ‘people’s republics’ of Donetsk and Lugansk are in the air again. Several weeks ago, this blog published a story about pro-Russian provocateurs agitating for a ‘Kharkov People’s Republic’ from outside Ukraine’s borders (See: Pro-Putin provocateur: Let’s have a ‘Kharkov People’s Republic’). The danger seems real.

Kharkiv is a Russian-speaking city and region, but it has thus far not gone the way of the Donbas in terms of separatism. Some outside observers may feel it is only a matter of time before pro-Russian subversion succeeds in toppling the local regional authorities. The mayor of the city of Kharkiv, Hennadiy Kernes, is seen by most as a holdover of the Yanukovych regime who is disloyal to Kyiv. But the governor – Ihor Baluta – was appointed by the post-Maidan authorities, and is possibly on shaky political ground.

As such, the political disposition of the local populace is critical to Kharkiv’s fate. Much as with the southeastern city of Mariupol, the question hangs over Kharkiv: are the majority of local residents a de facto fifth column, quietly awaiting the arrival of Russian tanks from across the border? How fiercely anti-Kyiv are the Kharkivans who resent Poroshenko and the Yatseniuk government? How committed and savvy are local Maidan-sympathetic activists? The following article from the Focus.ua website gives some sense of what locals are like, and does so with traces of irony and humor, describing the sincerity and bravery of young pro-democracy activists without glossing over their naivete or bravado. It is a subject worth pondering for anyone thinking about Moscow’s next military move in Ukraine, which could come after an extended pause, at a time when the rest of the world is preoccupied with another crisis.

Kharkiv Crowd

Kharkiv Exploded: How the city has changed since the attack of February 22nd

27 February 2015 ~ Dmytro Sinyak

In response to the separatist underground’s attacks and provocations, Kharkiv has created another underground: Ukrainian

Four people were killed and nine wounded. Such were the consequences of the blast on February 22nd in Kharkiv during a peaceful rally to mark the anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity. This is the second attack this year on the city streets, and in both first and second, pro-Ukrainian activists were hurt. The purpose of the criminals is obvious: to intimidate Ukrainian patriots and discourage attendance at any pro-Ukrainian event. But the effect has been the opposite: pro-Ukrainian youth are organizing and preparing for a long fight with street terrorists – and with the Russian army.

A few days before the tragedy, we talked with representatives of the Kharkiv cell of the Right Sector. These guys were mentally prepared for whatever explosions and provocations were coming. Their bellicose statements sometimes contrasted with the peaceful atmosphere of Kharkiv’s streets and coffee houses. It seems as if the youth are just playing towards a war that does not exist. In fact, in peaceful Kharkiv, war is long overdue.

Right Sector activists

Zhnets [a nickname meaning ‘Reaper’ – Ed.] and Gina are a beautiful couple. He – with an ancient face, strong-willed chin and hard stare under harsh eyebrows; she – long-haired, high-cheeked, impulsive, and trying always to compete with her boyfriend. Sometimes she cuts him off. In these moments Zhnets winces, but I think he knows deep down that something about Gina is stronger than him. With her passion and vigor, she can succeed where his muscles and combat experience are powerless.

Underground Activists: So as not to reveal themselves to their enemies, Gina and Zhnets agreed to be photographed only in balaclavas.

Underground: So as not to reveal themselves to their enemies, Gina and Zhnets would only agree to be photographed in balaclavas.

Their human qualities revealed themselves on January 19th, when near the Moscow District Court of Kharkiv an improvised radio-controlled device exploded. The victims of the explosion were fourteen people, including Zhnets and Gina. On that day the war began for them, and still goes on. The impression is that they are members of the pro-Ukrainian Kharkiv underground. And it’s not just an impression.

Before the interview, they set a condition: no names and photos only in balaclavas.

“You will leave, but we’ll still be living in this city,” explains Zhnets. Leaning on his stick, he first enters the cafe near the metro. Gina and I go after him. Behind us is one of the leaders of Kharkiv Right Sector, Alexey Lytvynov. He is short, broad-shouldered, gray-haired, dressed in camouflage and wearing sunglasses. Closing the door of the cafe, Alexey habitually throws out a glance out at the street over his glasses.

“Where can we talk so that no one bothers us?” Zhnets says, frightening the waitress who is dumbfounded at the sight of camouflage fatigues.

When we sit down at a table in the corner, I again gaze at the couple. Between them are subtle similarities – the kind that happen in people living together for a long time. But these two met as recently as September 21st last year, after the Peace March. Then, ultras [soccer fans – Ed.] clashed with a small group of separatists who had gathered once again to proclaim a “Kharkov People’s Republic.” Self-Defense, to which Zhnets belongs, separated the fighters. Gina stumbled on the fight with a friend.

“At the academy where I study, in March last year all the students were warned that if anyone was seen on the Euromaidan, they would be immediately expelled,” Gina begins vigorously, almost happily. “One of the teachers told us about the horrors of the Right Sector, which was going to come from western Ukraine to cut up all the Russians. I then called my mother in Kherson and, sobbing, asked her to be careful.

“Easy, easy,” commands Zhnets in the tone of an instructor, with the cold-blooded upbringing of a prospective sniper.

Place of execution: At the time of the explosion near the Moscow Court of Kharkiv, January 19th, when 14 people were injured, three of them seriously

Place of execution: At the time of the explosion near the Moscow Court of Kharkiv, January 19th, when 14 people were injured, three of them seriously

Gina pauses for a moment, then begins to twitter again:

“I have two friends – one a vatnik, the other a patriot – and they were arguing about politics at all the parties. I listened to their disputes and gradually became politically literate. And when, after the Peace March, I saw the separatists, something in me clicked. I told a friend: ‘Stay here, and I will go with an ultra to chase separatists.’ Do not think that I am a weak woman. I worked six years in kickboxing and Thai boxing. And I am candidate for Master Equestrian. I fear nothing!”

“This is just bad,” Zhnets interjects, critically. “I initially refused to take her into our ranks. She’s crazy! All the time asking for trouble. And we’re not kidding around here – it’s possible to run onto the knife. When they brought down [the] Lenin [statue], I was all nerves. I only just managed to retreat to the police, away from a man who had lunged at me with a chain in his hand.”

“With a chain?” I ask. “He could have crippled…”

The day before the explosion: On January 18th, 12,000 Kharkivans came out for a peaceful march of solidarity with the victims of terror in the Donbas ('I am Volnovaha').

The day before the explosion: On January 18th, 12,000 Kharkivans came out for a peaceful march of solidarity with the victims of terror in the Donbas (‘I am Volnovaha’).

“Only if I he’d known how,” Zhnets grins. “That fool didn’t know how – waving it awkwardly, with a flourish, and it was easy to dive under his hand and inflict pain. And the cops – imagine this – stepped back twenty meters from him, let him have the chain, and let go of him. And here she comes! She says she wants to join the Right Sector. I hotly refused. I said I didn’t take girls into my unit. So she went into the TSO – the Defense Promotion Association…”

For Gina, time in the TSO hasn’t been a free gift. After the People’s Chamber [an ad hoc, local self-government body designed to resolve local problems – Ed.] on November 16th, she’d already taught everyone to disassemble and assemble a Kalashnikov rifle. Right Sector was responsible for the protection of the event then, and they met again with Zhnets. Gina argued with one of the Right Sector commanders about the tactical and technical characteristics of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, but she put a condition on it: if I win, you induct me. So Right Sector added another fighter.

Volunteer: Former railcar engineer Alexey Lytvynov, now engaged in the defense of Kharkiv

Volunteer: Former railcar engineer Alexey Lytvynov, now engaged in the defense of Kharkiv

Zhnets did not join the Right Sector right away either. When the separatist unrest started in Kharkov, he – a medical student at Kharkiv National University – joined the local Self-Defense. Zhnets barely survived during the storming of the regional administration building, when about 200 pro-Ukrainian Kharkivans beat back 4,000 Russians and local separatists. According to Alexey Lytvynov, the massacre began after the city’s mayor, Hennadiy Kernes, extending his hand toward the Kharkiv Regional Administration Building, said several times to the feverish crowd: “We will not go there!” He thus provoked the attack on the regional administration.

“In March and April, it was very restless in Kharkiv,” says Zhnets. “Gopniks with bats often waited for Self-Defense activists in the courts. [A ‘gopnik’ is a representative of a sub-culture of the ex-USSR who is characterized by squatting, behaving aggressively, imitating criminals, drunkenness, and wearing Adidas tracksuits and dress shoes. Ed]. I was occupied until March at “Oplot” [‘Bulwark,’ is an organization that opposed the Euromaidan and tried to protect the statue of Lenin from being pulled down in Kharkiv, but it is also the name of the advanced, T-84 tank, produced in Kharkiv – Ed.], and when its founder, Yevgeni Zhilin, told the Maidan activists that he would break bones, I wrote him a letter: “Start with me!” Zhilin knows good PR, but not how to fight. That’s why he didn’t go to fight in the Donbas, but shouted that he would kill us. He sent kids to their deaths, but he himself is doing business in Moscow…”

Zhnets’ voice is reaching a boil, and his cheeks are getting red.

The waitress comes to take an order, and the boys fall silent. Zhnets looks at Gina. And I remember his words: “I don’t take little girls into the unit.” Little boys often say such things during childhood games. But now the game guys are absolutely not for kids. A month ago, Gina was left with 22 stitches, and Zhnets – more than 30.

Fellowship of the Ring

I ask the kids to tell me about the terrorist attack on January 19th. The question did not arise in time – Zhnets and Gina have attacked their salad with fierce appetites. In their stead, sipping coffee, the serious Alexey Lytvynov recalls the story of the Kharkiv Euromaidan activist Misha Sokolov. This story is a kind of prelude – an explosive device in front of the courthouse detonated at the very moment when a regular session had just concluded in the case of pro-Ukrainian activists.

So, to Mikhail Sokolov. From the first days he was on the Kyiv Maidan, taking part in the events on Instytutska and Hrushevskoho, pulling the wounded from the fire. In the summer he went to fight in the volunteer “Azov” Regiment, consisting mainly of citizens of Kharkiv. He returned home in October, participatory and full of desire to protect Kharkiv from Russian saboteurs. Perhaps because of this, or maybe just because of the peculiarities of the front syndrome, not allowing a soldier to give up arms in times of danger, he carried with him in a backpack a trophy in the form of a disassembled Kalashnikov rifle and a grenade. In the elections to the parliament, Misha was an observer from one of the parties. He came with that same backpack to his polling station, attracting the attention of the police on duty. That is how Misha found himself behind bars – for illegal possession of weapons.

Minute of silence: February 23rd was announced in Kharkiv as a day of mourning for those killed in the explosion on Marshal Zhukov Avenue.

Minute of silence: February 23rd was announced in Kharkiv as a day of mourning for those killed in the explosion on Marshal Zhukov Avenue.

Of course, no one expected him to get a pat on the head for that. Still, many hoped for a relatively light sentence for a person who had defended his homeland. This was especially true given that Misha had demonstrated positive qualities from his place of service. The lawyer asked that he be released on bail pending trial, but the judge remained adamant. By the way, the odious Kharkiv separatist Ignat Kromskoy – nicknamed Topaz – was twice released from custody and tried twice to go to Russia.

Mikhail Sokolov did not simply await trial in the pre-trial detention center. He was put in a cell with the separatists, so that he would remember the experience for a long time to come. At the first hearing, the prosecutor asked that Sokolov be sent to a penal colony for four years. That was when the Kharkiv activists sounded the alarm.

“Neither the courts nor the police in Kharkiv offer any hope,” Lytvynov notes grimly. “One of our meetings was ‘protected’ by a lieutenant-colonel, whom I still remembered from the previous year. Once, in front of my eyes, he discreetly handed a knife to a titushko [‘Titushki’ were mercenaries who supported the Ukrainian police during the administration of Viktor Yanukovych, often posing as street hooligans to fight against those protesting state and government policy. The name derives from the surname of one of these paid hooligans, Vadym Titushko. – Ed.]. We have a very large rear fifth column – about 10,000 pro-Russian policemen.”

Alexey talks about the Russian secret service agents in the city, about provocateurs, about how former members of the Party of Regions had won election to the Verkhovna Rada from all (!) the majoritarian districts in Kharkiv region,. And the thought suddenly flashed through my mind of how his warrior image did not match his former, peaceful profession – railcar mechanical engineer. In spring, Alexey’s sentence was reduced. After leaving the hospital following a beating at the regional administration headquarters, he didn’t look for a job in the civilian world. Now he is waiting for the order to establish a reserve battalion of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps “Right Sector,” to defend the city by force of arms in the event of military aggression.

“From here to Mordor is forty kilometers, which is a two-hour march of armored vehicles,” interjects Zhnets, looking up from his plate, and for a moment I feel like a hero from The Lord of the Rings. “But it’s not easy for these orcs to take the city. Under the streets and squares there is an old network of catacombs, and you can go behind the enemy’s lines when he least expects it. Houses in many areas are such that one can easily jump from one roof to another.”

Zhnets leans toward me.

“If that army of darkness finds itself here, Donetsk Airport will seem like paradise to it,” he says in the tone of the King in the Fellowship of the Ring.

No one is arguing, and a tense silence hangs in the air. Drumming his fingers on the table, Alexey Lytvynov gazes at us over dark glasses. I suddenly notice on his finger a large silver ring with a trident in a black circle. I ask if this is really a special mark of “a member of the Right Sector line.”

“Ah, what are you talking about?” Alex shrugs. “This ring is for advertisement. A local jeweler makes these, and we’re helping him to sell them. The money goes to help soldiers volunteering in the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation].

Zhnets eats his salad and returns to the interrupted topic – the story of the Maidan activist Sokolov:

The Ukrainian underground is preparing for serious resistance to saboteurs and Russian troops

“The judge has postponed the meeting because supposedly the chancellery is already closed, and it’s impossible to get a stamp. Although when the Euromaidan activists tried in January last year, the closed chancellery did not hesitate and handed out sentences at two, three o’clock in the morning. But there was nothing to do: we yelled ‘Shame!’ and went to the exit. As we were walking along the path from the court, we came face to face with two dozen policemen, who had somehow suddenly decided to leave the small crossroads where they’d always hung out. We shouted at them: ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ As usual, they didn’t respond. When we got to this intersection, there was an explosion…”

As a medic, Zhnets immediately realized he had a contusion. His ears whistled, he was dizzy, and nausea was rising in his throat. This had already happened to him at the Kharkiv Euromaidan, when a stun grenade exploded near him. Zhnets couldn’t feel his legs, and when he looked at them, he saw bloodstains slowly spreading out on his army pants. With the straps of his trousers, Zhnets bound his bloody, unresponsive limbs as best he could and began to wait for help. A splinter had punctured an artery in Gina’s arm, and blood flowed in rivulets, but she remained conscious.

“One of our female activists, nicknamed Gaika (‘Nut’), who had repeatedly traveled to the ATO, saved my life,” says Gina. “She squeezed my hand with her fingers so hard that the bleeding almost stopped. This was how we waited for an ambulance.”

Gina shouted at the stunned policemen, of which only three (!) rushed to help the victims. She screamed at the confused doctors, many of whom had never seen people wounded by shrapnel. The hospital removed three fragments from Gina’s body, and she miraculously managed to avoid having her hand amputated. Nine fragments were stuck in Zhnets’ knees, arms and back. Most of them were sharpened nuts.

On the operating table, Zhnets sang the Ukrainian national anthem: in the middle of the operation, the anesthetic ceased to work, and the new doses of anesthesia only caused hallucinations. He thought he was being tortured by separatists.

“This explosion didn’t scare us, but angered us,” Zhnets sums up, his cheeks again becoming flushed. “What most angers us is that innocent people suffered.”

The most serious injuries were sustained by the daughter of the defendant, who has a badly damaged leg, and her boyfriend, into whose lung had been penetrated by a sharpened nut. Another defendant, Sasha, lost a kidney from the explosion. He is still in the hospital.

Who organized the attack on January 19th is unknown. A spokesman for the Prosecutor of Kharkiv region, Vita Dubovyk, whom I met the next day, answered all my questions the same way: investigation of this crime is being actively conducted, but she refused to report any further details, saying they were – “investigative secrets.” The head of the charitable fund “Sister of Mercy,” Yasmin Chagovets, says that 50,000 hryvnias for the treatment of victims had been gathered in just two days. Hundreds of townspeople sometimes brought her very small sums or replenished her [debit] card. Kharkiv has shown that it knows how to be grateful. However, this is not to idealize the situation in the city: Kharkiv is still different.

Parallel reality

Two days before our conversation, I met with another Kharkivan. Another – in a special sense. The more or less successful business coach Vladislav Lozovoy was born and raised in the city of Lozova in Kharkiv region, graduated from the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management. Ukrainian by birth, he somehow feels like a Russian man, and I’m sure that the majority in Kharkiv are like him. In one of his posts on his personal blog last year, Vladislav asserted that “the Kyiv government is doing everything to make armed conflict break out.” The first point in the extensive list of arguments was: “Informational pressure is escalating about a military conflict with Russia, which, in fact, does not exist.”

We drank tea in a small cafe in the city center. To the songs of Serduchka [Verka Serduchka is a Ukrainian drag queen, comedian and pop singer whose real name is Andriy Mykhailovych Danylko. – Ed.], Vladislav gave his own version of world conspiracy:

“The US consumes half the resources of the globe, emitting 40% of the pollution on the planet,” he says, glancing out the window at a passing vehicle with advertising for Coca-Cola. “Therefore, some supranational puppeteer entities that control the world now want to lower the United States to the level of an ordinary power. To do this, they help Russia, China and the Arab world, and in response the US organizes a network of destabilizing wars and revolutions. They’re trying to pull Russia into these wars, so that they can then set the whole world on her. The elites in the United States understand that if you do not break-up Russia now, global leadership will pass to her. Of course, this gives rise to local leaders for whom these wars are beneficial. In the case of Ukraine, it’s Poroshenko, Akhmetov, Kolomoisky and many others. They’re actually fighting in the Donbas with the hands of thousands of defrauded people.”

“And what about Crimea?” I interrupt. “Did they force Putin to grab it?”

“Yes,” answers Vladislav, not at all embarrassed. “If he had not, it would simply have been taken away.”

The more absurd the theory, the harder it is to mount a counter-argument. For some time I have lost the gift of speech, and this gives Vladislav confidence:

“Here, judge for yourself: Putin had no army, and everyone in Russia was crying about how poor and miserable she was, then all of a sudden out of nowhere a powerful modern army appeared. Who is Putin? As of now, still no one knows why Yeltsin made him his successor. Up until Putin appeared, the US was milking the whole world, and now it is faced with the fact that someone does not want to be milked. Have you ever wondered why?”

“And we have, and we have, and we have a little party!” Serduchka fills in.

“What would you do if tomorrow the Russians or DNR-ovites [rebels of the separatist ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ or ‘DNR’ in eastern Ukraine – Ed.] took Kharkiv and declared it Novorossiya?” I ask directly.

“Same as before,” Vladislav responds calmly. “After all, my life will not change at all on the basis of which the flag hangs over the regional administration. The fact that Ukrainian TV tells of the horrors of life in the Donbas and Crimea – this is far from the truth. In addition, I believe that I’ve been living in occupied territory a long time. Whether the Ukrainian authorities will lead me in their own way, or the Russians, or even if the Novorossiyans force their way upon me – no difference!”

“What is your homeland?”

“I consider my homeland to be the Soviet Union and could take a gun in my hands only if some enemy of non-Slavic origin decided to break the boundaries of the Soviet Union,” Vladislav kills me with his answer. “And this is an extreme step, because victory in 1945 did not solve the problem of the spread of fascism in the world.

“And Ukraine has not yet perished if we’re walking like that!” sings the unappeased Serduchka.

We say goodbye, but not as enemies. Vladislav will certainly not be waging war for his theory of global conspiracy.

Signs of destiny

When I tell the guys about Vladislav, Zhnets frowns.

“Many in Kharkiv really don’t care what flag flies over the regional administration,” he says. “The main thing for them is to be paid their pensions and salaries. I call these people ‘corrupt skins’ to their faces. But because they are neither fish nor fowl, and they don’t even come to their own parties to talk about war. At separatist rallies last spring, many people were imported from Belgorod. All of Kharkiv rolled with laughter when 600 people stormed the Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet, shouting: ‘Gepa, come out!’ They thought it was the mayor’s office. But at our last meeting – ‘I am Volnovakha’ – the day before the explosion, there were twelve thousand. Man.

We’re paying the tab. We’re leaving. Already getting dressed, Gina is recognized:

“Thanks to that explosion, our parents met one another. They even came together to the Chamber, and his dad was the first to open the door.

Gina nods in the direction of Zhnets, and says the name and patronymic of his father.

“Honey, how many times do I have to repeat: no names,” Zhnets instructs.

“I was very afraid that my dad would be against me being in the Right Sector,” Gina continues. “But he listened to my exploits and suddenly said: ‘We ought to buy you a bulletproof vest.’”

The story of Misha Sokolov also had a happy ending: he received three years’ probation.

As I’m saying goodbye, I give the students an idle question: where are you going after you receive your diplomas? (Both are in their final year.)

“What do you mean, ‘where’? To war!” says Zhnets, surprised at my question. “To the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps ‘Right Sector’ – to Yarosh.”

“And will you go?” I Ask Gina.

“Of course. I won’t let him go alone.”

Afterword

A few days later, a new explosion thundered. Gina was wounded again when a splinter hit her in the shin. The girl’s life, thank God, is not in danger. Kharkiv Euromaidan activist Ihor Tolmachev died in the arms of Zhnets, who as a doctor tried to render first aid.

Immediately after the tragedy, the SBU declared the highest level of anti-terrorism preparedness, having detained four suspects in hot pursuit. Prompt action to find the perpetrators continues. But Zhnets and Gina do not really believe that the Security Service and the Interior Ministry can save the city. Zhnets, Gina, Alexey and thousands like them are determined to defend their Kharkiv – as pathos-laden as it may sound, to defend it to the last drop of blood.

Photos: Getty Images, Ukrinform, Dmitry Bruise

Взорвавшийся Харьков. Как изменился город после теракта 22 февраля

*****

4 March 2015 ~ Liga.Novosti

Nemtsov allies to publish report on Russian troops in Donbas

Oppositionist Boris Nemtsov, who was killed at the end of February in Moscow, did not have time to finish a report on Russian troops in Donbass; his supporters promise to finish it.

The Russian opposition intends to publish details of the report on the participation of Russian troops in the war against Ukraine, which Boris Nemtsov, shortly before his death, was preparing for publication. According to the Russian opposition leader Ilya Yashin, the document contains evidence of Russia’s military presence in the Donbas, writes The Times newspaper.

Boris Nemtsov

Boris Nemtsov

According to him, the document will contain evidence from the parents of Russian soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine. Yashin also noted that the only complete version of the report was stored on the computer in Nemtsov’s apartment, which was seized by investigators during their search after the killing. However, he noted that all the evidence collected is safeguarded, and the associates of the murdered politician will try to restore them to a document.

Recall that the preparation by Nemtsov of the report on Ukraine became known on the night of the politician’s death. The very next day, Ukrainian President Poroshenko said that the deceased Russian oppositionist was supposed to disclose data on Russian troops in Ukraine.

“A few weeks ago I talked to him, about how to build relations between Ukraine and Russia. Thus, we wanted to see them. Boris declared that he had to publicize strong evidence of the participation of Russian armed forces in Ukraine. Someone was very afraid of this. Boris was not afraid, but his executioners were afraid. They killed him,” said the President of Ukraine.

A Russian opposition politician and public figure, Boris Nemtsov was killed near the Kremlin late on February 27 with four gunshots in the back.

Соратник Немцова опубликует его доклад о войсках РФ в Донбассе

*****

01 March 2015

Opinion: Putin is planning a blitzkrieg in Ukraine

Putin is preparing for a quick, all-out war

25 February 2015

Why Russia is not seeking peace, and what it is doing to crush the resistance of Ukraine by any means

During a recent interview, Vladimir Putin talked a lot about Ukraine. He warned against “revanchism” in Crimea and recommended that dialogue be established “with the southeast.” All this is familiar. But he sounded out some new thoughts too. More precisely, they were not new, but rather party of the new Putin edition. For example, there were discussions about the possibility of an open Russo-Ukrainian war.

Putin ScowlAlthough Putin formally rejected the possibility, calling such a scenario apocalyptic, was he simply talking about this for no reason? After all, verbal tinsel is soon forgotten, but what is said about Russo-Ukrainian war at the presidential level – this is imprinted on the minds of Russians. The Leader allowed it. More on this theme was not forbidden, but legal. I think there will now be a flurry of speeches by various Russian politicians and public figures. By the way, the prominent political weathervane Zhirinovsky as always was first to feel where the wind was blowing, promising all out war and destruction.

Putin is rude, shamelessly provoking, and fueling the fighting spirit with stories about how “miners and tractor drivers” are destroying the Ukrainian army. Apparently, upon hearing this, an old-timer of the Russian army is supposed to imagine how he will proudly reach Lviv.

The fact that a large war is possible can be ascertained from the nature of Russian propaganda. It did not change after Minsk. Moreover, its idiocy has grown into the openly schizophrenic “Antimaidan.” The intensity is constantly increasing. Russian citizens are scared by all the new horror stories about the Maidan, Ukraine and EU.

Everything that is said on Russian television is not only ugly; it is also very expensive. Huge funds are required of Russia in time of crisis to maintain all these propaganda mouthpieces. And they all continue their habitual movement toward forming the face of the Ukrainians into an image of the enemy. And if the Russian government spends huge resources to whip up their citizens about the need to kill Ukrainians, it is all being done for a reason.

In the Kremlin, they are still convinced they are not at war with the Ukrainian people, but rather with a small number of “Right Sectorists” and “agents of NATO,” and that one decisive blow will be enough to cause their defeat. After that, the “pacification of Ukraine” will come in a short time.

Would the Kremlin support this whole mechanism in action without trying to relieve it if someone (even theoretically) allowed for the possibility of peace? I think that in this case there would be test runs of some kind of conciliatory information. But instead we see that, to the contrary, the propaganda of war is rising to a new level.

All this shows that no one in the Kremlin is looking at peace as an option. There are clearly betting on war as a way to solve all problems.

I think that, before there is heightened military activity there will be an ultimatum of surrender issued to Ukraine. Federalization, Crimea, Medvedchuk as prime minister, and so on. Who will give voice to this? One of naphthalene Ukrainian leaders whom they are just now showing to the people may come in handy. I do not exclude the possibility that Yanukovych and Azarov could form some kind of “Salvation Committee,” putting forward a plan for “Ukraine’s liberation.” Well, a thesis will be announced for the dismemberment of Ukraine, which most Ukrainians themselves are allegedly moving towards.

I do not think that everything will continue as an “attack of the unrecognized republics,” because such methods have demonstrated their inefficiency. Putin sees that events in the Donbas themselves do not appear to Ukrainians to be sufficient argument for the adoption of surrender. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the pressure. To the maximum.

Options for concrete formation of pressure may vary. There is a threat of terrorist attacks and bloody fighting, which will allow the Russian Federation to intervene openly in the form of a “peacekeeping” mission. The poor “people of the southeast” will request this. Successes in Russian diplomacy will motivate Putin toward this strategy.

I misspoke. Successes. At least, that is, successes in this cannibalistic system of coordinates on which Kremlin lives. You thought Russian diplomacy was Churkin and Honduras? It’s not that simple.

The main thing that Russia has achieved at this stage is to convince the West that military assistance to Ukraine will provoke aggression from Moscow. Which, of course, is not true. Russia will be aggressive anyway, but against the Ukrainian army, which continues to be in a state of virtual isolation. Lulling the world, gently isolating Ukraine, Russia believes it can go on the attack.

No one in the Kremlin is looking at peace as an option. They are clearly betting on war as a way to solve all problems. The second victory is persuading the world that Russia might launch a global nuclear war. Which is also a lie, but effective. This will facilitate the strategy of “appeasement of Russia.”

Russia has achieved the main goal. The whole world is formally on the side of Ukraine, but they are not hurrying to help us effectively. Putin is satisfied with that.

I think that events will develop quickly. For no kind of protracted conflict can be included in the plans of the Kremlin. Direct aggression against Ukraine will force the EU and the US to respond. Therefore, the operation should be planned such that it will solve all problems before the actions of the West can have any effect.

But there is one “but”: in Russia they still do not understand Ukraine, and they are not capable of calculating the consequences of their actions. The Kremlin is still convinced that the war is not with the Ukrainian people, but a small number of “Right Sectorists” and “agents of NATO,” and that a decisive blow will be enough for their defeat, after which the “pacification of Ukraine” will be a matter of a short time.

But all of the last year has shown how poorly Ukraine is understood in Moscow, and that they do not want to understand. This is why until recently the Kremlin adventures have had an unanticipated effect.

The results of all these adventures will be terrible and unpredictable for all concerned.

~ Petro Oleshchuk, Political Analyst

Путин готовится к большой и быстрой войне

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