Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Defiant Land of Ukraine’

Germany to host Ukraine talks in Berlin as fighting persists

May 29, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s Foreign Ministry says envoys from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France will meet this week in Berlin to try and push forward the implementation of a peace deal for eastern Ukraine.

Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters Monday that, due to the “difficult and deteriorating” situation in eastern Ukraine, Germany has scheduled a meeting Tuesday with those countries and a representative from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Ukrainian government has been fighting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The fighting has cost some 10,000 lives. The diplomats are trying to bridge differences between Russia and Ukraine over implementing the 2015 Minsk deal for eastern Ukraine, which was brokered by Germany and France.

In Ukraine, feeling grows that the east is lost to Russia

May 05, 2017

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Leonid Androv, an electrician from Kiev, was drafted into the Ukrainian army and spent a year fighting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine after the conflict broke out in 2014. Now, like many other Ukrainians, he is ready to accept that those lands are lost.

“The Russians are in charge there and they are methodically erasing everything Ukrainian. So why should I and impoverished Ukraine pay for the occupation?” said Androv, 43. Long unthinkable after years of fighting and about 10,000 deaths, Ukrainians increasingly are coming around to the idea of at least temporarily abandoning the region known as the Donbass, considering it to be de facto occupied by Russia.

This would effectively kill the Minsk peace agreement brokered by Germany and France, which aims to preserve a united Ukraine. The Minsk agreement is still firmly supported both by the West and Russia, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed at their meeting this week.

The 2015 agreement, which Ukraine signed as its troops were being driven back, has greatly reduced but not stopped the fighting, while attempts to fulfill its provisions for a political settlement have failed.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko still stands by Minsk. In recent months, however, his government has moved to isolate the east by blocking trade and shutting off supplies of electricity and gas, demonstrating that it now considers the industrial region to be Moscow’s problem.

Several factions in the Ukrainian parliament have introduced legislation that would designate those territories outside of Kiev’s control as “occupied.” “We should call a spade a spade and recognize the Russian occupation of Donbass,” said Yuriy Bereza, a co-author of the legislation. Bereza, who commanded one of the volunteer battalions that fought in the east, called it necessary to preserve the state.

The likelihood of the legislation coming up for a vote is low, given the government’s reluctance to formally acknowledge the loss of these territories. Almost half of Ukrainians, however, favor declaring the separatist-controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to be occupied, according to a poll conducted by the Razumkov Center.

Under Minsk, the two regions are to remain part of Ukraine but with “special status.” They would have the right to hold their own elections. Those who fought against the Ukrainian army would receive amnesty.

These provisions have little popular support. The poll found that only 22 percent of Ukrainians were ready to grant the Donbass this “special status,” while 31 percent of respondents said they found it difficult to answer. The poll, conducted in January among 2,018 people across Ukraine, had a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

“It is obvious that Ukrainian society supports the isolation and blockade of the Donbass. And this is exactly what is dictating President Poroshenko’s behavior,” said Razumkov Center sociologist Andrei Bychenko. “If Poroshenko plans to seek a second term, he has to think about the mood of society, not about the expectations of the West.”

Poroshenko was elected after mass protests led to the ouster of Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president in early 2014 and put the country on a path toward closer integration with the West. While still speaking about a united Ukraine, Poroshenko’s government last month shut off electricity supplies to Luhansk over unpaid debts. Kiev already had stopped supplying gas to both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and in March, Poroshenko imposed a trade blockade on the regions beyond Kiev’s control.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters this was “one more step by Ukraine to rid itself of these territories.” Although Russia quickly annexed the Crimean Peninsula at the start of the conflict, Putin has made clear he has no interest in annexing eastern Ukraine.

“The Kremlin has tried to push this cancerous tumor back into Ukraine, using Donetsk and Lugansk as a Trojan horse to manipulate Kiev,” said Russian political scientist Andrei Piontkovsky. “But the Ukrainian government has had enough sense not to let it happen.”

Putin, speaking to journalists Tuesday after talks with Merkel, responded angrily to a suggestion that perhaps it was time for a new peace agreement since the Donbass already had de facto separated from Ukraine.

“No one has severed these territories. They were severed by the Ukrainian government itself through all sorts of blockades,” Putin said. Russia was forced to support Donbass, he added, noting that it was “still supplying a significant amount of goods, including power, and providing coke for Ukrainian metallurgical plants.”

Putin and Merkel both said that despite the problems they saw no alternative to the Minsk agreement. Sergei Garmash is among the 2 million people who have left their homes in eastern Ukraine. He said there is almost nothing Ukrainian left in Donetsk, which now uses Russian rubles, receives only Russian television and survives thanks to Russian subsidies.

“Ukrainian politicians need to be brave and legally recognize this territory as occupied by Russia. This will force Moscow to pick up the bill. And the more expensive this adventure will be for the Kremlin, the sooner it will walk away,” said Garmash, 45, who now lives in Kiev.

Moscow sends humanitarian convoys to the Donbass every month and pays the salaries and pensions of people who live there. Russia also supports the separatist military operations, although the Kremlin continues to deny that it sends arms and troops.

Russia has been hurt economically by sanctions imposed by the West over the annexation of Crimea and support for the separatists. “Public opinion has swung sharply toward the isolation of Donbass, and for the Kiev government it is an opportune time to shift all the expenses of the ‘frozen conflict’ to Moscow,” said Vladimir Fesenko, head of the Penta Center of Political Studies in Ukraine.

“Of course the war in Donbass was incited by Russia to slow Ukraine’s move toward Europe,” Fesenko said. “But no Ukrainian politician can publicly give up on Crimea and Donbass and recognize them as part of Russia.”

Androv, the Kiev electrician, said the problem is that no one knows what to do with Donbass. Likening it to a suitcase with no handle, he said: “It’s too heavy to carry, but it’s a shame to throw it away.”

Belarus march against nuclear power on Chernobyl anniversary

April 26, 2017

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — About 400 people have marched in Belarus’ capital to mark the anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster and protest the construction of a nuclear plant in the country.

Wednesday was the 31st anniversary of the explosion and fire at the nuclear plant in neighboring Ukraine. The disaster spewed fallout-contaminated smoke over a wide swath of northern Europe. About a quarter of Belarus’ territory was contaminated and a 2,200-square-kilometer (85-square-mile) sector of Belarus was declared unfit for human habitation.

The demonstrators said authorities are increasingly allowing crops to be grown on contaminated land. They also urged authorities to stop the construction of the nuclear plant, which will open in 2019.

Unlike recent opposition rallies that saw hundreds arrested, Wednesday’s march in Minsk was sanctioned by authorities.

Russia-backed rebels take over factories, mines in Ukraine

March 02, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian-backed rebels are taking over scores of factories and mines in eastern Ukraine, many of them belonging to a tycoon whose foundation has been the largest provider of humanitarian aid to a war-battered population.

The moves announced Wednesday by the rebels came after a weekslong blockade of the east by Ukrainian nationalists and right-wingers. The blockade has seriously disrupted trade on both sides, cutting off much of the coal shipments to government-controlled territory and impeding shipments from the mills and factories that are the east’s economic backbone.

The blockade has raised the already high tensions in Ukraine, where a war between government forces and separatist rebels has killed more than 9,800 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. The Minsk agreement, a 2015 cease-fire pact that has been consistently violated, envisions the rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk regions remaining in Ukraine, although with expanded local powers. But a recent surge in fighting, the blockade and Russia’s decision last month to recognize passports and other documents issued by the rebels have threatened the goal of reintegrating the regions into Ukraine.

“We are proud that the blockade has hit the pockets of the occupiers. We should call it a war and stop … all trade with the occupied territories,” parliament member Semen Semenchenko, a blockade advocate, told The Associated Press.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s government has spoken against the blockade, saying it hurts ordinary Ukrainians in the rest of the country by cutting off coal shipments from separatist regions and creating power shortages. However, it has taken no action to break it, fearing to challenge the nationalist groups.

Poroshenko on Wednesday described the rebel takeover of the industrial assets in the east as a de-facto confiscation and a sign of Russia’s “occupation” of the separatist territories. He called for Western sanctions against those involved in the assets’ seizure.

Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko told local media on Wednesday that in retaliation for Kiev’s blockade, the rebels have taken over the management of 40 factories and coal mines. They include those owned by tycoon Rinat Akhmetov, who is regarded as Ukraine’s richest person.

His Metinvest holding company announced last week that it had stopped operations at a steel mill and a coal mine because of the blockade. Stopping all of the company’s operations could throw 20,000 people out of work, Metinvest said.

There were no immediate reports detailing how management was being taken over by rebels. Akhmetov’s foundation said in a statement that its work in the region was paralyzed after rebels blocked access to Akhmetov’s Shakhtar FC arena in the rebel capital of Donetsk, which hosted the 2012 European soccer championships and now serves as a warehouse for the relief effort.

Efforts to block the foundation’s access to its facilities in Donetsk “is a threat to the lives of Donbass civilians who have become hostages of the armed conflict and find themselves on the verge of survival in the heart of Europe in the 21st century.”

The foundation says it has given away more than 11 million food packages to local residents. The separatists do not allow Ukrainian aid in, and in recent months have barred virtually all international organizations from operating there.

Russia has been delivering aid to the rebel-controlled east too, but some of the deliveries have ended up in the fighters’ hands. Unlike Akhmetov’s food packages, Russian aid was not distributed directly to the population.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, in view of the blockade, the rebel authorities “hardly had any other choice” other than to seize the businesses. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Moscow is concerned about a worsening humanitarian situation in the east and pledged that it “will do its best to contribute to a de-escalation” in the area.

Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.

5 arrested in Kiev clash between nationalists, police

February 19, 2017

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Five people have been detained and one policeman injured in a clash between Ukrainian nationalist demonstrators and police outside the presidential administration building in Kiev.

The Sunday evening clash involved demonstrators in camouflage and balaclavas who tried to set up a tent camp in support of nationalists who have blocked coal shipments from parts of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists. The blockade has led to power shortages in government-held parts of Ukraine.

Police said those detained included Nikolai Kokhanivsky, leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Ukrainian forces have been fighting separatist rebels in the east since April 2014, a conflict that had killed more than 9,800.

Ukraine leader warns West not to “appease” Russia

February 17, 2017

MUNICH (AP) — Ukraine’s president warned Friday against any “appeasement” of Russia, arguing that cutting a bilateral deal with Moscow on his country would only make the fighting in eastern Ukraine worse. He said that the new U.S. administration has a “historic chance” to halt Russia’s ambitions.

Many in Europe are concerned about the U.S. stance toward Russia under President Donald Trump amid talk of a more cooperative relationship. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told the Munich Security Conference, however, that he had been reassured of Western unity and solidarity earlier in the day by new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“I hear increasingly obsessive calls for at least some degree of appeasement toward Russia’s appetite. To move in that direction would be naive, wrong and dangerous — not only for Ukraine, but also for Europe and for the world,” he said.

He didn’t specify who was making those calls but said now is the time to stop Russia’s expansionist ambitions. “This is an absolutely historic chance for all of us, but above all this is a historic chance for the new U.S. administration and solid trans-Atlantic unity,” Poroshenko said.

More than 9,800 people have died since April 2014 in fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists. Fighting escalated earlier this month, the worst outbreak since a 2015 peace deal.

On Thursday, Tillerson said Russia must abide by a 2015 peace deal agreed upon in Minsk aimed at ending fighting in eastern Ukraine as the Trump administration searches for ways to work cooperatively with Moscow. He spoke after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting of Group of 20 foreign ministers in Bonn, Germany.

Poroshenko, however, warned against “any agreement behind our back” with Russia on Ukraine. “We have no intention to give up” on defending Ukraine, he said, speaking in English. “Any deal with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin behind Ukraine would only aggravate the situation.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, following a meeting with Lavrov Friday on the sidelines of the security conference, that he again emphasized the need for the Minsk accord to be implemented. He also said Americans officials had assured him that Washington backed NATO.

“The United States remains committed to NATO and to the trans-Atlantic alliance,” he told reporters. In eastern Ukraine, the leader of pro-Russia separatist rebels warned Friday that they may use force to drive out Ukrainian troops.

Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said the rebels aim to “free the occupied territories” in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces by political means, but added that they could do so with military force if political efforts fail.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Zakharchenko’s statement defied a 2015 peace agreement, but added that it comes amid tensions provoked by Ukraine’s actions.

David Rising contributed to this story

Separatist commander assassinated in eastern Ukraine

February 08, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — A prominent rebel leader in eastern Ukraine has been killed in an explosion in his office, his associates said on Wednesday. The rebels’ Donetsk News Agency said Mikhail Tolstykh, better known under his nom de guerre Givi, died early Wednesday morning in what it described as a terrorist attack. The agency said 35-year old Tolstykh was killed by a rocket fired from a portable launcher into his office.

Russian state television showed pictures of firefighters putting out flames in the building where Toltsykh’s headquarters is believed to be. The footage from the scene showed several rooms in the building gutted from an apparent explosion.

Tolstykh’s death follows the assassination of his close associate Arsen Pavlov, also known as Motorola, last year, as well as other high-profile warlords. Yuri Tandit, an adviser to the chairman of the Ukrainian Security Service in Kiev, said on the 112 television channel that his agency was looking into the reports.

Tolstykh was one of the most recognizable faces in the conflict between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed rebels which has claimed more than 9,800 lives since it began in 2014. Killings of high-profile commanders in Ukraine’s Donbass began in May 2015 with the bombing of the charismatic Alexei Mozgovoi. Rank-and-file separatists and local residents reported an increased Russian influence in the area in summer 2015 as Moscow apparently tried to rein in the warlords, some of whom seemingly got out of hand with murder and violence targeting civilians.

The very existence of unruly commanders like Givi bolstered the Ukrainian government’s long-standing refusal to negotiate with what it regarded as terrorists. Givi and other warlords who have been killed in the past two years have publicly assaulted prisoners of war and been engaged in what can be classified as war crimes.

While the unruly commanders were dying in car bombings, the leadership of the rebel-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions came to be dominated by bureaucrats with ties to ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Donbass native, rather than the commanders who led the uprising. Unlike the assassinated warlords, the Donetsk bureaucrats are seen as less extreme and more inclined to bargain with Kiev.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, described Tolstykh’s death as an attempt to “destabilize the situation” in eastern Ukraine after flare-up of hostilities last week killed more than 33 people.

Peskov denied any Russian involvement in the warlord’s death, calling it impossible.

Tag Cloud