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  • Russia’s March-2018 gas war attempt against Ukraine, explained
    EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2018/3/15

    Russia has been using its natural gas exports, prices, and contracts as a tool of hybrid warfare against Ukraine and other former Soviet republics for decades. Another episode of the Russia-Ukraine gas war unfolded two weeks ago.

    Unlike the previous attacks, this time it was a “blitzkrieg”: Ukraine won, and Russia’s blackmail failed. Is the EU risking to have all Russian gas supplies cut off?

    1. What happened?
    Russia cut off the gas supply to Ukraine amid abnormal frosts, having lowered pressure in the pipe just minutes before it was supposed to start supplying gas to Ukraine according to the ruling of the Stockholm arbitration court. The timeline of the latest Russia-Ukraine gas war is as follows:

    -On 28 February Ukraine’s state natural gas company Naftogaz won in an epic four-year legal battle against the Russian gas giant Gazprom in the Stockholm arbitration tribunal.
    - Overnight into 1 March, Gazprom refused to supply prepaid gas to Ukraine, moreover, it lowered the pressure of the transit gas being supplied to the EU.
    - On 2 March, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko supported the initiative of Naftogaz and called to Ukrainians as well as to state institutions to lower the temperature in apartments and offices by 1℃ for a few days
    - The Cabinet enacted its energy crisis response action plan, instructed power generating companies to switch from natural gas to boiler oil, recommended all academic institutions, from kindergartens to universities, to completely suspend work until 6 March.
    - Naftogaz signed an urgent contract with Poland’s company PGNiG arrange alternative supplies.
    - On 3 March, Naftogaz said that Ukrainians had managed to cut consumption by 14%.
    - Gazprom announced that the company launched procedures in the Stockholm international arbitration court to terminate its supply contracts with Naftogaz.
    - The U.S. urged Russia not use gas as a political weapon against Ukraine.
    - On 5 March, Naftogaz announced that it would close its representative office in Russia by 12 March 2018.
    - Naftogaz demanded compensation from Gazprom for gas imports from EU amid the brief energy crisis.
    - Gazprom officially informed Naftogaz of the beginning of proceedings through the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce on the termination of gas contracts.

    2. Why did Russia cut off the gas?
    It was Russia’s revenge for the victory of Naftogaz over Gazprom in the Stockholm arbitration court. Cutting the gas off, Gazprom acted as a political leverage of the Russian authorities.

    According to Russian gas expert Mikhail Krutikhin, “[Gazprom CEO] Miller acts on Putin’s instructions. And I cannot consider the motivation of Putin. It’s been a long time as there has been no logic at all and no constraining factors.”

    æ, !

    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


    • Russia's Gas War Pt 2

      3. What was this Stockholm legal battle all about?
      It was about two contracts between Gazprom and Naftogaz made back in 2009: one related to the terms of Gazprom’s supply of gas to Ukraine, and the second about the transit of Russian gas to the EU through Ukraine.

      The gas supply contract. In 2014, Gazprom cut off the gas supply to Ukraine, amid the unfolding Russian invasion in the Donbas, an eastern Ukrainian region. Gazprom claimed that Naftogaz had violated the 10-year “take-or-pay” gas contract of 2009, which was signed amid the Russian-orchestrated gas crisis in the EU. Under the contract, Ukraine had to pay for more than 50 billion m³ (billion cubic meters, bcm) of natural gas annually whether it was consumed or not – over 1/3 more than it needed after the Ukrainian economy took a dive following the Russian-inspired war in eastern Ukraine. Moreover, as Russia occupied Crimea in 2014, Russia denounced the 30%-gas-discount Kharkiv Pact granted for extending Russia’s lease of a naval base in Crimea, increasing gas prices for Ukraine.

      The transit contract. At the same time, Naftogaz accused Gazprom of infringing a transit contract, saying that it under-delivered the contracted 110 bcm/year via Ukraine to the EU. Plus, Naftogaz considered the 2011-2015 prices and “take-or-pay” volumes not appropriate.

      In the fall of 2014, both sides filed lawsuits to the Stockholm Court of Arbitration. In 2018, Ukraine won.

      4. Is it a big deal?
      It is. This is the first time Ukraine beat the Russian monopolist in a European court. Gazprom got used to dictating its terms to Ukraine under pressure of Russian gas blackmail for decades and it’s a great blow to Russia’s ego.

      In December 2017, the Stockholm arbitration court revised the terms of the “take-or-pay” clause, obliging Naftogaz to only purchase 5 bcm of gas from Russia annually – a far cry from the initial 52 bcm/year. As well, it ruled Gazprom should cut its gas bill to Ukraine by 27,4% in accordance with market prices: from $485/1000 m³ to $352/1000 m³, starting from the second quarter of 2014. In result, the court obliged Naftogaz to pay Gazprom $2 bn in arrears, much less than the $56 bn the Russian gas monopolist had sought. Both sides accepted this verdict.

      Then, on 28 February 2018, the same court ruled in favor of Naftogaz once again, deciding that Gazprom under-delivered transit gas to Ukraine, which cost Naftogaz $4.63 bn. However, it declined Ukraine’s claim to raise transit prices. After accounting for Ukraine’s arrears from 2014, Gazprom now owes Naftogaz a total of $2.56 bn – which, however, is a fragment of the $37 bn which Naftogaz had sought. This time, Gazprom vocally disagreed, returned Naftogaz’s prepayment, and cut off supplies.

      5. Didn’t Ukraine stop buying gas from Russia because of the war in Donbas?
      Ukraine did stop buying the Russian gas from Gazprom back in 2015, buying it from European companies instead. But the ruling of the Stockholm arbitration court obliged Ukraine to renew buying gas from Gazprom according to the current contract – though, in much smaller volumes than Moscow demanded, according to its needs, and at lower prices. This supply had to start on 1 March 2018, when Gazprom suddenly refused to perform the contract and returned the prepayment.

      6. What’s happening now, is everyone freezing in Ukraine?
      Nope. Despite the gas supply being cut off during abnormal frosts, Ukrainians managed to drop the daily gas consumption by 14%. Such a dramatic drop was the result of the popular support of Naftogaz and President Poroshenko’s initiative #Prykruty (“turn [the gas] down!”), and of the emergency measures by the Ukrainian government. Kyiv had ordered power companies to replace gas with alternative fuels where possible, temporarily close schools and universities, and ask industrial enterprises to revise their plans in order to save energy. But now the weather is warmer and Ukraine managed to make up the deficit by purchasing gas from Poland, signing a contract with the Polish state company PGNiG.

      7. Is Ukraine dependent on Russian gas now?
      It was before Russia occupied Crimea and orchestrated a war in Donbas in 2014, but that changed. Now, Ukrainian domestic natural gas production covers some 60% of its total consumption, which stands at around 32 bcm/year. Ukraine still remains dependent on natural gas of Russian origin, but not on Russian supplies. Starting from 2015, Ukraine purchased gas exclusively from EU companies. Although 30-40% of this EU gas comes from Russia, at least this scheme allows avoiding political blackmail. Today, domestic production, imports from the EU, and Ukraine’s huge subterranean storage facilities provide the country with a balanced consumption of gas.

      In 2017, Ukrainian domestic production was 20.5 bcm with the consumption of 31.9 bcm, while 14.1 bcm were imported from Europe. The government plans to increase gas production up to 35 bcm and lower the consumption to 30 bcm by 2035 to export annually 5 bcm of natural gas.
      Gas imports in Ukraine, 2016-2017. Source: Naftogaz
      Domestic gas production in Ukraine, 2016-2017.
      Gas consumption in Ukraine, 2016-2017. Infographic: Naftogaz

      æ, !

      Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


      • Russiá Gas War Pt 3

        8. Why was there a shortage then in March?
        The Stockholm arbitration court obliged Ukraine to renew gas imports from Russia, and Ukraine prepaid for the volumes it expected Russia to supply, relying on them, but Russia refused to supply gas according to the ruling of the Court and returned the prepayment. Although Ukraine had enough gas in underground storages to make up for the lost volumes, it’s difficult to quickly extract it and transfer within the national pipeline system to consumers.

        Moreover, at the end of the heating season, when the supply is nearly exhausted, the underground pressure drops and the gas extraction rate decreases with it. Imagine a beach ball – if it’s pumped up to a maximum pressure, the air will be released faster from its valve than if it’s half deflated. The March-2018 withdrawal rate was a maximum of 115 million m³ a day. The problem was made even worse by Gazprom’s maintenance of the lowest available pressure at the entrance to Ukraine’s gas transport system throughout the entire winter of 2017-2018. The contracted figures range between 60 and 65 kilogram-force (kgF) per cm, the de-facto pressure was 51-59kgF/cm. And starting from 1 March, Gazprom reduced pressure to the lowest value this year, 50,3kgF/cm.

        In failing to perform the contract, Gazprom aimed not only to create problems for Ukrainian consumers but to portray Ukraine as an unreliable gas transiter to the EU. Ukrtransgas, Naftogaz’s gas transport division, faced the issue of balancing of the volumes being consumed while transferring gas within the pipeline system. In different circumstances, this could have resulted in a repetition of the situation from January 2009, when Gazprom cut off the gas flow, and Ukraine was forced to take gas destined for consumers in the EU from the pipelines so as not to freeze. Europe could receive fewer volumes than contracted, and Gazprom would once again have grounds to accuse Kyiv of what Putin once called “snatching gas.”

        æ, !

        Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


        • Russia's Gas war Pt 4

          9. So this isn’t the first time Gazprom is doing this?
          Oh yes. Gas blackmail like this was (and still is) an element of Russian foreign policy and a “political weapon” to either keep its neighboring countries in Russia’s orbit or at least to influence them. Since Ukrainian independence in 1991, Russia temporarily suspended its gas pressure on Ukraine only during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych (2010-2014), the pro-Russian president ousted by the Euromaidan in early 2014.

          Here is the short chronicle of the Russia-Ukraine “gas wars”:
          - Russia suspended gas exports several times between 1992 and 1994 as a result of disputes over non-payments by Ukraine.
          - In 1993, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin offered to annul Ukraine’s gas debt to Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk in return for control over the Black Sea fleet and - Ukraine’s nuclear warheads. Kravchuk could have agreed, but a strong rebuke from politicians in Kyiv made him abandon the idea.
          - In 1994, a Ukrainian deputy prime minister agreed with Russia that Gazprom could acquire a 51% stake in the pipeline system. However, in 1995, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a law prohibiting the privatization of oil and gas assets.
          - In 1998, Gazprom alleged that Ukraine had illegally diverted gas meant for export to other European countries and suspended exports of oil and electricity to the country in 1999. Gazprom also claimed that Ukraine’s debt had reached $2.8 bn. The debt issue was settled only in 2001, by the signing of an intergovernmental gas transit agreement.
          - In 2005 as the Orange Revolution disrupted Russia’s plans for the Ukrainian presidency of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, Russia trebled the gas price for Ukraine. The - Ukrainian government accepted the Russian demand with the stipulation that price increases were to be gradual.
          - Later in 2005, Gazprom stated that 7.8 bcm of its gas deposited in Ukrainian storage reservoirs was not available. It remained unclear if it was missing, had disappeared due to technical problems, or had been stolen.
          - As the negotiations between Gazprom and Naftogaz over prices and a new gas supply agreement failed, Gazprom started reducing the pressure in the pipelines from Russia to Ukraine on 1 January 2006. A number of European countries saw a drop in their supplies as well. The supply was restored on 4 January 2006, after the preliminary agreement between Ukraine and Gazprom was settled.
          - In January 2008, Gazprom threatened it would reduce supplies to Ukraine if $1.5 bn in gas debts were not paid. Gas wasn’t cut off then and Ukraine claimed that the debt was paid. Later in February 2008, Gazprom claimed that Ukraine didn’t pay a $600 mn bill, stating that Russia supplied its own gas instead of cheaper Central Asian gas for several months. Ukraine disagreed with Russia’s claims and on 3 March 2008, Gazprom claimed that the $1.5 billion debt still was not paid and cut the shipments to Ukraine by 25%, and an additional 25% the next day. The supplies were restored on 5 March.
          - At the end of 2008, Gazprom and Naftogaz were not able to agree on the price for 2009 and Russia completely halted natural gas exports to Ukraine on 1 January 2009, while continuing shipments intended for the EU. On the next day, the pressure in the EU pipelines dropped too. On 7 January, Russia cut off all gas exports via Ukraine and several countries reported a major fall in supplies. Bulgaria, Moldova, and Slovakia were among the most affected by the drops.
          - Russia restarted supply only on 20-21 January 2009, after then Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko signed unfavorable contracts to buy gas at European market prices starting from 2009 while Ukraine agreed to keep its transit fee for Russian gas unchanged in 2009. Several days after Russia initiated the crisis, Gazprom and RosUkrEnergo (Swiss-registered Turkmenistan gas supplier owned by Gazprom and Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, a straw firm to supply Russian gas to Ukraine) filed lawsuits against Naftogaz in Stockholm arbitration court and later won $200 mn as a penalty as well as the return of 12.1 bcm of natural gas for breaches of contracts. Again, as usual, Russia also accused Ukraine of illegal diversion of natural gas, however, these accusations were not confirmed.
          - In 2010, pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych signed the infamous Kharkiv Pact with Russia, which stipulated a 30% drop in the price of gas in exchange for permission to extend Russia’s lease of a major naval base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol (Crimea) for an additional 25 years with an additional five-year renewal option (to 2042-47).
          - In March 2014 amid the Russian invasion of Crimea and its further annexation, Russia seized Ukrainian assets in Crimea, including the oil and gas company Chornomornaftogaz, a subsidiary of Ukraine’s state-owned Naftogaz. In April 2014, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Chornomorsknaftogaz, so later did the EU. Formally, Gazprom has no dealings with the seized company to avoid facing sanctions itself, but Chornomorsknaftogaz continues to illegally extract gas on the fields of Ukraine’s occupied Crimea.
          - In March 2014, having annexed Crimea, Russia denounced the 2010 Kharkiv Pact and its 30% gas discount. Later in June 2014, Gazprom stated that Ukraine’s debt to the company was $4.5 bn. Unilaterally Gazprom decided that Ukraine had to pay upfront, and completely halted gas supplies to Ukraine. This instance of blackmail accompanied the direct invasion of Russian regular troops in the East-Ukrainian region of the Donbas. The Russian regulars came support the irregular formations which were losing battles to Ukrainian forces. Russia agreed to resume gas supply only in October 2014, after the peace deal known as the Minsk Protocol was signed by the representatives of Ukraine and Russia.
          - In November 2015, Gazprom halted its exports of gas to Ukraine because Ukraine had stopped buying it. Naftogaz and Gazprom filed lawsuits to the Stockholm arbitration court.
          - In February 2018, Naftogas won the epic four-year legal battle in Stockholm. In retaliation, on 1 March Gazprom tried to provoke another gas crisis in the EU and to blame Ukraine in what Putin calls “snatching gas,” as Russia did in 2006 and 2009. However, Ukraine is not that gas dependent anymore, and Ukrainians, having lowered the daily gas consumption by 14%, saved the uninterrupted gas supply to the European Union. As a result, Gazprom itself shot in the foot, having given Ukraine grounds for further lawsuits against itself.

          10. But doesn’t Gazprom understand that this harms their international reputation?
          It does, but in this case, Gazprom’s actions were politically motivated. However, commercial intentions can’t be ruled out. Gazprom could have halted gas supplies to Ukraine in order to cause drops of pressure in the EU, as Gazprom succeeded in 2006 and 2009, and later to sue Ukraine as in 2009.

          11. Can Gazprom actually ignore the court decision?
          According to Ukrainian lawyer Roman Marchenko who one time served as an arbitrator at the Stockholm court, Russia and its state-owned Gazprom often take up the position when they take part in arbitration sessions, then even challenge these decisions, but don’t carry them out: “The most striking example is, naturally, the classical situation with Yukos. This is a standard position, so it’s extremely likely that there will be attempts to not implement the decision,” he told, referring to the time when Russia appealed to the arbitration court in The Hague. Economic expert Yevhen Oleinykov also mentioned the case of the Noga company, when Russia effectively ignored the decision of the Stockholm arbitration court.

          12. Can this blackmail repeat again? Is the EU under threat?
          Moscow’s reaction to the Stockholm verdict shows that Russia can attempt to repeat gas blackmail anytime in the future. This latest attempt, unlike those in the previous decades, when Ukraine was extremely dependent on Gazprom’s gas, was unsuccessful partially because post-Maidan Ukraine had been pursuing an energy independence policy.

          However, if Russia would fully halt supplies to the EU via Ukraine, Ukraine wouldn’t be able to cover the EU demand for gas using its own supply and production.

          Another threat to the EU may be posed by the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, poised to connect Russia directly with Germany bypassing the Ukrainian gas transport system. As the speakers of the parliaments of Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia warn parliamentarians of the EU countries, Nord Stream 2 may only increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. The speakers insist that Nord Stream 2 is, in fact, a political instrument of Russia despite the fact that it has been presented as a commercial project.

          Russia's March-2018 gas war attempt against Ukraine, explained -Euromaidan Press |

          æ, !

          Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


          • Are Ukraine’s war weary pensioners lost and forgotten?
            EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2018/3/15 Ty Faruki

            There is no doubt of the suffering in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Consumed by much more than conflict, its problems still exist no matter how long the world looks away for.

            It is winter, and inside the town of Novhorodske, a small assembly of people crowd around a Red Cross volunteer who is heating the room with a small oven powered by branches cut from trees in the town. Logging is illegal; coal mines are nationalized and its product sold to private corporations leaving many foraging materials for fuel.

            Nadiia remains in the town of Opytne looking after pets of neighbors who have since left.

            Wafts of cold air escaping my breath perfectly illustrated the severity of the cold. For Donbas residents, it is an ever-growing danger, especially without sufficient heating. Many visitors to Ukraine quip it has two seasons — summer and winter, reaching temperatures as high as +35 Celsius to as low as –20 Celsius.

            Miners emerge early morning from a 6-hour shift

            After speaking with locals, a woman named Iryna, 62, approaches me recalling a story which confirms little has changed since the war started. She says, “Shelling came and hit the house. It destroyed everything inside and now I am homeless… I live with friends, luckily I was out when it happened.”

            Iryna stands in her home void of all her possessions.

            Iryna takes me to her home barren of its content and what happened here is obvious. Many people migrate as internally displaced people, but Irina remained in town where snow covers park grounds and landmines remain hidden. Children’s play areas remain central to Novhorodske and when it is time for school both parent and child remain sharp to navigate around them.

            A stray dog waits near a checkpoint in the Donbas region. Animals have proved useful in alarming checkpoints.

            Town by town it is evident this conflict affects the elderly most. Many young people become estranged from their native towns taking on the title of IDP, but for pensioners, staying is a simple yet dangerous answer according to Vartan Muradian of UNHCR.

            “The main reason for many elderly people staying behind are: there are no alternative options (in terms of housing) for them in the safe areas of the country, they do not want to be an IDP and thus be obliged to go through verification procedures initiated by the state, they do not want to leave their homes as that is the only property they have and people get very attached to their houses, especially in elder age…”

            Near the line of contact in Karbonit.

            æ, !

            Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


            • Lost and Forgotten Pt 2

              Talk to Ukrainians and it is evident the spirit of its history is well and truly resurrected, but ambiguity still squeezes fresh progress. On occasion, derogatory remarks can be heard made towards Russian people from Ukrainians and no doubt the same can be heard from the other side of them. Not long ago, a woman living in separatist-held Donetsk, Iryna Dovhan, was tied to a lamppost in Donetsk and beaten accused of being a spy. But many Russians have defected to fight alongside Ukrainian battalions offering their services as volunteers delivering aid to a province in peril and vice versa.

              In war bitten east Ukraine, the reality of its plight is truly a nightmare. Like many conflicts, the situation here is far from black and white and though it is easy to wear a pair of good vs evil goggles inside the country, outside this mindset overlooks the conditions of those who live here.

              Visibility during winter months causes havoc for civilians.

              Post-apocalyptic is a word best used to describe this place. Not for its crumbling buildings hit by shelling and rocket fire — but the scarcity of people who wander the streets without verve like in Kyiv.

              Moving closer to the LoC (line of contact) we head for the town of Avdiivka where we meet Lebedev Rodion, who drives me on the back of a moped to his village — Opytne.

              Whizzing through green conduit lands to gain access we arrive at his home, which, barely standing is still a home. His family recently renovated the house which fortunately stood its ground to rocket fire exchanges between the two sides.

              The outside of Lebedev’s home.

              Night time has come, and we begin to eat dinner under a solar-powered light emitting a bluish-purple glow. Outside, the Ukrainian army and opposition fighters reciprocate fire as we eat locally cultivated food. I ask why he stays with his family to which he says,

              “To understand what fear is, you need either to experience this fear yourself or to experience this fear for your relatives. Each person has a mask, he can endure only so much. Over time, a person burns from within and does not see his future and does not cling to life.”

              Lebedev and family have dinner under a solar powered light as the fighting begins nearby.

              Living with his wife, daughter, son, and mother they unflinchingly continue to brush aside the actuality of events unfolding. Presenting a strong persona, void of uncertainty I begin to wonder if he plans to leave; “This issue is discussed daily in the family, everyone is very tired, our patience has dried up over the years, but there is no money to buy new housing, and to leave your home where you lived and spent your best years lacking in strength.”

              Temperatures can plunge as low as –20C in Ukraine

              Many fear the night staying enclosed in their cellars during daylight hours. Those who remain unwaveringly do so tending to pets of residents who left due to the town’s proximity to fighting. At times, fire is drawn to villages (on both sides) hosting troops, leaving villagers with devastating consequences and decisions to contend with come winter time when temperatures can plummet as low as –17 Celsius.

              Telichko Tetiana lives in Maryinka, which is situated at ‘zero’ level of the conflict,

              “4 pieces from the shelling are inside of me right now… one in the hip, in my left leg, behind my heart and next to my backbone, I was hit in my garden. I was going to see my mum to take her to my basement and a bomb landed 4 meters away from me… Every half a year I feel like my health is getting worse. Sometimes I cannot feel my leg”… (in response to whether the cold exacerbates her condition) “for the last 3 days, I could not get up.”

              Telichko sits in her basement surrounded by jarred jams, vegetables and jellies before the fighting begins.

              “Diabetes began… [brought on by] it is the physical [exertion], I am very much afraid if something happens to me, my daughter will be on her own.”

              So, what is it like for residents living here? One night in August 2017, I sat in on a shift with Ukraine’s Donbas battalion who were posted on the line of contact. Beginning at 18:00 they sat talking about friends, relatives, and current affairs. In the distance, shelling can be seen, and the sound of bombs pound the ground.

              Each side retaliates until at 19:30 we are attacked ourselves by shelling. The sound of whistling shells like fireworks above compels the battalion to respond with SPG rockets. At such close range, you can equate the feeling of this weapon igniting to being hit by a wall. A very large wall, that does not break.

              Ukrainian troops prepare to return fire.

              The commander, Foma, tells of the discussions he has with locals. Each rocket fired ejects an outer shell destroying anything behind it. “They say to me ‘you destroyed my home’. I tell them, ‘What do you want me to do, they are trying to kill me!”

              Return fire is made in response to opposition fighting

              Attacks circumvent the village with an air of intangibility fluctuating between doubt and certainty. Daytime is relatively quiet and the acquiescence of people entombs emotion. They appear composed, but this is not the case. Neil Greenberg, Professor of Mental Health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists tells me,

              “In some cases, this may be adaptive. In fact, many people who live in constant war-torn societies suffer some distress and then adapt what they do in order to be able to continue with their lives as best they can. Of course, they are at increased risk of developing mental health conditions (compared to villagers who access social support or who avoid trauma (by fleeing to safer places/changing their usual routines) but humans are remarkably resilient (i.e. adaptive). In some senses… talking about how terrible things are when there is no way to make things better might be traumatizing to some degree. However, most people find appropriate sharing with others they trust is helpful and protective of mental health.”

              Snow is covered by a layer of soot in a mining station in the Donbas.

              Assumptions surrounding the war causes much confusion. Misunderstandings and conspiracies misconstrue the truth of the matter from claims of western coups and Nazi control of Kyiv souring internationally important grassroots calls to action. The nature of the conflict itself is complex and such assumptions gestate notions to forget the true victims of the conflict — its people and their rights.

              An elderly man remains in a retirement home without care from family.

              Vartan Muradian of UNHCR exclaims the biggest concern to him is — “…security! After that, there is housing or shelter and ensuring that their rights are guaranteed: freedom of movement, property rights, healthcare rights, pensions, and benefits, etc. That is where we concentrate the most now.”

              He adds that it is easy to obtain statistics for the elderly but confirming how many remain is more difficult.

              A coal mine near the line of contact

              Uncertainty grows throughout the country, but nowhere is as tentative and fearful as those who live in Donbas. They have nowhere to go, no one to trust and must rely on volunteers and NGOs delivering aid to Donbas, with little they can do for themselves.

              Article and photographs by Ty Faruki.
              Best known for his work in Ukraine, Ty Faruki offers a different perspective on the realities of life and culture in the eastern European state.Following a brief moment in film, he pursued a passion in photography seeing it as a better way to document.

              Ty has been published internationally in newspapers including the Irish Times and Financial Times.
              Are Ukraine’s war weary pensioners lost and forgotten? -Euromaidan Press |

              æ, !

              Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


              • NATO officially gives Ukraine aspiring member status; membership action plan is next ambition
                EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2018/03/10 - 20:36

                Ukraine is now an official NATO aspiring member, i.e. nation declaring aspirations to become full-fledged members of NATO. It was added to the list of such countries on NATO’s website on 10 March 2018.

                “Currently, four partner countries have declared their aspirations to NATO membership: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine.”

                Although NATO had expressed its support for Ukraine’s Euroatlantic aspirations back on 7 November 2017, it was not given any official status. Then, Secretary-General Stoltenberg did not answer the question whether Ukraine is included on the list of so-called “aspiring nations” which then included only Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia, and stressed that reforms are a priority for NATO-Ukrainian cooperation. Up till yesterday, NATO’s site stated that “since 2010, Ukraine has not been formally pursuing membership.”

                This has now changed, after a working visit of the Ukrainian delegation to Brussels.
                Ukraine's Euroatlantic integration representative Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze met with NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller on 9 March 2018. During this meeting, Ukraine's NATO aspirant member status was recignized. Photo: press service of Klympush-Tsintsadze

                Ukraine’s Euroatlantic integration representative Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze met with NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller on 9 March 2018. During this meeting, Ukraine’s NATO aspirant member status was recognized. Photo: press service of Klympush-Tsintsadze

                Ukraine is now on the list of aspiring countries. As well, the section on NATO-Ukraine relations was updated: it now includes a reference to a bill adopted by the Ukrainian parliament on 8 June 2017 which set NATO membership as Ukraine’s foreign policy objective.

                Commenting on NATO’s decision to recognize Ukraine’s aspirant member status, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for Euroatlantic Integration Ivanna Klympush Tsintsadze said:

                “There’s a long path between recognizing ambitions and membership. It consists of, first of all, internal work, but we can sucessfully walk this path if we will purposefully change the country according to NATO’s democratic, social, economic, political, and of course, military principles and approaches.”

                Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has named Ukraine’s next ambition – a membership action plan, NATO’s programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. Currently, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia have such a plan.

                Meanwhile, a forum titled “Revive the Euro-Atlantic Integration Process” is being held in Brussels with the participation of Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Special Representative of the USA for Ukraine Kurt Volker, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, and Deputy Director-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations at the European Commission Katarina Mathernova.

                A long and complicated history of relations with NATO
                Ukraine became the first CIS country to enter NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in February 1994, and official cooperation began one year later. In 1997, the first official NATO Information and Documentation Center opened in Kyiv and a NATO-Ukraine Commission was established.

                But in 2002, Ukraine-NATO relations soured as leaked tapes appeared to reveal that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, apart from ordering to kidnap the Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze, arranged the transfer of the sophisticated Ukrainian Kolchuga system to Iraq. The scandal unfolded amid a political crisis and protests against Kuchma’s authoritarian rule in Ukraine. The Ukraine-NATO Action Plan adopted in 2002, as well as Kuchma’s declaration that Ukraine wanted to join NATO, and the sending of Ukrainian troops to Iraq in 2003 could not mend relations.

                Nevertheless, in 2003 the Ukrainian Parliament adopted a law “The foundations of national security,” in which NATO integration and NATO membership were – much like in today’s law – proclaimed a key goal of foreign policy. The initiative didn’t live long: as soon as Poland became an EU member state, it appealed to Brussels insisting that the Union offers Ukraine membership prospects, which the European Commission declined with a mere partnership offer. The irritated Kuchma ordered to cross out NATO membership from the list of Ukraine’s strategic goals in 2004.

                After the Orange Revolution in 2004 in which Kuchma was replaced by Viktor Yushchenko, expectations were high for a pro-EU and pro-NATO course. But internal quibbles and an absence of unilateral support for NATO within Ukraine’s population hampered the plans: in 2008, the second Yulia Tymoshenko cabinet’s proposal for Ukraine to join NATO’s Membership Action Plan was met with internal opposition, and despite US and Polish support at the 2008 Bucharest summit, the Membership Action Plans for Ukraine and Georgia were not approved, having faced opposition by France, Germany, and Italy. However, a declaration was adopted stating that the “future of both countries [Ukraine and Georgia – ed] was connected with the Alliance.”

                After Viktor Yanukovych came to power in 2010, Ukraine’s NATO aspirations were curbed as a bill was passed that excluded the goal of “integration into Euro-Atlantic security and NATO membership” from the country’s national security strategy. The law precluded Ukraine’s membership of any military bloc but allowed for co-operation with alliances such as NATO.

                In December 2014, 10 months after Yanukovych fled following the Euromaidan revolution, after which Russia occupied Crimea and orchestrated a war in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine renounced this non-aligned status. The step was condemned by Russia. President Poroshenko vowed to hold a referendum on joining NATO, and Ukraine signaled it hopes for a major non-NATO ally status within the United States. In 2017, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a bill restoring the country’s course towards NATO membership.

                Starting from 2015, military exercises took place between NATO members and Ukraine, including Operation Fearless Guardian, Exercise Sea Breeze, Saber Guardian/Rapid Trident, and Safe Skies. In September 2015, NATO launched five trust funds for €5.4 million for the Ukrainian army. In March 2016, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker stated that it would take at least 20-25 years for Ukraine to join the EU and NATO.

                Public support for NATO membership
                The support of Ukrainians for joining NATO soared following Russian aggression against the country which started after Euromaidan. According to polls by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Fund, until February 2014, it hovered around 15% and most Ukrainians were in favor of a non-aligned status for Ukraine, after which it soared to 33% and is now at its historic maximum, and support for a military alliance with Russia is at a historic low. Ukraine’s NATO membership has the most supporters in Ukraine’s western regions, while the South, East, and Donbas are more in favor of a neutral status. If a referendum on joining NATO would be held, 69% of those who would vote would choose “yes,” according to the latest poll of this fund from July 2017 (not shown on graphic).

                Below is a graphic by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Fund, translated by Euromaidan Press (full size here).

                Russian opposition
                Russia’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has already responded to Ukraine’s decision towards NATO integration, stating that Moscow traditionally views NATO expansion towards Russian borders with distrust and concern. “We believe that this threatens our safety and the balance of power in the Eurasian region. Of course, the Russian side takes all necessary measures to counterbalance the situation and protect its own interests and safety,” he said.

                In the past, Russia has spoken out strongly against Ukraine’s potential NATO membership. In 2008 then Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia may target its missiles at Ukraine if its neighbor joins NATO and accepts the deployment of a US missile defense shield. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reportedly declared at a NATO-Russia summit in 2008 that if Ukraine joined NATO Russia could annex the Ukrainian East and Crimea.

                In an interview with BBC in November 2014, Peskov demanded a “100% guarantee nobody would think about Ukraine joining NATO,” an appeal which was rejected two days later by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as such which would violate Ukrainian sovereignty.

                What Ukraine can offer NATO
                According to the Institute of World Policy Ukrainian think tank, Ukraine’s added value for the Euroatlantic security network consists of its experience in hybrid warfare, counter-propaganda, rapid military modernization and the impact of civil resilience, intelligence on the eastern border and the Black Sea region, and energy security resources. NATO officially gives Ukraine aspiring member status; membership action plan is next ambition -Euromaidan Press |

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                • Polish & Ukrainian intellectuals: confrontation between our nations leads to joint destruction
                  EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2018/03/13 - 22:47

                  EDITOR'S NOTE
                  Bringing the historical issues into the modern politics by the current Polish leadership has deteriorated relations between two friendly neighbor countries, Poland and Ukraine.

                  The confrontation culminated in the adopting the bill criminalizing the denial of crimes committed by “Ukrainian nationalists and members of Ukrainian formations collaborating with the German Third Reich.” The bill’s authors state that Ukraine is engaging in “historical politics” by seeking sources of its identity in “criminal formations and a criminal ideology of integral Ukrainian nationalism.”

                  Despite the political confrontation, the countries retain close economic ties, and up to 1.5 million Ukrainians currently work in Poland.

                  Representatives of Ukrainian and Polish civic societies made a joint appeal to fellow citizens and politicians of both countries, calling to return to politics based on a truthful dialog instead of “the dictate of only one side.” The activists remind that the confrontation between Poles and Ukrainians, often ignited by Russia, leads to the joint destruction of both nations.

                  Here we publish the full text of the appeal.
                  We, the representatives of many civic communities in Poland and Ukraine, desire to make known our protest against the continuation and escalation of confrontational politics in relations between Poland and Ukraine!

                  These politics ruin the endeavors of several generations of Poles and Ukrainians who strived for dialogue, cooperation, and friendship between us. The tragic intertwined history of Ukrainians and Poles in the last century, the bad memories of the policies of the Second Polish Republic regarding Polish citizens of Ukrainian heritage, the conflict, bloody for both sides, between 1939 and 1947, the anti-Ukrainian propaganda of Communist Poland and the USSR – all this should have divided us forever. But after 1989 and 1991 the impossible became possible!

                  At that time we jointly recognized that the collapse of communism, the rise of independent Ukraine and Poland, the painful lessons of the history of the 20th Century, and the possibility for the expansion of the European Union put before us new challenges.

                  But the expression, “There is no free Poland without a free Ukraine, and there is no free Ukraine without a free Poland” has acquired new significance: it proves our responsibility to the future of our countries and of all Europe – especially in overcoming our tragic historical heritage. We have recognized that the innumerable Polish and Ukrainian graves on both sides of the border could become a symbol of our shared memory, and not a basis for new conflict. We believe that they attest to the high price the people of both nations paid for freedom and independence.

                  We have our own burdensome history, but despite this, we strengthened a new partnership, a new quality of our relations! Above all, both societies, with the support of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and of politicians, began a dialogue on the basis of standards accepted in Western Europe after 1945. We searched for that which brings our nations together and unites them, and not that which divides us; we looked for a path out of the historical pitfalls and a road far from the politicization the works of historians and educators.

                  We appeal above all to our fellow citizens in Poland and in Ukraine, and to our politicians, since they themselves carry the final responsibility for relations between our countries:

                  In relations between Poland and Ukraine, we desire to return to the politics which depend on truthful dialog, and not on the dictates of only one side. We desire policies which appeal to both the present and the future! We will become conscious of those responsibilities which fall on our shoulders and of those opportunities which stand before us!

                  The experience of our nations, won in the previous centuries, teaches us that each confrontation between Poles and Ukrainians, often ignited by Russia, leads to our joint destruction!

                  Today’s Europe is threatened by the pressure of national egotism, and above all by Russian imperialism. In these conditions it would be better for us, Poles and Ukrainians, to fight these threats together! It falls to us to build the Europe of the 21st Century together!

                  Signatories from Ukraine:
                  Yurii Andrukhovych, Translator of Bruno Schultz
                  Prof. Yevhen Bystrytskyi, Professor at the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
                  Taras Vozniak, Political Scientist, editor of the independent cultural journal “”
                  Mykola Horbal, Dissident, Civic Activist
                  Yevhen Hlibovsytskyi, Founder of and expert from the company pro.mova
                  Prof. Yaroslav Hrytsak, Historian, Professor of the Ukrainian Catholic University
                  The Blessed Borys Gudziak, Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Volodymyr the Great in Paris for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland, and the President of the Ukrainian Catholic University.
                  Orest Drul, Editor of the Internet-Journal Zbruc
                  Yevhen Zakharov, Human Rights Activist, Member of the Activist Group “1st of December”
                  Oleksandr Zinchenko, Historian, Author
                  Yosyp Zisels, Acting Vice-President of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine, member of the Activist Group “1st of December”
                  Vakhtanh Kipiani, Journalist, Chief Editor of the project “Istorychna Pravda (Historical Truth)”
                  Heorhiy Kovalenko, Archpriest and Rector of the Open Orthodox University of the Holy Wisdom
                  Danylo Lubkivskyi, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (2014), Civic Activist
                  Rostyslav Luzhetskyi, Artist, Publisher
                  Andriy Liubka, Author
                  Yuriy Makarov, member of the Board of the National Public Tele-Radio Company
                  Myroslav Marynovych, Vice-Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, member of the Activist Group “1st of December”
                  Vitaliy Nakhmanovych, Historian, Acting Secretary of the Civil Committee for Honoring the Memory of the Victims of Babyn Yar.
                  Vitaliy Portnykov, Journalist, Co-Director of the Ukrainian-Polish Partnership Forum
                  Taras Prokhasko, Author
                  Oleh Repetskyi, General Director of the Komora Company
                  Mykola Riabchuk, Author and Publicist, President of the Ukrainian PEN Association
                  Nazar Stryhun, Actor, Director of the “Telniuk Sisters” project
                  Halia Telniuk, Singer, Poet
                  Lesia Telniuk, Composer, Singer
                  Leonid Finberh, Chief Editor of the “Spirit and Letters” publication of the Kyiv-Mohyla National University
                  Prof. Natalia Yakovenko, Historian, Professor at the Kyiv-Mohyla National University
                  Oksana Zabuzhko, Author

                  Signatories from Poland:
                  Edwin Bendyk, Author
                  Iza Chruślińska, Author, Civic Activist
                  Tomasz Dostatni, Dominican Priest, Author
                  Prof. Barbara Engelking, Sociologist at the Polish Academy of Sciences
                  Prof. Andrzej Friszke, Historian at the Polish Academy of Sciences
                  Prof. Irena Grudzińska-Gross, Historian of Literature at Princeton University
                  Agnieszka Holland, Director
                  Konstanty Gebert, Author
                  Krystyna Janda, Actress
                  Danuta Kuroń, Head of the Jacek Kuroń Education Foundation
                  Jarosław Kurski, Deputy Chief Editor of the Gazety Wyborczej newspaper
                  Prof. Andrzej Leder, Philosopher of Culture at the Polish Academy of Sciences
                  Prof. Andrzej Mencwel, Scientist of Culture at the University of Warsaw
                  Adam Michnik, Chief Editor of the Gazety Wyborczej newspaper
                  Andrzej Seweryn, Director of the Polish Theater of Warsaw
                  Sławomir Sierakowski, Sociologist, Chief Editor of the Krytyki Politycznej journal
                  Krzysztof Stanowski, Social Activist
                  Andrzej Stasiuk, Author
                  Monika Sznajderman, Cultural Anthropologist, Publisher
                  Olga Tokarczuk, Author
                  Prof. Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, Cultural Anthropologist, Polish Academy of Sciences
                  Petro Tyma, Historian, Head of the Association of Ukrainians in Poland
                  Prof. Anna Wolff-Powęska, Historian of Ideas at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan
                  Krystyna Zachwatowicz-Wajda, Artist, Cinematographer
                  Adam Zagajewski, Poet

                  Written and Published the 9th of March, 2018
                  Polish & Ukrainian intellectuals: confrontation between our nations leads to joint destruction -Euromaidan Press |

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                  • Manafort Asks U.S. Court To Dismiss Ukraine Lobbying Case
                    RADIO FREE EUROPE March 15, 2018 07:15 GMT

                    U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman asked a judge on March 14 to dismiss criminal charges he faces related to his foreign lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine's former pro-Russia president.

                    In a series of motions, attorneys for Paul Manafort attacked the case brought against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, saying Mueller exceeded his authority in prosecuting Manafort on criminal charges that date back more than a decade.

                    Manafort, 68, is accused of money laundering, tax fraud, and banking fraud connected to work he and his partner Richard Gates did for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's government from 2006 to 2014, when Yanukovych was ousted by pro-European Maidan street protests and fled to Russia.

                    Manafort's motion to dismiss was his first volley in a criminal case that exposes him to the possibility of several years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.

                    Manafort's lawyers argue that Mueller shouldn't be allowed to prosecute him since the allegations in the indictment predate the 2016 presidential election.

                    Mueller was appointed primarily to investigate connections between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign, but the U.S. special counsel law allows him to prosecute any crime uncovered by his investigation.

                    "It is a blank check the special counsel has cashed, repeatedly," Manafort's lawyers said.

                    The case against Manafort does "not focus in the slightest on alleged coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, or even Mr. Manafort's brief involvement in the campaign," they said.

                    Instead, the indictments are focused on foreign consulting work for Yanukovych that ended in 2014 and on years-old bank accounts and tax filings, they said.

                    Lawyers for the Justice Department have argued that Mueller is well within his authority.

                    Motions to dismiss are commonly filed in U.S. criminal cases but are rarely granted by the courts.
                    Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

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                    • NATO Chief: Not Seeking Cold War With Russia, But Will Defend Allies
                      RADIO FREE EUROPE March 15, 2018 16:40 GMT

                      BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the West is not looking to start a new Cold War or an arms race with Russia, but he reiterated that the military alliance will defend “all allies against any threat.”

                      “We do not want a new Cold War,” Stoltenberg told reporters as he presented NATO's annual report on March 15. “And we do not want to be dragged into a new arms race.... It is expensive, it is risky, it is in nobody’s interest.

                      "But let there be no doubt. NATO will defend all allies against any threat,” he added.

                      His comments come as tensions between the West and Russia surge to new heights in the face of allegations that Moscow was behind a nerve-agent attack against a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury.

                      Britain says the chemical used in the attempted murder was identified as part of a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military known as Novichok.

                      The leaders of France, Germany, the United States, and Britain on March 15 issued a statement saying that Russian responsibility is the "only plausible explanation" for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

                      The statement called the attack an assault on British sovereignty and "a breach of international law."

                      The NATO chief said alliance officials had been briefed by British national security leaders and “we have no reason to doubt the findings and the assessment made by the United Kingdom.”

                      Stoltenberg said that Britain could count on "NATO’s solidarity,” although he added that the country has not sought to activate NATO’s mutual-defense clause, Article 5, which requires all members to come to the aid of any other member under attack.

                      “All allies agree that the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements. This is unacceptable. It has no place in a civilized world," he said.

                      He added that the North Atlantic Council addressed ‘this horrific incident” and that the allies called on Russia to answer Britain’s questions.

                      Stoltenberg said the Salisbury attack has taken place against the backdrop of a “reckless pattern" of Russian behavior, citing "the illegal annexation of Crimea and military support to separatists in eastern Ukraine” and the Russian “military presence in Moldova and Georgia against these countries’ will.”

                      He also referred to “meddling” in Montenegro and elsewhere in the Western Balkans and attempts to “subvert democratic elections and institutions.”

                      The NATO chief also spoke of Moscow’s general military buildup “from the north of Europe to the Middle East."

                      “Russia has been modernizing its armed forces over the last decade...developing new weapons, including with nuclear capabilities,” he said.

                      Stoltenberg said NATO will continue to develop strong defensive capabilities, even as it presses for global arms control.

                      “We will maintain strong conventional forces, as well as a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. At the same time, we will continue to strive for effective arms control,” he said.

                      Meanwhile, Stoltenberg said he expects that the NATO summit scheduled for July will recognize Georgia for the progress it has made with its reform efforts and for its contributions to NATO operations, particularly in Afghanistan.

                      At a 2008 summit in Bucharest, NATO agreed that Georgia and Ukraine will both eventually become NATO members but no firm date has been set, although the membership perspective for the two countries has been reconfirmed at every summit ever since.

                      With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels

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                      • Putin Thanks Residents Of Annexed Crimea On Campaign Visit
                        RADIO FREE EUROPE Last Updated: March 14, 2018 21:39 GM

                        Russian President Vladimir Putin has thanked the residents of the annexed Crimean Peninsula, saying a 2014 referendum that led Moscow to seize the Black Sea region was "real democracy."

                        Putin made the comments on March 14, four days ahead of Russia's presidential election, in a move that Ukraine's president called an "extremely dangerous provocation" and which drew sharp criticism from the U.S. State Department.

                        The March 18 Russian presidential vote coincides with the fourth anniversary of the Russia's illegal annexation of the Ukrainian region.

                        "With your decision you restored historical justice," he told a crowd in the historic naval port of Sevastopol.

                        "With your decision, you showed the whole world what is real, rather than sham democracy, you came to the referendum and made a decision, you voted for your future and the future of your children," he said.

                        Before arriving in Crimea, Putin visited the construction site of a bridge that is meant to link the peninsula with Russian territories across the Kerch Strait. Construction of the bridge started in 2016.

                        Putin, who is widely popular and enjoys glowing coverage on state-run TV, is expected to easily win over eight other candidates on the ballot in the March 18 election.

                        Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, meanwhile, called Putin's visit to Crimea "an extremely dangerous provocation." He urged the European Union to impose sanctions against "those who organized Russian presidential election events on a Ukrainian territory."

                        The U.S. State Department on March 14 blasted Putin's comments and reaffirmed its support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

                        "Four years ago this week, Russia held an illegitimate, fabricated 'referendum' in Ukraine in a futile attempt to legitimize its purported annexation of Ukrainian territory," Heather Nauert, the acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, said in a statement.

                        "In light of Putin's remarks, it is important to call attention to the illegitimacy of the staged 'referendum,' but also to the tremendous human costs the Russian government has imposed on the people of Crimea."

                        "Russian occupation authorities have subjected Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, pro-Ukrainian activists, civil society members, and independent journalists to politically motivated prosecution and ongoing repression, while methodically suppressing nongovernmental organizations and independent media outlets," she added.

                        Putin's government seized control of Crimea in March 2014 after months of street protests erupted in violent clashes in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. The violence led to then-President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country.

                        Russia sent troops without insignia to Crimea and orchestrated the takeover of government agencies, before holding the referendum on March 16, a move that was denounced by the UN Security Council and General Assembly. The referendum was deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries.

                        Russian lawmakers last year moved the date of the presidential election from March 11 to March 18.

                        With reporting by AFP, Interfax, TASS, and UNIAN

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                        • 'War Hero' Savchenko Accused Of Terror Plot, Levels Own Accusations In Ukraine
                          RADIO FREE EUROPE Last Updated: March 15, 2018 14:52 GMT

                          KYIV -- Lawmaker and former Russian captive Nadia Savchenko has traded incendiary accusations with senior Ukrainian authorities and faces possible arrest over what Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko alleged was a detailed plan for a devastating "terrorist" attack on parliament.

                          Savchenko, a former military aviator who spent 22 months in Russian prisons after being detained by separatists in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, claimed on March 15 that lawmaker Serhiy Pashinskyy played a prominent role in a deadly crackdown on pro-European demonstrators during antigovernment Maidan protests that toppled Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

                          Speaking to journalists in front of the Security Service (SBU) headquarters in Kyiv, before she was questioned as a witness in a case against a man arrested last week on suspicion of plotting to kill President Petro Poroshenko and other officials in a series of armed attacks, Savchenko also asserted that Lutsenko covered up what she alleged was current parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy's involvement in sniper shootings that authorities say killed dozens of people during the crackdown on the Maidan protests.

                          However, Savchenko said later that she meant to accuse not Parubiy but Pashinskyy, and publicly apologized to the parliament speaker for "a slip of the tongue."

                          Lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada swiftly responded by kicking Savchenko out of the single-chamber parliament's national security and defense committee. Lutsenko, meanwhile, told parliament that Savchenko had planned an attack using grenades, mortars and automatic weapons.

                          Investigators have "irrefutable proof that Nadia Savchenko...personally planned, personally recruited, and personally gave instructions about how to commit a terrorist act here, in this chamber," Lutsenko said. He asked the Rada to strip her of her parliamentary immunity so that she could be arrested.

                          Lutsenko claimed that Savchenko's plan included destroying the Rada's roof cupola and killing surviving lawmakers with assault-rifle fire.
                          ALSO READ: The Many Faces Of Nadia Savchenko

                          Savchenko became a national hero and was greeted with fanfare when she returned to Ukraine in a prisoner swap with Russia in May 2016, but has faced mounting criticism since then. She has drawn fire for holding talks with the Russia-backed separatists without the government's consent.

                          In January 2017, lawmakers called for an investigation into what they said were anti-Ukrainian actions after Savchenko suggested that Kyiv would have to relax its claim on Crimea, which Russia seized after Yanukovych's ouster in 2014, in order to regain control of the territory held by the separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

                          More than 100 protesters were killed in the 2013-14 demonstrations, centered on Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnost (Independence Square) that preceded Yanukovych's flight to Russia. Forty-eight of them were allegedly gunned down in February 2014 by snipers who Ukrainian authorities claim received direct orders from the Moscow-friendly Yanukovych.

                          In her remarks on March 15, Savchenko said that she saw Parubiy, who was on the antigovernment side at the time, "leading snipers into the Hotel Ukraine," which looms over the Maidan. "I saw a blue minibus and armed people coming out of it, I have said earlier [to investigators] who those people were. Those people are now lawmakers."

                          She said the deaths on the Maidan will never be thoroughly investigated, asserting that the government that came to power after Yanukovych's downfall does not want it to happen.

                          Savchenko also accused the government of "giving up Crimea" and said it bore responsibility for the deaths of Ukrainian soldiers in the ongoing conflict in the east, where more than 10,300 combatants and civilians have been killed in the war between Kyiv's forces and the separatists since April 2014.

                          Lutsenko's accusation came after Savchenko reported to SBU headquarters for questioning as a witness in the case against Volodymyr Ruban, who has been a key negotiator in prisoner exchanges with the Russia-backed separatists.

                          Ruban was arrested last week and charged with plotting to kill Poroshenko and other top officials, after he was detained while crossing into government-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine -- allegedly with large amounts of weapons and ammunition hidden in a shipment of furniture.

                          Investigators claim Ruban planned to use mortars, grenade launchers, guns, and explosives to carry out armed attacks on the residences of statesmen and political leaders" including Poroshenko, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and National Security and Defense Council chief Oleksandr Turchynov with the intention of killing them.

                          Ruban, whose Center for the Release of POWs has been involved in prisoner exchanges between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists since 2014, maintains his innocence and says he was framed.

                          In the past, Ruban was involved in the activities of Ukrainian Choice, an organization that many in Ukraine consider to be pro-Kremlin. The group is headed by Viktor Medvedchuk, who has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has played a major behind-the-scenes role in exchanges of captives.

                          Savchenko has been involved in prisoner exchanges in the past.

                          With reporting by Reuters

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                          • Ukrainian Prisoner-Exchange Organizer Accused Of Plotting To Kill Poroshenko
                            RADIO FREE EUROPE Last Updated: March 09, 2018 15:10 GMT

                            KYIV -- Ukrainian authorities have arrested a key negotiator in prisoner exchanges with Russia-backed separatists and accused him of plotting to kill President Petro Poroshenko and other top officials.

                            A Kyiv judge laid out the accusations against Volodymyr Ruban at a hearing on March 9, less than 24 hours after he was detained while crossing into government-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine -- allegedly with large amounts of weapons and ammunition hidden in a shipment of furniture.

                            The judge said that investigators claimed Ruban planned to use mortars, grenade launchers, guns, and explosives to carry out "armed attacks on the residences of statesmen and political leaders," including Poroshenko, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and National Security and Defense Council chief Oleksandr Turchynov "with the intention of killing them."

                            Ruban told the court he was innocent and suggested he had been set up, saying he was "not aware" that there were weapons hidden in the furniture. The judge ordered him held in pretrial custody for two months on suspicion of plotting terrorist acts and smuggling weapons.

                            Nadia Savchenko, a military aviator who was jailed in Russia for 22 months after being detained by separatists in the conflict zone in the east and is now a lawmaker, came to the courthouse to support Ruban.

                            After the hearing, Poroshenko tweeted that the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Vasyl Hrytsak would oversee the investigation.

                            Hrytsak later told reporters that Ruban was suspected of plotting a series of terrorist attacks in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine in coordination with the leader of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's Donetsk region, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, and the separatists' tax chief, Aleksandr Timofeyev.

                            "We have managed to prevent wide-scale terrorist acts in Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, as well as certain politicians, officials and lawmakers, could become victims of those acts," Hrytsak said, adding that "there is no doubt that the plot was ordered by curators from Moscow."

                            Heorhiy Tuka, Ukraine's deputy minister for temporarily occupied territories, alleged on Facebook earlier that Ruban had tried to smuggle a large amount of weapons and ammunition from the area held by Russia-backed separatists.

                            According to Tuka, Ruban pretended to be an ordinary citizen trying to move from the separatist-held area into government-controlled territory.

                            Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko said that Ruban was apprehended "not by chance," hinting that the SBU had been following his activities for some time.

                            Ruban's Center For The Release Of POWs has been involved in prisoner exchanges between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists since 2014, when the conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted.

                            In the past, Ruban was involved in the activities of Ukrainian Choice, an organization that many in Ukraine consider pro-Kremlin.

                            The group is headed by Viktor Medvedchuk, who has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has played a major behind-the-scenes role in exchanges of captives.

                            In February 2017, Ukraine's Border Service and the SBU accused Ruban of violating regulations for entering areas under the control of the Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

                            The war in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 10,300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands since April 2014, when it began after Russia fomented unrest following the ouster of Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych.

                            Yanukovych was driven from power by massive pro-European protests that erupted after he scrapped plans to sign a landmark deal with the European Union and tighten ties with Russia instead.

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                            • Russian Mercenaries: Vagner Commanders Describe Life Inside The 'Meat Grinder'
                              RADIO FREE EUROPE March 14, 2018 21:06 GMT
                              Sergei Khazov-Cassia & Robert Coalson

                              The Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria say they are not in the country for the money or to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

                              "[Syrians] can't stand Assad," one Russian mercenary commander told RFE/RL. "Really. Only a tiny percentage of the population there supports him and the rest oppose him. Only [Russian President Vladimir] Putin supports him. Russia supports him -- no one else."

                              There is a bigger motivation, the mercenary claimed. "If you are fighting under a Russian flag, with a Russian weapon, even if you are eating moldy food and are 10,000 kilometers from home, you are nonetheless fighting for Russia," he said.

                              "There is no Syrian war," he added. "There is no Ukrainian war. There is only a war between the Russian Federation and the United States."

                              Early last month, an unknown number of Russian mercenaries -- some reports say a dozen, others as many as 200 -- were killed by U.S. air strikes during fighting in Syria. The men were hired by a private military contracting firm called ChVK Vagner, which has been sending Russians to fight in Syria since 2015.

                              RFE/RL has been able to speak -- on condition of anonymity -- with three Vagner commanders who have fought for the company both in Syria and, before that, in support of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Together, the three men -- all veterans of the Soviet Army -- paint a grim picture of the campaign in Syria and of the men who are fighting there.

                              The first Russian mercenaries were sent to Syria by an organization called Slavic Corps in 2013 -- 267 men, according to an investigation by the St. Petersburg website Their official mission was to guard oil facilities and pipelines, but they were soon caught up in the country's civil war and suffered heavy losses. When the survivors returned to Moscow in October 2013, their leaders were arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for illegal mercenary activity.

                              Nonetheless, the idea of a role for mercenaries apparently took hold somewhere among the Russian authorities. In 2014, as Moscow was annexing Ukraine's Crimea region and stoking a separatist war in eastern Ukraine, a Soviet and Russian army officer named Dmitry Utkin and others began forming paramilitary units to fight in Ukraine's Donbas.

                              "In 2014, [Ukrainian separatist military commander Igor Girkin a.k.a.] Strelkov was fighting around Slovyansk and a lot of people wanted to go and help him," one of the Vagner commanders said.

                              'A Cruel Fellow'
                              The mercenary groups worked hand-in-hand with the Russian military. They trained at a military facility near Rostov-on-Don and were commanded by experienced officers from the special services and the Defense Ministry. By June 2014, the first groups of about 250 mercenaries each had crossed the border into Ukraine.

                              "They were basically company-sized tactical groups," one commander said. "There were no private military contractors then, but people were paid on time."

                              One of the groups sent to Ukraine was headed by Utkin, who fought under the nom de guerre Vagner, after 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner.

                              "Vagner is a cruel fellow," one of the Vagner commanders told RFE/RL. "He's no fool." The man added that Vagner has a swastika tattooed on his shoulder, wears a helmet with horns, and practices a form of paganism, a description that RFE/RL could not confirm.

                              The Syrian story of the Vagner force began in 2015. Now there are several Russian private military contracting companies working in the country, but only the Vagner troops are said to engage in combat operations.

                              RFE/RL's sources estimated that there are about 2,000 Vagner fighters in Syria, although other media reports put the figure at 4,000. In addition, the Vagner troops fight together with a unit called Karpaty, which is made up primarily of about 300 Cossacks with Ukrainian citizenship.

                              Including Russian military forces, there are some 8,000 Russians supporting Assad in Syria now, the commanders say. "There were 6,000, but they announced a draw-down and reduced it to 8,000," one commander quipped.

                              The five Wagner companies and the Karpaty company work under Syrian command in close coordination with the Russian military.

                              "Every company has a connection to [Vagner] headquarters and there is an officer of the Russian military command there," one commander said. "He coordinates the air cover where an operation is under way. In general, the coordination is very precise. Sometimes it is a thing of beauty to see how perfectly the aviation and artillery support works out."

                              'Zones Of Influence'
                              Vagner forces do not carry out full-scale military operations, the sources said, but rather "expand zones of influence."

                              "They take territory under control -- as a rule, oil and gas fields -- and then guard these territories," a commander said. "They are paid for this.... But it is impossible to control an oil field if there are hostile fighters 500 meters away, so they have to force them out."

                              Officially, the Vagner mercenaries sign contracts for civilian work in oil and gas fields.

                              Mercenaries can earn 150,000 rubles ($2,650) a month, plus a bonus of up to 100 percent for completing a three-month tour. In three months, a mercenary can make nearly a million rubles. A commander can earn about three times as much. But a fighter who changes his mind is sent back to the supply port to unload crates at 1,000 rubles a day.

                              The commanders RFE/RL spoke with estimated that some 400 Russians have been killed in Syria since 2015. Not all the killed mercenaries, they said, are returned to Russia.

                              "There is a rumor that Vagner is a so-called meat-grinder project," one of the commanders said. "What is to be done with those who fought in Donbas? With the idiots from the first wave who are real ideologues? These are scary people who could catalyze society. They can cause trouble like yeast in bread. But in Syria, you can help the interests of the country and get rid of some yeast at the same time. That's what some people are saying. And probably there is something to it."

                              In the early days of the operation, the mercenaries were well supplied, with, albeit used, Russian military equipment, including T-90 and T-72 tanks and various armored vehicles.

                              One commander remembers unloading crates of 120-millimeter mortar shells at the port of Tartus. The crates were labeled "Use: 1986." You'd grab a crate, one of the commanders recalled, and the handles would come off in your hands as the box disintegrated.

                              In 2016, the commanders claimed, some disagreement between Vagner patron and close Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu took place that resulted in much poorer conditions for the mercenaries.

                              "They took away the tanks and the weapons," one commander said. "They took back everything they had given earlier. Now the Vagner forces fight with Syrian weapons."

                              'War Without Ceremony'
                              Even the training ground in Russia where the Vagner mercenaries prepare is now stripped bare. But one of the Vagner commanders did not see that as a problem. "War will teach them," he said dryly.

                              The mercenaries now are paid by the Syrian government, which transfers the funds to Prigozhin-controlled structures in St. Petersburg.

                              The mercenaries have little respect for their Syrian comrades in arms, the commanders said.

                              The Syrians "are afraid of Islamic State," one said. "Say, for example, you go on the attack and take some high ground. You hand it over to the Syrians, but in the morning they don't have it anymore. IS is back there. And we have to take the hill again."

                              "I asked one translator, 'How come your boys don't want to fight?'" he said. "He told me that many of them had been killed and it is necessary for some of them to remain and to [have intercourse] with girls so that there will be some children."


                              The Vagner fighters know that they mustn't be taken prisoner. And their IS foes know it, too.

                              "It is the kind of war without ceremony," one commander said. "Everyone knows perfectly well that being captured means death by torture."

                              "I have specialists who remove eyes," he added. "They take a spoon and dig around up and down until the eyeballs are just dangling there."

                              The Vagner commanders predicted the demand for their services would only grow as the "war between the Russian Federation and the United States" continued.

                              "There are many fights ahead," one commander said. "Soon it will be in Libya. Vagner is already fighting in Sudan."

                              "Putin just explained to everyone that they'd better get ready," he added, referring to Putin's state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly on March 1. "It was a good speech and it is about time someone told them, 'enough.' I agree with it completely -- we can't play defense forever. Such a world power [as Russia] and a bunch of gays are going to tell us how things should be?"

                              "If we have to fight with America, we will win," he said. "They don't know how to fight. As Putin said, you can invent all sorts of missiles, but you can't invent people like we have. Our people -- they know how to sacrifice themselves."

                              Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service special correspondent Sergei Khazov-Cassia.

                              æ, !

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