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Ukraine munitions blasts prompt mass evacuations

Some 20,000 people are being evacuated after a series of explosions at a massive arms depot in eastern Ukraine described by officials as sabotage.

The base in Balakliya, near Kharkiv, is around 100km (60 miles) from fighting against Russian-backed separatists.

The dump is used to store thousands of tonnes of ammunition including missiles and artillery weapons.

Rescue teams are overseeing a huge evacuation effort for people living in the city and nearby villages.

The total area of the dump spans more than 350 hectares, the military says.

Everyone within a 10km (6 miles) radius of the dump is being evacuated, the Interfax news agency quoted an aide to President Petro Poroshenko as saying.

Munitions from the depot are used to supply military units in the conflict zone in nearby Luhansk and Donetsk, reports say.

The authorities are investigating various ways the explosions may have been caused, Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said, including the possibility of an explosive device being dropped from a drone.

A drone was reported to have been used an earlier attempt to set the facility on fire in December 2015.

Mr Poltorak said that there were no reports that civilians or serviceman had been killed or injured in the latest incident and that airspace had been closed within a 50km (31 miles) radius of Balakliya.

More than 9,700 people have died in the conflict which erupted in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula. Pro-Russian rebels later launched an insurgency in the east.

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39363416

 

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Gunman in Ukraine kills Putin foe in attack denounced as ‘state terrorism

A former Russian member of parliament who defected to Ukraine and began sharply criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin was gunned down Thursday in downtown Kiev in an apparent contract killing.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the murder of Denis Voronenkov, a former member of Russia’s Communist Party who fled to Kiev in October 2016, an act of state terrorism by Russia.”

...

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/gunman-in-ukraine-kills-putin-foe-in-attack-denounced-as-state-terrorism/2017/03/23/72ddd20e-0fc7-11e7-ab07-07d9f521f6b5_story.html?utm_term=.87859fbeeca3

 

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...In an interview with the Ukraine-based Censor.net online news portal, Voronenkov compared the present-day Russia with Nazi Germany -- saying that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) controls everything in the country, including the State Duma.

Voronenkov also said he had testified against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was toppled by violent pro-European protests in Kyiv in February 2014.

"Yanukovych is a puppet. He resigned himself and his request [for the Kremlin] to send Russian troops [to Ukraine] was unlawful," Voronenkov said.

He also said that Russia had gone "crazy on its pseudo-patriotic madness."

"Crimea has united Russia around the idea to steal something from a neighbor," Voronenkov said.

Voronenkov and his wife, Maria Maksakova, who is also a former Russian lawmaker, left Russia for Ukraine in October 2016 after the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office refused to launch a probe against his alleged involvement in an illegal property seizure in Moscow. The probe was recommended by the federal Investigative Committee.

Voronenkov says he obtained Ukrainian citizenship in December.

 

http://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russia-former-duma-deputy-lambasts/28309734.html

- Voronenkov was linking Yaukovych to Putin and events in Ukraine in one of the world's most important corruption investigations in history. Ukrainians are fighting for the rule of law.

 

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Russia starts large-scale exercises in Crimea

Russia has started large-scale exercises with its airborne forces and live ammunition at the Opuk test site in the annexed Crimea, according to the website of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

More than 2,500 paratroopers are taking part in the exercises, and almost 600 pieces of military equipment – subdivisions of the Novorossiysk (mountain) airborne assault division, the Kamyshinsk and Ulan-Ude air assault brigades, some of the forces and equipment from the Black Sea Fleet, the 4th army of the air force, and the air defense of the Southern Military District.

“For the first time in the history of the Russian army, within the context of an exercise three combined airborne forces were simultaneously alerted and partially redeployed to the Crimea with normal weapons and equipment,” the report notes.

In total, more than 2,500 paratroopers are taking part in the exercise at the Opuk test site, and nearly 600 pieces of military equipment are being used.

In September, the large-scale “Zapad 2017” exercises will be conducted at various test sites in Russia and Belarus. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it is not yet willing to give NATO information about the upcoming military exercises.

 

http://uawire.org/news/russia-starts-large-scale-exercises-in-crimea

- Several reports on this, but the exercises have been been all encompassing - naval, air, land.

 

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Didn't know where else to put this, but since it's Russia related:

"Russia may be helping supply Taliban insurgents: US General"

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The top U.S. general in Europe said on Thursday that he had seen Russian influence on Afghan Taliban insurgents growing and raised the possibility that Moscow was helping supply the militants, whose reach is expanding in southern Afghanistan.

"I've seen the influence of Russia of late - increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban," Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, who is also NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

He did not elaborate on what kinds of supplies might be headed to the Taliban or how direct Russia's role might be.

Moscow has been critical of the United States over its handling of the war in Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union fought a bloody and disastrous war of its own in the 1980s.

But Russian officials have denied they provide aid to the insurgents, who are contesting large swaths of territory and inflicting heavy casualties, and say their limited contacts are aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

According to U.S. estimates, government forces control less than 60 percent of Afghanistan, with almost half the country either contested or under control of the insurgents, who are seeking to reimpose Islamic law after their 2001 ouster.

Underlying the insurgents' growing strength, Taliban fighters have captured the strategic district of Sangin in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, officials said on Thursday.

The top U.S. commander in the country, General John Nicholson, said last month that Afghanistan was in a "stalemate" and that thousands more international troops would be needed to boost the existing NATO-led training and advisory mission.

Scaparrotti said the stakes were high. More than 1,800 American troops have been killed in fighting since the war began in 2001.

"NATO and the United States, in my view, must win in Afghanistan," he said.

Taliban officials have told Reuters that the group has had significant contacts with Moscow since at least 2007, adding that Russian involvement did not extend beyond "moral and political support."

 

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8 minutes ago, Don't Toews Me said:

Didn't know where else to put this, but since it's Russia related:

"Russia may be helping supply Taliban insurgents: US General"

 

I saw this, as I said before there are so many war threads... but there is an Afghan war thread.

Yeah Russia is certainly expanding.

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"How the Sanctions Are Helping Putin"

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Donald Trump just can’t seem to make up his mind about Russia. After hinting repeatedly during the campaign and transition that he might lift the international sanctions that were imposed after Moscow annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, as president, he’s started to show signs of doubt.

“It just simply all depends on whether or not we see the kind of changes in posture by Russia,” Vice President Pence told ABC News last month, saying the administration wanted to work with Moscow “on common interests” such as the destruction of ISIS. Other officials, such as U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, have taken a notably harder line, declaring that “The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military intervention.”

Proponents of the sanctions insist that they must stay in place until Russian President Vladimir Putin relinquishes his claim to Crimea and stops meddling in Ukraine, the demands for the latter laid out in the Minsk Agreement signed in Belarus in September 2014, and updated in February 2015. They worry that Trump’s eagerness for a deal may allow Putin to get the sanctions lifted in exchange for some other concession, possibly a new arms-control treaty, as the U.S. president has hinted—and that therefore Moscow will evade accountability for violating a clear norm of international behaviour. Russia, for its part, does not show any eagerness to make progress on the issue and leaves the West alone in deciding how to proceed.

Western observers and Kremlin spokesmen do agree on one thing, however—that the sanctions are the major cause of Russia’s deepening economic woes. But this overlooks one salient fact: The sanctions might not actually be hurting Russia all that much if at all.

The economic data is certainly sobering. Russian per capita GDP has shrunk to 2007 levels. By the fall of 2016, Russia’s dollar-equivalent GDP was 40 percent below the 2013 level—a 15-percent decline in real ruble prices. The trouble is that this decline has had very little to do with Western sanctions, whose impact has been primarily political, rather than economic.

The truth is that Western sanctions focus on a limited number of Russian business such as construction giant Stroytransgaz and Bank SMP, which belong to Putin’s judo trainer Arkady Rotenberg; the state-owned energy firm Rosneft, which is controlled by former Putin’s longtime aide Igor Sechin; and well-known defense behemoths. These businesses are no longer able to borrow on international markets and are prohibited from owning assets in Western countries. Western sanctions also prevent a small group of Russians from traveling to those countries or doing business with them, and forbid the transfer to Russia of dual-use military technology and advanced oil exploration equipment. We are talking about not more than 10 percent of the Russian economy; but more importantly, as the Russian banking system has excess liquidity, all sanctioned companies can easily borrow as much as they need from Russian banks.

Russia responded to the Western sanctions by launching sanctions of its own, mainly banning food imports. This has deprived the Russian middle class of delicacies such as parmesan, prosciutto, Norwegian salmon and Greek oranges.

Yet sanctions do not stop Russia from being an active global economic actor. It is still a member of the WTO and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Russia keeps its reserves in the most liquid financial instruments and currencies. There are no restrictions on its currency and foreign trade transactions. Its sovereign debt yields are low, with no sign of potential rise in the near future. Russia and Russian companies are not singled out for hostile economic measures such as protectionism or anti-dumping tariffs.

Restrictions on borrowing could not hurt a country that was already reducing its levels of foreign debt for several years before 2014. From 2015 to 2016, Russian oil and gas production was increasing faster than any of the Gulf countries or even the U.S, regardless of the technology ban. And Russia still exports $14 billion in weapons per year, making it the third-biggest arms exporter in the world after the United States and China.

Ultimately, one major factor determines the health of the Russian economy: the price of oil. As oil prices have stabilized, the Russian economy has mostly recovered and switched into slow recession mode. It’s no surprise then, that the World Bank currently estimates that sanctions are shaving off no more than half a percentage point of Russian GDP. Even that estimate is probably way too high.

A much tougher Western sanctions regime could have inflicted pain on Russia and made it change course. The Russian elite is heavily dependent on the West, as its chief purchaser of oil and gas, holder of its assets and educator of its children. Targeted measures, such as a ban on the sale and service of passenger or cargo aircraft, could have brought Russia to its knees in months. If gold and currency reserves had been frozen, then Russia would have been in deep trouble in about three to five years’ time.

Sanctions do make a big impact in one area—Russian domestic politics. The government-controlled media—which is most of it—blames Russia’s current economic decline on the United States and European Union. President Putin declared on Oct. 12, 2016, speaking at the VTB investment forum in Moscow: “We often repeat that so-called sanctions do not have a significant influence on us. They do, and the major threat is the ban on technology transfer.” For Putin, the sanctions are useful in helping him alienate the public from any Western-backed opposition leaders or from those who still proclaim that the West is a model for Russia’s future development.

Sanctions have also raised the implied risks of holding assets offshore and limited the capacity for Putin and other members of the Russian elite to invest (or hide their money) abroad. That, in turn, has given the president tremendous leverage in controlling his team.

Meanwhile, a handful of Russian oligarchs and Kremlin-connected businessmen—chiefly those who run state-owned firms—have successfully exploited sanctions to get sweetheart deals and control over new monopolies for domestic products that are unfailingly inferior, over-priced and unreliable. Billions of rubles started to flee from the budget into pockets of closest Putin’s cronies, who promised to quickly develop Russian facsimiles of Windows software, iPhones, GPS, computers, civil aircraft, and so on. The Ministry of Defense has already placed a sizable order for “Russian iPads,” costing $6,000 each. Gennadiy Timchenko, another old Putin friend, has monopolized the salmon trade, raising prices by over 200 percent and turning his chronically lossmaking fish company into a super-lucrative business.

Ultimately sanctions have become a trap for the West. Keeping them in place gives Putin an additional source of popular support and a ready-made excuse for all his economic mistakes. Yet lifting them would be a clear sign to the Russian regime that it has prevailed in a battle-to-the-death with the West. And for President Trump, any hint at this point of pro-Russian sentiment would add more ammunition to Democrats who say he’s suspiciously close to Moscow.

Having found itself in a lose-lose situation, the West will most probably do nothing—keeping sanctions in place and freezing the situation. The Kremlin will be happy. Russia won’t stop meddling in Ukraine or give up Crimea. Die-hard supporters of the president will keep walking the streets of Moscow carrying banners saying, “Putin outplayed everybody again”—and they will probably be right.

Thoughts? The guy who wrote it, Andrey Movchan, seems legit from the little I've researched about him. Then again, I don't do a lot of deep research into Russia's economy, so I'm not in a position to know.

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On 3/28/2017 at 11:59 PM, Don't Toews Me said:
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...Ultimately sanctions have become a trap for the West. Keeping them in place gives Putin an additional source of popular support and a ready-made excuse for all his economic mistakes. Yet lifting them would be a clear sign to the Russian regime that it has prevailed in a battle-to-the-death with the West. And for President Trump, any hint at this point of pro-Russian sentiment would add more ammunition to Democrats who say he’s suspiciously close to Moscow.

Having found itself in a lose-lose situation, the West will most probably do nothing—keeping sanctions in place and freezing the situation. The Kremlin will be happy. Russia won’t stop meddling in Ukraine or give up Crimea. Die-hard supporters of the president will keep walking the streets of Moscow carrying banners saying, “Putin outplayed everybody again”—and they will probably be right.

Thoughts? The guy who wrote it, Andrey Movchan, seems legit from the little I've researched about him. Then again, I don't do a lot of deep research into Russia's economy, so I'm not in a position to know.

Who knows, we have certainly heard the argument that the sanctions are brilliant as crafted because they target the true powers in Russia.

The thing about Russia and it's weird state-capitalist-mafia-military-FSB market hybrid is that they are desigend from the decades of Soviet rule and collapse to operate illegally anyway.

They also flipped the sanctions regime on its head by simply making it an excuse for protectionism.

One way of looking at it is that Russia drove into Ukraine (this is per Putin) out of fear it would turn NATO, thus the idea that traditional Russian territory would be under the hands of foreigners seemed real, and this was provoked by Maidan, and that was provoked by the EU.... so now Putin and his coterie seek to destroy both NATO and EU. However sanctions cuts off Russia, encourages its worst historic tendencies, and energized its nationalist and expansionist impulses, while also giving the regime justification to declare Cold War 2.0 (which it did) which it very much wanted, because they associate the Cold War with an era of domestic control and national cohesion.

Edited by SaintsInDome2006

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Rally in Sevastopol against local authorities decisions on land, plan - to write a petition to Putin

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Occupants intend to seize land from Crimea residents

SIMFEROPOL / AQMESCJIT (QHA) -

The occupation authorities in Crimea intend to take away real estate titles, granted on the peninsula under the legitimate Ukrainian authorities, according to the report of the Russian edition Kommersant.

The publication says that documents confirming ownership of land in the Crimea or the right to use them can be recognized as invalid.

According to self-proclaimed officials, these documents do not meet the requirements of the Russian Federation legislation. As an example, there are beaches and parks, which, according to the occupants, are used for other purposes. The initiative was proposed by the "Head" of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov.

"Authorities" plan to clear most of the places with questionable documentation until 2021. According to preliminary data, the approximate cost of the sites to be withdrawn exceeds $ 1 billion.

According to the occupation authorities, tens of thousands of documents on property in the Crimea were previously issued bypassing Ukrainian laws.

http://qha.com.ua/en/politics/occupants-intend-to-seize-land-from-crimea-residents/140737/

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Crimean Prosecutors Seize 10 Million Square Meters of Land

A total of more than $1 billion in real estate and other assets has been seized by the new Crimean government since the annexation last year, the New York Times reported in January.

Crimean prosecutors have seized nearly 10 million square meters of land that they claim was illegally privatized before Russia annexed the territory from Ukraine last year, the region's chief prosecutor said.

"More than 960 hectares [9.6 million square meters] of land that was illegally given away has been returned to the government," Crimean Prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya said late last week, news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Property ownership has long been contentious in Crimea, a region riddled with corruption since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The new authorities claim their actions were necessary in order to undo the damage done over decades by corrupt Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs.

But some of those whose land has been seized tell a different story. An investigation by the Associated Press late last year found that thousands of businesses and agencies had lost property to the new authorities, often with little legal justification and at times by force.

A total of more than $1 billion in real estate and other assets has been seized by the new Crimean government since the annexation last year, the New York Times reported in January.

- Crimeans are awaking to find that their Russian masters have legalized theft of property.

Edited by SaintsInDome2006
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Although most observers recognize that Moscow is treating the Minsk Accords as a dead letter, few of them have focused on a more serious aspect of the Kremlin’s current policy in Ukraine: its effort to seize Mariupol and thus gain a land corridor to Russian-occupied Crimea, Leonid Polyakov says.

The former Ukrainian deputy defense minister and current head of the experts’ council at Kyiv’s Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies tells Radio Liberty’s Kseniya Kirillova that continuing Russian attacks in the direction of Mariupol clearly have that as their goal.

But Mariupol, a city of more than half a million residents, is important for Moscow for other reasons as well: it is a major transportation hub with an airport and deep water port that would allow the movement of goods and services into and out of that region, and it has three major metallurgy plants that produce military goods Russia needs.

At the same time, Polyakov continues, Moscow has other reasons to renew fighting along the demarcation line. It wants to push Ukrainian forces back from the administrative centers of the regions it occupies. It wants to keep morale among its forces high. And it has not given up plans for “occupying new territories” or for covering the covert introduction of more troops under cover of fighting.

And not least of all, Moscow is interested in provoking a response from Ukrainian forces in order to present its version of the conflict in which Russia supposedly is interested only in peace while Ukraine is the one doing the fighting. Given media coverage of what has been going on around Mariupol, it has had some success in that regard.

At present, there is no clear indication that Moscow will in the near term launch a major attack in the eastern part of Ukraine, Polyakov says; but “Ukrainians must be prepared for the worst possible scenario.” After all, “the Kremlin’s adventurism shows that this can occur at any moment.”

 

Edited by SaintsInDome2006

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The Country That Doesn't Exist

In little-known Transdniestria, life is a constant search for identity. One photographer recently took a closer look.

In 2015, Transdniestrians celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II—also known as the “great patriotic war”—and 25 years of independence from Moldova.

Snaking down the border between Moldova and Ukraine is a landlocked sliver of terrain called Transdniestria. It’s home to more than half a million people and run by an independent government. It has its own form of currency, a constitution, and a standing army. The national anthem is, “We Sing the Praises of Transdniestria.”

But Transdniestria—sometimes spelled Transnistria—is not recognized by the United Nations. In other words, it’s not considered a country.

The “culture house” is a relic of the Soviet era that lives on in the villages of Transdniestria. This one, in Cionurciu, has been cleaned in preparation for a dancing event to celebrate the end of World War II.

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Left:

Nadesha Bondarenco—editor in chief of Bravo, the newspaper of the Transdniestrian Communist Party—stands amid flags and a bust of Lenin. The CP has just one seat in the parliament. Bondarenco says that although Transdniestria is a capitalist society, symbols of communism still abound.

Right:

In Tiraspol, Transdniestria, a statue of Vladimir Lenin stands in front of the parliament building, also known as the "Supreme Soviet."

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Officially known as the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic (PMR), Transdniestria is technically part of Moldova. But, says Eastern Europe scholar Dennis Deletant, “the separatist statelet has had de facto independence since the Moldovan civil war in 1992,” which pitted Moldovans against Transdniestrians.

Transdniestria is sometimes referred to as a “frozen conflict” because, while fighting ceased in the area 25 years ago, no formal peace treaty has ever been drawn. Today the perimeter of Transdniestria is patrolled by “about 1,200 Russian peacekeepers,” says Deletant, “who enforce an uneasy cease-fire.”

And though its residents are patriotic, calling themselves “Transdniestrians,” many pledge allegiance to Russia rather than Moldova.

Zinaida Borets, 37, is a Transdniestrian actress who has belonged to a Tiraspol theater troupe for more than a decade. Every year, near the anniversary of the end of World War II, the troupe performs a play dedicated to the glory of Soviet soldiers.

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Left:

As Transdniestrians celebrate Victory Day with a military parade—complete with Soviet-era tank—Russian flags line the streets of Tiraspol.

Right:

Men fish on the Dniester River, just a few hundred meters from a power station in Dubassari.

Andrey Smolenskiy, 30, works out every day at this Soviet-era gym in Cionurciu. When he’s not exercising, he runs a travel agency.

Left:

Transdniestria is not recognized by any country in the world, so a Transdniestrian passport is not valid. But since dual nationality is permitted, most people are entitled to either a Moldovan, Russian, or Ukrainian passport. Some keep additional papers, waiting to see if "the wind will blow West or East," says Vanden Driessche.

Right:

At an equestrian center on the outskirts of Tiraspol, the son of the owner prepares for a jumping competition.

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In Tiraspol, military guards of the president (Vadim Krasnoselsky, elected last year) take a break at the end of the Victory Day celebration .

Left:

The Bender Independence War Museum commemorates the war with Moldova. The most violent clashes took place in Bender, west of the Dniester River.

Right:

Along the highway that links Tiraspol to the industrial city of Ribnita, a monument commemorates the Second World War.

In a Tiraspol theater, actors perform in a patriotic play that pays tribute to the Soviet soldiers who died during World War II.

*****************************

This national identity crisis was what compelled Belgian photographer Thomas Vanden Driessche to travel to Transdniestria and document life there.

Starting in the capital of Tiraspol, Vanden Driessche spent two weeks driving around the region with a fixer who spoke Russian, one of the territory's main languages (along with Romanian and Ukrainian).

For the most part, says Vanden Driessche, people were comfortable with him taking their portraits. But when he was out on the street with his camera, something struck him about the way people reacted. Instead of being either overly friendly or confrontational—the two extremes he typically encounters—Vanden Driessche was met with an unfamiliar indifference.

“It was strange,” he says. “Nobody was happy. But nobody was pissed off.”

*****************************

eta - This is Transdniestria (Transnistria).

 

Edited by SaintsInDome2006

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Number of those killed in Donbas war rises to 10,090 – UN report

On 13 June, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the latest report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. It covers the period from 16 February to 15 May 2017.

This report is a quite disturbing read.  For instance, the OHCHR recorded 36 conflict-related civilian deaths and 157 injuries. According to the report, this is a 48% increase compared to the previous reporting period from 16 November 2016 to 15 February 2017.

The report gives updated information about the casualties of the Donbas war: from 14 April 2014 to 15 May 2017,  the OHCHR “recorded 34,056 casualties among civilians, the Ukrainian military and members of armed groups (10,090 people killed, including 2,777 civilians, and 23,966 injured).” Moreover, these are “conservative estimates,” according to the report.

OHCHR also writes that the conflict in Donbas is stagnating. “Lack of progress or tangible results in investigations and legal proceedings connected to conflict-related cases, including those which are high profile, contribute to the sense of stagnation of the conflict,” the report says. Additionally, OHCHR observed the ongoing deterioration of freedom of expression in conflict-affected areas, particularly in territory controlled by “DNR”/”LNR.”

This report also pays attention to human rights situation in Crimea. OHCHR observed that several court decisions were issued against members of the Crimean Tatar community in apparent disregard for fair trial guarantees. “Gross violations of the right to physical and mental integrity were also documented on the basis of interviews conducted with 12 convicts formerly detained in Crimea and the Russian Federation,” OHCHR notes.

The report underlines that Ukraine continued to implement judicial reform measures on the basis of constitutional amendments adopted in June 2016: “Several codes and legal acts were amended, introducing notably e-governance, subject-matter jurisdiction rules, and the use of mediation as a means of dispute resolution.”

 

http://euromaidanpress.com/2017/06/13/number-of-those-killed-in-donbas-war-rises-to-10090-un-report/

 

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Hey Guys. Another "gray area" type thread. Let's move this to the Politics forum as some have asked. Thanks.

 

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Russo forces are on the outskirts of Mariupol.

This is a good live interactive map, the Russians have been edging into the town of Shryokyne just outside Mariupol.

Supposedly advancing into Mariupol, a major port, would change the complexity of the war and open up western Ukraine for the Russians.

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Russian Army Arrives at Ukraine Border as U.S. Fears Over ‘Hot War’ Simmer

Speaking during a military conference, captured in a Facebook video and posted on the military’s official account on Sunday, Ukrainian Chief of General Staff Viktor Muzhenko said his forces had observed new moves on the Russian side of the border.

“The organizational and staff structure, the arms and the military equipment that is approaching for reinforcement, indicates that these Russian divisions are striking forces in their essence and are intended for carrying out rapid offensive actions,” he said.

The units in question, Muzhenko specified, were three motorized rifle divisions, two of which are usually headquartered at the borders of Ukraine’s war-torn Donbass region and one that is usually deployed further north, near Smolensk.

 

- Apparently three Russian divisions have moved to the border.

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Russia-West Balancing Act Grows Ever More Wobbly in Belarus

MINSK, Belarus — Western officials and the news media have for years routinely described President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus as “the last dictator of Europe.”

So it may have been jarring for some to hear him expressing deep support for human rights, democracy and the rule of law in an address last month toa large group of United States and European lawmakers who came for a conference to Minsk, the country’s tidy, but utterly uniform, capital.

For Mr. Lukashenko, however, the performance was old hat.

Over two decades, he has perfected the art of playing Russia and the West against each other. Belarus has been both an indispensable ally and ward of the Kremlin, depending on Russian subsidies to keep its economy afloat, and an important buffer for the West against the Kremlin’s growing military aggressiveness.

But with major Russian military exercises scheduled for next month in Belarus, opposition leaders, analysts and even the American military fear that Mr. Lukashenko’s tightrope act may be coming to a close.

There are widespread fears in Minsk that when Russian servicemen come to Belarus for the war games, known as Zapad, Russian for “West,” they will never leave. Intensifying those concerns are official reports that Russia has rented 4,162 railway cars to transport only 3,000 soldiers and no more than 680 articles of military equipment to Belarus.

The troops started to move into the country in late July, with the exercises scheduled for mid-September. Both the Russian and Belarussian authorities have vowed publicly that the troops will return home after the exercise.

Over the years, as Mr. Lukashenko has sought to demonstrate his independence, he has periodically picked fights with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — stage-managed affairs that have been quickly patched up in highly public displays of Slavic brotherhood.

With living standards declining, Belarussians took to the streets at the end of March in the biggest wave of antigovernment protests in years. 

As Moscow’s relations with the West have plunged to levels last seen during Soviet times, however, Mr. Lukashenko’s balancing act has grown increasingly untenable. The time may be approaching when he will have to choose between the two camps, a decision that carries decided risks.

An overt move to embrace the West could provoke a reaction from the Kremlin, as happened in Ukraine after the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych. The West almost certainly would not oppose such a move militarily.

But a complete embrace of Russia would collapse Belarus’s sovereignty and could renew the street demonstrations that erupted this year among a population already seething over declining living standards.

Most analysts assume that Mr. Lukashenko, if forced to choose, will throw his lot in with his patrons in Moscow.

“Belarus can build many bridges to the West, but it cannot cross any of them,” said Artyom Shraibman, referring to a well-known formula to describe the relationship between the two, as he sat in the modern newsroom of Tut.by, the country’s leading independent news website, where he is a political editor. “The European vector is just a way to balance the relationship with Russia.”

A landlocked country squeezed by Russia, Ukraine and three NATO states — Poland, Latvia and Lithuania — Belarus has historically served as an invasion corridor for the major powers. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union maintained several major military bases there, which included nuclear-tipped missiles.

In 2015, Belarus rebuffed a Kremlin request for permission to establish a military base. But analysts wonder how long Mr. Lukashenko can continue to resist in the face of strong Russian pressure.

“For the Kremlin, it is very important to have its own troops here to have the ability to escalate the situation in the region at any time,” said Arsen Sivitski, director of the Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies, a Minsk-based research group. “For Belarus, it is important to restrain the Kremlin. Otherwise, Minsk would have no strategic value for Europe.”

But, he added, “the Kremlin has the ability to break this game at any time.”

Since it gained independence in 1991, Belarus has survived in large part on heavy subsidies from Moscow in what a local economist, Sergei Chaly, called an “oil for kisses” scheme.

“Mr. Lukashenko has fulfilled an important historic mission,” Mr. Chaly said. “He came up with the best system for how a post-Soviet state can deal with Russia.”

Minsk was permitted to purchase Siberian oil at a low price, process it at its two refineries, then sell it in the West at market prices, pocketing the difference.

Various estimates put the overall Russian subsidy at more than $50 billion over the past two decades. Mr. Lukashenko used the money to prop up his so-called zombie factories, hopelessly outdated and decrepit industrial enterprises that allowed him to boast that he was the only post-Soviet leader who kept industry afloat.

In return for the subsidies, Mr. Lukashenko pledged brotherly unity, allowing Mr. Putin to show that he has allies beyond Russia’s borders. The relationship grew testy in 2014, however, when Minsk stopped short of officially recognizing Crimea as a part of Russia. Then, a year later, there was the standoff over Russia’s request for a military base.

Fed up, the Kremlin retaliated by raising natural gas prices. When Mr. Lukashenko refused to pay them, Moscow dismissed any concern about driving Belarus into the Western camp and cut the supply of oil, leaving the Belarussian economy high and dry.

“The Kremlin understands well that with all his flirtations with the West, Mr. Lukashenko is still a dictator and cannot move Belarus into another geopolitical space,” said Pavel Usov, director of the Center for Political Analysis and Prognosis. “The dependency is so strong that Russia can manipulate any political process and event in Belarus.”

Sometimes, this dependency manifests itself in odd ways.

After Russia banned imports of Western food in retaliation for sanctions imposed over Crimea and the Ukraine crisis, for example, Belarus turned into a hub for Italian Parmesan and Polish apples. The products were relabeled as Belarussian and appeared on store shelves throughout Russia.

Exports of “Belarussian” apples to Russia jumped 50 percent last year, whereas local production remained steady. Belarus, a country with severe winters, became the origin of such tropical species as pineapples, mandarin oranges and kiwi fruit, and also the butt of much sarcasm.

This scheme still could not generate enough income, though, and with help from Russia shrinking, the economy of Belarus contracted for the second year in a row in 2016. In June, Belarus had to borrow $1.4 billion on the European market, and it is negotiating $3 billion more from the International Monetary Fund.

Salaries have dropped by more than 13 percent over the past two years and the country’s finances have soured, forcing the government to introduce one of the more remarkable tax laws in the world: a requirement that people who are not employed full time pay $240 a year as “compensation” for lost taxes.

With living standards declining, ordinary people took to the streets at the end of March to take part in the biggest wave of antigovernment protests in years.

“He will lead this situation to what had happened in Ukraine,” said Aleksandr Konches, a pensioner and one of the protesters. “Look at who came out — pensioners, workers, simple people.”

However, many local people said that even if Mr. Lukashenko were ousted amid antigovernment protests, they doubted the country would turn against Russia.

Viktor V. Bocharenko has spent his whole life in Redzki, a picturesque village of 150 people on the border with Russia. After heading a local collective farm for 13 years, he now leads the life of a simple retiree, growing potatoes and sometimes selling a sack at a healthy markup in the Russian region of Smolensk.

Mr. Bocharenko, 65, said he sees little evidence of the stricter border controls Moscow said it was imposing in an attempt to reduce the transshipment of Western food. “They just look into my car and let me go,” he said.

He added, “What happened between Russia and Ukraine will never happen between us.”

 

- TLDR version: Russia has been moving troops into Belarus and it is not really clear they are leaving.

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Russia Plans Huge Zapad 2017 Military Exercises With Belarus

LONDON — As a diplomatic standoff escalates between Washington and Moscow, another military challenge may be on the horizon. Thousands of Russian troops and tanks are preparing to take part in what may be the country's largest military exercise since the Cold War.

The Zapad 2017 war-games will take place next month in Russia's neighboring ally of Belarus. The drills scheduled to run between September 14 and 20 will also involve naval and air units operating in and around the Baltic and North Sea.

While Russian officials have said that 13,000 troops would participate in the exercises, whose name means "west" in Russian, Western estimates have run much higher. ...

- NBC.

Edited by SaintsInDome2006

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8 minutes ago, SaintsInDome2006 said:

- TLDR version: Russia has been moving troops into Belarus and it is not really clear they are leaving.

Sounds familiar...

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On 7/25/2017 at 6:28 PM, SaintsInDome2006 said:

- Apparently three Russian divisions have moved to the border.

I know I mentioned my son studying abroad this summer (somewhere on the forum), as he has a double major in poly sci and economics and his capstone project is due this spring. He studied in Geneva and Vilnius, Lithuania. The gist of his project is arguing why Crimea was a better target for the Russians rather than any of the Baltic states. That is a complete oversimplification...but it helps to understand this:

NATO and the EU will not allow new members as long as they have border disputes.

This may seem obvious to some, but it's something I never thought much about.

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1 minute ago, Lutherman2112 said:

I know I mentioned my son studying abroad this summer (somewhere on the forum), as he has a double major in poly sci and economics and his capstone project is due this spring. He studied in Geneva and Vilnius, Lithuania. The gist of his project is arguing why Crimea was a better target for the Russians rather than any of the Baltic states. That is a complete oversimplification...but it helps to understand this:

NATO and the EU will not allow new members as long as they have border disputes.

This may seem obvious to some, but it's something I never thought much about.

Well another way to look at it is that Russia has placed a toehold in two nations, Georgia and Ukraine, where EU & NATO expansion was specifically discussed. Putin said in his big Crimea speech that the unacceptable specter of NATO ships docking in Sevastopol was among the reasons he invaded.

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3 minutes ago, SaintsInDome2006 said:

Well another way to look at it is that Russia has placed a toehold in two nations, Georgia and Ukraine, where EU & NATO expansion was specifically discussed. Putin said in his big Crimea speech that the unacceptable specter of NATO ships docking in Sevastopol was among the reasons he invaded.

So glad you caught what I was trying to say. I got a bit of a buzz going now from a wake for a friend. My thoughts are a bit scattered.

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Russia’s military has around 80,000 troops, around 1,400 artillery and missile systems, 900 tanks, 2,300 armored vehicles, 500 airplanes, and around 300 helicopters all stationed in the “temporarily occupied” parts of Ukraine known as the Donbas and Crimea, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said.

- Newsweek.

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>>Explaining the naval clash between Russia and Ukraine

Russia seizes three ships and seeks to landlock eastern Ukraine

“WE NEED TO ####### #### them up, ####…it seems like the president is controlling all this ####,” a Russian commander tells the captain whose ship rammed a Ukrainian military tug-boat in the Kerch Strait while another used live ammunition against a Ukrainian warship. The intercepted conversation, published on YouTube, provides a flavour of what happened between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea on November 25th. A video shot aboard one of the Russian ships provides the images.

It looked more like piracy than self-defence. The Russian coastguards, part of the FSB, or security service, seized the Ukrainian ships and captured 23 sailors, wounding six of them. They took them to Crimea, a chunk of Ukraine that Russia grabbed four years ago. In 2014 Russia acted deniably, sending “little green men” in unmarked fatigues to Crimea. This time its forces acted openly, under the Russian flag.

The crisis did not emerge from out of the blue. It is the culmination of six months of growing Russian pressure on Ukraine. Having in 2004 annexed Crimea, Russia is now restricting access from Ukraine’s eastern ports to the Black Sea, and thence to the Mediterranean and the world.

To get to the Black Sea, ships must pass through the Kerch Strait (see map). On May 16th Russia opened a bridge across the strait that is too low for large ships. It also moved five naval vessels from the Caspian to the Sea of Azov. Russia’s coastguard has since then detained scores of Ukrainian and foreign merchant ships—more than 140 between May and August—for hours and even days at a time, in what amounts to an undeclared blockade.

An agreement between Russia and Ukraine in 2003, before Ukraine tried to break away from Russia’s sphere of influence, established joint control of the Sea of Azov. Now both sides of the strait that controls access to it are held by Russia. Immediately after the latest clash, Russia briefly parked a tanker across the waterway, to remind Ukrainians what Vladimir Putin’s promises are worth. Ukrainians fear that his next move will be to take control of the whole of the Sea of Azov—a huge strategic prize—and further endanger the port of Mariupol, Ukraine’s third largest.

The detentions, delays and uncertainty have already strangled eastern Ukrainian ports like Mariupol and Berdyansk. The new bridge has bottled up 144 Ukrainian ships that are too tall to slip under its 33-metre structure. Shipping in and out of Mariupol has fallen by a quarter.

Ukraine cannot fight back. It lost up to 80% of its navy when Crimea was annexed, since most of its ships were moored there and the Russians pinched them. Now, the most formidable vessel owned by Mariupol’s coastguard is an old fishing boat confiscated from Turkish poachers.

Sailing small military vessels from Odessa through the Kerch Strait last week was a “provocation” staged by Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, said the Kremlin, adding that he wanted to create a crisis and have an excuse to delay presidential elections due next year. Like all shrewd propaganda, it contained an element of truth. Mr Poroshenko, who is badly trailing his rivals in opinion polls, probably did want to rally popular support around the flag and buy himself more time. When Russia escalated the situation, he called for martial law in Ukraine—a move his critics decried as a political stunt.

The clash may have helped Mr Putin, too. The Russian strongman’s poll ratings have fallen to levels not seen since before he annexed Crimea. His mouthpieces in the Russian media now have useful material to decry the perfidious Ukrainians and praise Russia’s great protector. The timing of the clash—near the anniversary of the Maidan “revolution of dignity” that overthrew the Moscow-backed government of Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine in 2014—provided a perfect peg for reheating conspiracy theories about the West trying to meddle in Russia’s back yard.

As Mr Poroshenko gave a rousing speech in the Rada (parliament) on November 26th, demanding the introduction of martial law, many deputies asked: “Why now?” Ukraine did not introduce martial law when Russian forces seized Crimea. Nor when they surrounded and killed its soldiers trying to recapture the Donbas (a part of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-backed separatists in 2014). Nor when a Russian-supplied missile shot down a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine. The question was rhetorical. The two months of martial law that the president requested probably would have forced a delay to the presidential election, due at the end of March, and allowed Mr Poroshenko to associate himself with the armed forces, one of the few institutions in Ukraine that people respect. Perhaps for this reason, parliament, in an unusual display of muscle, gave him much less than he wanted. Martial law has been declared, but only for one month and only in areas bordering Russia.

Mr Putin may not get all he wants, either. The annexation of Crimea temporarily pushed up his approval ratings to nearly 90%. This time, however, his adventurism could backfire. Denis Volkov, a sociologist with the independent Levada Centre, wrote recently: “They may still consider Russia’s renewed greatness on the international stage to be Putin’s main accomplishment, but the public is growing disillusioned with Russia’s isolation, its unresolved conflict with the West, and the fact that the country is constantly ‘helping others’ at the expense of its own citizens.”

The Western response has so far been mixed. American officials condemned Russia’s aggressive actions. However, Donald Trump, who once said that the annexation of Crimea would not have happened on his watch, said nothing for 24 hours. When he finally spoke, he did not mention Russia by name, and said merely that he did not like the situation “either way”.

Germany’s reaction was also muted. Angela Merkel, the chancellor, who has been the strongest European voice against the Kremlin, had a telephone conversation with Mr Putin but did not condemn Russia’s actions publicly. Mrs Merkel’s critics say her hand is weakened by Germany’s interest in the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that passes through it. Others hint that she is too busy worrying about her party’s leadership election to pay attention to Russia (see article). Mrs Merkel may feel that quiet diplomacy works better than public denunciations. Alas, there is little sign that either approach is working.<<

- The Economist

- Basically Putin needs military expansionism to prop up his flagging popularity, and it's basically a race as they cost a lot vs the growing reality of economic troubles at home.

Edited by SaintsInDome2006
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3 minutes ago, SaintsInDome2006 said:

 

- Basically Putin needs military expansionism to prop up his flagging popularity, and it's basically a race as they cost a lot vs the growing reality of economic troubles at home.

Anything to do with the U.S. funding the white-supremacists in Ukraine? Asking for Ren.

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lennutrajektoor‏ @lennutrajektoor

BREAKING Ukraine army senior official confirm NATO members have internally agreed navy of the bloc will be heading to port Mariupol and Azov Sea. Currently the necessary paperwork is in preparation. Ukraine GS is more than surprised and satisfied.

11:26 AM - 5 Dec 2018

 

 

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23 hours ago, SaintsInDome2006 said:

 

Wish I could read Ukranian (or maybe that's Russian). I can't tell whether it means what the tweeter says or not.

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Sounds like this is going to kick off soon... Ukraine is calling up troops for mobilization even those that are not on duty.

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All this and sending nukes to South America. Looking bad.

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On December 15, Ukrainian religious leaders will hold a “unification assembly” to lay the groundwork for the new church and choose its leader.

In what seems like something from several centuries ago apparently the schism between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches may be used as a pretext for war.

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