Oleg Kalashnikov, a former Ukraine deputy and a member of Party of Regions was shot dead in Kiev at the entrance of his apartment on 15 April. According to the Interior Ministry’s statement, police are investigating his death as a murder. Kalashnikov had participated in protests in support of the pro-Moscow former President Yanukovych. This incident is the latest in a series of deaths involving allies of deposed President Yanukovych. Seven other Ukrainian officials died under mysterious circumstances this year. According to the Ukrainian authorities, all of them took their own lives in the past weeks, something that has raised many suspicions. These suspicions are encouraged since the deaths took place in a really short timeframe, targeting people that were associated with ex-President Yanukovych and under mysterious circumstances with the majority of the victims being under investigation by the Ukrainian authorities.
The first in the line of these deaths was Oleksiy Kolesnyk, ex-head of Kharkiv’s regional government, who was found hanged on January 29. It was followed by Serhiy Valter, who was a major in the south-eastern city of Melitopol, and was found hanged on February 25. Similarly to Chechetov that was killed only three days later, he had been accused of abuse of office and he was under investigation. Oleksandr Bordyuh, a former police deputy chief in Melitopol connected to Mr Valter, was also found dead at his home the next day. Similarly, Mykhaylo Chechetov, who was the deputy chairman for the Party of the Regions, died after he allegedly jumped from a window in his 17th-floor flat on February 28. The authorities claimed that he left a suicide note. He was one of the most prominent politicians under Yanukovych’s rule. Before his death he was accused by the new government of abuse of office and fraud and he was under investigation. He had been arrested a few days earlier as part of the investigation against him related to a series of laws passed in a controversial vote in January 2014 to crack down on the massive Maidan protests. He was suspected that he falsified the results of the vote. He paid bail and went home on February 23. Several hours before his death, Ukraine’s prosecutor general told the local media that new charges were being prepared against him. Only nine days later, Stanislav Melnyk’s death followed. He was an ex-MP in Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and the manager of several businesses in the separatist-minded eastern city of Donesk, and he was found dead by his wife in his bathroom on March 9. The authorities reported that they retrieved a suicide note that was asking for forgiveness. He was also under investigation and was facing charges of abuse of power.
In the next couple of days, Oleksandr Peklushenko, a Ukrainian former regional governor and an ally of the ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych, was found dead on March 12. According to the Ukrainian authorities, he was shot in the neck and police claimed that initial enquires point to suicide. Peklushenko was the governor of the southern region of Zaporizhzhya from 2011 to 2014. He was suspected of arranging for demonstrators to be dispersed by pro-government thugs at the height of the protests against Yanukovych’s rule in January 2014, and he was facing charges of abuse of power. Sergei Melnychuk, who was a prosecutor in the southern port town of Odessa died ten days later on March 22. Police initially claimed that it was a suicide. But it soon emerged that alarmed neighbors had called the police after they heard noises that indicated a struggle coming from his house. Pathologists found that he had been badly beaten before he fell from his ninth-floor balcony. The same day, Odessa prosecutors registered his death as murder instead of police’s claims for his death being a suicide. They arrested a former police officer who they described only as ‘’citizen K’’.
On top of these deaths two other incidents were added to this puzzle. The first one concerned Yanukovych’s 33-year-old son who was found dead after his car apparently fell through ice on Russia’s Lake Baikal on March 20. The second and most recent one concerns the death of the journalist Oles Buzyna, who was widely known for his pro-Russian views. He was gunned down by masked assailants in a drive-by shooting, just one day after Kalashnikov was shot dead on April 16.
Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, dormant since his deposition, said in a statement that the death of Peklushenko and others was a consequence of ‘’political reprisals’’ by the new government, accusing it of employing terror practices against its opponents. The Opposition Bloc, the country’s major opposition party, also shares the same opinion calling these deaths as ‘’bloody terror against opposition politicians and journalists’’. Despite Kiev’s rejection of the allegations that claim that these incidents are connected, there have been calls for a thorough probe that will help extinguish any lingering suspicions that these top figures of the previous regime are being extrajudicially punished. The Ukrainian judicial authorities seem to endorse the government’s opinion that these deaths may be motivated by ‘’fear of being held responsible’’ since they were under investigation.
Police were initially quick to classify the majority of these deaths as suicides. However, in recent weeks and in the absence of credible investigations and the rapid succession of the deaths within the wider context of Ukraine’s political situation, there have been suspicions that some of these deaths were politically-motivated killings, since the majority of the deaths took place amid mysterious circumstances and there were open investigation queries against these political figures.
The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met in Minsk, Belarus on February 11 to negotiate a plan that could guarantee a lasting peace in eastern Ukraine. The new round of peace talks were viewed with much scepticism due to similar unsuccessful efforts in the past. The arrival of 2015 brought the collapse of the tenuous ceasefire that took hold in Ukraine on September 5, 2014, which had brought a lull to fighting that had raged for nearly five months and which killed over 2,500 people. Despite the fact that an official ceasefire was in place the violations started within days of signing after multiple reports that claimed that near the big coastal city of Mariupol and Donetsk airport intense fights took place between the Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian militants. Officially, the ceasefire collapsed after five months on January 2015. The fact that the ceasefire was considerably fragile became more apparent when the head of the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic declared that the ceasefire agreement does not mean that their objective to secede from Ukraine is off the table. The short-lived ceasefire coincided with the conclusion of the NATO summit in Wales, where Western leaders announced the creation of a rapid-response force to protect eastern European member states. During the summit several NATO members promised precision weapon systems to Ukraine and the Obama administration pledged $60 million of non-lethal military aid for Ukraine’s military. Under these circumstances it is not difficult to comprehend Russia’s reservedness to stick to the agreement and the final collapse of the ceasefire in January 2015. After the collapse of the ceasefire the battles between the government forces and the separatists resumed full force.
During the weeks-long surge in violence many soldiers and civilians lost their lives and all the peace talks collapsed before they came into an agreement with the two sides accusing each other of sabotaging the talks. Amid the increasingly heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, abruptly announced a summit with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia. The French and German leaders had previously met the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, in Kiev where they discussed the steps necessary for the Minsk agreement to start working towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The increase in diplomatic efforts came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, also met the Ukrainian President and other top officials in Kiev. The meeting between the leaders of Russia, France and Germany was held on February 6 behind closed doors and discussed a paper with peace proposal details that the two Western leaders brought with them in Moscow. The meeting was followed by a phone conference between the three leaders that took place on February 8 and which led to the Minsk peace talks on February 11. The marathon peace negotiations between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany resulted in a new ceasefire deal for eastern Ukraine. During the negotiations heavy fighting took place in an effort from the two fighting sides to gain as much territory as possible in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions before the ceasefire started. The key points of the ceasefire agreement for eastern Ukraine are:
- Immediate and full bilateral ceasefire. The ceasefire was going to take effect in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions from 00:00 local time on 15 February.
- Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides. That entails the creation of a buffer zone of at least 50km equally separating both sides for artillery systems of 100mm calibre or more; 70km for multiple rocket systems and 140 km for the heaviest rocket and missile systems such as Tornado, Uragan, Smerch and Tochka. Also, the Ukrainian forces have to withdraw all the heavy weapons from the current frontline. The separatists have to withdraw theirs from the line of 19 September 2014. According to the agreement, heavy weapons withdrawal must start no later than day two of the ceasefire and be completed within two weeks of February 15. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will assist in the process.
- Effective monitoring and verification regime for the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons. This part of the agreement is going to be carried out by the OSCE from day one, using all necessary technology such as satellites and radar.
- From day one of the withdrawal begin a dialogue on the holding of local elections. In line with the Ukrainian law on temporary self-rule for parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. There will also be a dialogue on those areas’ political future.
- Pardon and amnesty by banning any prosecution of figures involved in the Donetsk and Luhansk conflict.
- Release of all hostages and other illegally detained people. On the basis of ‘’all for all’’. To be completed at the latest on the fifth day after the military withdrawal.
- Unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid to the needy, internationally supervised. In eastern Ukraine a humanitarian crisis currently takes place as the Ukrainian government stopped sending medical aid in these areas.
- Restoration of full social and economic links with affected areas. Including social transfers, such as payment of pensions. To that end, Ukraine will restore its banking services in districts affected by the conflict.
- Full Ukrainian government control will be restored over the state border, throughout the conflict zone. To begin on the first day after local elections and be completed after a comprehensive political settlement by the end of 2015. The local elections in rebel-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be based on Ukrainian law and constitutional reform.
- Withdrawal of all foreign armed groups, weapons and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory. This part of the agreement is going to be monitored by OSCE. All illegal groups are going to be disarmed.
- Constitutional reform in Ukraine, with adoption of a new constitution by the end of 2015. A key element of which will be decentralisation and adoption of permanent laws on the special status of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The ceasefire agreement was also signed by the two main rebel leaders, from Donetsk and Luhansk. The agreement includes an annex on the detail of the autonomy foreseen for their fiefdoms. To the present more than 5,000 people have been killed due to the fighting. The Ukrainian President has claimed publicly that if this new effort for ceasefire and a peaceful solution to the crisis fails then he will not hesitate to introduce martial law, not only in eastern Ukraine but in the whole country. Introduction of martial law means that Ukraine’s army get to control the streets and impose curfews, ban parties and other organisations, as well as mass gatherings, conduct searches and introduce censorship. It is also permitted to claim property of businesses and private individual if the need arise. Despite the ceasefire there are reports that the fighting in eastern Ukraine continues. Days after the official commence of the ceasefire there were reports about government’s and separatists’ shelling in several areas, including around the rebel-held city of Donetsk, claiming that the ceasefire exists in name only. The shelling was also confirmed by OSCE who is charged with monitoring ceasefire. The ceasefire breaches were also reported during a new meeting between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany on February 19 where they reconfirmed their support on the measures agreed on February 12 in Minsk. Only four days after the ceasefire came into effect the pro-Russia militants ignored the agreement and stormed Debaltseve, a strategic town in eastern Ukraine that they had surrounded, forcing thousands of government troops to flee. The Ukrainian forces suffered major losses, both in equipment and human life. After these incidents the Ukrainian President won approval from Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council to invite UN-mandated peacekeepers into the country to monitor the front line, a decision that was met with strident opposition from the pro-Russian militants.
With the battle around the rail hub of Debaltseve ending with the withdrawal of Ukrainian government forces and completion of the first prisoners’ exchange on February 21, there are some hopes that the tenuous truce in eastern Ukraine may hold. A new round of meetings to stop the fragile ceasefire from shattering have started with the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany meeting in Paris on February 24 to review the situation on the ground since the accord was signed. Despite the efforts and Russia’s statements that the agreement is ‘’an international legal document’’ approved by the UN Security Council it contains some clauses that reinforce its fragility, such as Ukraine’s obligation to resume pension payments to the inhabitants of the Russia-backed regions despite the economic crisis that it faces. Also, Kiev takes on the border of rebuilding the war-ravaged region shouldering a huge economic burden. Additionally, the agreement establishes the right of the Donbass breakaway areas to establish their own people’s militias. Finally, through the agreement a powerful fifth column is created inside Ukraine as the Donbass will have the right to be represented in Ukraine’s legislature. This could enable Russia to use the Donbass to resurrect Russian ‘’soft power’’ in the context of Ukraine’s post-conflict economic crisis. The ceasefire agreement is a remarkable effort to find a solution but it seems to serve more in the creation of a frozen conflict than a viable base for the peaceful resolve the Ukrainian crisis.
United States President Barack Obama has urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to cut the number of troops it has deployed to its eastern border. The statement by Mr Obama comes as ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych called for a national referendum to determine each region’s “status within Ukraine.”
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Obama stated that the move by Russia may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that Russia has additional plans.” He added that President Vladimir Putin had been “willing to show a deeply-held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union.” He also warned that the Russian leader should not “revert back to the kinds of practices that were so prevalent during the Cold War,” adding “I think there’s a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past.”
Russia is believed to have deployed a force of several thousand troops close to Ukraine’s eastern frontier. Although the Kremlin has stated that it has no plans to take over the eastern regions of Ukraine, tensions in Ukraine and in other former Soviets states have continued to rise.
A new classified intelligence assessment has also concluded that it is more likely than previously that Russian forces will enter eastern Ukraine. Although US intelligence officials have emphasized that nothing is certain, they have indicated that over the past three to four days, there have been several worrying signs. According to one official, “this has shifted our thinking that the likelihood of a further Russian incursion is more probable than it was previously thought to be.” The build up along Russia’s eastern border with Ukraine is reminiscent of Moscow’s military moves before it went into Chechnya and Georgia in both numbers of units and their capabilities.
The assessment makes several new points including:
- Troops on Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine, which exceed 30,000, are “significantly more” than what is needed for the “exercises” Russia says it has been conducting, and there is no sign the forces are making any move to return to their home bases.
- The troops on the border with Ukraine include large numbers of “motorized” units that can quickly move. Additional Special Forces, airborne troops, air transport and other units that would be needed appear to be at a higher state of mobilization in other locations in Russia.
- Russian troops already on the border include air defence artillery and wheeled vehicles.
According to US intelligence officials, there is additional intelligence that even more Russian forces are “reinforcing” the border region. All of the troops are in positions for potential military action. The US currently believes that Russia may decide to enter eastern Ukraine in order to establish a land bridge into Crimea. The belief is that Russian forces would move toward three Ukrainian cities: Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk in order to establish land access into Crimea. According to US intelligence information, Russian forces are currently positioned in and around Rostov, Kursk and Belgorod.
In response to growing unrest amongst Western leaders, a Russian security official has also stated that intelligence measures are now being stepped up in order to counter Western threats to Moscow’s influence. Alexander Malevany, deputy head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) was quoted as saying “there has been a sharp increase in external threats to the state. The lawful desire of the peoples of Crimea and eastern Ukrainian regions is causing hysteria in the United States and its allies.” He added that Russia was taking “offensive intelligence measures” to counter Western efforts to “weaken Russian influence in a region that is of vital importance to Moscow.”
Meanwhile on Thursday, Ukraine’s highly-divisive opposition leader, and former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, announced her plans to run in the presidential polls which have been set for 25 May 2014, following last month’s fall of a pro-Kremlin regime. The dramatic announcement completes a highly improbable return to national politics that underscores the scale of changes that have shaken the former Soviet republic in the past few weeks.
Speaking to reporters shortly after walking into a pressroom, the 53-year-old confirmed “I intend to run for president of Ukraine.” In 2010, Tymoshenko, one of the most charismatic and outspoken leaders of Ukraine’s 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, lost a close presidential poll to Victor Yanukovych after heading two pro-Western cabinets that became embroiled in fighting and eventually lost popular support. During her speech, Tymoshenko attempted to paint herself as a compromise figure who could look after the interests of her older supporters but who could also be able to find common ground with the Russian speakers who are now looking towards the Kremlin for assistance.
Shortly after the 2010 vote, her political downfall was rapid and seemingly fatal as Yanukovych’s government quickly launched a series of criminal probes against his political rival. This led to a controversial trial over Tymoshenko’s role in agreeing to a 2009 gas contract with Russia that many Ukrainians though came at too high a cost. In October 2011, she was convicted of abusing her power and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison, a sentencing that Western nations denounced as the use of selective justice.
However on 22 February 2014, the day the Ukrainian parliament ousted Yanukovych for his role in the deaths of nearly 100 protesters in Kiev earlier that month, she emerged triumphantly from a state hospital, where she had spent most of her sentence under guard. Hours after her release, she arrived at the protest square in the heart of Kiev, which had also served as the crucible of the 2004 pro-democracy movement that had propelled her political career. However the crowd’s reception of Tymoshenko was guarded, a sign of their growing weariness of the corruption allegations that had been made against her. Many now believe that the pro-Western government movement that Tymoshenko once headed is now looking towards a new generation of leaders who played a more prominent role in the latest protests and who now hold key position sin the new interim government.
Twenty-First Century Soviet Union: Could Moscow be Looking Towards Annexing States in Eastern Europe?March 27, 2014 in Russia, Ukraine
With the annexation of Crimea, there have been growing Western concerns of the rising number of Russian troops along the country’s eastern border with Ukraine. Although Moscow has denied that President Vladimir Putin has an ambitious plan to resurrect vestiges of the Soviet empire and stamp his authority over eastern European nations that sought protection from the West following the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall, the presence of 30,000 troops stationed along the border is nevertheless alarming. Furthermore, while Moscow originally stated that it was intervening in Crimea because of concerns over the ill-treatment of Russians there, who make up more than half of the population, since Crimea’s annexation, Russia has done little to ease Eastern European fears of further takeovers. The question now remains, could similar action take place in other parts of the former Soviet Union?
Since the ouster of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in February 2014, there have been frequent pro-Russian demonstrations that have taken place in Donetsk as well as in other cities in eastern Ukraine. So far, at least one person has been killed. Russians however have blamed far-right pro-Western demonstrators for escalating tensions throughout the country.
With Russian troops having staged military exercises near the border, and Ukrainian officials claiming Thursday that 100,000 Russian forces have massed on Ukraine’s border, it would not be difficult for them to move across into Ukraine itself.
If Putin is indeed considering more territorial expansion, than eastern Ukraine is likely to be high on his list. The political costs however would be high, with NATO and Western leaders already warning Moscow against further expansionism.
Although Crimea, which was previously Russian territory, became part of the Ukraine in 1954, Ukraine’s eastern border goes back much further, ties which could be used by Putin in any possible future take overs.
A great deal of attention has also focused on Trans-Dniester, a separatist region of Moldova, which has already offered itself to Moscow. Proclaiming independence in 1990, which has never been recognised internationally, Trans-Dniester is majority Russian-speaking while most Moldovans speak Romanian. NATO’s commander in Europe has warned that Trans-Dneister may be Russia’s next target as Moscow has already deployed 1,000 troops to the region, which borders Ukraine, near the city of Odessa.
The southern region of Gagauzia, an autonomous region of Moldova which is made up of four enclaves with a total population of 160,000 also held a referendum in February 2014, in which 98.4% of voters backed integration with a Russia-led customs union. The Moldovan government has stated that the referendum was illegitimate.
Russia’s 2008 brief war with Georgia resulted in two areas breaking away, South Ossetia and Abkhazi. Although Abkhazia had already declared independence unilaterally in 1999, since the 2008 war, the two enclaves have existed in a grey zone as they are not recognized internationally, nor are they formally are part of Russia. Although Moscow’s stated aim at the time was to protect Russian speakers, most residents are native speakers of Ossetian and Abkhaz respectively. Furthermore, most residents hold Russian passports and are opposed to the Georgian government in Tbilisi.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
Although the Baltic republics regained their independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Russians account for about a third of the population in both Estonia and Latvia. Due to the fact that both Latvia and Estonia require knowledge of their languages in order to gain citizenship, some Russian speakers born in the countries are either unable or unwilling to become citizens. Many Russian speakers have complained of discrimination, stating that the strict language laws make it difficult for them to get jobs. This treatment was echoed by the Kremlin in mid-March of this year, with officials expressing “outrage” at the treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia, the same reason, which they gave for intervening in Crimea.
In Lithuania, ethnic Russians make up about 5% of the population and there is no requirement for them to pass a language test in order to attain citizenship.
However what must be noted is that in the case of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, all three Baltic states are members of both the European Union and NATO. Therefore any Russian incursion would have serious consequences as article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member state is an attack on all.
Currently, there is no reason why Russia would seek to intervene in Belarus as the country is already closely aligned with Moscow. Furthermore, Belarus is an economic union with Russia, and Russian is an official language. Although only 8.3% of the population identifies itself as Russian, more than 70% speak the language.
Ties between Russia and Kazakhstan go back to tsarist times, when northern cities such as Pavlodar and Uralsk were founded by the Russians as military outposts. Russians currently account for more than half of the population in northern Kazakhstan which, like Crimea, was once a part of Russia itself.
Like Ukraine, Kazakhstan signed an agreement on nuclear disarmament in 1994 in exchange for protection. It has no port like Sevastopol in Crimea, however it does have the Baikonur space facility.
Although Kazakhstan already has close ties with Russia, as it is one of two other members, along with Belarus, of Moscow’s customs union, it has remained officially neutral in the matter of Ukraine.
Other Central Asian Republics
After independence in 1991, large numbers of Russians emigrated to central Asia, with the percentage of ethnic Russians in the region now ranging from 1.1% in Tajikistan to 12.5% in Kyrgyzstan. However it must be noted that the Central Asian economies remain tied to Russia, bot in terms of trade and remittances from migrants working there.
While it therefore seems unlikely that Moscow would seek to intervene in the region, the post-Crimea turmoil could still have an affect on the area. As the Russian rouble falls, and sanctions hit Russian businesses, jobless migrants returning from Russia could cause trouble for the governments in Dushanbe or Bishkek.
Armenia and Azerbaijan
Although Armenia has no Russian population to speak of, and Azerbaijan has just 1%, both countries tread a geopolitical tightrope between Russia and the West. Furthermore, since Aremenia gained its independence in 1991, Russia has retained a military base at Gyumri.
As was the case in Ukraine, Armenia had been preparing to sign an association agreement with the EU, however in September 2013, officials in the country announced that Armenia would be joining the Russian-led customs union instead.
Azerbaijan on the other hand is less economically dependent on Russia as it exports oil and natural gas to the EU. A pipeline that ends in Turkey effectively allows it to skirt Russian territory.
Russia would like to keep both countries in its sphere of influence, however in the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia is more likely to use economic, as opposed to military, measures.
Poland and the Baltics
Outside of Russia’s direct neighbours, countries such as Poland and those in the Baltics have also caused unease, with a sense that they too are under threat.
Although leaders in Poland have played down the danger, repeatedly reassuring the public, there remains a widespread sense of insecurity throughout the country.
While during an event to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Poland joining NATO, Prime Minister Donald Tusk stated that he saw no direct threat to his country, a view that has been echoed by Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski, an opinion poll has shown that 59% of respondents believed Russia’s foreign policy presented a threat to Poland’s security. Some have stated that they “…feel threatened by Russia because we’re next. Ukraine is first, then the Baltic countries and then Russia’s President Putin will make something bad here.” These fears have been echoed across the country, with one resident stating “now they want to attack Ukraine but we are neighbours so I don’t think Poland is safe, especially because we have a shred history with Russia, and they were always aggressors.” While these remarks to not directly indicate that most Poles fear that Russia is about to launch a military attack on the, their shared history however has generated a widespread mistrust of Russia and its leadership.
During the 18th century Catherine the Great annexed eastern Poland, with the country not regaining its independence until the end of World War One. However after just two decades of freedom, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland just two weeks after Nazi Germany marched into western Poland in 1939. While the Red Army liberated Poland from the Nazis in 1945, this liberation was seen by many as a simple transfer of power, from one enemy to the next. Upon removing Nazi troops out of Poland, Joseph Stalin quickly installed a Soviet-backed communist system throughout the country, with the last Soviet troops leaving Poland in 1993.
According to Marcin Zaborowski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, “…there is a sense that certain boundaries have been crossed, that precedents have been created and because of that its not clear where Putin is going to stop,” adding that “this clearly unprovoked aggression against another state is in breach of international law. It doesn’t seem wise to hang on to the belief Putin’s not going to go further.”
Poland’s growing insecurity however is not solely tied to the country, but is also shared by the Baltic countries, which were also incorporated into the Soviet Union after World War Two.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite warned last week that Russia was trying to redraw the post-war map of Europe, adding that while Ukraine is likely to be the next on Putin’s list, Moldova, the Baltics and Poland would be next.
Estonia and Latvia both have large Russian minorities, which is of concern considering Putin’s justification for occupying Crimea has been to protect ethnic Russians there.
In response of growing fears of a possible Russian takeover of Poland and/or the Baltics, the United States has announced that it is increasing its military cooperation with Poland and the Baltic states. Officials have indicated that the US is sending six more F-15 fighters and a KC-135 refuelling tanker to increase its support for NATO’s patrolling of Baltic airspace.
In Poland, about 300 US air force personnel and 12 US F-16 fighters will be deployed for a joint training exercise. This is a significant boost to the 10 US airmen who are already stationed in the country. However the United States response will not solely focus on military aspects, but will also concentrate on the energy issue, which has developed out of the Ukrainian crisis. According to sources in Poland, “our prime minister and president have said we have to work more intensely towards energy independence. Energy is vital because the threat is not just of a military nature, its also about turning the gas taps off.” Poland has already experienced this switch-off as much of Russia’s gas supplies to Europe transit Ukraine while on its way West. In 2009, a price dispute between the Ukraine and Russia halted supplies to many European countries.
Despite the 2009 issue, Poland and the Baltic countries remained dependent on Russian gas supplies, with Poland last year importing 60% of the gas consumed by industry and households from Russian gas company Gazprom. According to Poland’s Prime Minister Tusk, Central and Eastern Europe’s dependence on Russian gas effectively gave Putin too much leverage. However after years of stating that it should liberate itself from independence of Russia’s gas supplies, and not doing much about it, Poland is now diversifying its gas sources.
By the end of this year, Poland is set to complete construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal to import gas from Qatar. It has also increased the capacity of interconnector pipelines with German and the Czech Republic in order to boost supplies from those markets. Poland also hopes to start producing its own shale gas in the future.
European Union leaders warned Russia on Thursday that it faces further sanctions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated that Russia will face escalating EU sanctions if it does not take steps to east the crisis over Crimea. Speaking ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, Mrs Merkel indicated that the current political situation also means that the G8 effectively no longer exists.
Tensions in Crimea remain high after its leaders signed a deal with Moscow to split from Ukraine and to join Russia. Following Sunday’s referendum, which the West and Kiev have stated was illegal, Crimean leaders signed a treaty with Moscow on Tuesday to absorb the peninsula, which was an autonomous republic in southern Ukraine, into Russia. Tensions on the peninsula increased Wednesday, after pro-Russian forces took over at least two military bases in Sevastopol and Novo-Ozyorne. Ukraine’s Navy Commander, Serhiy Hayduk, was also detained, however he has since been released. Russia’s lower house is set to vote on ratifying the Crimea treaty on Thursday, with the upper house voting on Friday. The measure is expected to pass with minimal opposition. In a resolution on Thursday, Ukraine’s parliament indicated that the country would “never and under no circumstances end the fight to free Crimea of occupants, no matter how difficult and long it is.”
Western leaders have denounced Russia’s actions in Crimea as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and a breach of international law. The EU has already imposed sanctions on twenty-one people connected to Moscow’s intervention in Crimea, and is expected to discuss expanding the sanctions, when it meets Thursday, to include political and military figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated that Russia will face escalating EU sanctions if it does not take steps to ease the crisis over Crimea. Speaking ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, Mrs Merkel indicated that the current political situation also means that the G8 effectively no longer exists. She added that the EU would “make clear that we are ready at any time” to increase sanctions against Russia “if there is a worsening of the situation.” According to the German Chancellor, the EU will also “draw consequences for the political relations between the EU and Russia, as well as for relations between the G7 and Russia….It is obvious: as long as the political context for such an important format like the G8 does not apply, as is the case at the moment, the G8 doesn’t exist anymore. While the German Chancellor did not specify what the sanctions will be, it does remain unclear whether Germany expects Russia to undo the integration of Crimea into Russia in order to avoid tough economic measures. The G8, which comprises of seven of the world’s leading industrialised nations, and Russia, is scheduled to hold a summit in the southern Russian city of Sochi in June.
The United States has also ordered the freezing of assets and travel bans on eleven individuals, with officials indicating that they are considering expanding these. However on Wednesday, President Barack Obama ruled out US military involvement in Ukraine, stating “we do not need to trigger an actual war with Russia.” United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon is expected to meet with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday before travelling to Kiev where he will meet with the Ukrainian interim government on Friday. The UN Chief has called for a solution to the crisis that will be guided by the principles of the UN Charter, including sovereignty, territorial integrity and the unity of Ukraine.