Category Archives: Ukraine

Pro-Russian Activists Take Over Ukrainian Base

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Pro-Russian activists have taken control of the headquarters of Ukraine’s navy in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.

Reports in Crimea have indicated that pro-Russian forces appear to have taken control of the Ukrainian base in Sevastopol, the port city which houses Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.  Television footage depicted around 200 people, some armed, breaking down the gates and going in to negotiate with senior Ukrainian personnel.  On the ground sources have indicated that no shots were fired during the take over however Ukrainian Navy Chief Serhiy Hayduk has reportedly been detained and the Russian flag is now flying over the base.  Although officials in Kiev ordered its troops to stay in place, a number of Ukrainian servicemen were later seen leaving the base carrying their belongings.  Others are believed to still be inside, refusing to surrender.

The reported takeover of the Ukrainian base came one day after Ukraine’s army indicated that a soldier had been killed in an attack on a base in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol.  Russia also indicated that one member of the pro-Russian “self-defence” force in Crimea had also been killed.  The reports however have not been independently confirmed.  Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned Tuesday that “the conflict is shifting from a political to a military stage.”

The latest developments in the on going crisis come one day after Crimean leaders signed a treaty with Moscow, effectively absorbing the peninsula into Russia.  Russia’s constitutional court has approved the accession treaty, and there is minimal doubt that parliament will also give its full backing.  The move on Tuesday followed Sunday’s referendum, which approved Crimea’s split from Ukraine.  The vote, which showed 97% of voters in favour of joining Russia, has been widely condemned by the West.  The West and the Ukrainian government in Kiev have indicated that the hastily organized referendum was illegal and will not be recognized.  UK Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that the EU must send “a clear warning” to Russia, adding that the G8 group should discuss whether to expel Russia “if further steps are taken.”

The US and the EU are amongst those who have already imposed sanctions on several officials from Russia and Ukraine who have been accused of being involved in Moscow’s actions in Crimea.  Brussels and the White House have stated that the sanctions will be expanded, with Moscow warning that this move was “unacceptable and will not remain without consequences.”

Amidst the growing tensions, Ukrainian Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh and First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema travelled to Crimea on Wednesday to try to defuse the tensions however they wee prevented from entering.  United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is heading to the region, and will meet with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday and with Ukraine’s interim leaders in Kiev on Friday.

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Welcome to Russia: Crimea Declares Independence and Applies to Join Russia

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Following Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, the European Union (EU) has agreed to impose travel bans and asset freezes against twenty-one officials from Russia and the Ukraine.  The EU announced its new sanctions after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, with Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevic indicated that further measures were expected to be taken in the upcoming days.

The move comes just one day after Crimea’s referendum, in which officials indicate that 96.6% of voters backed breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia.  On Monday, Crimea declared its independence and applied to join Russia.  This is the most radical redrawing of the European map since Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

The Ukraine’s interim president Oleksandr Turchynov denounced the vote as a “great farce.”  Ukraine’s lawmakers also approved a partial mobilisation of the army, which is aimed at countering Russian troops’ effective seizure of Crimea.  The defence minister also insisted that Ukrainian troops would stay in the strategic Black Sea region.

Although EU officials have not released any names of the twenty-one officials, who will have travel bans and asset freezes imposed on them, they will reportedly affect top Russian ministers and presidential aids, however not Putin himself, and are mean to demonstrate the West’s united resolve to punish Kremlin for its overt show of post-Soviet might.  Despite the sanctions, Putin has signalled that he has no intentions of turning back on what he describes as his defence of ethnic Russians who have come under increasing attack from Ukrainian ultranationalists.  Other authorities in Moscow and ordinary Russians have also appeared unfazed by the threat of Western sanctions and international isolation.

The latest crisis follows the ousting on 22 February 2014 of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Victor Yanukovych, who had sparked months of street protests by rejecting a planned EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with Moscow.  Pro-Russian forces have been in control of Crimea since late February however Moscow has on a number of occasions stipulated that the troops are pro-Russian self-defence forces and are not under its direct control.

Most of the international community has rejected the referendum, calling it illegal because Russia had vowed to respect its neighbour’s territorial integrity under a 1994 agreement that saw Ukraine renounce its Soviet-era nuclear arms.  The White House indicated over the weekend that US President Barack Obama had warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Washington and its allies would “never” recognize Crimea’s breakaway vote.  However the government in Crimea has announced a series of measures that are aimed at severing its ties with Ukraine.  Amongst these are seizing Ukrainian institutions and plans to set the peninsula on Moscow time.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will address both houses of Parliament over Crimea’s vote to leave Ukraine and become a part of Russia.  According to Ivan Melnikov, the first deputy speaker of the lower house, the State Duma, “the speech of the president with an address on Crimea has been scheduled for 3 PM (1100 GMT).  The Kremlin has confirmed the statement however the contents of Putin’s address have not been revealed.  State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin indicated that Russia will recognize Crimea’s independence from Ukraine in a special treaty, with lawmakers also stating that they would accelerate procedures to allow Crimea to join Russia and fast-track bills to give out Russian passports to local residents.

G7 Warns Russia on “Annexing” Crimea

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On Wednesday, days ahead of a planned referendum, leaders of the G7 group of nations called on Russia to stop its efforts to “annex” Ukraine’s Crimea region, stating that if Russia takes such a step, they would “take further action, individually and collectively.”  The G7 leaders also indicated that they would not recognize the results of a referendum in Crimea, which will be held this weekend, to decide on whether to split from Ukraine and join Russia.  Meanwhile, Ukraine’s national security chief has warned of a major Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders.

The European Union (EU), along with the Group of Seven (G7) industrial nations, which includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, urged Russia to “cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea.”  A statement released by the White House indicated, “in addition to its impact on the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea could have grave implications for the legal order that protects unity and sovereignty of all states.”  According to officials in the US, Sunday’s referendum has “no legal effect” as it is in “direct violation” of Ukraine’s constitution.  Officials added “given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force.”

The G7 leaders have repeated their calls for Russia to de-escalate the crisis by withdrawing its troops from Crimea, to talk directly with Kiev and to use international mediators in order to “address any legitimate concerns it may have.”  Meanwhile European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso indicated that he hoped EU countries would keep their “very united and firm position because we don’t want to see, one century after the First World War, exactly the same kind of behaviour of countries annexing other countries.”

Other European leaders have also weighed in on the on going crisis.  Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has stated that it may be time for the EU “to consider the possibility of having second phase sanctions” against Russia.  During a joint news conference with Mr Tusk, German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that the EU could sign the “political part” of a long-awaited agreement on closer ties with Ukraine later this month.  In a further public indication of Western support for Ukraine’s new leadership, US President Barack Obama is set to meet with interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk later in Washington.

Despite the looming referendum, diplomatic efforts with Russia are continuing.  US Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that he will travel to London to hold talks with Minister Sergei Lavron on Friday.  According to the Kerry, he will present him “with a series of options” for resolving the crisis.  France’s President Francois Hollande has also spoken by telephone with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, indicating that both agreed to “continue the discussion” on resolving the crisis.   Despite Russia indicating that it may want to continue diplomatic discussions with the West, troop movements in Crimea demonstrate the Russia is unlikely to back down despite threats of sanctions.

Ukraine’s national security chief Andriy Parubiy indicated Wednesday that Moscow had not withdrawn its troops after carrying out military exercises near Ukraine’s eastern and southern frontiers last month.  He further noted that the Russian army “is only two to three hours” from Kiev, adding that Ukraine’s “units are positioned to repel attacks from any direction.”  Sources have indicated that Russian troops have been seen massing on Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, with Ukrainian officials describing the situation as “critical.”  He has accused Moscow of sending “subversive agents” into those areas to try to create a pre-text to deploy troops in the same way it has done in Crimea.   Mr Parubiy has also indicated that Kiev’s parliament will vote on Thursday to establish a National Guard of 20,000 people, recruited from activists involved in the recent pro-Western protests as well as former military academies, in order to strengthen Ukraine’s defences.  He indicated that the National Guard would be deployed to “protect state borders, general security and prevent ‘terrorist activities.’”

Crisis Timeline:

  • 21 November 2013 – President Victor Yanukovych abandons deal on closer ties with the EU in favour of closer co-operation with Russia
  • December 2013 – Pro-EU protesters occupy Kiev city hall and Independence Square.
  • 20 February 2014 – At least 88 people are killed in 48 hours of bloodshed in Kiev.
  • 21 February 2014 – President Yanukovych signs compromise deal with opposition leaders.
  • 22 February 2014 – President Yanukovych flees Kiev.  Parliament votes to remove him and sets presidential elections for 25 May.
  • 27 – 28 February 2014 – Pro-Russian gunmen seize key buildings in Crimean capital Simeferopol
  • 1 March 2014 – Russian parliament approves President Vladimir Putin’s request to use Russian forces in Ukraine.
  • 6 March 2014 – Crimea’s parliament asks to join Russia and sets a referendum for 16 March.

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Ahead of a Referendum, Ukraine’s Crimea Votes for Full Independence

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On Tuesday, Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula voted for full independence from Ukraine ahead of a referendum to join Russia.  Meanwhile, France has threatened sanctions against Moscow, which could be implemented as early as this week.

Yanukovych Remains Defiant 

The latest escalation, in what has developed into Europe’s worst crisis in decades, came moments after ousted pro-Kremlin leader Victor Yanukovych defiantly vowed to return to Kiev from Russia, declaring that he was still the leader of the former Soviet country.  Speaking to reporters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Yanukovych, in what is his first public appearance since February 28, stated “I remain not just the sole legitimate president of Ukraine but also commander-in-chief,” adding “as soon as the circumstances allow – and I am sure there is not long to wait – I will without doubt return to Kiev.”

In light of the upcoming referendum, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that if Moscow failed to respond to Western proposals on the standoff, sanctions against Russia could come as early as this week.  On Tuesday, Western officials are also expected to meet in London in order to finalize a list of Russian officials who may face asset freezes and travel restrictions over their role in endangering the sovereignty of Europe’s largest state.

Independence and Referendum

On Tuesday, Crimea’s parliamentary assembly took another dramatic step by issuing a declaration proclaiming the region’s full independence from Kiev rule.  The body had earlier voted to actually join Russia, with the latest move appearing to be primarily aimed at creating a legal framework for becoming a part of Russia as a sovereign state.

Crimea has been a tinderbox since Russian forces seized control of the Black Sea peninsula, which has been home to its Black Sea Fleet since the 18th century, with help of Kremlin-backed militias days after Yanukovych fled Ukraine last month in response to three months of deadly unrest.  The strategic region’s self-declared rulers are recruiting volunteers to fight Ukrainian soldiers while Russia’s parliament on Tuesday prepared legislation that would simplify the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea after Sunday’s vote.  However the pro-European leaders in Kiev have rejected the referendum and are appealing to Western powers for both diplomatic backing and pressure on Moscow to release its troops stronghold on the rugged peninsula of two million people.

NATO Launches Surveillance

Meanwhile NATO announced Monday that it will deploy AWACS reconnaissance aircraft, which will overfly Poland and Romania, as part of alliance efforts to monitor the crisis in Ukraine.  The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) will fly missions from their home base in Geilenkirchen, Germany, where seventeen are housed, and from Waddington in Britain.  The AWACS aircraft are one of the most sophisticated command and control vehicles in the NATO armoury, capable of monitoring huge swathes of airspace, with diplomatic sources indicating that the AWACS were routinely deployed and on that count, there was nothing unusual in their use in this case.    However a diplomatic source has indicated that it is unusual that the deployment has been announced publicly.

According to a NATO official, the flights “will enhance the Alliance’s situational awareness,” adding “all AWACS reconnaissance flights will take place solely over Alliance territory.”  The official also noted “this decision is an appropriate and responsible action in line with NATO’s decision to intensify our on-going assessment of the implications of this crisis for Alliance security.”  Flying over Poland and Romania the AWACS planes should be able to see far into Ukraine’s airspace.

As the Ukraine crisis has deepened, with Russian intervention on the Crimean peninsula, former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe have become increasingly nervous at President Vladimir Putin’s apparent willingness to up the ante.  The situation risks becoming more difficult if Crimea, which is now controlled by pro-Russian leaders, votes in a March 16 referendum to break all links with Kiev and become a part of Russia.  Poland and the Baltic states especially have taken a hard line as events have unfolded and last week, Warsaw called for urgent consultations with its NATO allies on the situation.  In response to Putin’s move into Crimea, which is home to a large Russian-speaking population and the Black Sea fleet, the US is sending a dozen F-16 fighter jets and 300 service personnel to Poland as part of a training exercise.  Last week, Washington also deployed six additional F-15 fighter jets to step up NATO air patrols over the Baltic states.


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Top Diplomats Meet in Paris to find Solution To Ukrainian Crisis

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As top diplomats are seeking to find a solution to the crisis in Ukraine as they meet in Paris, France to hold high-level talks with both parties, Russia announced on Wednesday that it could not order “self defence” forces in Ukraine’s Crimea region back to their bases.  With the crisis in Ukraine an on-going matter, Russia and the West are locked in the most serious confrontation since the conclusion of the Cold War.

Meeting in Paris 

Russia’s Foreign Minister Serge Lavrov has confirmed that he will hold talks with his counterpart from the United States, along with key European Union states, in order to try and resolve the crisis in Ukraine.

Mr Lavrov will meet on Wednesday with US Secretary of State John Kerry and count parts from the United Kingdom, Germany and France on the side-lines of a long-planned conference on Lebanon which will be held in Paris.  Speaking before meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, and other Western ministers, Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov repeated Moscow’s assertion that the troops that have seized control of the Black Sea peninsula are not under Russian command.  Asked whether Moscow would order forces in Crimea back to their bases, the Russian Minister indicated that “if you mean the self-defence units created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we give them no orders, they take no order from us,” adding “as for the military personnel of the Black Sea Fleet, they are in their deployment sites.  Yes, additional vigilance measures were taken to safeguard the sites….We will do everything not to allow any bloodshed.”

Although the gathering in Paris is seen as a chance to test the waters for a dialogue about Ukraine, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has indicated that the Russians have already failed to appear at one meeting with Ukrainian officials in Paris and that he is “not optimistic” that any further progress will be achieved.  In reference to a threat of sanctions by the US and the EU, Hague indicated that “if we cannot make progress on that course there will be costs and consequences.”   Russia did not attend a meeting with Kerry, Hague and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia of the so-called Budapest group created to assure Ukraine’s security after it abandoned nuclear weapons in 1994.  However both Kerry and Hague have indicated that they will try to bring the Russian and Ukrainian minister together.

NATO and Russia are also due to hold parallel talks in Brussels amidst concerns that a standoff between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Crimea could still spark violence, or that Moscow could also intervene in the Russian-speaking eastern region of Ukraine.

The West is pushing for Russia to return troops to their barracks, to accept international monitors in Crimea and Ukraine and to negotiate a solution to the crisis through a “contact group,” which will most likely be under the auspices of a pan-European security body.  Officials from France have also indicated that European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday could also decide to place sanctions against Russia if there is no “de-escalation” by then.

Last year, under great pressure from Russia, Ukraine pulled out of a trade deal with the EU.  This move effectively sparked months of protests in Kiev and on 22 February 2014, Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich, a Russian ally, was ousted from power.  Russia currently occupies Crimea, where it’s Black Sea Fleet is based, a move which has raised international tensions and provoked sharp falls in financial markets

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