Tag Archives: Germany

Ukraine Situation Update (24 July 2015)

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Despite the Minsk II ceasefire agreement officially still being in full effect since mid-February, eastern Ukraine has had to cope with a new wave of violence that started in June and which increased in intensity in July, 2015. During the last week of June the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met in an effort to revive high-end diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the conflict between the governmental forces and the pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine. A statement released by the French foreign minister at the end of the meeting disclosed that the ministers agreed that a quick de-escalation of hostilities is imperative to allow the negotiation of a viable peace deal that would arrange a series of political, security, humanitarian and economic issues that arose with the creation of the rebel regions in eastern Ukraine.

However during July it was proved that the meeting did not succeed in decreasing the tensions between the two sides in Ukraine. The new violations were confirmed from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that warned on July 3 that a growing presence of heavy weaponry on the government controlled side of Donbass territory put governmental forces in violation of the terms of the demarcation line. It also noted the augmented movement and use of military equipment by the Ukrainian forces. According to OSCE Deputy Chief Monitor, Alexander Hug, the same processes were noted in the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, where there was an increase in military equipment around Komsomolskoe. OSCE also reported that it had documented shelling on the buffer-zone areas in eastern Ukraine.

However, the biggest part of the hostilities are taking place in Donetsk, where between July 11 and 17 six people died as a result of hostilities, and 13 people were wounded, among them 11 civilians and two soldiers. In addition to that, six people were reported missing and illegally detained during the same period. Donetsk’s ombudswoman, Darya Morozova, reported that the number of people detained by the Ukrainian side has reached 1,500. She added that while prisoner exchanges have been effected between Ukraine and the rebel forces of Donetsk and Lugansk peoples republics, Kiev has refused to include many of the political as well as military prisoners it is holding. The tension between the two sides intensified further since the new wave of violence in Donetsk resulted in civilians deaths and the destruction of the city’s infrastructure. The National Defence and Security Council of Ukraine said that the pro-Russian militants has concentrated heavy weaponry in three major points around Donetsk: in the village of Spartak, at the now-destroyed Donetsk airport, and in the Kievskiy district of the city. According to the Council the separatists used these points to launch heavy shelling of both Ukrainian positions and residential areas on July 19. The shelling resulted in the deaths of four civilians —including a 9-year-old girl— and four others were injured in Ukraine-controlled territory. Additionally, the Ukrainian military reported that in the last 24 hours one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and seven others have been wounded. Apart from the deaths, the shelling caused the destruction of at least four residential blocks in the city of Donetsk. The separatist group, the self-described Donetsk People’s Republic, confirmed that 19 buildings were damaged including a hospital. Further destruction had been caused on July 18 when another person died and three were injured in a massive fire in the central part of the city, without the official causes of the fire being disclosed. On July 19 and after the news of new shelling and the destruction in Donetsk, Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the Donetsk People’s Republic, said the Republic had agreed to withdraw 100-millimeter weapons to locations 3 kilometres from the front line. The media quoted Basurin saying that the decisions was dictated under the ‘’unswerving desire and the will to establish peace in the Donbass’’.

At the same time, the first week of July, a Ukrainian group that supports the Ukrainian government published a video captured by drone aircraft and it was reported that it shows a Russian military encampment in eastern Ukraine. There have been many claims concerning the Russian army’s involvement in eastern Ukraine however Russia has denied any direct involvement. If the video is proved to be legit it would be the first tangible proof of Russian army’s involvement in eastern Ukraine fighting along the pro-Russian militants. The video was posted on YouTube by Dnipro-1, a volunteer defence force. It included English subtitles and claims the encampment is in the village of Solncevo, in Ukraine’s Donetsk region. The video points out T-72 tanks, construction equipment and large tents, raising questions about whether a headquarters has been established for command and control. However. the authenticity of the video is still under doubt and there have not been any official commends regarding the footage.

On top of these incidents, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, said that the threat of criminal violence has ‘’significantly risen’’ in Ukraine, describing the country awash with trafficked weapons. The crisis enables criminal to thrive and benefit from the instability. He said weapons were being trafficked from the conflict zone. With police resources focused on the east, “there will be an increase in grievous and especially life-threatening crimes” in other parts of Ukraine. Poroshenko and the government hope a new police force, which was trained by U.S. and Canadian forces, will help combat widespread corruption in Ukraine, which is on the brink of bankruptcy after years of economic mismanagement.

Violent incidents were reported in western Ukraine opening a new security crisis for the Ukrainian President. On July 11, two fighters of Ukraine’s Right Sector far-right paramilitary group were killed and four wounded in a shootout in Ukraine’s western town of Mukachevo. Earlier on in the day, Ukrainian media reported that one person was killed and nine injured in Mukachevo, after some unidentified people seized a local sport complex and exchanged gunfire with police. Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said that three attackers were killed and three policemen and four civilians were injured in Mukachevo. The mayor of Mukachevo later added that a total of 10 people were injured during the shootout, including five civilians and five members of law enforcement agencies. Alexander Sachko, the head of the Right Sector group in the Zakarpattia region confirmed that the group’s members were involved in the incident and said that the local police opened fire on them without warning.

In the meantime, Kiev has also to handle protests taking place in the capital with the people protesting high housing and public utilities prices, which have skyrocketed 88 percent since last year worsening an already difficult period for the Ukrainian people. Utility rates, including water and heating prices, have grown three-fold in Ukraine due to a rise in the price of gas since April 1, 2015. Electricity prices are being increased in accordance with a five-stage program, due to be completed by March 1, 2017. Amid the tension, Kiev has suspended Russian gas purchases after a breakdown in talks aimed at keeping supplies running for three to six months. It will be the second time in less than a year that Russian fuel supplies have stopped running to Ukraine. Moscow hiked prices after Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February 2014.

In another wave of protests, about 1,000 Ukrainian pro-government fighters and far-right supporters have marched through the centre of the Ukrainian capital burning tyres and wearing balaclavas and demanding that the government ends the ceasefire accord and declare war on pro-Russian rebels in the east. Many in the rally were from volunteer battalions and were dressed in their battle fatigues. They said they had returned from fighting Russian forces and demanded an end to all diplomatic relations with Russia.

To the present the crisis in eastern Ukraine has resulted in over 6,400 people been killed since the start of Kiev’s anti-terror operation” and the seizure of large parts in eastern Ukraine by the rebels. A total of 1.35 million Ukrainians are now designated as internally displaced persons, according to UN estimates. Five months after the Minsk II ceasefire accord that was destined to be the base for a viable and peaceful solution in Ukraine, it seems that peace is as far away as ever.

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The German Spy Scandal

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Two years ago, after the NSA’s former contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the extent of U.S. electronic espionage in Europe, which allegedly included monitoring Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, Germany was presented as a victim of aggressive intelligence gathering. However, it seems a new scandal arose recently that presents Germany as a willing accomplice in NSA’s intelligence gathering in Europe. According to these allegations, Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, carried out extensive surveillance at the request of NSA. Reports suggest that various European companies, institutions and individuals were targeted something that violates the German policy and law, since the type of information the BND is allowed to collect is strictly regulated by German law. According to the reports, BND provided signals intelligence for the NSA in more than 40,000 instances. Additionally, there are reports that claim that NSA have passed some 800,000 IP addresses, phone numbers and email addresses to the BND to monitor. These new allegations raised a lot of questions against the German government and its alleged contribution in authorizing BND to collect and share that kind of intelligence with NSA. This new scandal came as a godsend gift at the hands of the opposition that found a new tool to attack the Chancellor since she enjoys great popularity amongst Germans voters.

After the scandal was made public, BND halted any Internet-related intelligence sharing with the NSA. At the same time, the German parliament demanded a full list of all the companies, institutions and individuals that were deemed suitable to be spied on. The parliamentary committee proceeded in questioning Thomas de Maizière, the Interior Minister, behind closed doors. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she too would be willing to testify if the committee deemed necessary. However, the scandal is already harming Angela Merkel’s public profile since she came into power under the promise of competence and credibility. The German people feel deceived with the hypocrisy of the German government when back in 2013 when Germany was presented as the victim of aggressive intelligence Angela Merkel had said that ‘’spying among friends is not acceptable’’, and under these new allegations Germany nowadays does what it had denounced back in 2013. Austria announced that it filled a legal complaint against Germany over suspicions that its authorities and firms were among the targets of BND-NSA’s spying. Similarly, Airbus Group, an aerospace and defence manufacturer, is allegedly another one of the BND-NSA’s targets. After these allegations became public, Airbus announced that it plans to file a criminal complaint over the suspicion that BND aided the U.S carry out industrial espionage.

The BND is actively seeking a more substantial cooperation with NSA, since it relies on NSA intelligence. Especially now that BND needs to track German individuals travelling to Iraq and Syria and fighting for ISIS and similar terror groups and the subsequent return of these individuals back to Germany. This scandal seems to be based on BND’s efforts to increase the ties between the two intelligence agencies, even by using means and methods that would have been controversial if they ever became public knowledge, as it happened. However, the method that BND choose to promote this collaboration, with or without the German government’s knowledge as it is not clear yet, actually sabotaged its goals since it made the Germans suspicious against the United States and make it harder to promote intelligence sharing between the two countries beyond the minimum necessary.

This is not the first time such allegations have been made against BND, since in March 2014, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper published an article that claimed that BND supplied the NSA with German citizen’s communication data from 2004 to 2008, in a project under the code name ‘’Eikonal’’. This new scandal is coming amid concerns how to balance the need for surveillance during a time where the threats against the state have multiplied and are of increased complexity. The national governments are struggling to find the balance between the need for security and the protection of the individuals’ privacy rights.

The main problem with this scandal is not based upon whether BND and NSA are collaborating in terms or intelligence sharing, but whether they exchange intelligence concerning areas well beyond anti-terrorism activities that are promoted under the need of securing German people. Additionally, through this scandal surfaced the question whether the German government knew about BND’s extended activities and if it did something to prevent it or put a halt on it. Since this is not an isolated incident the German government finds it especially difficult to persuade the public that it was ignorant of BND’s collaboration with NSA in spying on European targets. On top of that, and despite the government’s denials of being involved and its willingness to help clear up the scandal, members of Germany’s ruling parties delayed a decision on whether lawmakers should get access to secret lists detailing the extent of Germany’s intelligence cooperation with the United States. The lawmakers demanded these lists since they include search terms the NSA asked of BND to look out for while eavesdropping on international phone and data traffic.

This scandal goes along with the latest trend that finds the states trying to increase their surveillance powers under the justification of the new forms of security threats that have arose. They promote the necessity of these more intrusive measures that should be adopted even if they operate against the individuals’ privacy rights. France’s lower house recently adopted a sweeping new spying bill that would give French intelligence the power to deploy hi-tech tools such as vehicle tracking and mobile phone identification devices against individual without judicial oversight. Moreover, before the British elections, Prime Minister David Cameron had promised to authorise British intelligence agencies to read ‘’all messages sent over the Internet’’ in a package of legal provisions named as the ‘’snoopers’ carter’’ by its opponents. Germany is not an exception as it tries to increase its surveillance abilities against the security threat posed by individuals fighting alongside terror groups and many German nationals that are returning from Iraq and Syria and could potentially organise attacks inside Germany. However, BND’s actions brought the German people’s outrage both against the agency and against the German leadership, complicating the government’s plan towards the adoption of a legislation that would increase BND’s powers as it happened in other European countries. Furthermore, this scandal became another tool for the German opposition to attack Chancellor Angela Merkel inside Germany since she is already facing a lot of criticism regarding the way she handles the Greek economic crisis and the Ukrainian crisis.

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Ukrainian Ceasefire Agreement

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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.

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EU Leaders Warn of Further Sanctions on Russia

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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.”

Further Sanctions

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.


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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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