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Russia Responds to Ukraine Kerch Provocation and How Martial Law Affects Minsk II

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photo credit: Crimea's FSB Press Service

Short Interview with Russian UN Deputy Permanent Rep  Dimitry Polanskiy about the Kerch incident and how Ukraine’s declaring Martial Law affects Donbass by George & Olga Eliason.

On November 25, 2018, Russian border patrol intercepted three Ukrainian warships on course for the Kerch bridge. Ignoring previous agreements, Ukraine did not tell Russia or schedule transit through the shallow water strait.

Commercial and state traffic have to schedule traversing the narrow channel because it handles traffic from one direction at a time. This is most important for vessels with a deeper draft because water depth is shallow going through.

A vessel’s draft is the distance from the waterline to the bottom of the hull. This determines the minimum depth needed for the vessel to safely navigate shallow water such as the Kerch Strait. The strait can hold a vessel with an eight-meter (26 ft) draft as long as pilot assistance is used.

According to Ukraine’s version of the Kerch incident, three warships were going from the port of Odessa to the port of Mariupol and Russia shot at and captured the vessels that were innocently traveling from port to port.

The Daily Signal reported “On Sunday, Europe’s two largest standing armies went to the precipice of a major war.

That day, Russian military forces attacked and captured three Ukrainian navy vessels that were transiting through the Russian-controlled Kerch Strait on their way from Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa to Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov.

“This attack, of course, is not accidental. This is clearly an element planned by Russians in the escalation of the situation in the waters of the Sea of Azov, which has been lasting for several months. And I’m sure this is still not a culmination,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Monday in remarks posted to his administration’s website.”

Reporting for the Daily Signal, Nolan Peterson gets the date and the fact an incident happened right. And with what’s become par for Ukrainian outlets since the civil war started, he rushes to get his story out or just ignores the facts and paints what has been shown as Ukraine’s attempt to provoke a violent Russian reaction.

The only big story Peterson brings to the table from the Ukrainian side is that Petr Poroshenko agrees there is no state of war between Ukraine and Russia as of November 25, 2018. No war, no armies in Donbass. No armies, just Ukraine’s continual lies to help rake in sympathy graft so lawmakers get rich.

The story goes on to say Ukraine notified the proper authorities about their passage, and then in what has become typical fashion the same story states bluntly that Ukraine did not fill out the required paperwork or notify anyone they were coming.

What do Ukraine’s captured naval captains have to say? They were there under orders.

According to Vladimir Lesovoy, a third rank captain of the Ukrainian Navy, who acknowledged that he consciously ignored calls from Russian border guards to stop. Lesovoy also said that the goal of the raid was to stage a provocation.”

Ukraine Navy’s Lieutenant Alexey stated bluntly they all knew they were violating Russian territorial waters.

The story that is surfacing is the Ukrainian navy vessels had enough fuel onboard to make it to the Kerch strait but if everything was done properly. But with the usual 2-3 hour queue to go through, there was not enough fuel to make it to the other side.

Obviously unless they had prearranged refueling near or at the bridge, they had no plan of going through. They were under orders to travel full throttle to the Kerch Strait and not stop regardless of outcome.

Since the only option for fueling would probably come out of Mariupol and no refueling boats or barges have been seen, the captain was right- This was a provocation.

NATO, the EU, Canada, and the US Ambassador to the UN Haley unequivocally support Ukraine in its weird and unique fabrication of this event. US president Donald Trump isn’t following suit.

According to Ukraine, Russia was laying in wait for the opportune moment Ukraine would send warships near its new bridge with Ukraine continually crying about a Ukraine-Russian war. Russia would then capture Ukraine’s battle-tested tugboat and Soviet-era artillery ships for a museum piece perhaps?

Now that we’ve cut through the story and it’s clear even when addressed from the Ukrainian perspective, in its best light, it is still a military provocation.

While Ukrainian ships were in international waters no actions were taken.  Warnings were given for Ukraine to follow the routine procedure to go through the Kerch Strait.

The procedures include scheduling the passage 48 hours in advance to going through at the Kerch Port Captain Office. You have to confirm the plan 24 hours ahead of arrival and again 4 hours before you go through.

What is Russia’s official reaction? I had a chance to ask Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Dimitry Polanskiy.

George Eliason- Why is Russia using such a soft approach to Ukraine? The Kerch Strait incident is a key example. Ukraine ignored the agreed-upon format for bringing warships into the strait and Russia came very close to addressing it like a border incident instead of a military provocation. Is there a denoted Red Line Russia is holding Ukraine too?

And I asked how does this or Ukraine’s declaration of Martial law affect Russia’s view as a guarantor of the Minsk Agreements?

RF Deputy PR to the UN Polanskiy– “Russia is trying to ignore Ukraine provocations to avoid war which will be imminent if we reply as we should. We don’t want to give Poroshenko a chance to improve his miserable ratings but if he attacks we will reply. We still stick to Minsk Agreements and there is no other way to solve this issue if Ukraine wishes to keep these regions in one state. Martial law is an internal affair of Ukraine unless it starts an offensive in Donbass.”

Why did Poroshenko declare Martial Law right after his tugboat was captured? Why did he wait five years into Ukraine’s civil war? Sources all over the Internet are looking at the regions under Martial law since November 26th. If we look at the area not under these restrictions which include voting in elections, it is where Poroshenko got at least 50% of the vote in 2014.

Does the Martial law declaration affect Donbass? I asked Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) Foreign Minister Vladislav Danego and Deputy Foreign Minister Anna Soroka.

George Eliason– Kiev declared martial law. How does this affect Minsk 2?

LNR FM Danego– “We will work through the Europeans to ensure that it does not affect Minsk 2. The initiative from Merkel has already been on this topic – 60 days (for Martial Law) was adjusted to 30.”

According to the still surfacing story, Poroshenko wanted to declare Martial law for 60 days. Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleg Lyashko thwarted this in the Rada and pared it back to 30 days as a compromise.

And right on queue from the same article backing up the Foreign Minister’s statement- “Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s defence minister, appeared to blame Moscow for breaching a 2003 agreement with Kiev that is supposed to allow for free shipping in the area.”

Merkel, not Tymoshenko is the one working overtime to smooth things out and not let Ukraine get out of hand. If Moscow had to agree to free shipping, the Kerch Strait is in Russian territorial waters. Russian land is on either side of the Kerch strait since Crimea held a referendum to rejoin Russia in 2014.

LNR Deputy FM Soroka- We don’t think that this (Ukrainian Martial Law) will affect Minsk in any way. All meetings within the framework of the Minsk process are still scheduled. Nobody mentioned any changes. Indeed, we must look at the reaction of Moscow, but again, except for notes and indignation at international venues, nothing will happen.

There are a few good reasons for Poroshenko to declare Martial law that have as much or more merit than him postponing or winning the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election by default.

Poroshenko timed both the Kerch incident and Martial law declarations right ahead of the G-20 summit to drum up support for Ukraine and get the international community in line against Moscow.

This might give him a little room back in Ukraine to complete his political triad of Army-Language-Faith. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church split with the Moscow Patriarchate was supposed to be the crown of his political life. Not every political leader can split Christianity successfully in his own lifetime.

And clearly, Petr Poroshenko is finding that out the hard way. When Poroshenko called a meeting of the bishops who would vote on autocephaly, only two out of more than eighty showed up. He’s found out that very few Orthodox leaders favor the idea.

Martial law gives Poroshenko the legal cover to suppress the areas where dissident Orthodox officials are and possibly still pass his Kiev patriarchate breakaway church through some semblance of a Church Sobor (Congress).

And last but never least, there is a new “cold Maidan” forming.  There’s no heat and people are freezing. There’s no work and people are starving. They can’t pay their bills or buy medications. Instead of rebuilding the economic base needed to take the country out of abject poverty, Ukraine prosecutes a war with a former region. Instead of trying to keep agreements it signed which would reintegrate Donbass peacefully.

According to leading Ukrainian political scientist Mikhail Pogrebinsky, 75-80% of the population think Ukraine is going in the wrong direction. If this is the case, how do the Ukrainians have any credibility internationally?

The International community has a responsibility to oversee the tax dollars it gave Ukraine for reform that has been continually wasted. The EU has a responsibility to its own people not to exasperate the humanitarian situation it created in Ukraine that will end up flooding Europe with hopeless west and central Ukrainians.

Ukraine must be held to the same standard of law every other government is held instead of being given a free pass every time Ukraine or its nationalists go on a crime spree.

Just because “It (Ukraine’s nationalist government) was intellectually decapitated (according to Zbigniew Brzezinski and Ashton B. Carter),  as a matter of deliberate policy during the Stalin years and beyond so that the most able and energetic Ukrainians were either killed or magnetically attracted to Moscow and Russified” doesn’t give Ukraine a free pass to relive their grandparents crimes or start regional wars in a 2018 world.

George Eliason is an American journalist who lives and works in Donbass. His articles have been cited in books about the Ukrainian civil war. He has been published at Mint Press News, the Security Assistance Monitor, Washingtons Blog, OpedNews, Consortium News, the Saker, RT, Global Research, and RINF, ZeroHedge, and the Greenville Post along with many other great publications. He has been cited and republished by various academic blogs including Defending History, Michael Hudson, SWEDHR, Counterpunch, the Justice Integrity Project, along with many others. Project Censored listed two article series from 2017,2018 as #2 for national impact for those years.

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Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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