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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

Unhappy Iran Battles for Lost Influence in South Caucasus

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Events that might not matter elsewhere in the world matter quite a lot in the South Caucasus. Given a recent history of conflict, with all the bad feelings that generates, plus outside powers playing geostrategic games, and its growing importance as an energy corridor between Europe and Central Asia, the region is vulnerable. 

This has been worsened by the two-year-long Western absence of engagement. In 2020, Europe and the U.S. were barely involved as the second Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving about 7,000 dead. With tensions now on the rise between Azerbaijan and Iran, Western uninterest is again evident, even though this might have wider ramifications for future re-alignment in the South Caucasus. 

The drumbeat of Iranian activity against Azerbaijan has been consistent in recent months. Iran is getting increasingly edgy about Israel’s presence in the South Caucasus — hardly surprising given Israel’s painfully well-targeted assassination and computer hacking campaigns against nuclear staff and facilities — and especially its growing security and military ties with Azerbaijan, with whom Iran shares a 765km (430 mile) border. Iran has also voiced concern about the presence in the region of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, who were used as Azeri assault troops last year.  

Much of the anger has been played out in military exercises. The Azeri military has been busy since its victory, exercising near the strategic Lachin corridor which connects the separatist region to Armenia, and in the Caspian Sea, where it has jointly exercised with Turkish personnel. Iran, in turn, sent units to the border region this month for drills of an unstated scale. 

This week, the Azeri and Iranian foreign ministers agreed to dial down the rhetoric amid much talk of mutual understanding. Whether that involved promises regarding the Israeli presence or a pledge by Iran to abandon a newly promised road to Armenia was not stated. 

Iran’s behavior is a recognition of the long-term strategic changes caused by the Armenian defeat last year. Iran has been sidelined. Its diplomatic initiatives have failed, and it has been unwelcome in post-conflict discussions. 

It is true that Iran was never a dominant power in the South Caucasus. Unlike Russia or Turkey, the traditional power brokers, it has not had a true ally. Iran was certainly part of the calculus for states in the region, but it was not feared, like Russia or Turkey. And yet, the South Caucasus represents an area of key influence, based on millennia of close political and cultural contacts. 

Seen in this light, it is unsurprising that Iran ratcheted up tensions with Azerbaijan. Firstly, this reasserted the involvement of the Islamic Republic in the geopolitics of the South Caucasus. It was also a thinly-veiled warning to Turkey that its growing ambitions and presence in the region are seen as a threat. In Iran’s view, Turkey’s key role as an enabler of Azeri irridentism is unmistakable. 

Turkish involvement has disrupted the foundations of the South Caucasian status quo established in the 1990s. To expect Turkey to become a major power there is an overstretch, but it nevertheless worries Iran. For example, the recent Caspian Sea exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey appear to run counter to a 2018 agreement among the sea’s littoral states stipulating no external military involvement. 

The Caspian Sea has always been regarded by Iranians as an exclusive zone shared first with the Russian Empire, later the Soviets, and presently the Russian Federation. Other littoral states play a minor role. This makes Turkish moves in the basin and the recent improvement of ties between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan an unpleasant development for Iran — fewer barriers to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline threatens the Islamic Republic’s ability to block the project.  

This is where Iranian views align almost squarely with the Kremlin’s. Both fear Turkish progress and new energy routes. The new Iranian leadership might now lean strongly toward Russia. With Russia’s backing, opposition to Turkey would become more serious; Iran’s foreign minister said this month that his country was seeking a “big jump” in relations with Russia. 

The fact is that the region is increasingly fractured and is being pulled in different directions by the greater powers around it. This state of affairs essentially dooms the prospects of pan-regional peace and cooperation initiatives. Take the latest effort by Russia and Turkey to introduce a 3+3 platform with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as Iran. Beyond excluding the West, disagreements will eventually preclude any meaningful progress. There is no unity of purpose between the six states and there are profound disagreements. 

Thus, trouble will at some point recur between Iran and Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey. Given the current situation, and Iran’s visible discontent, it is likely it will take some kind of initiative lest it loses completely its position to Turkey and Russia. 

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Eastern Europe

Right-wing extremist soldiers pose threat to Lithuania

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It is no secret that Lithuania has become a victim of German army’s radicalization. Could this country count on its partners further or foreign military criminals threaten locals?

It is well known that Germany is one of the largest provider of troops in NATO. There are about 600 German troops in Lithuania, leading a Nato battlegroup. According to Lithuanian authorities, Lithuania needs their support to train national military and to protect NATO’s Central and Northern European member states on NATO’s eastern flank.

Two sides of the same coin should be mentioned when we look at foreign troops in Lithuania.

Though Russian threat fortunately remains hypothetical, foreign soldiers deployed in the country cause serious trouble. Thus, the German defence minister admitted that reported this year cases of racist and sexual abuse in a German platoon based in Lithuania was unacceptable.

Members of the platoon allegedly filmed an incident of sexual assault against another soldier and sang anti-Semitic songs. Later more allegations emerged of sexual and racial abuse in the platoon, including soldiers singing a song to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday on 20 April this year.

It turned out that German media report that far-right abuses among the Lithuania-based troops had already surfaced last year. In one case, a soldier allegedly racially abused a non-white fellow soldier. In another case, four German soldiers smoking outside a Lithuanian barracks made animal noises when a black soldier walked past.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said later that the investigation was carried out by Germany and that Lithuania was not privy to its details. The more so, Lithuania is not privy to its details even now. “We are not being informed about the details of the investigation. […] The Lithuanian military is not involved in the investigation, nor can it be,” Anušauskas told reporters, stressing that Germany was in charge of the matter.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, German defence minister, said that these misdeeds would be severely prosecuted and punished. Time has passed, and the details are not still known.

It should be said Germany has for years struggled to modernize its military as it becomes more involved in Nato operations. Nevertheless problems existed and have not been solved yet. According to the annual report on the state of the Bundeswehr made in 2020 by Hans-Peter Bartel, then armed forces commissioner for the German Bundestag, Germany’s army “has too little materiel, too few personnel and too much bureaucracy despite a big budget increase.” Mr Bartels’ report made clear that the Bundeswehr continues to be plagued by deep-seated problems. Recruitment remains a key problem. Mr Bartels said 20,000 army posts remained unfilled, and last year the number of newly recruited soldiers stood at just over 20,000, 3,000 fewer than in 2017. The other problem is radicalization of the armed forces.

Apparently, moral requirements for those wishing to serve in the German army have been reduced. Federal Volunteer Military Service Candidate must be subjected to a thorough medical examination. Desirable to play sports, have a driver’s license and be able to eliminate minor malfunctions in the motor, to speak at least one foreign language, have experience of communicating with representatives of other nationalities, be initiative and independent. After the general the interview follows the establishment of the candidate’s suitability for service in certain types of armed forces, taking into account his wishes. Further candidate passes a test on a computer. He will be asked if he wants study a foreign language and attend courses, then serve in German French, German-Dutch formations or institutions NATO.

So, any strong and healthy person could be admitted, even though he or she could adhere to far-right views or even belong to neo-Nazi groups. Such persons served in Lithuania and, probably, serve now and pose a real threat to Lithuanian military, local population. Neo-Nazism leads to cultivating racial inequalities. The main goal of the neo-Nazis is to cause disorder and chaos in the country, as well as to take over the army and security organs. Lithuanian authorities should fully realize this threat and do not turn a blind eye to the criminal behaviour of foreign military in Lithuania. There is no room to excessive loyalty in this case.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuanian foreign policy: Image is everything

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It seems as if Lithuanian government takes care of its image in the eyes of EU and NATO partners much more than of its population. Over the past year Lithuania managed to quarrel with such important for its economy states like China and Belarus, condemned Hungary for the ban on the distribution of images of LGBT relationships among minors, Latvia and Estonia for refusing to completely cut energy from Belarus. Judging by the actions of the authorities, Lithuania has few tools to achieve its political goals. So, it failed to find a compromise and to maintain mutually beneficial relations with economic partners and neighbours. The authorities decided to achieve the desired results by demanding from EU and NATO member states various sanctions for those countries that, in their opinion, are misbehaving.

Calling for sanctions and demonstrating its “enduring political will”, Lithuania exposed the welfare of its own population. Thus, district heating prices will surge by around 30 percent on average across Lithuania.

The more so, prices for biofuels, which make up 70 percent of heat production on average, are now about 40 higher than last year, Taparauskas, a member of the National Energy Regulatory Council (VERT) said.

“Such a huge jump in prices at such a tense time could threaten a social crisis and an even greater increase in tensions in society. We believe that the state must take responsibility for managing rising prices, especially given the situation of the most vulnerable members of society and the potential consequences for them. All the more so as companies such as Ignitis or Vilnius heating networks “has not only financial resources, but also a certain duty again,” sums up Lukas Tamulynas, the chairman of the LSDP Momentum Vilnius movement.

It should be said, that according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, prices for consumer goods and services have been rising for the eighth month in a row. According to the latest figures, the annual inflation rate is five percent.

Earlier it became known that in 2020 every fifth inhabitant of Lithuania was below the poverty risk line.

Pensioners are considered one of the most vulnerable groups in Lithuania. In 2019, Lithuania was included in the top five EU anti-leaders in terms of poverty risk for pensioners. The share of people over 65 at risk of poverty was 18.7 percent.

In such situation sanctions imposed on neighbouring countries which tightly connected to Lithuanian economy and directly influence the welfare of people in Lithuania are at least damaging. The more so, according Vladimir Andreichenko, the speaker of the House of Representatives of the Belarus parliament, “the unification of the economic potentials of Minsk and Moscow would be a good response to sanctions.” It turned out that Lithuania itself makes its opponents stronger. Such counter-productiveness is obvious to everyone in Lithuania except for its authorities.

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