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Ukraine’s Ecocide in Donbass, 1991 to post-Maidan 2019

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On February 26, 2019, Lugansk People’s Republic hosted a roundtable entitled “Ecocide of Ukraine: Consequences.” This provided a forum for environmental experts from Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) and DNR to formally start addressing the environmentally catastrophic situation both republics inherited from the post-Soviet Ukrainian government.

Both fledgling republics have already started addressing the vast environmental problems outlined below. Even in the middle of a war, the situation demands remedies Kiev never considered providing.

We did initial interviews for what will be an ongoing series with the Minister of Natural Resources and Ecological Safety of Lugansk Peoples Republic Uri Degtyaryov and Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Soroka on the effect of the civil war on the ecology of Donbass.

When the facts are looked at, no matter how bleak the picture, the government under Leonid Pasichnik is making strides with clean up from installing pollution scrubbers at factories to cleaning up old garbage dumps. Because of the importance of these issues, we’ll follow up on the progress at regular intervals.

Minister of Natural Resources and Ecological Safety of Lugansk Peoples Republic Uri Degtyaryov

“You have to understand that life goes on and a new republic is being built; Lugansk People’s Republic. With everyday problems and challenges for a government that never existed before there are international laws and rules our government still has to adhere to.

For ecology, this includes international conventions accepted by the civilized world. Our republic is not recognized by the world, but we are trying to live according to international standards. That is why this is the right direction to go in and the policy documents show we voluntarily follow international conventions although we are still not recognized the international community.

Without being recognized, we recognize international rules and standards. So those documents (LNR environmental policy) are prepared being prepared according to international standards.

When we talk about other steps, we have prepared for the next challenges. It is what was discussed at the round table today. For us, the most difficult challenge that we talked about at the round table is that we haven’t given a full assessment of the damage caused by military action by the Ukrainian army.

We have to count every crater, every damaged tree, and every destroyed dam. This all has to be translated into monetary values. Unfortunately, we came from a peaceful era. We are ill-equipped for this type of assessment. We lack the methodology needed.

Right now that work is being done. For instance, one small natural object (Ostria Magila) that was a protected area (conservation area) by law which is 49 hectares (121 acres) was damaged by Grad rockets and Hurricane rockets from the Ukrainian army. Thirty-eight enormous craters destroyed the trees and just in damages to the trees, three and one half (3 ½) million rubles of damage was done.

And this was a small area. Can you imagine the costs for the damage to the rest of the republic? We are assessing the damage.

The second stage to what we are doing is to remediate the damage that has been done so far. We have 3.4 thousand hectares of wooded area that is destroyed by military action; it’s a proud moment to say we are replacing it. It takes years for trees to grow. It’s one thing to plant them. You have to take care of them. They have to be pruned and cared for.

And so now we say with pride, the first seedlings have grown and the crowns have formed. They are replacing wooded areas that were destroyed. We have replanted 270 hectares of wooded area that was destroyed by the military action.

Every year we plant seedlings and we still have to purchase more. And of course, we deal with other everyday problems. Before the war, there was no recycling of trash in Lugansk Oblast. Right now, we are recycling 82 types of trash.

Before the war, we didn’t have the replacement fish to replenish supplies. Now we have 12 fish farms that produce replacement fish.

So, in short, we need peace and everything else we’ll do ourselves.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Soroka concludes Ukraine’s use of banned munitions is war crimes and ecocide.

LNR Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Soroka 

“Ecocide according to international law is considered a most dangerous crime against humanity. There are several directions in this law, the first one is;

Ecocide is considered to be one of the most dangerous breaches because it affects a wide group of people over a long period of time.  We know the results of ecocide can last not only decades but the effects can go on for hundreds of years and cause enormous and unfixable effects on the health of people.

We conclude/assert that ecocide is a crime against humanity.

The second direction of the law is that it falls under war crimes. Following the orders of the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian army uses prohibited chemical weapons like white phosphorus and napalm. We see nature is suffering irreparable damage and this is a war crime.

For us, it is very important to collect evidence and material of all the crimes of Ukraine. At this time, in order to fully protect ourselves, we put a plea into different international organizations, for instance at the (ICC) International Criminal Court.

According to the Minsk platform, many times we addressed this problem, not just here in Donbass and the front line territory, but also in Ukraine. As it turns out, in the middle of Europe, there is a hotbed of the ecological catastrophe that can spread and in the future affect the rest of the world.”

Since the heyday of the Soviet Union, the Donbass region provided most of the industrial production in Ukraine and the most environmentally hazardous industries. Of consequence, the Lugansk region also produces the highest agricultural output in Ukraine.

The combined stress of industrial and agricultural production along with transport infrastructure and high population density creates the largest manmade per capita load on the biosphere in Ukraine or even Europe as a whole.

From 1991 onward, the situation presented itself for Western Ukrainian oriented politicians to take revenge on areas that traditionally rejected Ukrainian nationalism and Banderism. Donbass regard the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) as war criminals. The UPA and OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) was a political group allied with Nazi Germany.

They were based in Poland and obsessed with establishing a country of their own. The OUN and UPA tortured and murdered civilians across what would become Soviet Ukraine before, during, and after WWII.

From the 1991 referendum that separated Ukraine and dissolved the Soviet Union, the children, grandchildren, and Diaspora relatives of the OUN and UPA actively sought to punish the regions that did not support a united Ukraine allied with WWII Germany.

Ukraine has a notoriously bad environmental record and most of the environmentally hazardous businesses are located in the Lugansk area. There are roughly 1500 businesses in the coal, metallurgical, machine building, chemical, and oil industries. Annually about 700,000 tons of pollutants have been released into the atmosphere and more than ¾ are not cleaned at all.

All of this activity went unchecked from 1991 onward. Corrupt pro-West Ukraine politicians took over the government when the Soviet Union collapsed and the environmental condition across Ukraine deteriorated.

According to a 2005 abstract, the quality of the water was five times worse than the air quality and the destruction of the environment has gone on unabated for an additional 13 years since it was written. Toxic emissions from the mines and garbage disposal as well as streams and tributaries disappearing because of silting have destroyed much of the water resources.

 According to the abstract Ecological crisis of Donbass as an industrial region of Ukrainethe Lugansk region has the lowest life expectancy in Ukraine because of these factors.

According to the report, 85% of children born in the Lugansk Region are born with various cardiopulmonary pathologies and abnormalities due to the described environmental factors. Decades ago Lugansk should have been recognized as an ecological disaster zone.

It’s been more than 2 decades since the situation in Lugansk and across Donbass was recognized.  If Ukraine was serious about expressing governmental oversight in the region, making sure the children weren’t being poisoned would have been the best place to start.

This was well known even before the presidency of Victor Yushchenko. Yushchenko became famous as the Ukrainian nationalist president who tried to rehabilitate the image of Stepan Bandera, one of Ukraine’s WWII OUN Nazi leaders. Bandera’s OUN is famous in the Lugansk Donbass region for torturing and murdering civilians.

Instead of making even a token effort at environmental policy and remediation, Ukraine’s government even allowed the Soviet built infrastructure to degrade to the point where coal mines closures were done illegally, disregarding safety procedures and flooding adjacent areas with toxins and undermining residential structures.

Before the war started in post-Maidan Ukraine, 150 coal mines needed constant pumping and drainage.

The Ukraine Army (VSU)has targeted power stations and transmission lines to exasperate the situation. As a result, electric service interruptions occurred for mines in the Komsomolets Donbassa, Lidiivka, Vuglegirska, Chervonyi Proflintern, Bulavinskaya, Olkhovatska, Trudovskaya, Chelyuskintsev, the Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya, Privolnyanska, Nikanor-Nova, Kyivska, Dovzhanska- Capitalna, Centrospilka, Kharkivska, Chervonyi Partizan, Samsonivska-Zakhidna, Pershotravneva, Proletarska, Bilorechenska, Frunze, Vakhrusheva, Cosmonavtiv, Dzerzhinskyi, Sverdlov and others.

Damage and disconnection of coal-mining enterprises from electric services led to the shutdown of mine water drainage systems. This, in turn, led to full flooding of the mines and further poisoning of the region’s water supply.

Ecocide is the premeditated destruction of an area’s environment to destroy its people or the possibility of inhabiting or living there. Long before the war which now complicates current remediation efforts, a passive depopulation effort in Donbass was underway.

This is why the Ukrainian government environmental effort in Donbass is being referred to as ECOCIDE.

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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